Funding Missouri’s Schools = Advancing Missouri’s Future

School funding is not a particularly exciting topic, but it’s extremely important. All of us—each educator, legislator, employer, and parent—should be well-informed when it comes to how our P-12 public schools are funded. While it’s true that money doesn’t always guarantee success and high performance, it’s very difficult to make substantial progress without adequate fiscal support. Here are some important facts based on 2017 state rankings and 2018 school statistics estimates of school statistics data:

  • There are 556 operating school districts in Missouri, ranking 10th in the nation.
  • Missouri ranks 34th in the nation for its number of high school graduates.
  • The average salary for public school teachers in 2015–16 was $58,064 in current dollars (i.e., dollars that are not adjusted for inflation).
  • In constant (i.e., inflation-adjusted) dollars, the average salary for teachers was 1% lower in 2015–16 than in 1990–91.
  • Ranking 41st in the nation, the average Missouri teacher salary in 2017 was just over $48,000.
  • School funding per enrolled student in Missouri actually went down in the last fiscal year:
    • 2016: $12,551 per pupil (26th in the nation)
    • 2017: $12,069 per pupil (30th in the nation)
  • Likewise, school funding per student in average daily attendance also went down:
    • 2016: $13,074 (29th in the nation)
    • 2017: $12,578 (31st in the nation)
  • The bulk of funding for Missouri’s schools comes from local government sources and remained about the same over the last two years:
    • 2016: 58.6% (4th in the nation)
    • 2017: 58.5% (4th in the nation)
  • Only about a third of the funding for Missouri’s public schools comes from state government sources, which is far behind what most other state governments contribute:
    • 2016: 32.7% (48th in the nation)
    • 2017: 33.0% (47th in the nation)
  • Even federal government funding for Missouri’s public schools dropped in the last two years:
    • 2016: 8.7% (28th nationally)
    • 2017: 8.4% (27th nationally)
  • Missouri is in the middle of the pack when it comes to per-student enrolled expenditures, and it remained almost flat over the past two years:
    • 2016: $10,784 (27th in rank)
    • 2017: $10,826 (28th in rank)

2018-19 Projections

Based on trend data, Missouri will not fare well during the 2018-19 academic year:

  • The number of teachers will drop by 6.5%.
  • The number of all instructional staff will drop by 6.5%.
  • The average teacher salary will increase by 1.2% to just over $49,000. It is should be noted though that when calculating for inflation, teacher salaries are projected to show a 4% decline between 2009-2018.
  • Federal revenue receipts are expected to drop by 9%.
  • Meanwhile, expenditures per student enrolled are expected to rise by 1.7%.

 

So, what’s the takeaway? What does this mean for Missouri schools and for our state?

  • We have a lot of school districts operating the state.
  • All these districts must share a pot of money that’s shrinking each year.
  • State funding is woefully inadequate, near the bottom of all 50 states, and federal funding is less than 9% of what school districts receive.
  • That lays the bulk of responsibility to keep school doors open on the shoulders of local government. If this trend continues, property taxes must continue to rise to make up for the state and federal shortfall.
  • Missouri school districts are having to make very tough choices in order to operate within their limited budget. As a result, updating textbooks, buying microscopes, repairing technology, and the like have to be put on the back burner.
  • Missouri is losing its teachers. Some are retiring; some are moving to other states; and some are leaving the profession for more pay. This will lead to an even greater teacher shortage and will reduce the quality of instruction. Remember that research has proven time after time that teacher quality is the #1 factor in student achievement. If we fail to properly invest in our teachers and provide them with the kind of ongoing professional support they need to be successful, we are ultimately turning our backs on our state’s students.

 

Being a Part of the Solution: What Can We Do?

The state of Missouri offers endless opportunities for technology incubators, economic growth, cutting edge healthcare, tourism, and the like. Our residents are hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and tackle the hard jobs. We can address the challenges that our P-12 public schools are facing, and we can work together to make wise choices for the future.

Rather than the bulk of decisions being made by lawmakers who are influenced by lobbyists representing special interest groups, it’s important to receive input from those directly impacted: School administrators, teachers, community members, workforce representatives, parents, and of course, students. And, input needs to be much more than a hearing or two held in Jefferson City–these groups need to have a seat at the table and actually play a role in influencing decisions, allocations, and public policy. We need greater transparency and greater communication; a school superintendent should not have to learn of a funding cut through the local newspaper or on television. These stakeholders must be treated with respect and their insights should be taken seriously. Lawmakers should be out in their districts on a regular basis, not just for photo ops or fundraising, but for sincere listening and collaboration.

If lawmakers in Jefferson City are truly interested in promoting academic excellence in our state, they will create a structure in their districts to encourage active collaboration with constituents. It wouldn’t be that difficult, and I suspect they wouldn’t have any problem getting participants. I’ll start by raising my hand to be a part of the solution–who else is with me?

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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#GivingTuesday: Let’s Make a Difference Together

Today is #GivingTuesday, a global day of generosity. What a great way to make a difference in the lives of others!

Donating money is great but there are other ways you can give to important causes, such as:

–Make care packages for those staying in a shelter.
–Read books to underprivileged children.
–Drive someone to the doctor or pick up their medicine.
–Become a big sister/big brother to at-risk youths.
–Visit the elderly at a nursing home.
–Donate your time and expertise to a local candidate’s political campaign.

I’m considering buying a set of picture books that are all centered around the central theme of giving to others. My thought is that I would read one book each week to children attending a local head start or elementary school, & then donating the books to their library. Seems like a great way to give of myself, hang out with kids, & encourage them to also become givers!

What are other ways you can think of to participate in #GivingTuesday? How are you going to make a difference in the lives of others today?

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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The Four-Day School Week: Not a Bandwagon We Should Jump On

Public schools have long been a backbone to our nation. As a cornerstone for local communities, public schools have helped prepare a skilled workforce essential for manufacturing; they’ve also produced doctors, lawyers, academics, and others essential to a healthy and thriving society.

The first public school of record was the Boston Latin School, established in 1635. Still in existence today, it is currently ranked the #1 high school in Massachusetts and #48 in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report.

While we have an educational system that has led the world in many arenas, our public schools often face stiff challenges: Their budgets are stretched too thin while costs continue to rise. Expectations and accountability continue to remain front and center in an ever-changing political climate. There aren’t enough highly-qualified teachers, particularly in shortage areas such as math, science, special education, and English language learning. As a result, some school districts have been forced to find ways to serve students and yet remain fiscally solvent. Enter the four-day school week.

Which Schools Use a Shortened Week the Most?

Approximately 560 school districts in 25 states have moved to a four-day school week. Most of the schools are small and are located in rural areas. Within the past few years some larger urban districts have begun experimenting with a shorter school week, but those numbers are small compared to rural counterparts. In five states (Colorado, South Dakota, Oregon, Idaho, and New Mexico) at least 20% of schools within each of those five states have adopted a shortened school week model.

However, if we look at the actual number of school districts, then the state leaders for four-day weeks are Colorado, Montana, Oklahoma and Oregon. Colorado has the largest proportion of public-school districts with one or more schools on a four-day week at 98. Missouri currently has 28 schools on a four-day schedule.

How is a Four-Day School Week Implemented? 

The most common model is to adhere to a Monday through Thursday schedule. Most states require a minimum number of days and instructional contact hours in each school year; schools that have adopted a four-day week simply reconfigure their schedules to fit the required contact hours into a shorter time span. This can make for a very long school day, particularly for students who have a long bus ride to and from home. In some instances, students have a 90-minute bus ride each morning and again each evening.

How Big are the Savings to School Districts?

