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Kappan Phi Delta

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Summer 2012

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Must-Reads from Kappan,

Summer issue #1
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Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12

Summer Issue #1
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4 Evaluating teacher evaluation
Linda Darling-Hammond, Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, Edward
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Summer Issue #1 1

The Editors Note

Managing editor, content
Drip, drip, drip
Psst, the Republicans are the folks who once opposed school? Those early charter
Managing editor, design and production
winning the education debate. outcomes-based education schools were a bit on the
Permissions Thats my take-away from tend to support standards, sketchy side. I visited charter
this years PDK/Gallup poll re- testing, and results. And schools in converted garages
sults. When I look at the num- many, many Democrats have and strip shopping centers. I
Charles E. Ducommun Prof. of bers, I see an American public become not only charter would never have sent one of
Teaching and Teacher Education
Stanford University
that largely has been won over advocates but developers of my own children to schools
by reform ideas first generated charter schools. Democrats with such obviously poor fa-
Director, Center on School, Family, and by Republicans a few decades who once marched to the cilities and less-than-stellar
Community Partnerships
Johns Hopkins University ago ideas they have steadily tune of the unions, now of- staff. But time passed and the
JESUS GARCIA nurtured ever since. ten are at odds with them idea became more acceptable,
Prof., Social Studies Education This year, we learned that because of union resistance credible, and well-funded.
University of Nevada
Americans favor charter to reforms. Even merit pay, Now, I visit charter schools
President schools (70%), favor allow- once a Republican-only idea, that wow me with their fa-
Center for Education Studies ing parents to choose a childs now garners wide support. cilities, their staffs, and
Senior Fellow
school (74%), and believe Consider the evolution of their very clear vision about
Institute for Educational Leadership that natural talent is more charter schools. Al Shanker the work they do. Charter
ELLIOT WASHOR important than college train- may have introduced charters schools have moved into the
Big Picture Learning
ing (70%). (And nearly half to policy discussions in the mainstream.
47% believe unioniza- late 1980s, but Republicans In this cozy atmosphere,
Chair, Dept. of Teacher Education tion is bad for public school picked up the choice torch overlooking the philosophy
Michigan State University
education.) Any way you slice and ran with it. They pro- that undergirds these reforms
Past President, PDK International it, those ideas have been part of moted the triple-threat pack- is easy. But we ignore that at
the Republican reform agenda. age of charters, choice, and our peril. I believe the Ameri-
Republicans have had a vouchers. Shanker saw char- can public fails to understand
320 W. Eighth Street, Suite 216
long view about changing ters as a way for educators that every time we authorize
P.O. Box 7888 the education system. They to pilot and refine new ideas a charter school or promote
Bloomington, IN 47407-7888
E-mail: were willing to wait, moving before importing them into choice, we are failing to hold
slowly to achieve the massive traditional public schools; the existing system account-
Gerry Woodworth changes they wanted. They Republicans supported char- able for providing an excel-
have never been after small, ters, choice, and vouchers lent education to all children.
incremental fixes: Theyve as tools that would break up The most engaged parents
Terri Lawson
wanted it all. the education monopoly. seize those opportunities They have worn us down They were shrill and, hon- to escape from a system of
by the drip, drip, drip of their estly, a little bit scary at some schools that doesnt work
message. A little here, a little of the early public meetings and that means fewer parents

Kappan Phi Delta there, and pretty soon, with- where they pressed their case are left to pressure the public
out even realizing it, weve because they were so clear system for improvements.
been converted. How did this about what they were after: The public system, espe-
USPS 429-840 ISSN 0031-7217 happen? They wanted to nuke the cially in urban centers, will
Summer Issue #1 What started in the 1990s system! continue to decline, which
Published by Phi Delta Kappa International, as a Republican reform agenda Reform-minded Demo- will increase calls for more
320 W. Eighth Street, Suite 216, P.O. Box
7888, Bloomington, IN 47407-7888, eight
has morphed into whats crats hopped on charters and charter schools and more
times per year, September to May with a widely recognized now as sim- choice for other reasons: They choice to provide more escape
combined December/January issue. Pricing
information available at ply The Reform Agenda for believed such options would routes for children. And the
kappan/subscribe.htm. Periodicals postage education, with supporters all insert equity into the system dominoes will continue to fall.
paid at Bloomington, Ind., and additional
mailing offices. along the political spectrum. and because they became This is exactly what
Postmaster: Send address changes to Phi
Delta Kappan, P.O. Box 7888, Bloomington,
Remember when Repub- frustrated in their efforts to Republicans intended when
IN 47407-7888. licans were adamant in their reform the existing system. they started down this road.
Printed in U.S.A.
opposition to standards and When all of this started, But does the American public
2012 by PDK International. the tests that went with them charter schools were a radi- truly grasp whats happening?
Publications Mail Agreement because they threatened lo- cal, even a wacky, idea. Who I wonder if theyll feel dif-
PM# 41450540 cal control? Democrats were would support the idea of ferently when The Reform
Return undeliverable Canadian
addresses to: P.O. Box 2600, equally vocal in opposing giving public money to a pri- Agenda arrives in a neighbor-
Mississauga, ON L4T 0A8. charters and choice. Now, vate entity to set up a public hood near them. JR

2 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1

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teacher evaluation
Popular modes of evaluating teachers are fraught with inaccuracies
and inconsistencies, but the field has identified better approaches.

By Linda Darling-Hammond, Audrey Amrein-Beardsley,

Edward Haertel, and Jesse Rothstein

ractitioners, researchers, and policy makers agree that most current teacher evaluation sys-
tems do little to help teachers improve or to support personnel decision making. Theres also
a growing consensus that evidence of teacher contributions to student learning should be
part of teacher evaluation systems, along with evidence about the quality of teacher practices.
Value-added models (VAMs), designed to evaluate student test score gains from one year to
the next, are often promoted as tools to accomplish this goal.
Value-added models enable researchers to use statistical methods to measure changes in student scores
over time while considering student characteristics and other factors often found to influence achievement.
In large-scale studies, these methods have proved valuable for looking at factors affecting achievement and
measuring the effects of programs or interventions.
Using VAMs for individual teacher evaluation is based on the belief that measured achievement
gains for a specific teachers students reflect that teachers effectiveness. This attribution, however,
assumes that student learning is measured well by a given test, is influenced by the teacher alone, and is
independent from the growth of classmates and other aspects of the classroom context. None of these
assumptions is well supported by current evidence.
Most importantly, research reveals that gains in student achievement are influenced by much more than
any individual teacher. Others factors include:

School factors such as class sizes, curriculum materials, instructional time, availability of specialists and
tutors, and resources for learning (books, computers, science labs, and more);
Home and community supports or challenges;
Individual student needs and abilities, health, and attendance;
Peer culture and achievement;
Prior teachers and schooling, as well as other current teachers;
Differential summer learning loss, which especially affects low-income children; and
The specific tests used, which emphasize some kinds of learning and not others and which rarely
measure achievement that is well above or below grade level.

However, value-added models dont actually measure most of these factors. VAMs rely on statistical
controls for past achievement to parse out the small portion of student gains that is due to other factors,
This article
was originally LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND ( is the Charles Ducommun professor of teaching and teacher education, Stan-
published in Phi ford University, Stanford, Calif. AUDREY AMREIN-BEARDSLEY is an associate professor of education, Arizona State University,
Delta Kappan, 93 Phoenix, Ariz. EDWARD HAERTEL is the Jacks Family professor of education, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif. JESSE ROTH-
(6), 8-15. STEIN is an associate professor of economics and public policy, University of California, Berkeley.

4 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1

Comments? Like
Kappan at www.

of which the teacher is only one. As a consequence, ror and, when teacher evaluation results are tied
researchers have documented a number of problems to student test scores, the effects of emphasiz-
with VAM models as accurate measures of teachers ing teaching to the test at the expense of other
effectiveness. kinds of learning, especially given the narrowness
of most tests in the United States.
1. Value-added models of teacher effectiveness are
inconsistent. 2. Teachers value-added performance is affected
Researchers have found that teacher effectiveness by the students assigned to them.
ratings differ substantially from class to class and VAMs are designed to identify teachers effects
from year to year, as well as from one statistical model
to the next, as Table 1 shows.
A study examining data from five school districts
found, for example, that of teachers who scored in
the bottom 20% of rankings in one year, only 20%
to 30% had similar ratings the next year, while 25%
to 45% of these teachers moved to the top part of
the distribution, scoring well above average. (See
Figure 1.) The same was true for those who scored
at the top of the distribution in one year: A small
minority stayed in the same rating band the follow-
ing year, while most scores moved to other parts of
the distribution.

Teachers value-added scores differ

significantly when different tests are used,
even when these are within the same
content area.

Teacher effectiveness also varies significantly

when different statistical methods are used (Briggs
& Domingue, 2011; Newton et al., 2010; Rothstein,
2007). For example, when researchers used a differ-
ent model to recalculate the value-added scores for
teachers published in the Los Angeles Times in 2011,
they found that from 40% to 55% of them would
get noticeably different scores (Briggs & Domingue,
Teachers value-added scores also differ signifi-
cantly when different tests are used, even when these
are within the same content area (Bill & Melinda
Gates Foundation, 2010; Lockwood et al., 2007).
This raises concerns both about measurement er-

Percent of teachers whose effectiveness rankings change
Across models a
56-80% 12-33% 0-14%
Across courses b
85-100% 54-92% 39-54%
Across years b
74-93% 45-63% 19-41%

Note: Depending on pair of models compared. Depending on the model used.

a b

Source: Newton, Darling-Hammond, Haertel, & Thomas (2010).

Summer Issue #1 5

when students are assigned to teachers randomly. have shown large effects which indicates that
However, students arent randomly assigned to the VAMs wrongly attribute to teachers other influ-
teachers and statistical models cant fully adjust ences on student performance that are present when
for the fact that some teachers will have a dispropor- the teachers have no contact with the students (Roth-
tionate number of students who have greater chal- stein, 2010).
lenges (e.g., students with poor attendance, who are One study that found considerable instability in
homeless, who have severe problems at home, etc.) teachers value-added scores from class to class and
and those whose scores on traditional tests may year to year examined changes in student charac-
not accurately reflect their learning (e.g., those who teristics associated with changes in teacher ratings.
have special education needs or who are new English After controlling for prior student test scores and stu-
language learners). dent characteristics, the study still found significant
correlations between teacher ratings and students
race/ethnicity, income, language background, and
Teachers are advantaged or disadvantaged parent education. Figure 2 illustrates this finding for
based on the students they teach. an experienced English teacher whose rating went
from the very lowest category in one year to the very
highest category the next year (a jump from the 1st
Even when the model includes controls for prior to the 10th decile). In the second year, this teacher
achievement and student demographic variables, had many fewer English learners, Hispanic students,
teachers are advantaged or disadvantaged based on and low-income students, and more students with
the students they teach. Several studies have shown well-educated parents than in the first year.
this by conducting tests that look at teacher ef- This variability raises concerns that using such
fects on students prior test scores. Logically, for ratings for evaluating teachers could create disin-
example, 5th-grade teachers cant influence their centives for teachers to serve high-need students.
students 3rd-grade test scores. So a VAM that iden-
tifies teachers true effects should show no effect of 3. Value-added ratings cant disentangle the many
5th-grade teachers on students 3rd-grade test scores influences on student progress.
two years earlier. But studies that have looked at this Given all of the other factors operating, it appears

FIG. 1.
Changes in VA scores from 2001 to 2002 for low-ranking teachers


90- Move to above

average (Top
80 - 40%)
Percentage of teachers

Move up in
60- rankings

Stay in bottom




San Diego Duval Co., Hillsborough Co., Orange Co., Palm Beach Co.,
Calif. Fla. Fla. Fla. Fla.
School districts
Source: Sass, T. (2008).

