Education Reform

Introduction
The rapid development of competing global markets has forced the American educational system to confront the need for the development of a more highly educated workforce.  As a result, K-12 school systems have been forced to prepare more students for the rigors of a variety of postsecondary experiences by refocusing their efforts on improving students’ awareness and readiness.  Texas’ 2013 legislative suite of educational changes, House Bill 5 (HB5), includes a vast array of reforms designed to provide flexibility for students to develop their talents and pursue early their postsecondary interests.  A major component of HB5 involves the expectation that school counselors take a more individualized approach to advising students for postsecondary pathways of their choice at earlier stages in their K-12 experience.  Specifically, 33 Tex. Educ. Code § 33.007 states that, starting in the 2014-2015 school year, elementary, middle/junior high, and high school counselors will be required to advise students and parents annually of the importance of postsecondary education; high school counselors must provide families with information related to the advantages of the new postsecondary focused graduation requirements.

The Problems
The implementation of HB5 presents school systems’ counseling departments with a host of problems, the most easily identifiable of which are:  the need for more and different (i.e., tailored to postsecondary preparation) professional development; the need for more effective implementation of the state school counseling model; and the need for more time and resources.  Solving these problems involve expenses that most school systems cannot afford; solutions are confounded further by several ancillary issues such as the limited number of certified school counselors, the shortage of funding streams for counseling programs, and the lack of system-wide understanding of the current guidance and counseling model and laws regulating the role of school counselors.

Counselor Professional Development
In a study on counselor models across the nation, researchers found that “the traditional mental health-focused training provided to school counselors over the past decades may have provided ample skill development for practitioners to help students with personal and social challenges, but it falls devastatingly short of helping students succeed academically in schools of the 21st century” (Martin, 2002, p. 149).  Thus, school counselors now must acquire specific knowledge on academic and career advisement related to the variety of available postsecondary programs of study that are aligned with students’ interests in addition to training related to the new high school endorsement and graduation requirements.

Effective Implementation of the State School Counseling Model
In 1989, the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Counseling Association adopted the Texas Comprehensive Developmental Guidance and Counseling Program (CDG), which was revised in 2004.  Having the Texas CDG allows a school district to include sequential activities organized and implemented by certified school counselors with the support of teachers, administrators, students, and parents to address specific student needs.  Local implementation of a state CDG is associated with students having better academic performance, better relationships with teachers, and more positive outlooks regarding future and career opportunities than other models (Lapan, Gysbers, & Petroski, 2001; Lapan, Gysbers, & Sun, 1997).  However, in a national study of state counselor program models, Martin, Carey, and DeCoster (2009) found that Texas had only four to six of the 9 features predictive of effective local implementation of state models.  Texas’ designation as a “Progressing” state suggests that there was room for improvement at the local implementation level, and even more so now given HB5 legislation.

Limited Time and Resources
To fulfill the basic mission of the Texas CDG, program balance of the four components (i.e., guidance curriculum, responsive services, individual planning, system support) along with specific school priorities, must be established as noted by the Texas CDG recommended balance time distribution in Figure 1 below.

Texas Comprehensive Developmental Guidance and Counseling Program
Balance Time Distribution

Texas CDG Components Elementary School Middle School HighSchool
Guidance Curriculum 35%-45% 35%-40% 15%-25%
Responsive Services 30%-40% 30%-40% 25%-35%
Individual Planning 5%-10% 15%-25% 25%-35%
System Support 10%-15% 10%-15% 15%-20%
Non-Guidance 0% 0% 0%

Figure 1, Texas Education Agency, 2004

            Effective implementation of the Texas CDG should include all four components, but the relative emphasis of each component will vary from district to district, perhaps even from campus to campus, depending on the developmental and special needs of the students served.  Even though the Texas CDG suggests 0% time allocation of non-guidance activities, many school counselors often are assigned duties that could fall in that category.  According to the models presented by Gysbers and Henderson (2000) and Myrick (1993), the non-guidance category, which would include administrative and clerical duties, can sometimes take up more time than other important tasks when a plan to eliminate them is not implemented.

