Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Challenges and Opportunities in Urban Education

Eileen S. Johnson, Ph.D.
Department of Organizational Leadership
Oakland University
Rochester, Michigan

President, NCPEA

As the state affiliate, Michigan Association of Professors of Educational Administration (MAPEA), works diligently to prepare for the 2016 NCPEA conference in Detroit, I find myself reflecting more frequently about the challenges and opportunities of urban education – challenges faced by Detroit schools as well as urban schools throughout the United States and beyond.  In particular, school closures have plagued urban school districts across the country, especially in low-income communities (http://www.aefpweb.org/sites/default/files/webform/Closing%20Schools%20Engberg%20Gill%20Zamarro%20Zimmer%20201103.pdf). 
While declining school-aged populations is often cited as the primary reason for school closures, broader concerns of school funding and resource allocation inequities, a movement away from neighborhood schooling options, and market-driven approaches to schooling challenge the ideals of public education.  For example, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder recently presented a strategy for reducing and ultimately eliminating the debt now carried by Detroit Public Schools by creating a new entity – Detroit Community Schools http://www.michigan.gov/snyder/0,4668,7-277-57577_60279-353475--,00.html.  The idea is to keep both the millage and the old debt encumbered with DPS and shift operational funds to the new DCS entity.  However, the plan does not adequately address reasons for the debt incurred by DPS in the first place – nor does it address issues of funding and resource inequity and quality of the teaching/learning environment.    Indeed, there are significant social justice issues at play when considering the issue of school closures and those populations most affected; urban school closures affect primarily low-income Black and Latino students and families, creating “ school deserts” in many urban communities in which families are now hard-pressed to find viable educational alternatives for their children.  http://www.msnbc.com/melissa-harris-perry/what-happens-when-kids-lose-their-schools.  And despite the common assumption that privatizing “failing” schools based on for-profit business models will provide a viable solution to the problem, this assumption has generally not borne out.  For example, Muskegon Heights Public Schools, a district that served primarily low-income Black students on the west side of Michigan, was the first instance in the nation of an entire school district being shut down and reopened under private control as a charter district.  The for-profit company that won the lowest bid dissolved the five-year contract after only two years due to a lack of profits among other issues.  http://www.mlive.com/news/muskegon/index.ssf/2014/04/mosaica_out_as_manager_of_musk.html.  If such market-driven solutions are not working in most cases, how do we restructure schooling to meet the needs of those communities withstanding the greatest impact of school closures? 

The Flagstaff Seminar: Educational Leaders without Borders http://www.educationalleaderswithoutborders.com/ has as its primary objective to ensure that children world-wide have the right and means to attend school.  A second objective is not to make schools as they exist more efficient at what they do, but to call into question what schools do in the first place and how they work or should work to provide greater equality to all children and their families.”  This brings us to the question: what are education leaders to do when the commonly accepted model of schooling fails to work effectively in urban settings?  While this question initially formed the basis of the charter school idea in the 1970s, through which teachers were given “charters” or contracts by their local school boards to explore new approaches to education, the charter school reform movement in the 1990s too often resulted in schools that operated in exactly the same way as public schools but with fewer state-level mandates and the freedom to choose which students to admit and not admit.  The result has been competition among schools for students and funding, and in many cases, for-profit companies taking over schools without long-term investment or commitment to the communities they serve.   http://wgnradio.com/2014/01/23/charter-schools-problem-or-solution-for-chicago-students/.  Currently, wide-spread and increasing disinvestment in public education is a driving force behind educators seeking alternative means and resources for operating schools.  The failure of charter schools to significantly improve the educational opportunities and outcomes of those communities most impacted by public school shut-downs may lie not in the idea but in the failure to adopt truly innovative and meaningful alternative approaches to education. 