6 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1

FIG. 2.
Student characteristics in years 1 and 2 for a teacher whose ranking changed
from the 1st to the 10th decile

80 -

70- Year 1

60- 58
Year 2


% % % Parent
ELL Low-income Hispanic education
(in years)
Student characteristics

that teacher effectiveness is not a stable enough Houston as a result of its Education Value-Added
construct to be uniquely identified even under ideal Assessment System (EVAAS) scores was a 10-year
conditions (for example, with random assignment veteran who had been voted Teacher of the Month
of teachers to schools and students to teachers, and and Teacher of the Year and was rated each year as
with some means of controlling differences in out- exceeding expectations by her supervisor (Amrein-
of-school effects). Furthermore, some teachers may Beardsley & Collins, in press). She showed positive
be effective at some forms of instruction or in some VA scores on 8 of 16 tests over four years (50% of
portions of the curriculum and less effective in oth- the total observations), with wide fluctuations from
ers. If so, their rated effectiveness would depend on year to year, both across and within subjects. (See
whether the student tests used for the VAM empha- Table 2.) It is worth noting that this teachers lower
size skills and topics for which the teacher is relatively value-added in 4th grade, when English learners
more or relatively less effective. are mainstreamed in Houston, was also a pattern
Other research indicates that teachers whose for many other teachers.
students do best on end-of-year tests arent always The wide variability shown in this teachers rat-
effective at promoting longer-run achievement for ings from year to year, like that documented in many
their students. Thus, VAM-style measures may be other studies, wasnt unusual for Houston teachers
influenced by how much the teacher emphasizes in this analysis, regardless of whether the teacher
short-run test preparation. One study even found was terminated. Teachers said they couldnt identify
that teachers who raised end-of-course grades most a relationship between their instructional practices
were, on average, less effective than others at prepar- and their value-added ratings, which appear unpre-
ing students for next years course (Carrell & West, dictable. As one teacher noted:
Initial research on using value-added methods to I do what I do every year. I teach the way I teach
dismiss some teachers and award bonuses to oth- every year. [My] first year got me pats on the back;
[my] second year got me kicked in the backside. And
ers shows that value-added ratings often dont agree for year three, my scores were off the charts. I got a
with ratings from skilled observers and are influ- huge bonus, and now I am in the top quartile of all
enced by all of the factors described above. the English teachers. What did I do differently? I
For example, one of the teachers dismissed in have no clue (Amrein-Beardsley & Collins, in press).

Summer Issue #1 7

Another teacher classified her past three years as Ratings change considerably when teachers
bonus, bonus, disaster. And another noted: change grade levels, often from ineffective to
effective and vice versa.
We had an 8th-grade teacher, a very good teacher,
the real science guy. . . [but] every year he showed These kinds of comments from teachers were
low EVAAS growth. My principal flipped him with
the 6th-grade science teacher who was getting the typical:
highest EVAAS scores on campus. Huge EVAAS
scores. [And] now the 6th-grade teacher [is showing] Every year, I have the highest test scores, [and] I have
no growth, but the 8th-grade teacher who was sent fellow teachers that come up to me when they get
down is getting the biggest bonuses on campus. their bonuses . . . One recently came up to me [and]
literally cried, Im so sorry. . . . Im like, Dont be
sorry. Its not your fault. Here I am . . . with the
This example of two teachers whose value-added highest test scores, and Im getting $0 in bonuses.
ratings flip-flopped when they exchanged assign- It makes no sense year to year how this works. You
ments is an example of a phenomenon found in other know, I dont know what to do. I dont know how to
studies that document a larger association between get higher than 100%.
the class taught and value-added ratings than the I went to a transition classroom, and now theres a red
individual teacher effect itself. The notion that there flag next to my name. I guess now Im an ineffective
is a stable teacher effect thats a function of the teacher? I keep getting letters from the district, saying
teachers teaching ability or effectiveness is called Youve been recognized as an outstanding teacher . . .
into question if the specific class or grade-level as- this, this, and that. But now because I teach English
language learners who transition in, my scores drop?
signment is a stronger predictor of the value-added And I get a flag next to my name for not teaching
rating than the teacher. them well? (Amrein-Beardsley & Collins, in press).
Another Houston teacher whose supervisor con-
sistently rated her as exceeding expectations or A study of Tennessee teachers who volunteered to
proficient and who also was receiving positive VA be evaluated based on VAMs and to have a substan-
scores about 50% of the time, had a noticeable drop tial share of their compensation tied to their VAM
in her value-added ratings when a large number of results, corroborated this evidence: After three years,
English language learners transitioned into her class- 85% thought the VAM evaluation ignored impor-
room. Overall, the study found that, in this system: tant aspects of their performance that test scores
didnt measure, and two-thirds thought VAM didnt
Teachers of grades in which English language do a good job of distinguishing effective from inef-
learners (ELLs) are transitioned into fective teachers (Springer et al., 2010).
mainstreamed classrooms are the least likely to
show added value. Other approaches
Teachers of large numbers of special education For all of these reasons and more, most research-
students in mainstreamed classrooms are also found ers have concluded that value-added modeling is not
to have lower value-added scores, on average. appropriate as a primary measure for evaluating in-
Teachers of gifted students show little value- dividual teachers. (See, for example, Braun, 2005;
added because their students are already near National Research Council, 2009.)
the top of the test score range. While value-added models based on test scores

2006-2010 EVAAS scores of a teacher dismissed as a result of these scores
EVAAS scores 2006-2007 2007-2008 2008-2009 2009-2010
Math -2.03 +0.68* +0.16* +03.26
Reading -1.15 -0.96* +2.03 +1.81
Language arts +1.12 -0.49* -1.77 -0.20*
Science +2.37 -3.45 n/a n/a
Social studies +0.91* -2.39 n/a n/a
ASPIRE bonus $3,400 $700 $3,700 $0
Notes: The scores with asterisks (*) signify that the scores are not detectably different from the reference gain scores of other

teachers across Houston Independent School District within one standard error; however, the scores are still reported to both
the teachers and their supervisors as they are here.

8 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1

are problematic for making evaluation decisions for ground evaluation in student learning in more stable
individual teachers, they are useful for looking at ways. Typically, performance assessments ask teach-
groups of teachers for research purposes for ex- ers to document their plans and teaching for a unit
ample, to examine how specific teaching practices or of instruction linked to state standards, adapt them
measures of teaching influence the learning of large for special education students and English language
numbers of students. Such analyses provide other in- learners, videotape and critique lessons, and collect
sights for teacher evaluation because we have a large and evaluate evidence of student learning.
body of evidence over many decades concerning how
specific teaching practices influence student learning
gains. For example, we know that effective teachers: The notion that there is a stable teacher
effect thats a function of the teachers
Understand subject matter deeply and flexibly;
teaching ability or effectiveness is called
Connect what is to be learned to students prior
knowledge and experience; into question if the specific class or grade-
Create effective scaffolds and supports for level assignment is a stronger predictor of
learning; the value-added rating than the teacher.
Use instructional strategies that help students
draw connections, apply what theyre learning,
practice new skills, and monitor their own Professional standards have also been translated
learning; into teacher evaluation instruments at the local level.
Assess student learning continuously and adapt Cincinnati Public Schools uses an unusually care-
teaching to student needs; ful standards-based system for teacher evaluation
Provide clear standards, constant feedback, and that involves multiple classroom observations and
opportunities for revising work; and detailed written feedback to teachers. This system,
Develop and effectively manage a collab- like several others in local districts, has been found
orative classroom in which all students have both to produce ratings that reflect teachers effec-
membership (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, tiveness in supporting student learning gains and to
2005). improve teachers performance and their future ef-
fectiveness (Milanowski, Kimball & White, 2004;
These aspects of effective teaching, supported by Milanowski, 2004; Rockoff & Speroni, 2010; Taylor
research, have been incorporated into professional & Tyler, 2011.)
standards for teaching that offer some useful ap- A Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation initiative is
proaches to teacher evaluation. identifying additional tools based on professional
standards and validated against student achievement
Using professional standards gains to be used in teacher evaluation at the local
The National Board for Professional Teaching level. The Measures of Effective Teaching (MET)
Standards (NBPTS) defined accomplished teach- Project has developed a number of tools, includ-
ing to guide assessments for veteran teachers. Sub- ing observations or videotapes of teachers, supple-
sequently, a group of states working together under mented with other artifacts of practice (lesson plans,
the auspices of the Council for Chief State School assignments, etc.), that can be scored according to
Officers created the Interstate New Teacher Assess- standards that reflect practices associated with ef-
ment and Support Consortium (INTASC), which fective teaching.
translated these into standards for beginning teach-
ers that have been adopted by over 40 states for initial Building better systems
teacher licensing. Revised INTASC teaching stan- Systems that help teachers improve and that sup-
dards have been aligned with the Common Core port timely and efficient personnel decisions have
Standards to reflect the knowledge, skills, and under- more than good instruments. Successful systems use
standings that teachers need to enact the standards. multiple classroom observations across the year by
These standards have become the basis for as- expert evaluators looking at multiple sources of data,
sessments of teaching that produce ratings that are and they provide timely and meaningful feedback to
much more stable than value-added measures. At the teacher.
the same time, these standards incorporate class- For example, schools using the Teacher Advance-
room evidence of student learning, and large-scale ment Program, which is based on NBPTS and IN-
studies have shown that they can predict teachers TASC standards as well as the standards-based as-
value-added effectiveness (National Research Coun- sessment rubrics developed in Connecticut (Bill &
cil, 2008; Wilson et al., 2011), so they have helped Melinda Gates Foundation, 2010; Rothstein, 2011),
Summer Issue #1 9
evaluate teachers four to six times a year using mas- surable outcomes in hard-to-quantify areas like art,
ter/mentor teachers or principals certified in a rigor- music, and physical education; and to monitor stu-
ous four-day training. The indicators of good teach- dent learning growth. They also showed a greater
ing are practices found to be associated with desired awareness of the importance of sound curriculum
student outcomes. Teachers also study the rubric development, more alignment of curriculum with
and its implications for teaching and learning, look district objectives, and increased focus on higher-
at and evaluate videotaped teaching episodes using quality content, skills, and instructional strategies
the rubric, and engage in practice evaluations. After (Packard & Dereshiwsky, 1991).
each observation, the evaluator and teacher discuss Some U.S. districts, along with high-achieving
the findings and plan for ongoing growth. Schools countries like Singapore, emphasize teacher col-
provide professional development, mentoring, and laboration in their evaluation systems. This kind of
measure is supported by studies finding that students
have stronger achievement gains when teachers work
Successful systems use multiple
together in teams (Jackson & Bruegmann, 2009) and
classroom observations, expert evaluators, when there is greater teacher collaboration for school
multiple sources of data, are timely, improvement (Goddard & Goddard, 2007).
and provide meaningful feedback to the
In conclusion
New approaches to teacher evaluation should
take advantage of research on teacher effectiveness.
classroom support to help teachers meet these stan- While there are considerable challenges in using
dards. TAP teachers say this system, along with the value-added test scores to evaluate individual teach-
intensive professional development offered, is sub- ers directly, using value-added methods in research
stantially responsible for improving their practice can help validate measures that are productive for
and for student achievement gains in many TAP teacher evaluation.
schools (Solmon, White, Cohen, & Woo, 2007). Research indicates that value-added measures
In districts that use Peer Assistance and Review of student achievement tied to individual teachers
(PAR) programs, highly expert mentor teachers sup- should not be used for high-stakes, individual-level
port novice teachers and veteran teachers who are decisions, or comparisons across highly dissimilar
struggling, and they conduct some aspects of the schools or student populations. Valid interpretations
evaluation. Key features of these systems include require aggregate-level data and should ensure that
not only the evaluation instruments but also the ex- background factors including overall classroom
pertise of the consulting teachers or mentors, and a composition are as similar as possible across
system of due process and review in which a panel of groups being compared. In general, such measures
teachers and administrators make recommendations should be used only in a low-stakes fashion when
about personnel decisions based on evidence from theyre part of an integrated analysis of teachers
the evaluations. Many systems using this approach practices.
have improved teaching while they have also become Standards-based evaluation processes have also
more effective in identifying teachers for continua- been found to be predictive of student learning gains
tion and tenure as well as intensive assistance and, and productive for teacher learning. These include
where needed, dismissal (NCTAF, 1996; Van Lier, systems like National Board certification and per-
2008). formance assessments for beginning teacher licens-
Some systems ask teachers to assemble evidence ing as well as district and school-level instruments
of student learning as part of the overall judgment based on professional teaching standards. Effective
of effectiveness. Such evidence is drawn from class- systems have developed an integrated set of mea-
room and school-level assessments and documenta- sures that show what teachers do and what happens
tion, including pre- and post-test measures of stu- as a result. These measures may include evidence
dent learning in specific courses or curriculum areas, of student work and learning, as well as evidence of
and evidence of student accomplishments in relation teacher practices derived from observations, video-
to teaching activities. A study of Arizonas career lad- tapes, artifacts, and even student surveys.
der program, which requires teachers to use vari- These tools are most effective when embedded in
ous methods of student assessment to complement systems that support evaluation expertise and well-
evaluations of teacher practice, found that, over time, grounded decisions, by ensuring that evaluators are
participating teachers improved their ability to cre- trained, evaluation and feedback are frequent, men-
ate tools to assess student learning gains; to develop toring and professional development are available,
and evaluate before and after tests; to define mea- and processes are in place to support due process
10 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1
and timely decision making by an appropriate body. National Research Council, Board on Testing and Assessment.
With these features in place, evaluation can be- (2008). Assessing accomplished teaching: Advanced-level
come a more useful part of a productive teaching and certification programs. Washington, DC: National Academies
learning system, supporting accurate information Press.
about teachers, helpful feedback, and well-grounded National Research Council, Board on Testing and Assessment.
personnel decisions.K (2009). Letter report to the U.S. Department of Education.
References Washington, DC: Author.