In terms of resources, the effectiveness of CDGs is directly related to the counselor-to-student ratio within the program.  It is clear that the larger the counselor’s student caseload, the less individual attention students receive; the smaller the student load, the more individual attention is possible.  Ratio recommendations are wide-ranging.  The American School Counselor Association recommends a maximum ratio of 1:250, while the Texas School Counselor Association, Texas Association of Secondary School Principals, and the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association have recommended ratios of 1:350 (http://www.tea.state.tx.us/counseling_ratios.html). In practice, however, the national, average counselor-to-student ratio is 1 to 457 (Belasco, 2013), and in Texas, the average ratio is 1:440. (American School Counselor Association, 2011).

Potential Solutions
Despite the abundance of news media coverage and dedicated educator conference sessions, there is still an overwhelming sense of uncertainty plaguing many local schools systems regarding the details of HB5 counselor implications.   Moreover, the endeavors that people have taken to explore these implications have led to the realization there is a limited knowledge base of the Texas CDG among school and district leadership, thereby obstructing the ability to work within the system to meet the HB5 counselor requirements.  Thus far, many school systems have attempted to address the HB5 counselor needs simply by hiring more counselors or postsecondary advisors to help meet the individual advisement and planning needs of their students (Weiss & Haag, 2013).   This costly solution step has been the option taken by the majority of school systems across the state.  If implemented in isolation, this shortsighted approach leaves out the much-needed opportunity brought on by HB5, to rethink, refocus, and reframe the role of the counselor within our existing state model.  There are a number of solution steps that can be implemented at the local and state levels to manage this dilemma better.

Local Level
There needs to be a comprehensive review of the 2004 Texas CDG to understand the model more fully.  Based on personal experience, it is apparent that many campus and district leaders, especially those who are making the decisions to hire more counselors, are not very familiar that the state CDG model exists, much less the flexibility it affords school counseling programs.  Teams of counselors, teacher leaders, and administrators should be developed to promote awareness and understanding of the CDG in an effort to make wiser decisions about how to utilize available resources most effectively.

School districts should explore virtual networks of certified counselors to meet the individual planning needs of students. Within 33 Tex. Educ. Code § 33.002 there exists an option for a school district to share counselors.  This collaboration could be incorporated in a virtual setting to allow districts to provide services to students beyond the face-to-face counseling model that currently exists.  The model of online counseling and academic advising has been in place in strong virtual school networks such as Florida Virtual School Network and Stand University Online High School (http://aaeteachers.org/index.php/blog/1183-virtual-education-and-school-counseling).

The school system should increase the amount of time allocated to the career development subcomponent recommended within the Texas CDG.  Although it is true that this shift would reduce the amount of time school counselors spend on other components of the model, other campus or district leaders (e.g., assistant principals, social workers) could assume some of those responsibilities so that students would still reap important benefits.

In addition, school systems should identify additional funding streams that could support the additional professional development and staffing needs due to implementing these proposed solution steps.  Since external funding often is critical to model implementation (Martin et. al, 2009, p.383), local, state, and federal grants should be explored.

State Level
It would be beneficial for Texas to designate a school counseling leader at the Texas Education Agency level who is charged with the CDG implementation.  Research demonstrates that strong leadership at the state level promotes critical collaborations, forms common understandings about school counseling (by creating state-level accountability systems tied to state-level accreditation standards and state level standards for school counselor preparation), promotes the local implementation of effective student programs, and contributes to education reform (Gyber, 2006).  To see real change in the effectiveness of the school counselors and the CDG implementation, there needs to be a leader appointed who devotes at least 50% of his/her time to school counseling and whose position is housed within the career and technical education unit of the state department of education (Martin et. al., 2009).

Finally, states like Texas, with strong local control policies, should provide incentives to encourage local systems to implement the state guidance and counseling models (Martin et. al., 2009).  Grants and other resources to support training and other needs could be offered to systems that develop and show evidence of effective programming.

The aforementioned solutions proposed to address the problems presented by HB5 have their limitations.  For example, extensive time and effort would need to be dedicated to reviewing the CDG, seeking and applying for applicable grants, and developing virtual networks of counselors; school systems could be resistant to redistributing their administrators’ time away from their typical duties.  Regarding solutions at the state level, changing the CDG verbiage may actually involve political maneuvering and philosophical shifts that could take time to evolve.  Additionally, monies for hiring a state-level counseling leader and funding incentives may not be readily available.