According to a report from the Education Commission of the States (ECS), national finance data concludes that the actual savings for districts that moved to a four-day week were between 0.4% and 2.5%. Depending on the size of the district, savings on bus transportation, building utilities, and custodial services could be significant enough for superintendents to seriously consider this model, particularly in states that have cut funding for P-12 schools. However, no savings are noted for staff salaries and benefits, given that staff must still work the same number of hours per school year.

What’s the Impact on Teacher Recruitment & Retention?

Based on a perception study conducted by Turner, Finch, & Ximena, school staff tend to like the convenience of a shortened work week despite a longer work day. This could potentially serve as a drawing card to attract applicants particularly in high-demand areas such as math, science, special education, and English Language Learners. However, very little formal research has been conducted on four-day school weeks, so the long-term impact on teacher supply and demand remains to be seen.

But What About Impact on Students?

Health & Safety: While some stay-at-home parents/guardians indicate they like having one day per week to schedule doctor appointments and run errands, those who work outside the home often feel frustrated by having to find childcare for one full day per week, plus the cost of paying for such care. In many instances when proper adult care isn’t available students are left home alone unsupervised, putting their health and safety at risk.

Nutrition: The vast majority of students in those 28 Missouri districts that have opted for the shortened week qualify for free or reduced lunches because of their family’s low income. In many cases, the only nutritious meals those students eat are eaten at school.

Juvenile Delinquency: When students are not in school and unsupervised, crime rates tend to rise, particularly vandalism. In their research, Fischer and Argyle (2018) analyzed crime reports in Colorado and found a 20% increase in juvenile crime.

Student Learning and Achievement: Very little quality research has been conducted on the long-term academic impact of a shortened school week, so the field is ripe for study. State departments of education should be very cautious when approving requests for a shortened school week and should monitor performance closely over time. A starting point is to focus in on one state at a time and track various data points longitudinally. To that end, some insights can be gleaned about the 28 Missouri school districts that have elected to adopt a four-day week schedule based on an analysis of data publicly available from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE):

  • Out of the 28 Missouri school districts on a four-day schedule, only 1 received full accreditation with no sanctions during their last Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP) accreditation site visit.
  • Five out of the 28 districts received District Improvement Level 1 sanctions, meaning officials must adopt a District Improvement Plan designed to improve key areas of concern. Annual Performance Reviews (APRs) will be monitored closely by state department officials.
  • Three of the 28 districts received District Improvement Level 2 sanctions, citing a higher level of concern by MSIP teams. Level 2 schools are under even greater scrutiny to demonstrate growth and improvement.
  • Thirteen out of 28—that’s more than 46%–of the school districts on a four-day schedule received District Improvement Level 3 sanctions – the most severe of all sanctions while still maintaining accreditation. In these cases, the last MSIP accreditation review revealed numerous serious concerns relative to program quality, student achievement, and other related indicators.
  • Of those 13 districts earning Level 3 sanctions, only two exceeded the 2018 Missouri per-pupil expenditure average. The remaining 26 school districts all are currently spending less than the state average per pupil. While not conclusive, these data suggest there is a correlation between the amount of funding school districts receive and student achievement.

So, what’s the bottom line?

A well-educated society is essential to a healthy, thriving culture. Without a solid educational foundation our skilled workforce will diminish, and entrepreneurs will look elsewhere. Our pool of thought-leaders and problem solvers will decrease, and over time the strength of our nation will be challenged.

Given the important role that our public schools have played in our nation’s success, it is imperative that we continue to recognize the need to fully fund them. School officials should not be forced into making tough choices that could jeopardize learning. Every single student in the United States deserves an educational experience that is second to none, regardless of the color of his skin, the native language spoken in her home, or the zip code in which they live. Every. Single. Student.

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com).

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Gifted Education: Let’s Put the Scalpel Away

  • They can learn on their own.
  • They don’t need extra help like those struggling kids do.
  • They can go to that gifted class, but they’d better make up all that work while they’re out of my classroom!

Those are all statements I vividly recall hearing, and my students heard them as well. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have heard these comments from the general public, but what I really found disturbing was ignorance, disregard, and even disdain for gifted students on the part of other teachers, building principals, and school board members.

In an interview with Matthew Jaskol, David Pierce posed the question, Are gifted students now an underserved population? With no one else in the room beside my cat, I found myself responding, Well of course they are–they always have been. As a former teacher of the gifted I am very aware of how the needs of talented, precocious students have been overlooked and ignored over the years. What’s more is that while this is a problem in suburban schools, it’s huge in urban and rural settings. When budgets are trimmed, and cuts must be made, gifted programs are often one of the first to go under the scalpel.

According to data cited from the US Department of Education, in 2011-12 there were approximately 3.2 million students in public schools in gifted and talented programs; that translates to approximately 6.4% of the entire student enrollment. That number actually declined since 2006, when 6.7% of students were enrolled in gifted and talented programs. There does not appear to be a significant lack of gender equity amongst this group, but there is a glaring lack of equity when it comes to race/ethnicity. While 13% of these 3.2 million students were listed as Asian and 7.6% as White, students categorized as Hispanic or Black were enrolled in gifted programs on a much smaller scale, at 4.6% and 3.6% respectively. This lack of equity suggests that we as a nation have much work to do before we can look our students in the eye and know we provided each one with an excellent educational experience tailored to meet their specific needs.

One state, however, appears to be moving in the right direction. Effective July 1, 2018, all public schools in the state of Illinois must have systems in place to (1) identify gifted learners, and (2) advance or accommodate those students academically. Known as the Accelerated Placement Act, this is an important step toward providing appropriate educational experiences for those students who are often overlooked and left to learn on their own. However, it remains to be seen whether the Act has been sufficiently funded for essentials including testing, instruction, teacher training, and family involvement. It’s one thing to issue a mandate; it’s quite another to provide school districts with the support they need to achieve a successful outcome.

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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Building a Culture of Learning through Effective Classroom Management

Establishing a learning environment that’s conducive to learning should be at the top of the list of each teacher’s priorities. In order for students to grow, develop, and achieve to their fullest potential, it’s important to create a climate of cooperation, collaboration, trust, and mutual respect. While there are many ways to build a positive learning classroom, it hinges on helping students to develop interpersonal skills, responsibility, courtesy, and good citizenship. This is typically best accomplished through modeling good behaviors, providing multiple opportunities to practice those behaviors, and providing corrective support when needed.

However, there is another approach to classroom management that’s being offered to teachers across the nation. In a piece entitled Public Schools to Teachers: Run Your Class on Fear or Get Fired, author John Warner describes a classroom management philosophy called No Nonsense Nurturing.

What is No Nonsense Nurturing?

Essentially, No Nonsense Nurturing involves “coaches” sitting in the back of the classroom or nearby, constantly directing the classroom teacher how to interact with students using microphones and earpieces. Even worse is that teachers are required to bark orders at students using short, choppy commands, and no enthusiasm or encouragement from the teacher is permitted. Rather, it is simply a command-followed-by-compliance model. As stated in the article, the two goals of teachers adhering to the No Nonsense Nurturing approach are:

  • I have to earn the respect of my students.
  • I expect to have 100% compliance from my students 100% of the time.

Is This Really Nurturing?

After considering the premise behind the No Nonsense Nurturing approach, we have to ask: Can a teacher truly earn the respect of his or her students by demanding compliance? Or, is this sense or respect simply submission to authority?

There’s a big difference between the two.