Amrein-Beardsley, A. & Collins, C. (In press). The SAS Newton, X., Darling-Hammond, L., Haertel, E., & Thomas,
education value-added assessment system (EVAAS): Its E. (2010). Value-added modeling of teacher effectiveness:
intended and unintended effects in a major urban school An exploration of stability across models and contexts.
system. Tempe, AZ: Arizona State University. Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 18 (23).

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (2010). Learning about Packard, R. & Dereshiwsky, M. (1991). Final quantitative
teaching: Initial findings from the Measures of Effective assessment of the Arizona career ladder pilot-test project.
Teaching Project. Seattle, WA: Author. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University.

Braun, H. (2005). Using student progress to evaluate teachers: Rockoff, J. & Speroni, C. (2010). Subjective and objective
A primer on value-added models. Princeton, NJ: Educational evaluations of teacher effectiveness. New York, NY: Columbia
Testing Service. University.
Briggs, D. & Domingue, B. (2011). Due diligence and the Rothstein, J. (2007). Do value-added models add value?
evaluation of teachers: A review of the value-added analysis Tracking, fixed effects, and causal inference. CEPS Working
underlying the effectiveness rankings of Los Angeles Unified Paper No. 159. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic
School District teachers by the Los Angeles Times. Boulder, Research.
CO: National Education Policy Center.
Rothstein, J. (2010). Teacher quality in educational production:
Carrell, S. & West, J. (2010). Does professor quality tracking, decay, and student achievement. Quarterly Journal of
matter? Evidence from random assignment of students to Economics, 125 (1), 175-214.
professors.Journal of Political Economy, 118 (3).
Rothstein, J. (2011). Review of Learning about teaching: Initial
Darling-Hammond, L. & Bransford, J. (2005). Preparing
findings from the Measures of Effective Teaching Project.
teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and
Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center.
be able to do. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Sass, T. (2008). The stability of value-added measures of
Goddard, Y. & Goddard, R.D. (2007). A theoretical and
teacher quality and implications for teacher compensation
empirical investigation of teacher collaboration for school
policy. Washington, DC: CALDER.
improvement and student achievement in public elementary
schools. Teachers College Record, 109 (4), 877-896. Solmon, L., White, J.T., Cohen, D., & Woo, D. (2007).
The effectiveness of the Teacher Advancement Program.
Jackson, C.K. & Bruegmann, E. (2009). Teaching students
Washington, DC: National Institute for Excellence in Teaching.
and teaching each other: The importance of peer learning
for teachers. Washington, DC: National Bureau of Economic Springer, M., Ballou, D., Hamilton, L., Le, V., Lockwood, V.,
Research. McCaffrey, D., Pepper, M., & Stecher, B. (2010). Teacher pay
Lockwood, J., McCaffrey, D., Hamilton, L., Stetcher, B., Le, for performance: Experimental evidence from the Project
V.N., & Martinez, J. (2007). The sensitivity of value-added on Incentives in Teaching. Nashville, TN: National Center on
teacher effect estimates to different mathematics achievement Performance Incentives.
measures. Journal of Educational Measurement, 44 (1), 47-67. Taylor, E. & Tyler, J. (2011, March). The effect of evaluation on
Milanowski, A. (2004). The relationship between teacher performance: Evidence of longitudinal student achievement
performance evaluation scores and student achievement: data of mid-career teachers. Working Paper No. 16877.
Evidence from Cincinnati. Peabody Journal of Education, 79 Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.
(4), 33-53. Van Lier, P. (2008). Learning from Ohios best teachers: A
Milanowski, A., Kimball, S.M., & White, B. (2004). The homegrown model to improve our schools. Policy Matters
relationship between standards-based teacher evaluation Ohio.
scores and student achievement. Madison, WI: University teachers-a-homegrown-model-to-improve-our-schools
of Wisconsin-Madison, Consortium for Policy Research in Wilson, M, Hallam, P., Pecheone, R., & Moss, P. (2011).
Education. Investigating the validity of portfolio assessments of beginning
National Commission on Teaching and Americas Future. teachers: Relationships with student achievement and tests
(1996). What matters most: Teaching for Americas future. of teacher knowledge. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Evaluation,
New York, NY: Author. Assessment, and Research Center.

Summer Issue #1 11

Professional development guide to:

Evaluating teacher
By Linda Darling-Hammond, Audrey Amrein-
Beardsley, Edward Haertel, and Jesse Rothstein
Phi Delta Kappan, 93 (6), 8-15


Value-added measures of student achievement are inadequate for evaluating teacher and school effectiveness, but
systems of evaluation work well when theyre based on professional teaching standards, observations, and artifacts
of practice and involve mentor teachers, teacher collaboration, and professional learning opportunities.


Value-added models (VAMs) use statistical methods to try to isolate teacher performance from student
characteristics and other factors.

VAMs dont work because they cant control or disentangle infl uences on student progress; they inconsistently
rate teachers, and they dont account for students assigned to teachers in a particular year.

VAMs are useful to researchers who want to identify the effect of a teaching practice on large groups of
students, but the model should not be used for high-stakes, individual-level decisions, or comparisons across
highly dissimilar schools or student populations.

Alternative approaches include using professional standards, such as those developed by the Interstate New
Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) and incorporating observations/videotapes and
artifacts of practice developed by the Measures of Effective Teaching Project (MET).

Alternatives are best when developed as part of a system that includes the following: multiple classroom
observations and data sources, expert evaluators, rubrics, mentors, collaboration with other teachers, and
professional development.


The name most closely associated with VAMs is William Sanders, currently senior research fellow with the University
of North Carolina. A statistician, Sanders focused on how a teacher or school could be evaluated by comparing
students current test scores to their previous test scores and forecasting future scores accordingly. The Tennessee
State Board of Education adopted the Sanders model, also known as a growth-based model, in 2000 as the
Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS). The U.S. Department of Education approved Sanders
growth model as a means of determining whether schools were making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under the
No Child Left Behind Act.

The late Gerald Bracey, a columnist for Phi Delta Kappan and a fellow at the Education Policy Studies Laboratory
at Arizona State University, acknowledged that the VAM makes more sense than the current successive-cohorts
system for determining AYP. It makes more sense to follow kids over time, although if the goal remains 100%
proficiency, the whole operation remains nuts. Among his criticisms, however, was that a VAM is circular: It
defines effective teachers as those who raise test scores, then uses test score gains to determine whos an effective

12 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1

Choose one or more of these individual inquiry topics for thinking and writing.

1. How are teachers evaluated in your district (or a district you know well)? To what extent does the evaluation system in this
district seem effective to you?

2. What are the best indicators of teacher effectiveness in your experience? How can these indicators be measured?

3. Other than teacher effectiveness, what influences student achievement? To what extent can these influences be accounted for
so that teacher effectiveness is measurable?

4. Why might teacher effectiveness differ from class to class as well as from year to year or from test to test?

5. What kind of performance assessments could teachers use to document their effectiveness? How would these be scored?

6. What might be the role of a coach or mentor in terms of a teacher evaluation system? What might be the role of professional

7. How would collaboration or teaming be helpful to teachers in terms of teacher evaluation?


In a wide-ranging report that studies teacher evaluation and dismissal in four states and 12 diverse districts, The New Teacher
Project finds that teacher evaluation systems reflect and codify the Widget Effect the fallacy that all teachers are essentially
interchangeable in several major ways (The New Teacher Project, 2009). With your colleagues, discuss how VAMs and the
alternatives described by the authors address these evaluation issues.

Chart your discussion using the following grid:

Evaluation issues from How other evaluation designs

The New Teacher Project How VAMs would help would help
All teachers are rated good or great.
Excellence goes unrecognized.
Professional development is inadequate.
Novice teachers are neglected.
Poor performance goes unaddressed.

Note: You can download the whole report or an executive summary of The Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on
Differences in Teacher Effectiveness at


Bracey, G. (2007, May 1). Value subtracted: A debate with William Sanders. The Huffington Post.

Sanders, W.L. & Horn, S.P. (1994). The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS): Mixed model methodology in educational assessment.
Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education, 8, 299-311.

The New Teacher Project. (2009). The widget effect.

Summer Issue #1 13

Comments? Like
Kappan at www.

A smart ALEC
threatens public
Coordinated efforts to introduce model legislation aimed at defunding
and dismantling public schools is the signature work of this conservative

By Julie Underwood and Julie F. Mead

legislative contagion seemed to sweep across the Midwest during the early months
of 2011. First, Wisconsin legislators wanted to strip public employees of the right
to bargain. Then, Indiana legislators got into the act. Then, it was Ohio. In each
case, Republican governors and Republican-controlled state legislatures had in-
troduced substantially similar bills that sought sweeping changes to each states collective
bargaining statutes and various school funding provisions.
This article
was originally JULIE UNDERWOOD ( is professor and dean of the School of Education at the University of
published in Phi Wisconsin-Madison. She previously served as general counsel of the National School Boards Association. JULIE F. MEAD is pro-
Delta Kappan, 93 fessor and chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The views
(6), 51-55. expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily refl ect those of the University of Wisconsin.

14 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1

Thinkstock/Digital Vision
What was going on? How could elected officials agree granting considerable power to the corpo-
in multiple states suddenly introduce essentially the rate side. Elected officials then take the model bills
same legislation? back to their states to introduce them as their own.
The answer: The American Legislative Exchange Only legislators who are members may access the
Council (ALEC). Its self-described legislative ap- model legislation (
proach to education reads: uploads/2011_legislative_brochure.pdf). It is a very
efficient mechanism for corporations to exercise po-
Across the country for the past two decades, education litical power and they have.
reform efforts have popped up in legislatures at dif-
ferent times in different places. As a result, teachers ALEC in Tennessee
unions have been playing something akin to whack-
a-mole you know the game striking down as Recent legislation in Tennessee provides a vivid
many education reform efforts as possible. Many example. ALEC created and provided members its
times, the unions successfully whack the mole, model Virtual Public Schools Act. Two large for-profit
i.e., the reform legislation. Sometimes, however, they corporate providers of virtual education, Connections
miss. If all the moles pop up at once, there is no way
the person with the mallet can get them all. Introduce Academy and K-12 Inc., had heavy involvement with
comprehensive reform packages. (Ladner, LeFevre, the model bills creation. Mickey Revenaugh, a lob-
& Lips, 2010, p. 108) byist for Connections Academy, was the corporate
chair of ALECs Education Task Force and Lisa Gil-
ALECs own whack-a-mole strategy also reveals lis, with K-12 Inc., chaired its special needs education
the groups ultimate goal. Every gardener who has subcommittee that created the bill. Tennessees State
ever had to deal with a mole knows that the animals Rep. Harry Brooks and State Sen. Dolores Gresham,
undermine and ultimately destroy a garden. ALECs both ALEC Education Task Force members, intro-
positions on various education issues make it clear duced the bill to their respective houses nearly ver-
that the organization seeks to undermine public edu- batim, even using the same title. For example, the
cation by systematically defunding and ultimately following passage forms the preamble of the adopted
destroying public education as we know it. statute. Underlined portions were taken directly from
ALECs model.
What is ALEC?
Technically, ALEC ( is a nonprofit
WHEREAS, meeting the educational needs
organization based in Washington, D.C. It describes
of children in our states schools is of the
itself as a nonpartisan membership organization for
greatest importance to the future welfare of
those who share a common belief in limited govern-
Tennessee; and
ment, free markets, federalism, and individual lib-
erty ( More than 2,000 WHEREAS, closing the achievement gap be-
state lawmakers pay ALEC $100 for a two-year tween high-performing students, including
membership. While listed as nonpartisan, ALECs the gap between minority and nonminority stu-
members definitely skew to the conservative end of dents and between economically disadvantaged
the political spectrum. For example, of the 114 listed students and their more advantaged peers, is a
members of the groups Education Task Force, 108 significant and present challenge; and
are Republicans, and only six are Democrats. WHEREAS, providing a broader range of edu-
Corporations, foundations, and think tanks can cational options to parents and utilizing exist-
join ALEC, too. They pay up to $25,000 in yearly ing resources, along with technology, may help
dues and can spend more to sponsor the councils students in our state improve their academic
meetings. Corporate members can also donate to achievement; and
each states scholarship fund, which reimburses leg-
islators who travel to meetings. The scholarships can WHEREAS, many of our school districts cur-
exceed the amount of a legislators dues. Corporate rently lack the capacity to provide other public
members also can pay from $3,000 to $10,000 for a school choices for students whose schools are
seat on a task force. low performing; now, therefore
ALEC operates through nine task forces, each The purpose of this part is to provide an LEA
cochaired by a corporate member and a legislative with an alternative choice to offer additional
member. Task forces are divided by subject and bring educational resources in an effort to improve
together conservative policy makers with corporate academic achievement. (Virtual Public Schools
leaders to develop model legislation. In order for Act, 2011).
a proposal to become model legislation, both the
public and private sides of the committee must The bill passed both houses on a party-line vote