 

References
American School Counselor Association (2011). School-to-School-Counselor Ratio
2010-2011. Retrieved from http://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/home/ratios10-11.pdf

Association of American Educators (2013). Virtual Education and School Counseling.
Retrieved from http://aaeteachers.org/index.php/blog/1183-virtual-education-and-school-counseling

Gysbers, N.C., & Henderson, P. (2000).  Developing and Managing your school guidance program (3rd ed.).  Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association

H.B. No. 5, Acts of Texas Legislature 83rd Regular Session 2013 amends: Tex. Educ. Code § 33.005, 33.006, 33.007.

Lapan, R.T., Gysbers, N.C., & Petroski, G.F. (2001).  Helping seventh graders be safe and successful in school: A statewide study of the impact of comprehensive guidance and counseling programs.  Journal of Counseling and Development, 79. 320-330.

Lapan, R.T., Gysbers, N.C., & Sun, Y. (1997).  The impact of more fully implemented guidance programs on the school experiences of high school students: A statewide evaluation study.  Journal of Counseling and Development, 75, 292-302.

Martin, I. M., Carey, J. P., & DeCoster, K. (2009). A National Study of the Current Status of State School Counseling Models. Professional School Counseling, 12(5), 378-386.

Martin, P. J. (2002). Transforming school counseling: A national perspective. Theory into Practice, 41(3), 148.

Myrick, R.D. (1993). Developmental guidance and counseling: A practical approach. Minneapolis, MN: Educational Media.

S.B. No. 715, Acts of Texas Legislature 83rd Regular Session 2013 amends: Tex. Educ. Code § 33.002.

Texas Education Agency.  (2014). School Guidance and Counseling Recommended Ratios.  Retrieved from http://www.tea.state.tx.us/counseling_ratios.html

Texas Education Agency.  (2004).   A Model comprehensive, developmental guidance and counseling program for Texas public schools: A Guide for Program Development Pre-K-12th Grade. Retrieved from  http://www.tea.state.tx.us/ModelProgramGuide.html

Weiss, J., & Haag, M. (2013, August 19). High school counselors face learning curve as state law assigns new roles. The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved from http://www.dallasnews.com

20140515-091605.jpg

One of the most prominent issues that affect K-12 public schools as social organizations is a propensity to operate from the position that “We’re going to do what we’ve always done because that’s what we’ve always done.” This notion is pervasive and widely unrecognized and acknowledged. Likewise, the habits that arise from this notion are formed subtly yet become deeply ingrained in (and debilitating to) the system operations. Practically speaking, school systems tend to employ practices or habits that are undocumented in policy, unsupported by data and are not effectively educating students. The negative consequences of this mindset include parents withdraw their students in favor of the more flexible and responsive systems of private and charter schools; educators’ efforts are constrained and academic performance is weak; the best and most innovative educators are recruited by other systems or possibly even leave the field; and students suffer because they are not prepared to meet the demands of an ever-changing society. Left unchecked, poor organizational habits within systems ultimately weaken our nation’s ability to compete on the global level.

Addressing the Issue
To address this issue, organizations should establish habits of reflection at the teacher and administrator levels so they can begin to make the connections between practices and outcomes more real or direct. Examples of these habits include coaching conversations between teachers and teacher leaders; feedback shared by teachers in professional learning communities; and collaborative administrators dialoguing about practices that should be started, continued, or stoped. Creating opportunities for reflection not only helps teachers and administrators, but it also promotes an environment and culture in which all stakeholders can challenge organizational habits.

woman standing in front of sitting people

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Policy Review
In addition to reflection, schools should re-evaluate policies to determine if they are being followed and if they are in support of their short-term and long-term goals. The only thing worse than a bad policy is a good policy that is not followed; nevertheless, both allow schools to continue practicing bad habits. Schools also need to review what is policy and what are actual practices in order to expose unwritten organizational habits. This involves questioning a policy’s clarity and usefulness, evaluating desired outcomes using research and measurement tools, and working to redefine policies based on their findings rather than politics.