However, there is some movement toward greater flexibility and innovative models of education taking place in cities across the nation that have been hardest hit by state mandated school shut-downs.  One example is Youthbuild Philly Charter School, http://youthbuildphilly.org/, a non-profit organization dedicated to operating schools designed to allow students aged 18 – 21 to complete the high school diploma after having dropped out of the traditional high school https://www.youthbuild.org/content/eros-macto-voco.  The schools, which operate world-wide, provide students with mentoring, individualized instruction, and on-the-job training opportunities.  Many of the schools operate by leasing space within existing facilities. Other examples include innovative operating models that involve public-private partnerships or connect public schools to community development. http://www.bostonfed.org/commdev/c&b/2005/winter/Public.pdf.  Ultimately, the challenges faced by urban schools are driving new strategies designed to break out of traditional ways of thinking about schooling and providing new opportunities for educational innovation.  It is my sincere hope that, as NCPEA gathers in Detroit in 2016, we will have the opportunity to engage in substantive dialogue about the future of public schools in urban areas and the role of educational leadership in pushing the boundaries of traditional approaches to schooling to better meet the educational needs of students world-wide. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Principal Turnover

Principal Turnover

Gerard Babo, Ed. D
Seton Hall University
South Orange, NJ
NJ-NCPEA Co-President

This is my first foray into the world of “blog” writing and I’m not quite sure what approach to take with this forum.  Last month my colleague, Chris Tienken, quite articulately addressed one of the major issues facing all public school educators as we move into the new century.  He provided a viewpoint supported by empirical evidence, which I found to be quite informative.  However, I would like to take a bit of a different tack with my entry into this new communication medium and that is to pose a question to all of us in the field of educational administrator preparation - Are we doing enough to assist those new principal candidates whom have graduated from our programs to successfully navigate their first year as a principal?  Or, do we just assume that they will adapt and learn how to successfully survive the first year of their new leadership position like many of us did when we took our first position?

Granted, there are so many other pressing issues that are much more timely and relevant to us in the field of principal preparation.  There are the revisions to the ISLLC standards that are being proposed, evolving from six standards to 11 (Superville, 2014).  Additionally, there is the continued focus across the nation for a more substantive and rigorous approach to principal evaluation, which is packed with a bevy of potential pitfalls. Yes, these two issues alone will have long standing implications for us all.  However, based on my own past personal experience, and a current research project that I am working on, I have been inspired to address this potentially important topic.  You see, the issue of principal turnover, as identified by the School Leader’s Network (2014) and discussed by some others (Fuller, 2012; Burkhauser, Gates, Hamilton & Ikemoto, 2012), is rarely addressed by those of us charged with preparing the next generation of school leaders yet one that I believe begs our needed attention. The literature on first year principals is not as rich as one might think, as a matter of fact, it could be considered deficient (Burkhauser et al, 2012).   Beteille, Kolgrides and Loeb (2011) reported that one in five principals leave their school each year and many of these principals are from districts that are socioeconomically challenged and poor- performing. Burkhauser et al (2012) claim that approximately 12% of first year principals leave after one year and 11% after two years.  One can only assume that this issue will be exacerbated as more and more states demand stricter evaluation methodologies that include overall student academic growth as a weighted multiplier in many, if not all, of the evaluation schemas.

I think all of us would agree that the role and responsibilities of a building principal have changed dramatically over the past twenty years.  Some might even argue that the added level of  ccountability is approaching untenable proportions (Darling-Hammond, Meyerson, LaPointe & Orr, 2010).   It’s no wonder that the rate of principal turnover has increased, specifically in high poverty areas where student achievement as measured by state standardized assessments is perennially low (Fuller, 2012; Burkhauser et al, 2012).  Subsequently, what can we as a national or local organization do to possibly address the issue of post-graduate support for our new principal candidates and possibly stem the tide
of turnover?

I don’t know about all of you but my first year as a new principal was harrowing, to say the least, and that was at a time when the demands of public policy and the cloak of accountability were somewhat less imposing.  Before obtaining my first principal's position, I had spent 15 years in the classroom and four years as an assistant principal of a large middle school, so I was not naive about the expectations.  However, being in a new school system in a brand new job did create a level of palpable anxiety.  Luckily, I had a good friend two towns over who had been a principal for 5 years who helped me through those beginning months and first year.  It was at that time that I thought it would have been great if the school where I had received my formal education had some type of program for new principals, some support system, a community, if you will, to help and counsel new building principals.