Summer Issue #1 15

on June 16, 2011. Shortly thereafter, K-12 Inc. LeFevre, & Lips, 2010, p. 82) to be carried out
one of the creators of the model legislation won a through model legislation such as Alternative
no-bid contract from Union County School District Certification Act, Great Teachers and Lead-
to create the Tennessee Virtual Academy and will re- ers Act, National Teacher Certification Fair-
ceive about $5,300 per student from the state for the ness Act, Public School Union Release Time
2011-12 school year (Humphrey, 2011). Connec- Act, School Collective Bargaining Agreement
tions Academy does not yet offer a virtual school in Sunshine Act, and Teacher Choice Compensa-
Tennessee, but its web site reports that it is actively tion Act. Theres also a set of proposals (Pub-
working with parent groups, education officials, and lic School Financial Transparency Act; School
others to launch a school in this state. Board Freedom to Contract Act) that encour-
age school districts to outsource their auxiliary

Common throughout the bills are proposals Privatize education through vouchers, char-
ters, and tax incentives (Ladner, LeFevre, &
to decrease local control of schools by Lips, 2010, p. 87) to be carried out through model
legislation such as Foster Child Scholarship
democratically elected school boards while Program Act, Great Schools Tax Credit, Mili-
increasing access to all facets of education tary Family Scholarship Program Act, Parental
Choice Scholarship Accountability Act, Paren-
to private entities and corporations. tal Choice Scholarship Program Act (means-
tested eligibility), Parental Choice Scholarship
Program Act (universal eligibility), Parental
Choice Scholarship Program Act (universal
eligibility, means-tested scholarship amount),
The Chattanooga Times Free Press (Sept. 2, 2011)
Parental Choice Scholarship Tax Credit Ac-
reported that about 2,000 students applied for en-
countability Act, Education Enterprise Zone
rollment in the Tennessee Virtual Academy for fall
Act, Smart Start Scholarship Program, Special
2011. Recent reports raise concerns that the pro-
Needs Scholarship Program Act, Family Educa-
grams popularity with home schoolers may drain
tion Savings Account Act, Parental Rights Act,
taxpayer funds while enriching the corporation ac-
Resolution Supporting Private Scholarship Tax
tively and aggressively recruiting students to enroll
Credits, Autism Scholarship Program Act, and
(Locker, 2011). Locker also reports that K-12 Inc.
Family Education Tax Credit Program Act.
compensated its CEO more than $2.6 million last
year, its chief financial officer more than $1.7 million, Increase student testing and reporting (Lad-
and other top executives several hundred thousand ner, LeFevre, & Lips, 2010, p. 93) to be carried
dollars each, according to its latest annual report to out through model legislation such as Resolu-
shareholders. tion Supporting the Principles of No Child Left
Behind Act, Student Right to Learn Act, Educa-
ALEC on education tion Accountability Act, Longitudinal Student
ALECs success in Tennessee is by no means its Growth Act, One to One Reading Improvement
only incursion into state education policy. ALECs Act, and Resolution on Nonverified Science
interest in education is ambitious and multifaceted, Curriculum Funding.
and includes promoting dozens of model acts to
Reduce the influence of or eliminate local
its legislative members (Ladner, LeFevre, & Lips,
school districts and school boards (Ladner,
2010). Proposed bills seek to influence teacher cer-
LeFevre, & Lips, 2010, p. 96) to be carried
tification, teacher evaluation, collective bargaining,
out through model legislation such as Charter
curriculum, funding, special education, student as-
Schools Act, Innovation Schools and School
sessment, and numerous other education and edu-
Districts Act, Open Enrollment Act, Virtual
cation-related issues. Common throughout the bills
Public Schools Act, and Next Generation Char-
are proposals to decrease local control of schools by
ter Schools Act.
democratically elected school boards while increas-
ing access to all facets of education by private enti-
ties and corporations. ALECs outlined agenda is to: ALECs special interest in privatization
While ALECs forays into education policy are
Introduce market factors into schools, par- broad, privatization of public education has been
ticularly the teaching profession (Ladner, a long-standing ALEC objective. As early as 1985,
16 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1
ALECs motivation for privatization was made clear 1990. Although the Milwaukee voucher program
(Barrett, 1985). had the backing of leaders from other philosophic
camps, including Howard Fuller, a former superin-
As schools became larger and society more mobile, tendent of Milwaukee Public Schools and current
teachers and superintendents grew further removed board member of Black Alliance for Educational Op-
from parents and, all too frequently, from the students
themselves. Policies dictated from state capitals and tions, the legislation was modeled after the rubric
Washington, D.C., placed burdens on public schools ALEC provided in its 1985 Education Source Book.
to compensate for economic disadvantages in fam- ALECs hand in this program continues. In 2011,
ily backgrounds and overcome centuries-old preju- one of the ultimately defeated amendments to the
dices, to confer equality on youngsters with physical Milwaukee program proposed removing all income
or mental handicaps, and to transmit our common
culture while preserving each of its diverse elements. requirements for participating students, a proposal
As a result, public schools were forced to meet all of laid out in ALECs Parental Choice Scholarship Pro-
the needs of all the people without pleasing anyone. gram Act (universal eligibility) and a step toward a
(Barrett, 1985, p. 7) full-scale state voucher program.
In fact, to help states advance school choice
without running afoul of state constitutional lim-
itations, ALEC published School Choice and State
Constitutions (Komer & Neily, 2007) to provide a
By elevating parental choice over all other state-by-state analysis and promote programs tai-
values, the ALEC push for privatization lored to foster privatization. Since then, a number
of states have adopted the ALEC recommenda-
supports schools that can be segregated by tions. For example:

academic ability and disability, ethnicity, Arizona: Vouchers for foster children, special ed-
ucation vouchers, and tax credits;
economics, language, and culture.
Indiana: Means-tested vouchers, special
education vouchers, tax deductions for private
school tuition and home-schooling expenses,
and tax credits;
In response, ALEC offered model legislation to
foster educational freedom and quality through Georgia: Special education vouchers and
privatization (Barrett, 1985, p. 8). Privatization takes the newer ALEC proposal tax incentives
multiple forms: vouchers, tax incentives for sending for contributions to scholarship-granting
children to private schools, and charter schools oper- organizations;
ated by for-profit entities.
Today, ALEC calls this approach choice and
renames vouchers scholarships, but its aim is
clear: Defund and dismantle public schools. While
many other right-wing organizations support this
agenda, ALEC is the mechanism for implementing
it through its many pieces of model legislation that
propose legislative methods for defunding public
schools, particularly low-income, urban schools.
The motivation for dismantling the public edu-
cation system creating a system where schools
do not provide for everyone is ideological, and
it is motivated by profit. The corporate members
on ALECs education task force include represen-
tatives from the Friedman Foundation, Goldwater
Institute, Evergreen Education Group, Washington
Policy Center, and corporations providing education
services such as Sylvan Learning and K-12, Inc. All
stand to benefit from public funding sent in their
The first large-scale voucher program, the Mil- Good night, dear. Text me if you need anything.
waukee Parental Choice Program, was enacted in

Summer Issue #1 17

Louisiana: Tax deductions for private school Ultimately, however, the most important ques-
tuition and home-schooling expenses, means- tion we must all ask is whether ALECs influence
tested vouchers, special education vouchers; and builds or undermines democracy.
Certain public institutions courts, legislatures,
Oklahoma: Tax credits, special education fire protection, police departments, and yes, schools
vouchers, and the newer ALEC proposal the must remain public to serve a democratic society.
tax incentives for contributions to scholarship- Through public education we have expressed and ex-
granting organizations. panded our shared public values. As Benjamin Barber
(1997) states, Public schools are not merely schools
By elevating parental choice over all other values,
for the public, but schools of publicness: institutions
the ALEC push for privatization supports schools
where we learn what it means to be a public and start
that can be segregated by academic ability and dis-
down the road toward common national and civic
ability, ethnicity, economics, language, and culture.
identity (p. 22).
They would be the natural outgrowth of parents un-
What happens to our democracy when we return
fettered choices in a free-market system. Increased
to an educational system where access is defined by
racial isolation would likely result, exacerbating cur-
corporate interest and divided by class, language,
rent trends toward resegregation (Orfield & Lee,
ability, race, and religion? In a push to free-market
2007). In addition, as seen in Tennessee, a fully re-
education, who pays in the end?K
alized ALEC agenda would undoubtedly result in
more public education dollars bolstering the balance
sheets of for-profit education vendors. References
Identifying ALECs influence Barber, B. (1997). Public schooling: Education for democracy.
Returning to the protests that rocked our state In J.I. Goodlad & T.J. McMannon (Eds.), The public purpose
and others, it became clear that ALEC had sig- of education and schooling (pp. 21-32). San Francisco, CA:
nificant influence on the contested provisions. As Jossey-Bass.
Rogers and Dresser (2011) document, proposals in Barrett, N. (1985). Education source book: The state
Wisconsin and other states were drawn from sev- legislators guide for reform. Washington, DC: American
eral ALEC legislative models, including the Right Legislative Exchange Council.
to Work Act [that] eliminates employee obligation
to pay the costs of collective bargaining; the Public Humphrey, T. (2011, August 15). TN Virtual Academy builds
Employee Freedom Act [that] bars almost any action enrollment controversy. Humphrey on the Hill. (Web log post).
to induce it; the Public Employer Payroll Deduction
Act [that] bars automatic dues collection; [and] the academy-builds-enro.html
Voluntary Contribution Act [that] bars the use of Komer, R. & Neily, C. (2007). School choice and state
dues for political activity. constitutions: A guide to designing school choice programs.
Does ALECs influence build or undermine Washington, DC: Institute for Justice and American Legislative
democracy? Exchange Council.

Whether you believe that ALEC has the issues Ladner, M., LeFevre, A., & Lips, D. (2010). Report card on
right or wrong, the organization clearly wields con- American education: Ranking state K-12 performance,
siderable power and influence over state educa- progress, and reform (16th ed.). Washington, DC: American
tion policy. But perhaps by boldly sending so many Legislative Exchange Council.
moles to legislative surfaces all at once, ALEC has Locker, R. (2011, September 24). Virtual school in Tennessee
permitted those concerned with the influence of cor- may drain taxpayer funds. The Commercial Appeal.
porate interests on public education to awaken to its
strategy. From now on, champions of public educa- Virtual Public Schools Act, Tennessee House Bill No. 1030.
tion have a new set of questions to ask whenever (2011).
legislation is introduced: Orfield, G. & Lee, C. (2007). Historic reversals, accelerating
Is the sponsor a member of ALEC? resegregation and the need for new integration strategies. Los
Does the bill borrow from ALEC model Angeles, CA: Civil Rights Project.
legislation? Rogers, J. & Dresser, L. (2011, July 12). ALEC exposed:
What corporations had a hand in drafting the Business domination Inc. The Nation.
What interests would benefit or even profit Virtual school hits enrollment hiccup. (2011, September 2).
from its passage? The Chattanooga Times Free Press.

18 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1

Like PDK at www.

Teach For America teachers:

How long do they teach?
Why do they leave?
Most TFA alumni continue to teach after completing their two-year
obligation. Those who leave the profession exit because of the same
poor working conditions that drive away other young teachers.

Few observers doubt that Teach For America (TFA) has high aspirations. Established in
1990, TFA strives to close persistent racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps in U.S.
public education by recruiting high-achieving college graduates to teach for two years in
low-income urban and rural schools. In recent years, applications to TFA have soared,
especially at highly selective colleges. In 2009-10, for example, 18% of Harvard Universitys
seniors applied to the program. Proposing to expand its teaching corps from 7,300 to
13,000 over the next five years, TFA recently won $50 million in the federal i3 (Investing in
Innovation) competition and succeeded in raising $10 million in matching funds.

By Morgaen L. Donaldson and Susan Moore Johnson

This article
was originally
published in Phi
Delta Kappan, 93
(2), 47-51.

