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.

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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.

Summer is in full effect.  Swimming, family trips, and other leisure activities are also in full effect.  As a result, I am sure that professional learning is not ranked very high on the summer fun list for most teachers.  The funny thing is the summer presents the most optimal time for exploring very meaningful professional development ideas.  I have come to understand the value of the of a well-timed summer professional learning task, and I would like to solicit other educators for their ideas for teachers of various levels of experience.  Please comment below with a professional learning idea that you have benefited from and would like to share with others.

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.


Are you the type of teacher who looks forward to summer professional development, or are you trying to avoid anything related to learning until you absolutely have to go to a training seminar? Chances are you are somewhere in the middle. If you find yourself looking for a relaxing yet meaningful way to grow professionally this summer, try these quick and easy activities

Write a book or article review
How often do you get the chance to really get engulfed in academic reading?  If you have ever had the urge to get to the heart of a troubling issue in education or simply have wanted to learn something new about your craft, the summer break is the perfect time to dive right in.  Even during the summer, our lives can be busy, but without the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day classroom and school activities, we can really take the time to dissect an academic topic at your leisure.  Make a list of the educational topics that pique your interest or get you on a soapbox the quickest.  Then, search for relevant journals, books, or research articles, and strive to make the complex plain.   Analyze the reading as though you were going to be responsible for supporting a new teacher on that topic.  Before long, you will discover just how much you can grow professionally from simply researching topics of your choice during the summer break.

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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. 


High Stakes Testing Culture

In an age of accountability and high stakes testing, we have accomplished a lot. We have managed to learn how to analyze assessment data to determine trends. We have also learned how to break down objectives or learning standards into their most intricate parts. Most of all we have learned how to make ourselves feel good about our data.

Everybody is “data-driven” these days. But what does that really mean? There still exists a culture of assessment “I got ya”. Frankly, we are so focused on assessments that we have missed the whole boat on instruction. If we put the same energy and intensity that we have invested in assessments into quality instruction, we might actually have more accurate assessments. Now I realize having quality assessments can and should drive instruction, we just need to vary it a little.

Fundamental Questions

How can we, as school systems, transition from a culture assessment for accountability to one focused on students learning?  any of you may have experienced an educational system that has figured how the “game” of high stakes state testing.  The more intimately involved you are with teaching and learning the more repulsive the idea of playing with what state standards are taught and tested to merely make a school district look good.

I am ready to buck the system by actually teaching and assessing for student learning first.  I am not saying we should do away with summative assessments of learning.  I realize how necessary it is for every school system.  I would just like to see the focus put in the proper balance. Maybe we could even move toward looking at project-based work or performance-based assessments. In future posts, I will share some different strategies for assessing for learning.  In the meantime, I guess we will keep plowing away at making more new tests.

Assessment for Learning vs. Assessment of Learning