The Center for Transformative Teacher Training, which apparently developed this classroom management approach, might be wise to dust off their dictionary and look up the meaning of  “respect” again. If students are expected to comply with teacher commands 100% of the time, this is submission—not respect. And it’s sure not conducive to a positive learning environment. A far better approach would be to build a classroom environment where learners were empowered to think, to question, and to grow–where mutual respect abounds, and where compliance is reserved for annual regulatory reports.

The Real Key to a Successful Learning Environment

So then, how can teachers create safe, robust, stimulating places for students to learn and develop? We as a community of educators must ensure that appropriate information, support, guidance, and professional development are provided so they will have the tools they need to succeed. After all, a teacher’s success leads to student success. Furthermore, this support should start during their initial teacher preparation program and continue until the day they retire.

Preparing Future Teachers

Creating a positive, healthy learning environment that isn’t limited a comply or else model can’t be accomplished within a single college course or workshop. Many schools of education require future teachers to take a Classroom Management course that’s heavy on theory and light on practical applications. These future teachers are then placed in a classroom and frequently told that experience is the best teacher when it comes to managing a classroom effectively. Wrong! Preparing teacher candidates to understand and use the best tools for creating positive learning environments should be woven thoughtfully and purposefully throughout their program, across multiple courses and field experiences. They should receive extensive instruction in practical classroom applications coupled with theory. They should be given the gift of many classroom experiences where they are able to try out what they’ve learned while supported by a caring, experienced mentor teacher.

Supporting Teachers in the Classroom

Once they have been hired, school districts should be 100% committed to supporting each teacher’s success. That includes collaborative learning communities, high-quality professional development opportunities, and peer coaching. Each year of teaching comes with its own set of challenges, and school districts should have a solid support system in place that lies outside of required performance evaluations for continued employment.

The Role of School Leaders

In most instances, the building principal or assistant principal oversees a school’s overall classroom management approach and subsequent discipline policies. It’s the administrator’s role to lead faculty and staff in creating a positive learning environment. In order to provide this leadership, it’s important for administrative staff to be knowledgeable in (1) research-based best practices and (2) how to support teachers who may be struggling with classroom management. Far too often, this is minimally covered in educational leadership programs. Instead, a major focus is on curriculum, standardized testing, budgets, laws, and regulations. School leaders need to know how to create a positive, supportive environment for teachers so those teachers in turn can create a positive, supportive environment for their students.

Need Some Good Resources?

There are some wonderful, high-quality resources available to help future teachers, practicing teachers, and parents who are homeschooling their children. A few examples include:

 

Through proper training and ongoing support, teachers can create powerful, robust learning environments where students are eager to come to school, and where they enthusiastically talk about their day at the dinner table. This culture of learning is not built on submission and compliance, but instead on respect, communication, consistency, and fairness.

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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Empowerment-Based Learning: Putting Students in the Driver’s Seat

 “A student who understands what it means to own their learning has an internal drive to get things done.” This comes from an Idaho rural school administrator who has unlocked the key to powerful learning. Empowering students to take an active role in their own learning is often referred to by many different names:

 

Using terms like these interchangeably can be confusing but here’s the bottom line:

With empowerment-based activities, students are more able to take control of their own learning.

They achieve success not because someone is forcing them to move at a certain pace, or memorize a set of dates for a test the next day–they learn because they want to. And, teachers are empowered to provide richer, more meaningful feedback to their students because they can customize learning experiences as needed. School leaders are empowered to make more thoughtful decisions about schools and school systems while parents/caregivers see their children enjoying school in a way they never did before.

All students deserve the opportunity to learn.

Many state departments of education have regulations that haven’t been updated in decades and most don’t even mention student-driven learning models. Contact (clock) hours mean far less than learning time–there is a big difference! Just because someone may be sitting in a seat with an open textbook for 50 minutes does not mean they are engaged, motivated, and focused. Most of all, it doesn’t mean they are comprehending, applying, analyzing, evaluating, solving problems, or synthesizing new information.

Students deserve the opportunity to take greater control over what they learn, how they learn, and how quickly they progress through material.

This can have a positive impact on motivation, attendance, student retention, graduation, satisfaction, and college enrollment. Likewise, learners who can demonstrate they have a solid foundation of content knowledge–and they can apply that knowledge to solve problems in real-life situations–are particularly valuable to employers. After all, employees must demonstrate their proficiency on-the-job everyday; why not help prepare them for success by using an empowerment-based learning model in our P-12 schools?

Empowerment-based learning is not limited to a particular school environment.

It can be implemented in public and private P-12 schools, in colleges and universities, and in homeschools. It can also be used quite effectively in online learning environments at all levels. That’s another beautiful aspect of this model–it’s not limited to a particular type of school or location--it can be implemented anywhere, at any time, for any level. 

This isn’t an easy, 1-2-3 step approach.

Despite all its advantages, creating such a model is not as simple as following a few easy steps; setting it up correctly requires a lot of preparation and some foundational knowledge. Moreover, the model is not intended to be static. After it’s in place it still requires periodic review and updates based on student learning data.

Success stems from preparation, communication, and stakeholder buy-in.

While the design can be highly effective in a variety of learning environments the one constant is that it requires a shared commitment to academic excellence on the part of educators, administrators, parents, and learners. In order for this to take place, school leaders must thoroughly educate themselves in empowerment-based learning. They must connect one of the models to their school’s vision, mission, and purpose. School leaders must also be adept at communicating to stakeholders throughout the process, seeking their input and active involvement. It is only when everyone shares a commitment to empowerment-based learning that it can be truly successful, but the results can be incredible.

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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Regardless of What It’s Called, Empowering Students to Take Charge of their Own Learning is a Good Thing.

“A student who understands what it means to own their learning has an internal drive to get things done.” This comes from the administrator of a rural school in Idaho who’s unlocked the key to powerful learning. This approach is often referred to by many different names, such as:

  • personalized learning
  • proficiency learning
  • demonstration learning
  • individualized instruction
  • competency-based learning

 

However, while these terms are often used interchangeably, they are not all one and the same. Here’s an at-a-glance chart that may help:

Approach

Questions to Ask

Sample Classroom Applications

Personalized Learning

Individualized Instruction

 

What do my students need to know?

What are my students intrigued by? What sparks their curiosity? How do each of my students prefer to learn?

How can I provide each of my students with the kind of experiences they need to learn and thrive?

–Curriculum could be based on specific learning standards for each content area, but in its purest form it could be based on the mission of the school or even each student’s learning goals.

–With guidance, students actively participate in setting their own learning goals.

–Project-based, theme-based or interest-based learning

–Experience-based learning opportunities (including internships & apprenticeships)

–Pairing students with a mentor who has expertise in a given area

–Small group or individualized meetings with learning coach, advisor, or mentor

–Work products can take many forms (portfolio, blog, video, book, music, event, etc.)

Proficiency Learning

Competency-Based Learning

 

 

 

What do my students need to know?

How will I know if each of my students has met academic expectations?

What should I do if I have an advanced learner who breezes through the material?

What should I do for learners who are struggling with specific concepts or skills?

–Curriculum is typically based on district-adopted learning standards for each content area.

–A specific level of proficiency (or competency) is identified for key learning goals and objectives.

–Student learning is measured through carefully constructed formative and summative assessments.

–Proficiency/Competency is determined by performance on those assessments.

–Students can progress onward after demonstrating proficiency/competence.

–Struggling students are provided additional instructional support, and then are reassessed. Cycle is continued until proficiency/competency is demonstrated.

Demonstration Learning What do my students need to know?

How will I know if each of my students has met academic expectations?

How will I know if each of my students has met academic expectations?

 

–Curriculum is typically based on district-adopted learning standards for each content area.