Program Evaluation
Lastly, K-12 public schools should establish protocols for using data to make decisions, set goals, and evaluate programs or outcomes. This process should address the questions, “What do we do with the data we receive”, “What questions do you ask”, and “What data sets are most relevant?” Far too often K-12 schools are data rich but information poor; school systems must reach the point where they see the issues clearly and are able to mobilize resources to implement real solutions.

K-12 schools are charged today with the task of educating a quickly changing student body to face the challenges of a dynamic workforce and society. If schools implemented these practical solutions with fidelity, not only will they be able to finally dismantle the debilitating organizational habits that plague them, they will be able to change in the appropriate time frame necessary to respond to the needs of today’s student.

I encourage you to share your thoughts below on how your school of district could prevent exposing its Achilles’ Heel.

Throughout an academic year, an instructional coach can find themselves going through cycles when working within professional learning communities (PLCs).  When you reflect on the function of your PLC group, it is easy to see how the PLC could loose focus on the main goals.  If the facilitator of the PLC doesn’t recognize the need for re-calibration early enough even the most dedicated group of educators could become completely derailed and discouraged.  As a result of experiencing PLC train wrecks as well as PLC success stories, I developed the following short refocusing exercise for the instructional coach or PLC facilitator to implement with a team of teachers.  Every team has different dynamics, but usually, around mid-year, a very observant instructional coach could begin to notice the signs that suggest it is time for a PLC Refocus.  This is simple in concept, but it requires skillful execution.  If the timing is right and the approach is non-judgmental the PLC could benefit greatly.  Give it a try, and share your results.

PLC Refocus Framework

Focus on Learning Focus on Collaboration Focus on Results Focus on Support
1. How are our actions reflecting that our focus is on student learning! 1. What are our team’s unique strengths and weaknesses? 1. How do you know that collaborative planning times are effective? 1. Specifically, how can external people and resources provide more support towards our efforts?
2. What tools do you use to reveal student understanding?  How do the results impact our collaboration? 2. How are we holding one another accountable for behaviors and actions? 2. What evidence do you see as a result of our collaborative planning?  Is there a significant change or are we doing what we have always done? 2. How could an instructional coaching impact our team?
3. As a group what obstacles are holding us back from establishing more productive collaborative planning time?

Revisiting PLC Norms
Present each question to the entire team for collaboration and ask them to share their thoughts one question at a time.  Ask clarifying questions like those below to simplify the group’s responses and collect their final answers.

  1. What will you say and do when you disagree?
  2. What will you say and do when you are not comfortable with a concept or teaching strategy?
  3. What will you say and do when a colleague achieves a goal?
  4. What will you say and do when a colleague doesn’t follow the PLC Norms?
Houston iTunesU

Houston iTunesU

Recently the Texas Commissioner of Education, Michael L. Williams, announced that he was deferring implementation of a 15 percent grading requirement for the 2012-2013 school year.  This news was received by the vast majority of educators across Texas with jubilation and relief.  To put this reaction in context, you would have to understand the policy’s origins and scope.  When the state of Texas decided to upgrade its assessment and accountability system in 2009, it included a ruling that made a student’s score on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) end-of-course examinations count toward15 percent of the student’s final grade in each tested subject area.

Now at first glance that would seem alarming, but when you consider the fact that students would be required to take several more assessments with more rigorous content and testing conditions, it became a serious anxiety accelerant for school administrators and educators.   Commissioner William’s decision marks the second year the rule has been deferred. In the 2011-2012 school year, more than 1,100 of the state’s more than 1,200 school districts notified the Texas Education Agency that they would be selecting the voluntary deferral option.  Even though school systems have been given a reprieve with regard to the 15% grading requirement, students still must take all STAAR tests and meet all requirements for graduation.

Even though most of the state appears to be finding a resolution, I am troubled by the majority reaction and am left with several yet-to-be answered still questions for theTexas Education Commissioner and K-12 School system educators throughout the state.

  • Why do we have so many conflicts with the 15% rule in the first place?
  • Who is looking into the nearly 100 out of the 1200 independent school systems that did not request a deferral of the 15% ruling during the first year of implementation, and how are these school system fairing? What led them to reject the deferral?
  • What does all the conflict with the 15% ruling really reveal about the Texas Educational System?