Many states require that new principals be mentored their first and/or second year on the job.  But as many of us know, these mentorships are not always of top quality.  Very often they are only as good as the assigned mentor and since many of these mentors are retired administrators many of them don’t really know or completely understand the new demands placed upon the current contingent of new principals.  It is by no means the fault of the assigned mentor it is just that many of them acquired their administrative experience and expertise during a completely different era.   Additionally, in most of these cases the relationship between mentor and mentee is more formal and consequently the mentee might lack a certain level of candor concerning specific job requirement and

However, what if programs or forums were devised and administered through university partnerships and/or local NCPEA affiliates that could provide meeting places for new principal candidates to learn about new school initiatives, curricular programs, IDEA regulations, testing, personnel management, teacher evaluation and supervision, administrative code, current research, etc.?  Could new school leader programs or forums potentially assist our new candidates through the first and second year of being a principal?  Regardless, even if the programs were not able to regularly afford extensive professional development they could at least provide risk-free environments for new principals to share their concerns, trials and tribulations with colleagues going through the same thing.  Professors of Educational Leadership, either though their departments or as NCPEA representatives, could oversee and manage these events and provide advice, counsel and professional expertise while satisfying one of the many tenure required components, service to the field.

The time has come for us in NCPEA to take a bit of a broader look at our mission and goals.  Maybe we need to include a perspective where we are not just solely interested in the preparation of future building leaders but also dedicated to their success after they have left our campuses.  The research is quite clear about the fact that the second most important person in a school that has the greatest impact on student success is the principal (Leithwood, Louis-Seashore, Anderson & Wahlstrom, 2004). Unfortunately, the research also suggests that when principals leave their school the impact is not only felt the year they leave but also the year after (Burkhauser et al, 2012).  Maybe we as a collective group can help to stem the tide of principal turnover by simply making sure our newly employed graduates have a place they can turn to for information, counsel, camaraderie and a friendly, non-threatening listener.

Beteille, T., Kalogrides, D. & Loeb, S. (2011, July). Stepping stones: Principal career
paths and school outcomes. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic

Burkhauser, S., Gates, S.M., Hamilton, L.S., and Ikemoto, G.S. (2012). First-year
principals in urban school districts: How actions and working conditions relate to
outcomes.  Santa Monica, CA: The RAND Corporation.

Darling-Hammond, L., Meyerson, D., LaPointe, M., & Orr, M. T. (2010). Preparing
principals for a changing world: Lessons from effective school leadership
programs. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Fuller, E. (2012, July 16). Re: Examining principal turnover. [Web Log Message].
Retrieved from http://www.shankerinstitute.org/blog/examining-principal-

Leithwood, K., Louis-Seashore, K., Anderson, S., & Wahlstrom, K. (2004). How
Leadership Influences Student Learning. Review of Research. Ontario: The
Wallace Foundation.

School Leaders Network (2014). Churn: The high cost of principal turnover. Retrieved
from http://connectleadsucceed.org/

Superville, D.R. (2014, September 15). New school leaders’ standards released for public
comment.  Education Week. Retrieved from

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Standardized Teaching?

Christopher H, Tienken, Ed.D 
Seton Hall University
New Jersey 

The education blogosphere and social media are filled with commentaries about standardized testing. New state-mandated tests in Grades 3-8 and high school are being administered across the country during the 2014-2015 school year. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) are two examples of the new breed of computer-based assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Some pundits and education bureaucrats have heralded those tests and other state tests as the new frontier of assessment.

Assertions abound about the ability of the results from the new state standardized tests to provide fine-grained and actionable information about student learning and teacher effectiveness. There are even claims that the results from the new batch of standardized tests can categorize students in elementary school as college and career ready.

But what does the evidence say about these and other popular claims related to how the results from the new tests can be effectively used by school administrators? What responsibility do professors of education leadership / school administration have in engaging in a thorough critique of the claims with their leadership candidates?

In this commentary I address four common assertions made about the usefulness of the results from tests like SBAC and PARCC and suggest that professors have a responsibility to facilitate evidence-based discussions with their leadership candidates about the utility of results from standardized tests to make important decisions about teaching and learning.