–A specific level of performance is identified for key learning goals and objectives.

–Student learning is measured through a combination of formative and summative assessments.

–In many instances, students can select from a menu of assessment choices.

–Depending on age and grade level, examples of culminating demonstrations of learning could include: portfolio, blog, video, poem, art show, recital, podcast, write a letter to the editor, etc.

Mastery Learning

Mastery learning was purposely left off the chart. This approach is often used interchangeably with proficiency and competency-based learning, and while it does share many attributes to those approaches, it is not the same. There is a difference between demonstrating one’s proficiency or competency in a given skill and mastering that skill. For example:

  • I am proficient in using Microsoft Excel, but I have not mastered it.
  • As evidenced by my harvest this year, I am a competent gardener but most certainly not a master gardener.

Mastery learning represents a much higher bar of expectation—it goes above and beyond that of proficiency or competency. To master something means you have become an expert in a given skill, and that approach doesn’t seem to fit within an empowerment-based learning model.

While terms can be confusing, here’s the bottom line:

Students should be empowered to take an active role in their own learning. As a result, they achieve success not because someone is forcing them to move at a certain pace or memorize a set of dates for a test the next day–they learn because they want to, and they learn in a way that feels comfortable. Furthermore, teachers can provide richer, more meaningful feedback to their students because they can customize learning experiences as needed. School leaders are able to make more thoughtful decisions about schools and school systems, and parents/caregivers are elated because they see their children enjoying school in a way they never did before.

Regardless of what it’s called, an empowerment-based approach can lay the foundation for all students to stretch their minds in a rich and meaningful way, experience success, and develop a lifelong love for learning.

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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A Golden Opportunity: Let’s Rethink Performance Evaluations (Segment #3)

Is your P-12 school committed to helping instructional staff continually improve their teaching skills? As a school leader, do you recognize that exceptional instruction leads to exceptional learning, but you’re not quite sure where to begin? If so, please check out my 3-part video series entitled, A Golden Opportunity: Let’s Rethink Performance Evaluations.

  • Segment #1 provides an introduction to performance evaluations in the context of student and school success.
  • Segment #2 focuses on the need for ongoing evaluation and targeted support, as well as criteria you may consider when evaluating performance.
  • The final segment helps you to explore how you could design your own performance evaluation model that maintains your school’s individuality, and yet also ensures quality.

I’ve also created a supplemental resource page you can use as a handout to the series.

You can access Segment #3 below:

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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A Golden Opportunity: Let’s Rethink Performance Evaluations (Segment 2)

Is your P-12 school committed to helping instructional staff continually improve their teaching skills? As a school leader, do you recognize that exceptional instruction leads to exceptional learning, but you’re not quite sure where to begin?

If so, please check out my 3-part video series entitled, A Golden Opportunity: Let’s Rethink Performance Evaluations.

  • Segment #1 provides an introduction to performance evaluations in the context of student and school success.
  • Segment #2 focuses on the need for ongoing evaluation and targeted support, as well as criteria you may consider when evaluating performance.
  • The final segment helps you to explore how you could design your own performance evaluation model that maintains your school’s individuality, and yet also ensures quality.

I’ve also created a supplemental resource page you can use as a handout to the series.

You can access Segment #2 below:

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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A Golden Opportunity: Let’s Rethink Performance Evaluations (Handout)

 Exceptional teachers led by exceptional school leaders are important ingredients to student success.  But, what does it mean to be exceptional, and how do we measure it? How can we foster exceptionalism amongst all school staff?  

 

Presentation Supplement:

A Golden Opportunity: Let’s Rethink Performance Evaluations

 

NOTE: These resources coincide with a 3-part video presentation series geared toward teachers and school administrators on the topic of performance evaluations.

Bowen, Ryan S., (2017). Understanding by Design. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

Coens and Jenkins (2000). Abolishing performance appraisals: Why they backfire and what to do instead. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Grissom and Bartanen (2018). Strategic Retention: Principal Effectiveness and Teacher Turnover in Multiple-Measure Teacher Evaluation Systems. American Educational Research Journal, September 2018.

Jacobson, L. (2018). New Teacher Center Releases Instructional Coaching Standards.

Jacobson, L. (2018). NCTQ Report: Teacher Evaluations Improve Quality.

Jacobson L. (2018). Report: Long-Term Coaching Critical in Retaining Principals.  

Principal Evaluation: Missouri’s Educator Evaluation System. Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Ross-Fisher, R. (2018). Key Skills and Dispositions: Essential Traits all Exceptional Teachers Must Have.

Teacher Evaluation: Missouri’s Educator Evaluation System. Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Vercelletto, C. (2018). Study Finds Most Effective Principals Strategically Retain Their Best Teachers.

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE. NOTHING LESS.

Think-Speak-Learn-Grow: Active Citizenship through Active Learning

She doesn’t know it, but Heather Wolpert-Gawron got my morning off to a good start. I just read that the 2017-2018 Missouri Educator of the Year is working with middle level students to help them to hone their speech and debate skills. On surface that may not sound groundbreaking or earth-shattering, but I’ve felt for a long time that it’s a very important skill we should be promoting in our P-12 schools.

Wolpert-Gawron teaches at Greenwood Laboratory School in Springfield, Missouri. The school was originally established in 1908 as part of the teacher training curriculum at Springfield Normal School but has been associated with Missouri State University for many years. In fact, I’m proud to say that I completed my student teaching at Greenwood many years ago and am pleased it has maintained its reputation for innovative instructional practices.

Ms. Wolpert-Gawron correctly observed that most P-12 students have no problem expressing themselves in social situations with their peers—the difficulty comes when they are asked to apply what they have learned about a given topic and communicate on a more formal level. In my opinion, it is extremely important to teach our students how to think critically, analyze, articulate a position, and engage in thoughtful, meaningful discussions with others. In a nutshell we really need to be teaching all the Language Arts, which are broadly comprised of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Some additional key skills that can be developed in association with the Language Arts include:

  • Formulating arguments without being argumentative
  • Disagreeing without being disagreeable
  • Knowing what you stand for, and then being able to defend it
  • Using your knowledge for good – to effect positive change
  • Feeling empowered to make a difference

Students who are taught these skills and given opportunities to hone them will become much more confident thinkers, writers, and speakers. They will grow up to become valuable employees, entrepreneurs, and political leaders. Most importantly, by teaching language arts skills including debate, these students will become informed, confident, articulate, and empowered citizens of our great nation. In other words, Active civitate opus effectum positivum mutation. – “Active citizenship to effect positive change.” I can think of no better gift to give to our students, or to our nation.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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A Ground-Breaking, Totally Brand-New Approach to Helping Students Succeed

Years ago, a town’s churches and school served as major community and social anchors. In some instances, the two shared a single building. Parents, students, and teachers spent a lot of time together since local events were often held there. As a result, communication was frequent, and relationships were strong. Adults worked together to support the growth, development, and learning of students. Today, as our towns have grown into cities and residents are busy traveling from place to place, we’ve lost that central gathering place. Many parents rarely if ever visit their child’s school, and they typically receive a call or email from a teacher only when there’s a problem. While this practice may have been birthed from an efficiency perspective, it’s resulted in relationships that really aren’t—interactions simply represent the transfer of information: message sent/message received.

It may be one reason why students are still falling between the cracks. Teachers and parents are so busy trying to be efficient they may be overlooking the importance of truly considering the needs of each student. A gifted child may be feeling really frustrated because he’s bored in math class. A student diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) has recently turned inward and has stopped interacting with her peers on the playground. A student whose native language isn’t English may be struggling in American Literature class. Concerns like these can’t be addressed by a simple exchange of information through a phone call or email; it takes collaboration and partnership. It takes active listening, and it takes meeting people where they’re at. In other words, it takes building trust.