Summer Issue #1 19

Thinkstock/Digital Vision
TFAs rapid growth and success in garnering finan- which ones leave the profession and some sugges-
cial support from public and private sources exhilarates tions about why they leave. In our study, we learned:
some and angers others. Proponents vigorously cite
the programs merits, contending that TFA attracts Nearly two-thirds (60.5%) of TFA
academically strong and motivated young people who teachers continue as public school teachers
would otherwise not consider teaching, especially in beyond their two-year commitment.
high-poverty schools. Its detractors, with equal pas- More than half (56.4%) leave their initial
placements in low-income schools after
two years, but 43.6% stay longer.
By their fifth year, 14.8% continue to
Contrary to popular expectations, only teach in the same low-income schools to
3.7% of TFAers who stopped teaching which they were originally assigned.

had become lawyers and only 1.6% had Our findings suggest two explanations for how
become medical professionals. long TFA teachers stay in the profession and in their
placement schools. The first involves their initial in-
tentions and their background in education before
entering TFA; the second is the working conditions
sion, argue that by requiring only a two-year commit- in their schools.
ment from corps members who have received only five
weeks of formal preparation, TFA undermines efforts WHY RETENTION MATTERS
to stabilize and improve staffing in the very schools Teacher retention, particularly in low-income
most overwhelmed by teacher turnover and most in schools such as those where TFA teachers are placed,
need of consistency in the classroom. Moreover, crit- is critically important. Attrition, already high among
ics argue that TFA compromises teaching as a pro- new teachers across the nation (Ingersoll, 2002), has
fession by minimizing the importance of preservice its greatest impact in low-income, high-minority
preparation and casting teaching as a prelude to the schools. In the most recent data available, 21% of
higher-status careers that many corps members enter teachers at high-poverty schools leave their schools
after their TFA experience. Some cynically assert that annually, compared to 14% of their counterparts in
the program functions primarily as a rsum booster low-poverty settings (Planty et al., 2008). As teachers
for ambitious upper-middle-class college graduates, transfer within districts, they typically leave schools
intent on fashioning the most compelling application that enroll lower-income students and enter schools
to the nations top law or medical schools. with higher-income students (Hanushek, Kain, &
Debates about whether TFA can revive chroni- Rivkin, 2004).
cally failing schools or will further aggravate the This revolving-door effect (Ingersoll, 2004)
problems facing these schools often turn on compet- leaves the very schools that most need stability and
ing claims about how long TFA teachers stay on the continuity perpetually searching for new teachers to
job. Critics conclude that corps members routinely replace those who leave. When teachers leave their
leave their school after their two-year commitment, schools after only a few years, those schools incur
if not before. For their part, TFA relies on internal substantial costs. Most importantly, students are
surveys, which show that 60% of corps members likely to suffer. Novices typically fill vacancies. As a
remain in education, holding various roles at various result, students are taught by a stream of first-year
levels of the system. teachers who are, on average, less effective than their
Until now, however, solid information about how more experienced counterparts (Murnane & Phil-
long TFA teachers actually remain in teaching and in lips, 1981; Rockoff, 2004). When effective teachers
their low-income schools has not been available to leave, schools also lose their investment in formal
policy makers and school officials. Our large-scale, and informal professional development (National
nationwide analysis of TFA teacher turnover pres- Commission on Teaching and Americas Future,
ents a more detailed picture of which TFAers stay, 2003). Moreover, routinely high levels of teacher
turnover impede a schools efforts to coordinate cur-
riculum, to track and share important information
about students as they move from grade to grade,
is an assistant professor in the Neag School of Education, Uni- and to maintain productive relationships with par-
versity of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn. SUSAN MOORE JOHN- ents and the local community. Quite simply, they
SON is the Jerome T. Murphy Professor of Education, Harvard cannot build instructional capacity. Given such high
Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, Mass. stakes, knowing more about TFA teachers careers
20 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1
in low-income schools and in the profession more turnover to teachers turnover in similar high-pov-
broadly is essential. erty schools, although reports from Philadelphia
suggest that the rates may be roughly comparable
(Neild, Useem, Travers, & Lesnick, 2003).
WHETHER, WHEN, AND WHY Most people would be surprised to learn that a
In 2007, we set out to understand whether, when, substantial percentage of TFA teachers 43.6%
and why TFA teachers left the teaching profession remained in their initial, low-income placement
and/or their low-income placement schools. We sur- school beyond their two-year obligation. However,
veyed all members of three cohorts (entering in 2000, many individuals who stayed in teaching did leave
2001, and 2002) from all TFA sites across the country their original placement schools at some point.
and asked them to provide information about their About half of those who remained in teaching after
work lives in the four to six years since they began their third year had changed schools. And, after the
teaching. They reported whether and when they left fourth year, only 14.8% continued to teach in their
public teaching and/or their initial school and they original school. This level of turnover is very prob-
explained why. lematic from the perspective of low-income schools
Sixty-two percent of the total population com- and their students.
pleted the survey for a final sample of 2,029 indi-
viduals. We used a statistical approach, called dis- How did TFA teachers original plans and
crete-time survival analysis, to estimate teachers education background influence their
unbiased probability of leaving their schools or the retention?
profession in a given year. We were able to focus on When we examined the survey responses, we found
the choices that the teachers made to stay at their two explanations for these teachers career choices.
school, change schools, or leave teaching because The first emerged from self-reports about their origi-
we could identify and set aside career changes due to nal plans when they applied to TFA as well as evidence
involuntary transfers, layoffs, and dismissals. about their prior educational preparation.

How long are TFA teachers careers?

We expected to find that a large proportion of
TFA teachers in our sample would have left teaching
A substantial percentage of TFA teachers
after completing their two-year obligation to TFA. 43.6% remained in their initial,
But, we found that 60.5% of teachers taught in K-12
schools longer than two years and more than one
low-income placement school beyond their
third (35.5%) taught for more than four years. After two-year obligation.
five years, 27.8% were still in teaching. This reten-
tion rate is markedly lower than the 50% estimated
for new teachers across all types of schools (Smith & Although most people think TFA corps members
Ingersoll, 2003). Good data are not currently avail- are much alike, we found two distinct subgroups in
able that would allow us to compare TFA teachers this sample of over 2,000 teachers. Those in one
subgroup had short-term expectations for a teaching
TABLE 1. career from the start, thus fitting the two-years-
Retention Rates of TFA Teachers in their and-out picture that most people have in mind when
Schools and in Teaching they think of TFA. Teachers in the other subgroup
had more traditional, longer-term expectations for
Continued a teaching career.
teaching in The majority (56.59%) of those in the sample
Continued initial school or indicated that, when they applied to TFA, they had
teaching in any other planned to teach for two years or less. Such inten-
Year initial school public school tions were especially apparent for nearly one-tenth
2 90.1% 94.8% (9.28%) of the sample who had applied to graduate
3 43.6% 60.5% school in another field and then deferred their en-
rollment for two years while teaching in TFA. Con-
4 22.5% 44.6%
trolling for demographic and placement variables, in
5 14.8% 35.5%
years 1-3, those who had deferred graduate school
6 8.6% 27.8%
before enrolling in TFA were significantly and sub-
7 5.2% 23.9% stantially more likely to leave teaching than those
who had not deferred graduate school.
Summer Issue #1 21
In contrast, nearly half (43.41%) of the sample in their intentions or actions. Some appear to use the
said that, from the beginning, they had expected program as a path to an extended career in teaching.
to teach longer than TFAs requirement. Notably, They may choose TFA as a way to bypass longer
11.34% reported that they had intended to make preparation programs, licensing requirements, or
teaching a lifelong career when they entered TFA. the bureaucratic obstacles associated with landing
Some (3.34%) had already completed a traditional a teaching job, especially in a large, urban district.
teacher preparation program; others (5.28%) had They also may have wanted the status and camara-
majored or minored in education; and an additional derie that come with becoming TFA corps members.
5.82% of the sample had taken pedagogical classes Whatever their reasons, it seems clear that a consid-
as undergraduates. Thus, almost 12% of the sample erable proportion of those in the sample expected to
had some training in teaching, whether a major or make a longer-term commitment to teaching from
minor in education, completion of a teacher prepa- the start.
ration program, or completion of a teaching meth-
ods class, before enrolling in TFA. Moreover, 6.94% Why did TFA teachers leave teaching or
of the sample had applied to another teaching job transfer to other schools?
in addition to TFA. These actions signal a deeper Our survey also provided insight into why some
commitment to teaching that preceded their TFA TFA corps members decided to leave teaching.
experience. When asked to select the most influential factor in
In fact, those who displayed an early commitment their decision to leave teaching, the top reasons se-
to teaching did stay in the classroom longer than lected were:
other TFA peers. For example, 71.3% of education
majors taught longer than four years, while only To pursue a position other than
about half that proportion in the entire sample K-12 teacher (34.93%);
35.5% taught that long. Of those with an educa- To take courses to improve career
tion major or minor, 62.4% taught for longer than opportunities in education (11.79%); or
four years as did 53.0% of those who had applied To take courses to improve career oppor-
for another teaching job, again a much higher pro- tunities outside of education (10.26%).
portion than the overall sample. These groups are
These top three reasons relate to the teachers
interest in professional advancement, either outside
or inside education. However, the fourth reason,
New teachers benefit from having more cited by nearly one-tenth of the teachers (9.83%),
was poor administrative leadership at their school. In
preservice preparation than fast-track addition, some attributed their decision to other de-
programs usually provide. ficiencies in their working conditions lack of col-
laboration (2.11%), inadequate discipline (2.98%),
or general dissatisfaction with their job description
and responsibilities (2.84%). Therefore, nearly 18%
small, but noteworthy because they had substantially of those who left teaching cited such school-based
higher retention rates than others in the sample. It factors as the primary reason for their departure.
is impossible to say whether these teachers longer Beyond teachers self-reports about working con-
stay in the classroom was due to their initial com- ditions, our analysis revealed that their teaching as-
mitment to teaching or to the success they achieved signments affected retention. Those who were as-
with their students as a result of the knowledge and signed to teach more challenging assignments split
skill they acquired through undergraduate studies grades, multiple subjects, or out-of-field courses, for
in education. In an earlier study, we found that new which they were not prepared were more likely to
teachers sense of success with their students fig- resign from teaching or leave their jobs than those
ured centrally in their decisions about whether to with single-grade, single-subject, or in-field assign-
continue teaching (Johnson & Birkeland, 2003). ments (Donaldson & Johnson, 2010). For example,
Given the limited induction and support that the 76.2% of math teachers with a math major taught
TFA teachers probably received in their high-need more than two years, compared with 60.0% of math
schools, it seems likely that both their prior course- teachers without a math major. Fifty percent of math
work and their original intentions played a role in teachers without a major in math left teaching within
their career decisions. 2.51 years, while half of those with a math major left
These findings show that Teach For America within 4.08 years.
teachers are far from being exclusively short-term Those with short-term intentions not only chose

22 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1

to leave teaching in favor of other professional op- The TFA teachers who stayed in teaching but
portunities, but also because they found their work- changed schools reported that their decisions were
ing conditions to be subpar. By contrast, when indi- significantly influenced by the working conditions
viduals with long-term intentions left teaching, they in their initial school the principals leadership,
tended to leave, not because they preferred a differ- their teaching assignment, student discipline, and
ent profession or were dissatisfied with their work, the schools philosophy. These responses suggest
but because of a major life change, such as pregnancy that if hard-to-staff schools are to succeed in serving
or child-rearing. their low-income students, it wont be because they
Notably, not all of those who left teaching within receive a steady stream of well-educated, commit-
six years permanently abandoned the field of educa- ted novice teachers, but because they become places
tion. When we asked respondents who had left what where those individuals find they can succeed and,
they were doing now, we learned that 21.0% held therefore, choose to stay. K

positions in K-12 schools and 10.7% had returned

to the classroom as teachers. Contrary to popular
expectations, only 3.7% were lawyers and 1.6% were
medical professionals.
We found that teachers who reported or provided Donaldson, M.L. & Johnson, S.M. (2010, Spring). The price
evidence of longer-term intentions for example, of misassignment: The role of teaching assignments in Teach
by having taken courses in education remained in For America teachers exit from low-income schools and
teaching and in their original school in much higher the teaching profession. Educational Evaluation and Policy
proportions than those with short-term intentions. Analysis, 32 (2), 299-323.
We asked teachers who stayed in teaching, but had
Hanushek, E.A., Kain, J.F., & Rivkin, S.G. (2004). Why public
left their original placement school, why they had
schools lose teachers. Journal of Human Resources, 39 (2):
made the change. Six percent had been reassigned
through an involuntary transfer. Among others who
chose to transfer, the reason most often cited was Ingersoll, R.M. (2002, June). The teacher shortage: A case of
a change in residence (29%). However, more than wrong diagnosis and wrong prescription. NASSP Bulletin, 86:
one-third reported transferring because they were 16-31.
dissatisfied with their original school poor ad-
Ingersoll, R.M. (2004). Why do high-poverty schools have
ministrative leadership (16%), lack of philosophical
difficulty staffing their classrooms with qualified teachers?
alignment (14%), lack of discipline (3%), or dissat-
Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.
isfaction with job responsibilities (2%). For those
who remained in teaching, working conditions were Johnson, S.M. & Birkeland, S. (2003). Pursuing a sense
central in deciding to leave their original placement. of success: new teachers explain their career decisions.
American Educational Research Journal, 40 (3), 581-617.
Murnane, R.J. & Phillips, B.R. (1981). What do effective
This study provides much-needed information
teachers of inner city children have in common? Social
about the careers of TFA teachers. The good news
Science Research, 10, 83-100.
is that nearly two-thirds stay in teaching beyond
their two-year commitment. However, less than a National Commission on Teaching and Americas Future
quarter stay in their initial, low-income school for (2003). No dream denied: A pledge to Americas children:
more than three years. Given TFAs commitment Summary report. Washington, DC: Author.
to closing the achievement gap a goal shared by
Neild, R.C., Useem, E., Travers, E.F., & Lesnick, J. (2003).
many other fast-track preparation programs this
Once and for all: Placing a highly qualified teacher in every
revolving door transfer of teachers from the schools
Philadelphia classroom. Philadelphia, PA: Research for Action.
that most need skilled, experienced teachers remains
a serious problem. Planty, M., et al. (2008). The condition of education 2008
We were struck by the higher retention rates (NCES 2008-031). Washington, DC: National Center for
among teachers who initially had longer-term plans Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S.
for teaching, especially those who had taken educa- Department of Education.
tion courses in college. This seems to suggest that
Rockoff, J. (2004). The impact of individual teachers on
new teachers benefit from having more preservice
student achievement. Evidence from panel data. American
preparation than fast-track programs usually pro-
Economic Review, 94 (2), 247-252.
vide. We need to learn more about the type, tim-
ing, and length of preparation that new teachers find Smith, T. & Ingersoll R.M. (2003, May). The wrong solution to
most valuable. the teacher shortage. Educational Leadership, 60 (8), 30-33.