Assertion 1
The results from the state mandated, Common Core aligned tests will be diagnostic and provide parents, teachers, school administrators, bureaucrats, and policy makers important information about student learning and the quality of the teaching that public school children receive.

Counterpoint 1
Assertion #1 is not validated by the literature on diagnostic testing. As colleagues and I have written elsewhere, in order to provide diagnostic information about an individual student’s mastery of any one skill, the test results must have reliability figures of around .80 to .90. To attain that level of reliability there must be about 20-25 questions per skill (Frisbie, 1988; Tanner, 2001). Keep in mind there are multiple skills embedded in each Common Core standard, so the PARCC, SBAC, or other state tests would need to have 100’s of questions just to fully assess a few standards. In fact, some of the Common Core Standards have 10-15 skill objectives embedded in them requiring upwards of 200 questions to assess one standard.

The tests do not have enough questions to diagnose student mastery at the individual level for any of the skills or standards. Thus, any “diagnostic” decisions made from state standardized test results about a student’s mastery of specific standards will be potentially flawed.

Another issue related to diagnostic testing is the time frame in which the results will be received by teachers, school administrators, and parents. Most results from state standardized tests given in the spring will not be returned until the end of the school year or during the summer months. How is that diagnostic or informative? Do you wait three to five months for results from your primary care doctor? Diagnostic information is generally data or information received within a short period of time so that adjustments can be made to intervention protocols immediately.

Consider further that teachers, parents, school administrators, and students will not be able to see every question from their state mandated tests. Some states are releasing a small number of questions whereas other states are not releasing any actual test items. How can teachers or parents “diagnose” needs if they do not know the questions the students answer correctly or incorrectly or if they cannot see the actual student answers to the questions?  At that point the process becomes guessing, not diagnosing.

It would be similar to situation in which a child’s classroom teacher sent home a grade from a recent classroom test and only provided 10% or 20% of the questions from the test and did not let the parents see the child’s answers to those questions. How is that diagnostic?

Shouldn’t school administrator candidates understand basic principles of diagnostic assessment? Is important that candidates understand clearly the limitations and appropriate uses of state mandated test results as tools to diagnose student learning?

Assertion 2
Vendors of state mandated tests opine that the results can provide stakeholders important information about the quality of a student’s teacher and the academic achievement of students.

Counterpoint 2
Regardless of what proponents of using state test results claim about the quality of information gained from testing, the results from standardized test most often provide information about the family and community economic environments in which a student lives than how much a student knows or how well a teacher teaches. Colleagues and I have been able to predict results from standardized tests in New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan, and Iowa with a good deal of accuracy. Much of standardized test score can be accounted for by factors outside of the control of school personnel. (e.g. Maylone, 2002; Sackey, 2014; Tienken, 2015; Wilkins, 1999).

Through a series of cross-sectional and longitudinal studies completed in New Jersey since 2011, my colleagues and I have begun the process of demonstrating the predictive accuracy of family and community demographic variables in Grades 3-8, and high school.

For example, in New Jersey our best models predicted the percentage of students scoring proficient or above on the former Grade 6 NJASK tests in 70% of the districts for the language arts portion of the test and in 67% of the districts for the math portion in our sample of 389 school districts (Tienken, 2014). We accurately predicted the percentage of students scoring proficient or above on the Grade 7 language arts tests for 77% of the districts and 66% of the districts in math for our statewide sample of 388 school districts. We have had similar results in grades 3-8 and 11 in NJ and other states (e.g., Turnamian & Tienken, 2013).

Should school administration candidates graduate preparation programs knowing that the results from commercially prepared standardized tests are influenced heavily by factors outside the control of teachers? Should they know not to use the results from one test to make important decisions about students or teachers?

Assertion 3
Another common assertion made about state standardized tests is that the results will be able to indicate whether students in grades 3-8 and high school are college and career ready.

Counterpoint 3
As a parent and a professor of education leadership I find the assertion stunning. The idea that results from one test can provide that level of predictive information is incredible, especially given that standardized tests like the SAT cannot even predict very accurately which students will do well during their first year of college and beyond (Atkinson & Geiser, 2009). In fact, a student’s high school GPA is generally a more accurate predictor of first year college success and completion, yet bureaucrats and some school administrators claim that the results from their state tests will be able to tell a parent of a 9 year old whether her son is on the path for college or a career (College Board, 2012).