Rich, meaningful relationships are hard to build in the sterile, institutional environment found in most schools. That’s why an approach like some teachers in the Salt Lake City metro area are using appears to be so effective—because they are taking an important first step in building trust with parents—they are making home visits. This approach is not earth-shattering nor ground breaking; I actually recall many years ago my sister’s high school English teacher coming to our house for dinner one evening. I remember the uncertainty looming in the house before the event—we weren’t sure why she was coming or what to expect—we just received a note letting know what day and time she would be there. As a result, we cooked and cleaned as if the Queen herself was paying us a visit, hoping it would somehow be acceptable. Turns out, we fretted for nothing—the teacher was there simply to introduce herself and to get to know us better, so she could in turn better meet the needs of her student, my sister.

Of course, the Salt Lake City pilot is not without its critics despite its success stories; a lot of the concern centers around the age-old question, “But who’s going to pay for it?” I don’t claim to have the answer but it’s an approach worth thinking about.

One thing I do know, however, is that in the fast-paced, tech-driven society we live in, we must be very careful not to overlook one important thing: that each child, each student is precious, and they deserve our very best in helping them become their very best. We collectively share a large part of the responsibility for their success. If simply having teachers and parents slow down and take the time to talk with each other would help, isn’t it worth considering?

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

 

One-Room Schools: Outdated, or Ahead of Their Time?

I’ve always been fascinated by the old one-room schoolhouses. I think it all started when my younger sister and I would walk up our country road and play for hours on the site of an old school, long since abandoned. That school must have educated every boy and girl for miles around, and those children grew up to be postal carriers, soldiers, bankers, farmers, and teachers.

In that school and others like it, students from multiple age groups and grade levels worked and learned together. In many instances, older students taught younger ones, with the teacher providing guidance as needed. Classics frequently served in the place of textbooks, and students applied what they were learning in the context of what was relevant to their lives. They developed a body of knowledge, but even more importantly, they learned how to apply that knowledge to solve problems.

It was a simpler time, and yet many of the methods found in those one-room schools were ahead of their time. Today we often hear about new techniques and methods for helping students learn. We talk about concepts such as competency-based, proficiency-based, and personalized learning. I would argue that besides a homeschool environment, one-room schools were the birthplace of individualized instruction. And the new performance assessments that are gaining so much attention? Students in one-room schools often had to demonstrate what they knew through projects such as planting an herb garden appropriate for local soil; raising goats for meat and dairy; making apple butter; building a machine shed that could stand up to wind; or providing first aid. Like the competency-based educational model, Simousek points out that most one-room schools adhered to the “time is variable/learning is constant” mantra, whereby learners worked on topics and skills until they could successfully demonstrate their proficiency before moving on. In other words, what students learn is more important than how quickly they learn it.

There are actually still a few hundred one-room schools in the United States today, many located in very rural and remote areas. However, a charter school in Gainsville, Florida was started in 1997 specifically with the one-room school model in mind. Focusing on meeting the needs of high achievers, the One Room School House Project (ORSH) serves students through eighth grade. In addition, some modern-day homeschools are perfect venues for the one-room schoolhouse model.

While I recognize the benefits of larger schools today, I have to wonder if perhaps it might be worth having a conversation about the benefits of smaller schools designed around the one-room schoolhouse model. Even in our fast-paced, mobile society, I believe there is still a need for schools that serve as community anchors; that can truly provide individualized instruction and support for all learners; and that prepare students to interact with others in a positive way.

–rrf

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in education transformation, teacher preparation, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter and writer, she currently supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as educational systems design, online learning experiences, competency-based education, and accreditation. Roberta also blogs about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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A Gentle Nudge to CCSSO: What Do We Really Mean by Competency-Based Teaching and Learning?

Competency-Based Education (CBE) has really started gaining the attention of P-12 school districts, colleges and universities, and state departments of education in recent years. CBE emphasizes demonstrated learning over traditional seat time, and it offers a more flexible way to support students achieve their educational goals.

We can talk about the benefits of CBE and we can describe its attributes. However, it seems that there are numerous definitions of the term that while well-intentioned are lacking or are not always hitting the mark. For example, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) developed a working definition of the term competency in 2011; that definition identifies five major components that must be present in a competency-based educational model. While I congratulate the CCSSO for their work in this area I would encourage them to revisit what they mean by competency. Given that this organization leads policies and practices of departments of education and P-12 school districts across the nation, it is important to have a current, accurate, and clear definition. I’ve taken the CCSSO’s definition and have offered a few questions as food for thought in order to advance the conversation:

  1. Students advance upon demonstrated mastery.
    • Advance in what way? To the next assessment? To the next chapter or unit? To the next course?
    • How is mastery demonstrated? Through what form(s) of assessment?
    • Is demonstrating mastery really the same as demonstrating competency?
  1. Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
    • Do competencies truly include learning objectives, or are those LOs created as a measurable subset of the competencies?
    • How are learning objectives transferable? Transferable to what?
    • What do competencies that empower students look like? How would we identify them, as compared to competencies that do not empower students? Empower in what way(s)?
    • From what source(s) are competencies derived?
  1. Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
    • Meaningful to whom? Learners? Educators? Parents? Educational agencies?
    • Meaningful in what way(s)?
    • Must all assessments be deemed as positive learning experiences for students?
    • What benchmark(s) should be used in order to judge each assessment’s merit in this regard?
    • How are educators able to ensure that assessments are of high-quality?
  1. Students receive rapid, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
    • What is the definition of rapid support? Is this truly intended to be time-bound?
    • What would be the source of this support? From a teacher or designee? From a software application or AI device?

 

  1. Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge along with the development of important skills and dispositions.
    • Should learning outcomes that comprise competencies represent each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, thereby requiring students to demonstrate what they know and are able to do at each cognitive level (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, evaluation, synthesis)?
    • How might learning outcomes include the development of dispositions? What might that look like in measurable terms? Which dispositions?

 

This is just a partial list of questions that must be answered by the CCSSO as they revisit what they mean by competency-based education. Their definition will steer how CBE is implemented in school districts and state departments of education for years to come and it’s important to get it right.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

A True Education

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

This philosophy as articulated so eloquently by Dr. King should steer the mission and vision of every P-12 and higher education institution in our nation, whether it be public, private, charter, or homeschool. The strength of our nation depends on an educated society—a society whose citizens are intellectually curious and who possess the ability to read and think critically.

Many years ago, I heard a pastor say, “You have to be able to separate the grass from the weeds.” This is the essence of critical reading and critical thinking: being able to comprehend, analyze, and evaluate what one is hearing and reading, and then drawing well-informed conclusions that perpetuate a solid body of knowledge that we can rely on.

However, as Dr. King cautioned us, simply having this ability is not enough—it’s what we do with it that’s important. That’s where character comes in, because simply being smart or informed doesn’t mean we are educated—we must use our knowledge to positively impact the lives of others–to serve the greater good. This requires a solid core of ethics and integrity—an inner compass. It requires being a person of your word so that others can count on you. It requires you to do the right thing even when no one else is looking. It mandates that we take a different path, even when it may be lonely or unpopular. Learning builds our brain, but character builds our core. When coupled together, the result is an individual who is a lifelong learner, who carefully considers and reflects, and one who uses his or her knowledge to make the world a better place.