In summary, I am left with wonderments of the potential of the new state of Texas assessment and accountability system.  One can not help but notice how that the system is being altered from what its planners originally intended.  This is not to say adjustments are not needed, but the goal is to improve student achievement, all of these backtrackings no the 15% rule could be the proverbial beginning of the end. This end is the political dismantling of a once-promising state assessment and accountability system that supports more rigor and better student preparedness for their post-secondary endeavors.  Perhaps we are simply witnessing an assessment accountability system deferred.

By now many of you have heard about the recent reports of rampant teacher cheating and unethical practices in the Atlanta public school system.  What kind of world are we living in when the adults responsible for shaping the minds of our future leaders resort to cheating of this magnitude?  Since the reports surfaced, I have been trying to understand why or how this could happen.  Now, I’m not saying that it is implausible for anyone to cheat, after all, it is an element of human nature to cheat.  I also realize that cheating takes place every day in different forms, but isn’t there a line somewhere?  Actually, there isn’t.

You better believe that this is not the first time the teachers in Atlanta, or teachers all over America for that matter, have cheated.  I believe this cheating is a symptom of a more substantial problem.  So much of our educational system encourages this kind of behavior.  Since the advent of the era of high stakes testing, many school systems have felt the pressure to meet standards with limited or no additional resources including highly qualified teachers. I have personally seen teachers succumb to the pressure to get students to pass the test that they simply “teach the test” in an effort to get higher scores.  This only creates an even bigger problem for the school system in subsequent years which leads to more pressure to cheat. Some public school systems fall in line with similar behavior by constantly manipulating data to satisfy the ever-growing political pressures to meet or exceed standards (often self-imposed standards).  Together, these behaviors seem to suggest that the accountability system, which includes the high stakes testing, data reporting, and a whole host of other political constraints, is what drives public education today and produces the right conditions for cheating on all levels.

Well, that is what I think about this scandal, but I would like to know what you think about the sad state of affairs in the Atlanta Public School System.

Report: Widespread Cheating in Atlanta Schools — by Teachers.

Check out this Get Schooled blog post by Maureen Downey on the cheating scandal in Atlanta Public Schools. I would like to know if you agree.  Set unrealistic test score quotas and people will either fail or cheat | Get Schooled.

 

blackboard business chalkboard concept

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There have been many books and articles written on the theory of change but since we live a result oriented world, how do we practically get through it?  The world of education is not immune to the ever-growing pressure to change.  In fact, we may be at the very heart of it.  According to the latest Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rankings, American students scored 32nd in math ability and 23rd in science achievement.  With more and more rankings, reports, and achievement data pointing to the fact that America’s educational system is in decline, one has to ask how can we turn it around.  Currently, the debate is center on education reform.  Some experts speak of the need for broad sweeping reform, while others lean toward shifting the focus to more economic growth and development.  Regardless of where you stand on reform, one thing rings true.  We have to change.  That is not to simplify the magnitude of the needed change.  After all, we have data supporting the need for change in our teacher recruitment & retention, curriculum focus, instructional practice, teacher evaluation, and assessment & accountability.  My goal with this blog post is to begin taking a look at the conditions needed for changing our instructional practices in the classroom.

We have to educate our way to a better economy. We have a 25 percent drop out rate in this country. We’re losing about a million children each year from our schools to the streets. That’s just economically unsustainable and morally unacceptable and we all have to work together and challenge the status quo.— Arne Duncan

When I am working with teachers to help them improve their effectiveness in the classroom it is easy to underestimate what conditions are necessary for change to take place.  In Jim Knights book Instructional Coaching, he describes two conditions necessary for ideas introduced to survive and be implemented. He states that  (1) the teacher must see that the new choice is more powerful than their current practice; and (2) the new choice must be easier for the teacher to implement.  In addition, I have noticed that when I have been successful at motivating a teacher to try a new practice, I was deliberate about how I demonstrated my support for them while provided implementation the new practice.   After ensuring the conditions for change are in place I had to have a realistic expectation about the time it takes for this process to take place.  Nothing can be taken for granted about the different backgrounds, experiences, and understanding of each individual teacher being asked to change.  Now, this is where the fun begins.