Summer Issue #1 23

Religion and the public schools

Getting religion
in public schools
If we cant get this right in public schools, we have little hope of
getting this right in the public square of what is now the most
religiously diverse nation on Earth.

By Charles C. Haynes

ontrary to culture-war rhetoric from the Right, there is more student religious expression and more
study about religion in public schools today than at any time in the last 100 years. And contrary to
dire warnings from the Left, much of the religion that goes to school these days arrives through the
First Amendment door.
This article Of course, this isnt to suggest that all school districts get religion right. In some parts of the coun-
was originally try, school officials continue to unconstitutionally promote school-sponsored religious activities. In other
published in Phi
Delta Kappan, 93 CHARLES C. HAYNES ( is senior scholar at the First Amendment Center and director of the Religious
(4), 8-14. Freedom Education Project at the Newseum, Washington, D.C.

24 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1

Comments? Like
Kappan at www.

places, administrators and teachers wrongly censor religion at the schoolhouse door.
constitutionally protected student religious expres- Of course, some other schools, especially in the
sion. And throughout the country, the public school rural South, continued to do what they had always
curriculum still falls short of serious consideration done to promote the majoritys religion through
of religious ways of seeing the world (Nord, 2010; various school-sponsored practices.
Lester, 2011). But that was 20 years ago. Today, most state social
Nevertheless, a quiet revolution in public policy studies standards and textbooks include considerable
over the last two decades is transforming how many mention of religion; student religious clubs meet on
(if not most) public schools address religion during hundreds, if not thousands, of high school campuses;
the school day. For public school leaders, under- the sight of Christian students praying around the
standing the new and expanded place of religion in flagpole or in the lunchroom is commonplace; and
schools especially what is and isnt permissible Muslim students routinely perform daily prayers
under current law is critical for preventing conflict during the school day to cite just a few of many
and building public support for public education. examples.
Whats at stake?
Getting religion right in public schools matters
because religion and religious liberty matter. For Those determined to restore the past need to
better and for worse, religious convictions play a cen- accept that the sacred public school is no longer
tral role is shaping events in America and throughout tenable in our pluralistic society.
the world. A cursory glance at the daily headlines re-
minds us that religious differences are at the heart of
many of the worlds most violent conflicts. And in the
United States, rapidly expanding religious diversity What accounts for this dramatic change in such
presents daunting new challenges for building one a relatively short time? Part of the credit, at least,
nation out of many faiths and cultures in the 21st goes to consensus guidelines developed by leading
century (Eck, 2001). religious, civil liberties, and educational groups on a
Despite the recent increase in study about religion wide range of issues concerning religious liberty in
in schools, many Americans still have little or no public schools. In 1987, religious-liberty attorney
knowledge about religions other than their own Oliver Thomas and I convened the first effort to
and even that knowledge is often thin (Pew Forum find common ground where there had been none.
on Religion & Public Life, 2010; Prothero, 2007). After a year and a half of intense negotiation,
Religious illiteracy may be a contributing factor to we reached agreement on Religion in the Public
the rising intolerance in the United States, includ- School Curriculum: Questions and Answers, the
ing the growing number of hate crimes motivated first-ever consensus statement on teaching about
by anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. If we hope to religion in the public schools. Endorsed by a broad
prevent religious discrimination and division in the coalition ranging from the National Education As-
United States, schools need to take religion seriously, sociation to the National Association of Evangeli-
not only to increase religious literacy, but also to pro- cals, this statement was the first of a series of com-
mote religious freedom as a fundamental, inalienable mon ground agreements that would help transform
right for every person (Lester & Roberts, 2006). the religious-liberty landscape in public education
(Haynes & Thomas, 2007).
How we got here The culture-war conflicts of the 1980s in-
To understand the significance and scope of the cluding textbook trials in Tennessee and Alabama
recent changes in how many public schools address inspired diverse groups to come to the table. But
religion, a little history is needed. Twenty years ago, other developments also contributed to changes that
many public schools did, in fact, come close to be- would occur over the next two decades, most notably
ing religion-free zones. In the wake of controversial the Equal Access Act of 1984 that opened the door
and widely misrepresented U.S. Supreme Court de- to student religious clubs and the California history-
cisions banning state-sponsored religious practices, social science framework of 1989 that broke with
worried educators often overreacted by trying to precedent by including significant attention to the
keep all religion out of schools. Textbook publishers study of world religions.
largely ignored religion, and teachers wouldnt touch
it with the proverbial 10-foot pole. Some admin- The new consensus
istrators mistakenly confused student speech with Since the first guidelines on religion in the cur-
government speech and told students to leave their riculum in 1988, there have been eight additional
Summer Issue #1 25
consensus statements. In 2005, for example, the religion in the curriculum or when students may pray
Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, together doesnt mean agreement on everything.
the Christian Educators Association International, Current conflicts regarding Bible elective courses
and other groups reached agreement on a common- and lawsuits over student religious expression before
ground process for ending conflicts over sexual ori- a captive audience are reminders of how much work
entation in public schools, one of the most emotional remains to be done.
and divisive issues in public education today. We now Nevertheless, a growing number of school dis-
have widely supported guides on many divisive is- tricts across the nation have used the new consen-
sues, from how to address religious holidays to the sus to move from battleground to common ground
role of the Bible in public schools. on the role of religion in their schools. From Davis
Of course, we still have some distance to go. County, Utah, to Richardson, Texas, to Mustang,
Agreement on some issues such as the place of Okla., school districts have successfully translated

Avoid conflict and find common ground

The work of building consensus on a representatives to help develop policies PROVIDE PERIODIC PROFESSIONAL
national level must continue, expanding that uphold the First Amendment and DEVELOPMENT. Many conflicts over
to address the new divisions and adhere to current law. The task force religion in schools are caused because
conflicts. The more urgent need, can also serve as an ongoing forum teachers and administrators are unclear
however, is for local districts to develop for discussing issues as they arise in about what is and isnt permissible
their own policies and practices built on schools. Building relationships among under the First Amendment. Even
the model of a civil public school. After people of divergent views creates mutual good policies are of little value unless
25 years on the front lines of culture- respect that often translates into shared school officials understand how to carry
war fights over religion in schools, I agreements on school policies and them out. Teaching about religions, for
recommend the following six strategies practices. example, requires an understanding of
to public school leaders seeking to avoid the First Amendment guidelines and
conflict and find common ground. INCLUDE ALL SIDES IN THE DECISION- adequate academic preparation. School
MAKING PROCESS. Public schools districts should offer periodic professional
belong to all citizens and serve the development opportunities to teachers
entire community. Just as the national and administrators focused on the key
Common ground agreements reached religious-liberty issues that educators are
by national groups over the past two consensus statements were drafted
by people with a broad range of asked to address in the schools.
decades provide school leaders with a
constitutional safe harbor (or the closest perspectives, local policies should
thing to it) within which to address religion be developed with input from all
PREPARATION. Since few schools of
in schools on a local level. When school stakeholders in the community. Given
education address religion in public
officials use national guidelines to explain the opportunity (and First Amendment
schools, few teachers and administrators
the role of religion in public schools under ground rules), most parents, local
are adequately prepared to deal with
the First Amendment, they build trust leaders, students, educators, and school
religious-liberty issues as they arise in
among teachers, parents, and students board members will commit to principled
the classroom and school culture. All
and increase public support for their dialogue and will work for policies and
educators should receive First Amendment
school district. practices that serve the common good.
training as part of their certification
DEVELOP SOUND POLICIES THAT process. Moreover, prospective teachers
should know something about the
relationship of religion to the subjects they
THE FIRST AMENDMENT AND AN well-crafted, will be effective unless
will be teaching. National educational
UNDERSTANDING OF CURRENT the broader community knows what
LAW. School districts with sound associations and religious-liberty advocacy
the policy says and how it is working.
religious-liberty policies are much groups should work together to bring
Beyond community participation in
less likely to experience conflicts and about these reforms. Until schools of
developing the policy, school leaders
lawsuits over issues related to religion education take the First Amendment
should inform parents and other citizens
in schools. Some school boards seriously, local schools will find it difficult to
through publications, web sites, and
and superintendents appoint a task avoid confusion and conflict over religion.
regular community meetings about how
force of educators and community the policies are being implemented. Charles C. Haynes