I challenge every educator (teacher, school leader, paraprofessional, parent, curriculum director, etc.) to take a moment to seriously reflect and consider: Where does YOUR school fit on this continuum of academic excellence? Are you contributing to providing your students with a true education, as defined by Dr. King? If not, why not? What is holding you back? What would you need to light this match and make it happen? Make a commitment and get started. Today.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

Competency-Based Education to Support P-12 Student Success

The competency-based educational (CBE) model has been used successfully in higher education for the past two decades, and it is starting to gain national traction at the P-12 level. Several states, particularly on the east coast, have already come to appreciate its benefits. The Marzano Academy at Lomie G. Heard Elementary School, a new magnet charter school focusing on STEM will open its doors this fall under the CBE model. The state of Illinois currently has 10 school districts that will begin a pilot in academic year 2018-19 under the Illinois’ Competency-Based High School Graduation Requirements Pilot Program.

Within CBE, learners must demonstrate what they know and are able to do through carefully designed and calibrated assessments. Expectations are clear and well-defined, and there is thoughtful, purposeful alignment between curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

It’s All About Learning

This model is truly learner-centered: Seat time becomes less important than learning time. Students are able to drive their own learning and work at their own pace within structured guidelines. They are supported through meaningful feedback and mentoring.

Parents and caregivers feel more informed about their child’s progress under the CBE model. They know what their student is learning, their learning goals, progress, and their level of proficiency in each skill set. This helps them to partner with teachers to provide additional support at home.

Teachers recognize the positive impact the CBE model has on student learning and development. They are able to easily track the progress of each student on a daily basis, and they know exactly when a learner needs additional support.

School leaders are able to support teachers more effectively when they know exactly what their needs are. With the CBE model, they can provide strategic assistance through forming a mentoring network to support struggling students; through building school-community partnerships; through offering targeted professional development support, and the like.

Before making a decision to develop one or more programs based on the CBE model, educators must consider the following major questions:

  • Would CBE align with our school’s mission and vision?
  • What are the benefits of CBE for our students?
  • What are the challenges and caveats of CBE?
  • What are the basic steps needed to convert our current curriculum to the CBE model?
  • How can we train and support our faculty and staff so they could implement the CBE model successfully?
  • Could our school commit to a pilot lasting at least five years so we can fully measure the impact CBE has had on our learners?

The Bottom Line

Competency-based education is NOT a shortcut nor an easy fix to serious school challenges. However, if built correctly and maintained properly, the CBE model can prove to be a powerful way to increase student learning, achievement, and satisfaction.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in accreditation, quality assurance, teacher preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as quality assurance, accreditation, competency-based education, and educator preparation.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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Competency-Based Education: Academic Excellence in Action

 

Competency-based education (CBE) is quickly becoming accepted as an effective way to facilitate powerful, authentic learning at all levels. Sometimes referred to as personalized learning, mastery learning, or proficiency learning, students must demonstrate what they know and are able to do, rather than just put in “seat time” and complete a prescribed set of courses. However, designing a solid CBE program is not as simple as it sounds–it requires a great deal of thought, understanding, and know-how.

I’ve worked in institutions using traditional learning models and spent 10 years working in one that employs the CBE model effectively. I’ve really come to appreciate the level of learning that takes place in a CBE model, and I’ve seen over the years how effective it is in supporting students’ learning. I’ve celebrated with students and their families who reached their goals and achieved their dreams because they were in an environment that enabled them to show what they knew and then move on at their own pace. CBE, when structured properly, helps educators to personalize learning experiences. I predict the CBE model will be a major player in the educational arena over the next two decades at the P-12 level as well as at the collegiate level.

There are some essential thoughts to consider for programs thinking about adopting the competency-based education (CBE) model, and I shared some of those tenets in a commentary published in the Journal of Competency-Based Education entitled, Implications for Educator Preparation Programs Considering Competency-Based Education. 

Helping students to demonstrate what they know and are able to do within the context of a set of well-articulated competencies and measured through high-quality assessments is certainly one example of academic excellence.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

Supporting Learners in a Competency-Based Education Classroom

This is the fourth installment in a series of blog posts on the topic of competency-based education. Previous posts included: There IS a Better Way to Teach; What’s Under the Hood; and The Basics of CBE Curriculum Development.

How we teach is just as important as what we teach. In other words, instructional methods are just as vital to the learning process as the content being taught. Very few students learn by simply reading or absorbing material—if they did, we really wouldn’t need teachers.

Just as with traditional learning models, there are many ways P-12 and higher education faculty can instruct students within the competency-based education (CBE) model. However, the key here is to provide academic support in a way that helps learners attain essential content and ultimately demonstrate what they know and are able to do. Facilitation, as opposed to direct instruction, has been proven to be an effective way of providing this type of academic support primarily because by its very nature the CBE model creates a space for flexibility for instructors as well as for learners. Of course, face-to-face and online learning environments may require use of different facilitation models, but some good options to consider include:

 

Regardless of the facilitation model chosen, learning should be constant, and not time-dependent in a competency-based learning environment. In other words, learners should be actively engaged at all times but should not be forced to move in lockstep fashion with all other students. They should have the freedom and flexibility to learn at their own pace and in their own way—which is one reason why CBE is commonly referred to as personalized learning, although the two terms are not completely synonymous.

In the next blog installment, we will dive more deeply into the teacher’s role within a competency-based learning environment.

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.  

 

Tired of subs? Grow your own teachers. But do it with excellence.

There has been a nationwide shortage of math, science, English language learning, and special education teachers for several years, and it will only get worse unless creative, out-of-the-box ideas are piloted. Gone are the days when individuals go into teaching just to “have something to fall back on” and to work the same hours as their children—teaching is a demanding profession and the classroom can be a tough place to be.

California education officials recognize this critical teacher shortage, and they are committed to finding a solution.  In my recent blog post entitled Accelerating the Pathway to Initial Teacher Certification, I wrote about the new initiative approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing that focuses on growing the number of qualified mathematics teachers. At the district level, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is trying to shore up its supply of special education and other hard-to-find teachers through its STEP UP and Teach program. This program provides mentoring as well as financial support to qualified candidates, often those who are already employed in the district as paraprofessional and who have strong ties to the local community.

This “grow your own” approach is similar in many ways to other nationwide efforts such as the Kansas City Teacher Residency project. Based on the premise that teachers are best trained on-site and under the careful mentoring of experienced teachers in real-life situation, such training is certainly workforce-driven. It’s also competency-based in many respects, because teacher candidates must demonstrate what they know and able to do on a daily basis. Admission requirements into programs such as the KCTR are strict, admitting only those candidates who demonstrate a strong propensity for long-term success as a caring, effective educator. This is as it should be—we want only the very best teaching our children and our grandchildren.

All these pilots share some things in common but there is still something they are missing—and that is a curriculum that is built by the best of the best—those educators and school leaders who have been recognized as high performing. A feature I would love to see embedded in other programs is evidence that teacher candidates are being trained by those who have been highly successful in today’s classrooms and who understand how to meet the needs of students in 2018 and beyond. Curriculum written by faculty who can talk theory but who have little teaching experience will fall flat on its face. Likewise, a program built by those who haven’t seen the inside of a P-12 school in 20 years simply cannot prepare teachers for 21st Century schools. It’s just not realistic, and yet we see those programs training new teachers by the thousands in every state across our nation. As a result, we are licensing new teachers who discover they have come down with a case of, “What have I gotten myself into?” syndrome. Those teachers leave the classroom in droves, headed for less stressful jobs often with more pay. That’s why about half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years of obtaining their license.

What’s more is that accrediting bodies, whose role is to ensure programmatic quality, don’t even look for evidence that programs have been created by high-performing university faculty with proven, recent success in the P-12 sector. How can something of such importance fail to be on their radar? And what’s it going to take to start building educator preparation programs by those who actually know what skills new teachers need to know in order to be successful in today’s classrooms?

