How to use research & common sense, community, time, and democracy to rebuild schools

Research-Based Expectations for Implementation of the Community Schools Initiative in New York City

Research offers strong cautions against claims of miraculous school change. Instead, changing a school’s culture and practices in sustainable ways that improve student learning takes years of commitment by all stakeholders in the school.

Attempts to dramatically turn around schools to show quick improvements in student outcomes are often counterproductive, resulting instead in school conditions associated with persistently low performance.

Many quick school turnarounds, like those initiated via the federal School Improvement Grant program, were associated with unintended, negative outcomes such as high teacher turnover, large numbers of inexperienced teachers, administrative instability, poor school and classroom climate, and socioeconomic segregation.

In contrast, reform efforts grounded in the idea of sustained improvement over time are more likely to improve student achievement along with other critical aspects of the school.

The evidence is clear: in the first three to four years, schools generally achieve only partial implementation of complex change efforts, with full implementation taking upwards of five to 10 years.

Part of the challenge in turning around schools is that outside-of-school factors likely account for twice as much of the variance in student outcomes as do inside-of-school factors.

Accordingly, the community schools approach—one of the most prominent and research-based approaches to sustained reform—addresses the academic, social-emotional, and health needs of children as well as the capacity to systemically meet these needs in communities of concentrated poverty.


To read and download the full report go here: National Education Policy Center (NEPC): Also posted by the WordPress blog Seattle Education

Deborah Meier: The Value of Tenure and Seniority

Readers note: This post was  originally in Diane Ravitch’s Blog on 18 June 2016

Background: Deborah Meier, founder of Central Park East in New York City and the Mission Hill school in Boston, explains the rationale for tenure and seniority from her perspective as a principal.


Tenure and seniority are often attacked by people of good will. As a former principal of several schools, I embrace it. The culture of Central Park East and Mission Hill depended on both, even if there were occasions when I wished otherwise. I’m not alone, as a principal, in this view.

The kind of noncompetitive shared “ownership” over the school that the staff and faculty displayed over and over and over again rested in large measure on their not having to balance their personal self-interest and their devotion to the school. There is nothing evil in our desire to have a steady paycheck, to feel secure even if you irritate those in charge, and to want to be able to plan one’s life ahead. These are healthy qualities that human beings should not be ashamed of. As FDR once noted, “freedom from fear” is one of the basics that democracy rests on—–fear makes for bad practice of teaching and democracy.

My capacity to provide leadership where needed, and build a strong staff rested on the fact that there were some rules of the game we couldn’t change, and were not available to our temporary biases. I could be strong and as persuasive as I could be without fear of intimidating others to follow my lead, or silence even young and inexperienced staff from venturing forth with their opinions—as long as I did not have the power to wreak havoc on their lives—and cut off the lively ideas that might otherwise inconvenience me. Experience close to home reminds me that even tenured teachers can lose their jobs if they annoy the principal too much in settings where staff cohesion is weak. Only such “irritation” is sufficient to get many principals to take the trouble to “get rid” of a staff member—-and cause can always be dug up when the desire is strong enough.

Finally, it’s hard to believe that some wouldn’t be influenced by having to pay senior teachers so much more than first year teachers, thus creating a tendency to punish experienced teachers who have to constantly outperform newer and younger colleagues. If we want people to stay we need to offer them a good shot at making decent pay as they get older. Given that most newbies leave within the first 5 years—perhaps inevitable—it makes sense to pay them less as they learn the craft, and while they have fewer adult responsibilities. But once again, as with tenure, if decisions about pay are made by one’s principal there is a never-ending tendency to “please the boss”. When someone should not be teaching there should be peer reviews, with the principal being a part of the process, for weeding out those who, at the present time, do not seem ready to be teachers.

Denis Ian on the True Cost of the Teacher Exodus: The End of Wisdom

Readers note: This post was  originally in Diane Ravitch’s Blog on 17 June 2016


Free market capitalism creates jobs; therefore, it is imperative that the legislature and government agencies decrease unnecessary regulations that cause intrusions and administrative delays that drive up business costs. Recruiting and retaining businesses and industries in the State of Washington requires a business climate that will enable them to successfully compete locally, nationally, and globally. State agencies should operate openly and consider the comments and concerns of citizens.