26 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1

national statements into local policies and practices decisions of the 1960s are often blamed for kicking
that reflect a commitment to the religious-liberty God out of the schools, the U.S. Supreme Court
principles of the First Amendment (Haynes & did not mandate a naked public school. While its
Thomas, 2007, p. 171). true that the Court struck down teacher-led prayer,
school-sponsored devotional Bible reading and
Moving beyond two failed models other state-sponsored religious practices, the Court
How did these districts reach common ground? has never banned prayer or God from the public
First, they had to reject the two models that have schools. Moreover, the Court has gone out of its
characterized much of the history of religion in pub- way to emphasize that teaching about religion as
lic schools, failed models that many people cling to distinguished from religious indoctrination is an
as the only alternatives (Haynes & Thomas, 2007, important part of a good education (Abington Town-
pp. 285-301). ship v. Schempp, 1963).
The first model is what might be called the sacred
public school, in which school practices privilege
one religion (historically, a general form of Prot-
estant Christianity). Many of our current conflicts
A civil school
are triggered by efforts to preserve the vestiges of a Public schools may not inculcate nor inhibit religion. They must be
Protestant-dominated school system that survived places where religion and religious conviction are treated with fairness
well into the 20th century. and respect. Public schools uphold the First Amendment when they
When parents sometimes ask me why we cant protect the religious liberty rights of students of all faiths or none.
go back to the good old days when we were one Schools demonstrate fairness when they ensure that the curriculum
nation, under God, I need only recall the Bible includes study about religion, where appropriate, as an important part
wars in the mid-19th century when churches were of a complete education.
burned, and people died over whose version of the Religious Liberty, Public Education, and the Future of American
Bible would be read every morning: the Protestant Democracy, 1995
or the Catholic. Americans have been fighting over A statement of principles endorsed by 24 major education and
the role of religion in schools since the founding religious organizations
of public education. In other words, there were no
good old days (Solomon, 2007).
For many Americans, especially many conserva-
tive Christians, the fight to preserve the sacred pub- Confusion about Supreme Court rulings (and fear
lic school is about much more than conflicts over of controversy) over the past four decades has led
teacher-led prayers or crches. Its about the larger some administrators to prohibit all student religious
questions such as whose schools are these? and, expression in schools. The accounts of students be-
even more important, what kind of nation are we ing told that they cant say grace at lunch or that
will we be? they must leave their Bibles at home have led many
The theological-political belief that the nation religious people to believe that public education is
is in spiritual and moral decline because we fail to hostile to their faith. All it takes is a small number of
acknowledge our dependence on God continues to conflicts in relatively few school districts for all pub-
fuel fights when it translates into the promotion of lic schools to be painted with the same anti-religion
particular religious beliefs by school officials. brush. In the Internet era, this is easily done.
Consider, for example, the teacher in Mt. Vernon, One example of unnecessary (and possibly un-
Ohio, who sued to get his job back after he was fired constitutional) exclusion of student religious expres-
for decorating his classroom with religious symbols sion is a lawsuit filed in 2011 by parents challeng-
and allegedly promoting his religious views when ing a Cresco, Penn., school districts refusal to allow
teaching science. Or the principal in Baltimore, Md., their 5th grader to give out an invitation to a church
who held a prayer service in her school in 2011 to Christmas party. The district has what I would char-
invoke divine help in raising the districts test scores. acterize as a misguided policy barring student speech
Even those determined to restore the past need that seeks to establish the supremacy of a particular
to accept that the sacred public school is no longer religious denomination, sect, or point of view, ac-
tenable in our pluralistic society. More important, it cording to the plaintiffs lawsuit.
is both unjust and unconstitutional. School administrators in Cresco have apparently
The second failed model is even more widespread. forgotten that children are not the government. Per-
Im referring to the naked public school the mis- haps they missed the First Amendment memo that
taken idea that freedom of religion requires public says students are free to express their faith includ-
schools to be free from religion. Although the prayer ing the conviction that their religion is the best or
Summer Issue #1 27
truest as long as they dont disrupt the school or his comments about religion might be unconstitu-
interfere with the rights of others. tional (C.F. v. Capistrano, 2011). Notwithstanding
In a few districts, teachers and administrators are this confusing signal from the 9th Circuit, the U.S.
seen by some parents and students as actively hos- Supreme Court has made clear that school neutral-
ity under the First Amendment prohibits hostility
toward religion. Writing for the Court majority in
Like the sacred public school, the naked public Abington v. Schempp, Justice Tom Clark explained
that the Establishment Clause bars the government
school is also unjust and often unconstitutional. from establishing a religion of secularism by affir-
matively opposing or showing hostility to religion
(Abington v. Schempp, 1963).
tile to religion. Consider a case recently decided by Like the sacred public school, the naked public
the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals involving a school is also unjust and often unconstitutional.
Capistrano, Calif., high school teacher accused by
a student of denigrating religion in the classroom. A civil public school
Although the student alleged that many statements Although some culture warriors on both sides will
by the teacher demonstrated hostility to religion, a tell you otherwise, Americans do not have to choose
lower court found that only the teachers description between imposing religion in schools and keeping
of creationism as religious, superstitious nonsense it out altogether. This is a false choice between two
violated the Establishment Clause. But the appeals unconstitutional alternatives.
court let the teacher off the hook completely, rul- The third model the approach built on the
ing that absent clear legal precedents drawing the new consensus is what may be called a civil pub-
line indicating when teacher speech becomes hostile lic school. It is, in fact, what public schools look like
to religion, this teacher may not have realized that when they fully understand and apply the religion
clauses of the First Amendment.
What is a civil public school? The best one-stop
description is found in an agreement I helped negotiate
LEARN MORE in 1995 entitled Religious Liberty, Public Education,
and the Future of American Democracy, a statement
Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public of principles endorsed by 24 major education and re-
and Elementary and Secondary Schools ligious organizations. Principle IV provides a shared
Provides a summary of student religious-liberty rights under current vision for religious liberty in public schools:
law. Prepared by the U.S. Department of Education.
Public schools may not inculcate nor inhibit religion. They must be places where religion and religious con-
guidance.html viction are treated with fairness and respect. Public
schools uphold the First Amendment when they pro-
tect the religious liberty rights of students of all faiths
or none. Schools demonstrate fairness when they en-
A Teachers Guide to Religion in the Public Schools sure that the curriculum includes study about religion,
where appropriate, as an important part of a complete
Presents the consensus guidelines about what teachers can and education. (Haynes & Thomas, 2010, p. 12)
cannot do. Endorsed by 22 religious, civil liberties, and educational
These four sentences describe public schools
Available from the First Amendment Center that live up to the promise of religious liberty un- Visit the Publications page for a der the First Amendment. Rather than saying no
free download of a PDF file. to religion, the First Amendment opens the door
to appropriate student religious expression and the
academic study of religion while simultaneously
A Parents Guide to Religion in the Public Schools (available keeping school officials from taking sides in religion.
in English and Spanish) The diversity of groups endorsing this statement
of principles is truly remarkable. Both the Christian
Available from the First Amendment Center
Coalition and People for the American Way are on Visit the Publications page for a
the list. The Christian Educators Association Inter-
free download of a PDF file.
national is listed, but so is the National Education
Association. The National Association of Evangel-
icals, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil
28 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1
Rights, the Anti-Defamation League, the Council appropriate, as part of a complete education. Such
on Islamic Education join with the American As- teaching must be fair, objective, and based on sound
sociation of School Administrators, the National scholarship.
PTA, the National School Boards Association, and Although only one school district (Modesto, Ca-
Phi Delta Kappa to endorse this shared understand- lif.) has a required world religions course, many oth-
ing of the First Amendment. ers have extensive units on world religions in history
classes and a growing number offer religious studies
Where we agree electives. Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia,
Within a First Amendment framework, we now for example, has encouraged in-depth study of world
have broad agreement on many of the religious lib- religions since the late 1990s. In addition to the con-
erty rights of public school students. siderable coverage of world religions in the required
Under current law, students have the right to pray world history course (as mandated by Virginias his-
in public schools, alone or in groups, as long as the tory standards), Fairfax County has elective world
religions courses in seven of the districts 25 high
schools as well as in two alternative schools.
Public schools can (and should) teach about religion, Where we still disagree
where appropriate, as part of a complete education. This doesnt mean, of course, that all public
schools are now civil public schools or even close to
it. Because of our long history of fights and lawsuits,
many school officials are still afraid to implement the
activity does not disrupt the school or infringe on the new consensus, and some teachers remain skittish
rights of others. Students have the right to share their about discussing religion, whatever the standards or
faith with others and to read their scriptures. When textbooks say. Moreover, the culture wars are still
relevant to the discussion and within the academic with us, triggering new arguments over religion
requirements, students may express their religious in schools. Post 9/11, for example, teaching about
(or antireligious) views in a class discussion or as Muslims and Islam has triggered textbook debates
part of a written assignment. Students have the right in Texas and a lawsuit in California over the use of
to distribute religious literature in school,
subject to reasonable time, place, and man-
ner restrictions. And under the Equal Ac-
cess Act, students have the right to form
New from TCPress
religious clubs in secondary schools if the
school allows other extracurricular clubs.
There is also broad agreement among
education, civil liberties, and religious or-
ganizations that public schools need to in-
clude study about religion in the curricu-
lum. In recent years, many schools have
moved from asking Is it constitutional
to teach about religion? to asking How
should we do it? Twenty years ago, state
social studies frameworks largely ignored
religion and textbooks followed suit. Shirley M. Hord and Paul L. Shaw Robert Rueda
Today, all existing state social studies stan- Edward F. Tobia Foreword by Michael Fullan Foreword by P. David Pearson
Foreword by Afterword by Andy Hargreaves
dards include considerable mention of re- Karen Seashore Louis
This problem-solving
Delve into this book and model will help every
ligion (Douglass, 2000). As a consequence, Practical, powerful, and be rewarded. school leader address local
history textbooks now integrate some study inspirational! Michael Fullan achievement gaps and low
of religions into discussions of American Stephanie Hirsh Captures the essence of student performance.
and world history. Shows what empowered what principals do and the
Professional Learning leadership traits they need
Although public school officials must be Communities (PLCs) to take charge for school
neutral in their treatment of religion nei- look like. improvement.
Available at fine bookstores
ther inculcating nor denigrating religion
neutrality under the First Amendment does TEACHERS COLLEGE PRESS 800.575.6566
not mean ignoring religion. Public schools Teachers College, Columbia University
can (and should) teach about religion, where
Summer Issue #1 29
role playing to teach about Islam (Eklund v. By- education, the institution primarily responsible for
ron, 2005). preparing young people for citizenship in a plural-
At present, the most contentious conflict over re- istic democracy. If we cannot get this right in public
ligion in the curriculum is over how to teach the Bi- schools, we have little hope of getting this right in
ble, the latest battle in the long-running Bible wars. the public square of what is now the most religiously
School districts across the country are fighting over diverse nation on Earth.
proposals for elective Bible courses. If Bible literacy Without minimizing the remaining barriers and
was the only issue, then finding agreement on the challenges, I am convinced that a shared vision for
importance of learning about the Bible might be eas- religious liberty in public schools a First Amend-
ily reached. After all, how can students understand ment vision that includes people of all faiths and none
much of what they see in museums, read in literature, is much closer to reality today than ever before
or encounter in history and current events if they are in our history. Can we do this in public schools? We
biblically illiterate? must.K
But much of the current pressure for Bible courses
comes from the National Council on Religion in the
Public School Curriculum, a conservative Christian Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963).
group that promotes a Bible curriculum that many
C.F. v. Capistrano Unified Sch. Dist., 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS
biblical scholars conclude unconstitutionally pro-
17207 (9th Cir. August 19, 2011).
motes one religious view of the scriptures. School
districts that go down this path risk winding up Chancey, M.A. (2007). A textbook example of the Christian
in court (Chancey, 2007). An alternative approach Right: The National Council on Bible Curriculum in public
emerged in 2005 when the Bible Literacy Project schools. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 75,
released a new textbook, The Bible and Its Influence, in 554-581.
an effort to provide an academically sound presenta-
Douglass, S. (2000). Teaching about religion in national and
tion of the themes, narratives, and characters of the
state standards. Nashville, TN: Council on Islamic Education
Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament.
and First Amendment Center.
Since 2006, these two approaches have clashed
in local communities as well as in state legislatures. Eck, D.L. (2001). A new religious America: How a Christian
State legislators in Georgia, Texas, South Carolina, country has now become the worlds most religiously diverse
and Tennessee have adopted a collection of Bible nation. San Francisco, CA: Harper.
bills to encourage school districts to offer Bible
Eklund v. Byron Union School District, No. 04-15032 (9th Cir.
electives in high schools. Unless school districts are
November 17, 2005).
careful about how they design Bible electives, more
litigation is inevitable. Haynes, C.C. & Thomas, O. (2007). Finding common ground:
A First Amendment guide to religion and public schools.
Can we do this? Nashville, TN: First Amendment Center.
In order to live with our deepest differences in the
Lester, E. (2011). Teaching about religion: A democratic
United States, we must get religion right in public
approach for public schools. Ann Arbor, MI: University of
Michigan Press.

Lester, E. & Roberts, P. (2006). Learning about world religions

in public schools: The impact on student attitudes and
community acceptance in Modesto, Calif. Nashville, TN: First
Amendment Center.

Nord, W. (2010). Does God make a difference? New York, NY:

Oxford University Press.

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. (2010). U.S. religious

knowledge survey. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.

Prothero, S. (2007). Religious literacy: What every American

needs to know and doesnt. San Francisco, CA:

Solomon, S.D. (2007). Ellerys protest: How one young man

You have to attend classes. You cant just follow me on defied tradition and sparked the battle over school prayer. Ann
Twitter. Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

30 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1

Professional development guide to:
Getting religion right in public schools
By Charles C. Haynes
Phi Delta Kappan, 93 (4), 8-14
Educators can no longer endorse or censor religious expression in schools; they must accept the
critical role of religion in history and contemporary society and use consensus guidelines to design civil
public schools and teach about religion.


The United States is the most religiously diverse nation on Earth.

Religious illiteracy may contribute to the rising number of hate crimes based on misunderstandings about others religions.
Ignoring religion in schools (or wrongly promoting or prohibiting it) denies the fact that most U.S. and global confl icts arise from
religious differences; to have a more civil society, students need to learn about religion in schools that practice civility.
Two historical approaches to religion in the schools (preferring one religion over another or purging religion in schools) have
failed; however, theyre being replaced by consensus models based on the religion clauses of the First Amendment.
The First Amendment guarantees freedom of appropriate student religious expression as well as an academic focus on religions.
Educators are exploring how to teach about religion as part of a complete education while remaining neutral about religions.

The author asks, Whose schools are these? This is a huge, enduring, and fundamental question in education. Patricia Moor
Harbour, writing for the Kettering Foundation, comments that, even though public ownership of and responsibility for education is
at the heart of our democracy . . . parents, citizens, and the public [have felt] isolated from the education process.

Isolation changed to activism upon the release of A Nation at Risk (1983), which exhorted parents and communities to do
something. They began to pressure schools, which pushed back, and adversarial relationships deepened between schools and
the public. Education became a political battlefield of blame and shame.

As a superintendent, Harbour noted, citizens spoke with their feet and with their vote. Flight from public schools and failed
bond levies increased. Partisan politics, rhetoric, harsh media stories, and territorial battles prevailed. Public education, in crisis,
was caught between the demands of a powerful mayor, a stand-her-ground superintendent, intervening city council members,
outspoken angry parents . . . frustrated business and infl uential community leaders. Furthermore, school board members,
who were perceived as concerned more with their personal political agendas, failed to achieve a policy level necessary to meet
educational goals crucial for students achievement and community aspirations.

More recently as a researcher, Harbour has noticed a change as a village of citizen teachers, individuals, institutions, organizations, and
communities focused on the growth, development, education, and well-being of youth in their communities has begun to take charge.