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and educational agencies in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, leadership, outcomes-based performance, making data-driven decisions, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about various issues related to academic excellence through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). Roberta can be reached through Twitter (@RRossFisher), LinkedIn (Roberta Ross-Fisher) and email at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

 

The Drive-Thru Approach to Teacher Preparation

The Drive-Thru Approach to Teacher Preparation

I read yet another article about national teacher shortages; this one was entitled Teacher Shortages Spur a Nationwide Hiring Scramble (Credentials Optional). As a result of their desperation to staff classrooms, school district officials are putting pressure on states to relax teacher licensure requirements. In some cases, this has led to the watering down of standards and expectations. Some are taking advantage of the current climate, smelling the sweet aroma of serious revenue by offering what is essentially a drive-thru teacher preparation program: The “customer” arrives at the window, attracted by the bright lights and yummy-looking food pics. Enrollment counselors take their order and send them on. Worker bees behind the scenes serve up a program that may be of questionable or untested quality and the customer is on their way in record time. They don’t know that their fries were cold or there was no straw until they are miles down the road. Programs know such a model is cheap to build and cheap to operate; it’s easy money and there are so many students rolling through the drive-thru lane that they can afford to have some unhappy customers and still turn a profit.

In the short term, school districts are happy because they have a less difficult time hiring teachers, and program completers are happy because they’ve gotten through their program at break-neck speed and haven’t had to “waste” their time on courses they perceive as useless. However, in the long term, a host of new cyclical problems are revealed, including:

  • Individuals are admitted to the programs who really shouldn’t be—they sometimes lack the academic preparation or the professional dispositions necessary for success in the classroom.
  • Program completers are often ill-prepared to enter the classroom; they require a great deal of on-site training by the school district.
  • Many new teachers quickly become disillusioned and leave the profession because they didn’t know how challenging teaching really can be. Some leave in the middle of a school year.
  • Students often suffer due to constant turnover and lack of consistency.
  • Test scores lag and fall behind state averages; impact outcomes tend to be dismal.

 

Not all for-profit alternative certification programs are of poor quality, but many are. While accrediting bodies have recently come under greater scrutiny for their standards and expectations, many of these programs fly under the radar and are not regionally accredited*, which is the foundational accreditation any legitimate institution of higher education should attain. Some are taking the easy path to accreditation through bodies that focus mostly on career schools** such as beauty schools, truck driving schools, at-home hypnosis training, etc. just to state on their program’s website that they are accredited. These programs use “sleight of hand” language with the lay public, saying they are “accreditation eligible” which in reality means nothing but it sounds very convincing to those who are not well versed in the lingo.  Make no mistake: The drive-thru teacher preparation model is very real, and it is having a very real impact on our P-12 schools. The question is: Are we going to accept it as the new normal, or are we finally going to draw a line in the sand and insist on academic excellence for our children?

 

–rrf

 

*The regional accreditation bodies in the United States include: (1) Higher Learning Commission (HLC); (2) Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE); (3) New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC-CIHE) Commission on Institutions of Higher Education; (4) Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); and (5) WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

**The Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) awards accreditation to degree-granting, high school, military, and post-secondary schools. A search of accredited post-secondary schools, which would apply to alternative teacher certification programs, includes the Hypnosis Motivation Institute, At-Home Professions, and the Modern Gun School, to name a few.

Rural Schools: Let’s Talk Teacher Shortages and What to Do About Them.

Recruitment. Salaries. Culture Shock. Retention. These are all factors that contribute to nationwide shortages of teachers—particularly challenging in areas of high demand, such as mathematics, science, special education, English language learning, and the like. While we commonly read about and focus on solutions to meet demand in urban settings, educational reformers and policy makers need to also consider how best to meet demand in rural areas. While there are some commonalities, the solutions are not one and the same.

Recruitment. As with urban districts, rural schools often have difficulty in recruiting qualified applicants for teaching positions. In some areas, school officials won’t receive a single applicant for a given position. Part of the problem is getting the word out—many rural school districts still rely on word-of-mouth, or publication in the local newspaper, or posting on the school’s website–but there are other factors that contribute to recruitment issues such as low salaries, few cultural opportunities, and feelings of isolation for individuals who may not have family ties to a given area. Plus, it’s likely that every other district in that area is also trying to recruit for the same positions, so there’s a competition factor at play as well.

Salaries. In some areas, a district’s salary scale is so low that teachers’ own children qualify for free or reduced lunch, due in part because of the declining number of local businesses and industries that contribute to the tax base. Less industry means less revenue generated in taxes, both from business owners and from their employees—who support local schools through real estate taxes. Moreover, principals and superintendents can’t always hire the “best” candidate or the most highly qualified candidate—because their salary budget is so limited, they often have to hire someone fresh out of college with no experience, primarily because they can pay that person less money than someone with 10 years of experience and a master’s degree. Plus, teachers already employed in a district have little incentive to go back to school and earn an advanced degree—in some rural districts teachers have received a total increase of $250 for earning a master’s degree—which is spread out over 12 months and subject to tax withholdings.

Culture Shock. When I was in school, it was easy to spot teachers who weren’t from my area—they dressed differently; they spoke differently; and they weren’t related to anyone I knew. And, more often than not, they didn’t drive a pickup truck—a dead giveaway that they were not local. With very few exceptions, those teachers never stayed long—after a year or two at the most they moved on—usually back to where they went to college or where they had family. I recall one high school teacher who packed up and left after one quarter—she had a bachelor’s degree and her state teacher certification but she was not prepared for such a cultural shock. I still think about her to this day, wondering if she ever recovered and returned to another classroom.

Retention. Retaining teachers after they’ve been hired is an ongoing challenge in every school district. Some teachers just job hop—for various reasons they like moving around. Others feel as though they have been treated unfairly for one reason or another. In many instances, a spouse’s job takes them to another location. School officials can’t always retain their high-quality teachers, but more could be done to keep them and support their ongoing professional growth—including finding ways to promote those who demonstrate a propensity for leadership roles.

                             

                               A Few Recommendations

I’m a firm believer that if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem. So, here are a few ideas I have for addressing each of the challenges outlined above. Keep in mind this is just a start—a springboard for further conversation if you will:

Recruitment:

  • Start Building that Pipeline—School officials could work with local churches, parent and civic groups, and high schools to promote the benefits of local school involvement and employment. Build a cohesive, year-long campaign and improve upon it each year by making it a community-wide effort.
  • Use the Grow Your Own Approach—Principals and superintendents should look closely at those paraprofessionals, substitute teachers, and volunteers who have a bachelor’s degree—if they show promise they should be mentored and encouraged to get that teaching certificate. Form a committee for this purpose and make it a priority to identify, recruit, and mentor individuals who demonstrate a propensity for success and who have strong ties to the local community.