There are simple reasons why teachers are fleeing the profession, college prep programs are drying up, and master teachers are rushing to retirement. This reform has gutted any attraction the profession ever held. But, as a master teacher, I see the destruction in different terms than just stark numbers.

Teachers know how schools change over time. Serve a few decades and you’re not much bothered by the continuous, subtle adjustments from year to year. Schools are ever in a state of reform. They have to be.

Way back when, the drug stuff had us all alarmed … and the beer stuff, too. That was everyday teen stuff leaking into our narrow world. We had run-ins with hygiene and sex and cigarettes. And, of course, drunk driving. Daring schools talked about daring stuff beyond classrooms … like alcohol and divorce … and physical abuse.

Then there was AIDS. That was extra-delicate and owned a frantic immediacy. The right words were so hard to find. Lots of times, I felt like I was killing innocence. 

Other moments were colored by usual stuff. Usual for adults, trauma for kids. Big difference.

Not many of us got much help from teacher-prep programs or post-grad classes. Not about those issues. There weren’t many best-sellers on the issues that seeped into our classrooms. No sexy titles like you might find today … like “ Beer and the Back Seat” … which would kill two sins at once. Or “I’ll Love You for All of Next Week” … which might seem cute, but is likely to be an overly graphic how-to manual for very young teens in this age of sexual over-kill. That’s the sad trend.

Sexting is now a middle school sport. And cell phones are sex toys. Hazing never really goes away … it just morphs into some new ugliness. 

Today, schools are nimble emergency responders … making mighty efforts to cushion kids for any and all eventualities. Lots of schools have figured out how to deal with very different students with very different issues who weren’t part of the landscape even a few years ago. Not an easy feat when the student body itself is lost in the weeds of immaturity. Lots of adults become stumble-bumblers in such situations … and it’s often these kids who sort of tutor us big dopes.

My point? Where does generation after generation of teachers get their wisdom for things like this? … and for other topics that seem invisible to outsiders?

Who whispers to them?

Who makes the greenhorns less green and the naive less naive? Who gives the next generations their reality booster shot? … and gets them to understand the nuances of their craft? Who oracles them?

Know who? The folks walking out that back door. And they’re leaving in droves. 

They’re walking away from the New Nonsense and the New Idiocy. They’re leaving because they have something the New Intruders have never possessed … integrity. And they won’t ever compromise that. And they won’t betray kids. Not ever.

This sudden exodus isn’t just the usual changing of the guard. Nope. When this brigade of Old Souls … these Gray Heads … gather up their experiences and box their lives and leave for good … they’ll be packing up decades of wisdom that will no longer be at the ready for the newbies who are never, ever as ready as they think.

The most important things learned about teaching happen in whispers, asides, or in simple observations. 

It happens in fable form and in funny-sincere recollections of long disappeared characters. And it could happen anywhere … at any time. In hallways. At a copy machine. Or the parking lot. In a stairwell or in an empty classroom … very late in the day … when the school goes silent save for the sounds of sloshy mops and things on squeaky wheels. 

And now those splendid souls …the Wisdomers … they’re leaving. Vanishing.

And in their moving vans are the moving stories young teachers need to know … because those stories are informal survival guides. They’re reference material for soothing young souls and spackling torn hearts. What’s in those boxes are manuals for curing failure and repairing kids who’ve had a bottom-bounce. Those are medicine boxes with un-named elixirs for hurts of all sorts. And all of this magic is flying out the back door of schools.

Those master teachers are the antidote for this sick reform. But they’ll be gone when their wisdom is most needed.

Someday … not sure when, but someday … we’ll come to our senses. We’ll have a national mea culpa. And we’ll get our educational priorities back in common sense rhythms. But it’s not going to be easy at all. It’s gonna be hard stuff.

All of the wisdom whispers will have disappeared. And “starting from scratch” won’t be a cliche any more. It’ll be a reality. A bad reality.

Wish us luck. We’re gonna need it.

Denis Ian