Claiming that a test score from a state mandated test indicates whether a child is college or career ready is like professing the sun revolves around the Earth. Is it not reasonable to expect that school administration graduates know that the standardized testing “sun” does not revolve around the Earth?

Assertion 4
Proponents of state standardized tests aligned to the Common Core assert that the Core is a more rigorous set of standards than all other previous state standards and hence the tests are the most rigors test administered in public schools to date.

Counterpoint 4
The claims of enhanced rigor most often come from one privately funded report by a pro-Common Core think-tank (Carmichael, et al., 2010). Sure, some of the Common Core Standards might be more “rigorous” than some of the previous standards in some states. But most often people who make the claim of enhanced rigor are looking myopically at the verbs used in the Standards. Verbs like “analyze” are used in some of the Standards, but when one reviews the Standards closely, one notices that students are analyzing for a single correct answer; hardly divergent, creative, innovative, or open-ended thinking.

In fact, much of the Core Standards and many of the questions on the new state standardized tests require students to find one correct answer. Many of the tests, like PARCC and SBAC, attempt to achieve the claim of increased rigor by inflating the complexity of the questions through the use of contrived directions and hard to follow tasks.

Should school administration candidates be expected to become critical consumers of information and dig below the headline to review the substance of claims regarding the claims of Common Core rigor and the technical quality of the new state mandated tests and their results? Is it too much for parents to ask of their school administrators to have an understanding and knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the interventions, such as curriculum and assessment products, that they impose upon their children?  

Serving It Up
There seems to be no shortage of curricular Kool-Aid being served by proponents of standardization and testing. Is it acceptable for school administration candidates to leave our preparation programs and parrot inaccurate or incomplete information they hear from education bureaucrats or other sources? Do professors of education administration have a professional obligation to facilitate their candidates learning the critical thinking, critique, and research skills necessary to be able identify the standardization and assessment Kool-Aid? If we don’t provide those skills who will?

Atkinson, R.C. & Geiser, S. (2009). Reflections on a century of college admissions tests. Educational Researcher, 38(9), 665-676.
Carmichael, S.B., Martino, G., Porter-McGee, K., & Wilson, S. (2010). The state of state standards and the Common Core in 2010. Washington, D.C.: Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
College Board. (2012). 2012 college-bound seniors. Total group profile report.  Author.  Retrieved from http://research.collegeboard.org/programs/sat/data/archived/cb-seniors-2012
Frisbie, D.A. (1988). Reliability of scores from teacher-made tests. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 7(1), 25-35.
Maylone, N. (2002, June). The relationship of socioeconomic factors and district scores on the Michigan educational assessment program tests: An analysis
(Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti.
Sackey, A. N. L. (2014). The influence of community demographics on student achievement on the Connecticut Mastery Test in mathematics and language arts in grades 3 through 8. Seton Hall University. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Retreived from http://scholarship.shu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3033&context=dissertations
Tanner, D.E. (2001). Assessing academic achievement. Boston, MA: Allyn and 
Tienken, C.H. (in press). Standardized test results can be predicted: Stop using them to drive policy making. In Tienken & Mullen (Eds.). Education policy perils: Tackling the tough issues. New York: Routledge Publishing.
Tienken, C.H. (2015). Parking the rhetoric on the PARCC. www.christienken.com Retrieved from http://christienken.com/2015/01/24/parking-the-rhetoric-on-parcc/
Tienken, C.H. (2014). State test results are predictable. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 50(4), 154-156.
Turnamian, P. G., & Tienken, C.H. (2013). Use of community wealth demographics to predict statewide test results in Grade 3. In Mullen & Lane (2013) Becoming a global voice. National Council of Professors of Educational Administration Yearbook, 134-146.
Wilkins, J. L. M. (1999). Demographic opportunities and school achievement. Journal of Research in Education, 9(1), 12-19.

Author note:
Portions of this blog were adapted from my previous writing: Parking the 
Rhetoric on the PARCC. Retrieved from