Salaries & Retention:

Endowed Positions—School districts could partner with local businesses and industries to attract and retain high-quality teachers, particularly those in shortage areas. For example, an endowment could be established in a company’s name to supplement the income of a highly-qualified math teacher—the district would provide the regular salary and benefits, with the business adding an extra layer of salary as an incentive. Such an endowment would be good public relations for the business and may even provide some tax benefits. This may help not only to recruit but also retain high-quality teachers filling key positions, and it would further encourage school-business partnerships to create a workforce-influenced curriculum.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and educational agencies in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, leadership, outcomes-based performance, making data-driven decisions, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about various issues related to academic excellence through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). Roberta can be reached through Twitter (@RRossFisher), LinkedIn (Roberta Ross-Fisher) and email at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

 

Source: America Must Get Serious About Addressing Teacher Shortages in Rural Areas | Knowledge Bank | US News

Accelerating the Pathway to Initial Teacher Certification

In an attempt to ease the shortage of more than 33,000 mathematics teachers over the next decade, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing has given four state universities $250,000 each to create new preparation programs that will cut the normal time to earn math credentials and a degree from five and a half years to four. Cal State Los Angeles, San Jose State, San Diego State and Fresno State were selected to create curriculum and design accelerated (compacted) programs to encourage individuals pursuing a bachelor’s degree to consider becoming middle school or high school math teachers.

While this may sound good on the surface, I just don’t think it’s enough to really address the shortage in the long run—these prospective teachers will still have to jump through a lot of hoops just to earn their teaching credential, including all the requirements to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree.

I haven’t seen any emphasis on truly innovative training, or on measuring the longitudinal impact of graduates on their students’ learning—nor did I read anything about intensive mentoring support from the employing school district or the home university in the first two or three years following program completion. All those things, plus many more, are necessary for a teacher to be truly ready for the classroom. Otherwise, the likelihood of them being successful or of them staying for more than a year or two is greatly reduced. And—this grant program only focuses on mathematics—what about the critical shortages in sciences, special education, English language learning, and the like? And—why was this initiative focused only on those earning their bachelor’s degree? We mustn’t forget those who have already demonstrated a propensity for success in the classroom as well as strong ties in the school—those paraprofessionals and substitute teachers—many of whom already have a bachelor’s degree but just need their teaching credential.

I have built a preparation framework designed for this latter group. It’s innovative. It’s unique. It’s research-based. And it’s 10 months long. Care to learn more, California Commission on Teacher Credentialing?

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation and academic quality assurance. She currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher licensure, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.  

 

 

Source: California colleges address math teacher shortage by accelerating pathway to credentials | Education Dive

The Basics of CBE Curriculum Development

This is the third installment in a series of blog posts on the topic of competency-based education. Previously, I provided an overview of what competency-based education is, why I started using it with my own students and other terms it’s frequently known by, as well as the six major components found in a healthy CBE program. Feel free to reach out to me if you have additional questions or need support implementing CBE in your school.

As a reminder from the previous blog installment, there are six major pillars that anchor a solid competency-based education program:

  • Curriculum
  • Instruction
  • Assessment
  • Faculty Training & Support
  • Parent/Caregiver Orientation & Support (for P-12 Schools)
  • Student Orientation & Support (for all learner levels)

 

An extremely important aspect of CBE is its curriculum—the “what” of education. It’s what you want students to know—sometimes referred to as their knowledge base, their content knowledge, or their scope of learning. We have learned over the years that curriculum should be standards-based in order to provide students with a coherent, cohesive, and sequential body of content over time. However, not all schools and not all states can agree on which specific standards to use (another blog for another time). Some standards commonly used by P-12 schools include:

 

Higher education institutions typically rely on state-specific content standards or specialty professional association (SPA) standards such as those from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), or other industry-specific standards.

Once the standards have been selected, it’s time to create a set of competencies, which clearly define what students should know or learn and what we want them to be able to do with that knowledge. There should be a clear linkage between the standards and the competency statements. Those competencies form the cornerstone of the whole curriculum ultimately, of the whole program.

After the competencies have been generated, specific, measurable learning objectives (sometimes known as skill statements) must be written. These learning objectives help define the curriculum to a granular level—it’s kind of like an inverted pyramid where you start off from a macro perspective and gradually become more and more defined, narrow, and micro:

Inverted Pyramid

 

So to summarize, the basics of developing curriculum in a competency-based education program include:

  1. Select the standard(s): WHAT do we want students to know?
  2. Write the competencies: What do we want students to be able to DO with their knowledge?
  3. Write the learning objectives: How can students SHOW (demonstrate) what they know?

 

Now, the process is more complex than it sounds—there are specific processes and procedures involved in writing quality competencies and learning objectives—but this is an overview.

Installment #4 of this series will focus on building an effective instructional model in a competency-based education program.

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation and academic quality assurance. She currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher licensure, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.  

What’s Under the Hood: Major Components of Competency-Based Educational Programs

This is the second installment in a series of blog posts on the topic of competency-based education. In the first blog, I provided a basic overview of what competency-based education is, why I started using it with my own students, and other terms it’s frequently known by. Feel free to reach out to me if you have additional questions or need support implementing CBE in your school.

Regardless of whether you work in a P-12 school or at a higher education institution, there are six major pillars that anchor a solid competency-based education program:

  • Curriculum
  • Instruction
  • Assessment
  • Faculty Training & Support
  • Parent/Caregiver Orientation & Support (for P-12 Schools)
  • Student Orientation & Support (for all learner levels)

 

A strong, healthy CBE program must be built on these pillars, which makes preparation, planning, and collaboration extremely important. All six should be tied directly to the school’s mission and vision, and they should all be connected to each other to avoid a disjointed program.

I recommend using a backwards design model when developing your own competency-based education program—in other words, create a well-defined “picture” of what you want to accomplish—what is your final goal? What does success look like in your school? How would that be defined? Once you and your team know what you want to accomplish, you can start working backward from there and build out each of those six components.

Installment #3 of this series will focus on developing curriculum in a competency-based education program.

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation and academic quality assurance. She currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher licensure, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.  

 

 

There IS a Better Way to Teach & Learn: It’s Competency-Based Education

This is the first installment in a series of blog posts on the topic of competency-based education; feel free to reach out to me if you have additional questions or need support implementing CBE in your school.

I was a teacher for many years (elementary, middle, secondary) and while I loved working with my students, I sometimes felt as though I was constantly walking around in a darkened room looking for the light switch. I was completely committed to helping my students learn and to achieve their goals—I just wasn’t completely sure how to go about it. I found myself trying all sorts of methods with mixed levels of success, and what made it even harder was that there was never another teacher or principal in my building who could mentor and guide me to a better way of teaching. I knew creating a single lesson plan and teaching to the middle wasn’t effective—even though it was the way I was taught, and it was the way I was trained in my teaching prep program. Under that approach, I felt as though I was throwing spaghetti on the wall hoping something would stick, at least for those students in the middle of the bulls eye. Unless I got really lucky with my aim, those learning at the lowest and highest ends of the continuum rarely had their needs met. It’s not easy to admit, but it’s the truth. I experimented with my own version of individualized learning, but it was so limited in scope that I saw only limited results. However, despite the additional work and time required on my part, I felt excited and encouraged because I could see the impact those efforts were having on my students.

Later I tried project-based learning, and liked it. I enjoyed the notion of students being able to select their own topics of personal interest and to a certain extent driving their own learning. I used this primarily with gifted students but after three years concluded that individualized, project-based learning should be provided to students of all ability levels. It was only in the past few years that I was able to put a name with the approach I came to believe in and adopt as my personal teaching philosophy—it was competency-based education (CBE), which I’ve learned is also frequently referred to as: personalized learning, proficiency learning, performance-based learning, mastery learning, outcomes-based learning, or authentic learning.

Regardless what it is called, the bottom line is that in a CBE classroom:

  • Students demonstrate what they know and are able to do.
  • Expectations are measurable & clearly defined.
  • What students learn is more important than seat time.
  • Teachers serve as mentors or learning coaches to support student learning.
  • Instructional decisions are data-driven.

 

Installment #2 of this series will focus on the major components of a competency-based educational program.

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation and academic quality assurance. She currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher licensure, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.