Choose one or more of these individual inquiry topics for thinking and writing.
1. Before reading the article, would you have guessed that there is more student religious expression and more study about
religion in public schools today than at any time in the last 10 years?
2. What do you know about the First Amendment to the Constitution?
3. Why would getting religion right in schools be important to you?
4. How widespread is religious illiteracy in your educational environment?
5. What examples do you have of the first or second failing models for religion in schools (privileging one religion and
religion-naked public schools)?
6. What are the differences among these three phrases: teaching religion, teaching a religion, and teaching about religion?
7. What would a civil school be like in todays society? Can civil schools be created?

Summer Issue #1 31

Work with colleagues to consider some of the key questions addressed in Charles Haynes publication, A Teachers
Guide to Religion in the Public Schools. Use the following grid to consider these questions in relationship to your
own districts and schools.

Degree of What we need to What we might

importance to us know about this do related to this
Key questions (1 = low; 10 = high) guideline guideline

1. Is it constitutional to teach about


2. Why should study about religion be

included in the curriculum?

3. Is study about religion included in

textbooks and standards?

4. How should I teach about religion?

5. Which religions should be taught

and how much should be said?

6. May I invite guest speakers to help

with study about religion?

7. How should I treat religious

holidays in the classroom?

8. Are there opportunities for teacher

education in study about religion?

9. What are good classroom resources

for teaching about religion?

10. What is the relationship between

religion and character education?

11. May I pray or otherwise practice

my faith while at school?

12. How do I respond if students ask

about my religious beliefs?

13. May students express religious

views in public schools?

14. May students express religious

views in their assignments?

15. How should public schools respond

to excusal requests from parents?

16. May public schools accommodate

students with special religious needs?


Harbour, P.M. (2008). Whats changed? Are citizens reestablishing education ownership? Dayton, OH: Kettering Foundation.

Haynes, C.C. (2008). A teachers guide to religion in the public schools. Nashville, TN: First Amendment Center.

32 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1

Like PDK at www.
Philanthropies & education

Philanthropy gets in the ring

Edu-funders get serious about education policy
If education philanthropists want
to infl uence policy, then they must
open themselves to more public
debate about their plans and

By Frederick M. Hess

The year 2005 seems like a long time ago. That year, I published a hard look at education philanthropy
titled With the Best of Intentions: How Philanthropy is Reshaping K-12 Education, using the dismal experience
of the then recently concluded $1.1 billion Annenberg Challenge as a jumping-off point. At the same time,
the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was walking away from the disappointing results of its enormous in-
vestment in small high schools.
At that point, Gates foundation officials were, for the first time, seriously considering whether to play
an active role in shaping public policy. Race to the Top, the Common Core, Democrats for Education Re-
form, and StudentsFirst were unimagined. No one regarded New Orleans, Washington, D.C.,
or Newark as hotbeds of school reform. Diane Ravitch was still a champion of school choice and
accountability, and few had heard of Barack Obama, Michelle Rhee, Deborah Gist, or Geoffrey A handful of key
Canada. No Child Left Behind was still novel and fairly popular, and not a single state was try- philanthropists have
ing to build teacher evaluation around value-added systems. been responsible for
In short, it was a different educational world. And I think its fair to say that a handful of key much of the tectonic
philanthropists have been responsible for much of the tectonic shift that we have seen since. A shift that we have
generation of new philanthropists with names like Gates, Walton, Dell, Broad, Fischer, and
seen since 2005.
Arnold charged into the K-12 arena in the late 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s. Having
made billions in technology, energy, retail, and the like, they shared an impatience, an entre-
preneurial bent, and a focus on measured outcomes that set them apart from established education givers.
Now, let me be straight I think most of these developments have been good and promising. Obviously,
readers are free to disagree. But, whatever ones view, the past seven years offer telling insights about the evolving
role of education philanthropy, the promise and the perils of the muscular philanthropy that unapologetically This article
tried to change policy, and how both funders and the rest of us can best navigate the waters ahead. was originally
published in Phi
FREDERICK M. HESS ( is director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute, Washington, Delta Kappan, 93
D.C. (8), 17-21.

Summer Issue #1 33

Gifts of the top five funders in 2010 compared to total 2010 U.S. spending on K-12 schooling
U.S. spending on K-12 schooling $600 billion

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation $209 million

Walton Family Foundation $110 million

W.K. Kellogg Foundation $58 million

Michael and Susan Dell Foundation $55 million

Silicon Valley Community Foundation $35 million

Source: The Foundation Center.

A decade ago, a big frustration for edu-philanthro- Third, a vital piece of leverage was producing re-
pists was the sense that they would invest in exciting search and supporting advocacy in a manner that
programs or practices, but that these never seemed would shape policy. Policy analyst Andy Rotherham
to deliver lasting improvement. A piloted reading argued that this kind of investment could be aptly
or mentoring program would offer promising re- captured by the adage: Give a man a fish and you
sults, only to disappoint when scaled. Or a founda- feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you feed
tion would underwrite professional development or a him for a lifetime. Foundation-backed advocacy, re-
new curriculum for several years, only to see it die on search, and proof points that new rules were possible
the vine when outside funding dried up. Or funders and offered a way to alter public policies and priori-
would help launch dynamic schools, only to see them ties in order to create the conditions for long-term,
fall apart when the charismatic founder left. systemic change.
Where an earlier generation of donors had At the time, I heartily endorsed the policy-centric
chalked up the challenges to problems of implemen- approach that the contributors had encouraged, but
tation or program design, the new philanthropists also wrestled with some of the repercussions. I wor-
were much more receptive to the notion that the ried about foundations being wedded to reformers
problem was the inhospitable cultures, systems, and and thinkers who tell them what they want to hear,
policy environments in which those scale-ups were the perils of groupthink, the disinclination of critics
being attempted. New donors who had made their to challenge deep-pocketed funders and how all
fortunes in the new economy frequently staffed their this gets even dicier when foundations are actively
foundations with Teach For America alums, MBAs, pursuing an agenda in policy or research.
or other nontraditional educators and focused on
problems posed by system rigidity, leadership, and Whats the deal?
policy. The new givers gravitated toward a strategy Caustic critics have accused the Gates foundation
that rested on three key insights, all sketched out in and other deep-pocketed donors of buying Americas
Best Intentions (Hess, 2005): schools. The truth is, even big-dollar philanthropy is
First, University of Arkansas professor Jay pretty miniscule when viewed alongside the nations
Greenes seminal analysis pointed out that the K-12 spending.
amount of edu-philanthropy is so small that its ri- According to the Foundation Center, the five big-
diculous to think that investments in programs or gest K-12 givers in 2010 were:
practice will have a noticeable effect. Using various
approaches, Greene calculated that all private giv- Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation $209
ing combined amounts to perhaps 1% of total K-12 million;
spending or, maybe, one penny on the dollar. Con- Walton Family Foundation $110 million;
sequently, he argued that philanthropy only mat- W.K. Kellogg Foundation $58 million;
tered when it funded high-leverage investments Michael and Susan Dell Foundation $55
(e.g., when it altered policies or practices governing million; and
the long-term use of the public funds that account Silicon Valley Community Foundation $35
for 99% of school spending). million (Foundation Center, 2012).
Second, Don McAdams, founder of the Center
for Reform of School Systems, argued that philan- The top 10 donors gave about $585 million in
thropy typically entails limited dollars in the grand total, out of total reported giving of $983 million.
scheme of things, but has an outsized influence be- This total amounts to not even one-fifth of 1% of
cause this money is nimble and can be used to drive the $600 billion or so that the U.S. spends on K-12
a state or a districts reforms, where its hugely dif- schooling; the entirety of reported national giving
ficult to redeploy more than a sliver of public funds. in 2010 didnt even add up to 5% of what New York

34 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1

ditional powers (like teacher unions and school board
associations). Research, most notably the Gates foun-
dations $400 million Measures of Effective Teach-
ing project, has started to refine, justify, and build a
comfort level with dramatic changes in established
policies. Pioneering efforts to upend tenure, remove
barriers to charter schooling, or build out data systems
create proof points that can reassure skeptical policy
makers and offer replicable models.
Now, some critics have fretted that this kind of
assertive philanthropy represents an assault on dem-
City alone spent that year. Facebook Mark Zucker- ocratic values or is an invidious conspiracy to take
bergs enormous, widely discussed $100 million 2010 over schools. I find these critiques less than compel-
gift to the Newark, N.J., schools will amount to less ling. Muscular philanthropy focused on public pol-
than 3% of district spending during the four-year icy is hardly new. I dont remember these concerns
period in question. about the pernicious influence of grantors when the
That said, the reform-minded foundations
(think Gates, Walton, Dell, et al.) have clearly de-
veloped a playbook that powerfully leverages their As long as philanthropy is independent of
investments. For instance, $60 million in donor sup- government, even muscular efforts that promote
port was critical in helping former D.C. Chancel- certain policies or reshape the system are healthy
lor Michelle Rhee fund and win passage of a path- and even invaluable.
breaking collective bargaining agreement in 2010.
Funders have been critical in encouraging the bur-
geoning success of influential, nonpartisan advocacy Ford Foundation bankrolled litigation to boost edu-
groups like Stand for Children, Advance Illinois, spending in the 1970s and 1980s or when the Annen-
ConnCAN, and a wealth of imitators. A wave of phi- berg Challenge championed a mash-up of popular
lanthropy played a crucial role in creating a charter- mid-1990s reforms. The big difference seems to be
centric New Orleans school system that has posted that those who dislike what Gates is promoting hap-
impressive results and become a national model for pened to like the Ford agenda. Active engagement by
charter advocates. individuals, associations, communities, businesses,
The Gates and Broad foundations spent nearly and nonprofits of varying resources and effect has
$30 million on ED in 08, an effort that failed to long been part of our nations pluralist fabric. Weve
stimulate grassroots interest but that helped put the always been a Tocquevillian nation, where progress
Common Core State Standards on the map. Subse- springs not from the genius of central planners but
quent funding, primarily by Gates, provided essen- from the pushing and shoving of a hearty stew of
tial support for developing the Common Core and self-interested actors.
for states starting to wrestle with implementation. I find assertive philanthropy to be an enormously
Foundations have played a critical role in Race to healthy development, within limits. Philanthropy
the Top, Investing in Innovation Fund (i3), and de- provides a vehicle for identifying and supporting
veloping and promoting teacher evaluation systems promising individuals and ideas outside the public
that draw far more heavily on value-added determi- education bureaucracy. Some donors can light the
nations. Whatever ones take on this legacy, funders way forward even as others provide a balancing wheel
seem to have learned how to get a lot more oomph to counter the fads and groupthink of the moment.
for their penny on the dollar. In the end, as long as philanthropy is independent
of government, even muscular efforts that promote
The big shift
certain policies or reshape the system are healthy
Clearly evident is a growing emphasis on three and even invaluable.
things: advocacy, research, and efforts to upend struc-
tural constraints. Although, historically, most foun- The danger of the echo chamber
dation giving has focused on programs and practices I find characterizations of Bill Gates, Eli Broad,
(e.g., professional development or a new reading pro- Michael Dell, John Arnold, or the Walton family as
gram), new efforts have taken to heart the lesson of billionaires out to buy schooling to be off the mark,
leverage. A thicket of new advocacy groups now exists mean-spirited, and fairly incomprehensible (if these
to mobilize parents, organize champions of charter individuals were really focused on accumulating an-
schooling or merit pay, and challenge the more tra- other billion, do critics really think that tedious cam-
Summer Issue #1 35
paigns to alter state policies on teacher evaluation or Second, even if scholars themselves are insulated
school choice would be the most promising path?). enough to risk being impolitic, they routinely collabo-
That said, there are real, significant causes for con- rate with school districts, policy makers, and colleagues
cern about the new philanthropy. And, as exasper- who want philanthropic support. Incurring the wrath of
ating as it might seem, especially amidst volleys of a major giver may make it more difficult for otherwise
cheap, ad hominem attacks, foundations that wade blunt scholars to collaborate with skittish colleagues,
into policy have a responsibility to embrace criticism public officials, or educators. The irony is that leading
and feedback much more productively than has been experts on high schools, school choice, or urban school
the norm. After all, choosing to give funds in a way reform, for instance, tend to avoid commenting starkly
that changes policies for millions of kids and com- on funders like Gates, Walton, or Annenberg.
munities is different from underwriting a mentoring
program. This kind of high-leverage giving is useful
and, I think, necessary because no one else can play
that role, but it does bring with it a new level of civic
Leading influential philanthropies generally
make a concerted effort at self-appraisal. They eval-
uate grants, engage in self-criticism, and convene
groups to offer feedback on their giving. This is all
swell as far as it goes, up until foundation officials
convince themselves that theyve heard the array of
arguments and sorted through options.

When influential foundations and the federal

government link arms, disagreeing with the
Presidents policies becomes an attack on the
Bill & Melinda Gates
foundation agenda and the foundation agendas, Foundations Intensive
however subtly, get politicized. Partnerships for Effective
Teaching sites
The problem? Hard-hitting public exchanges Supporting plans to transform how teachers
not private confabs are the most effective fo- are recruited, developed, rewarded, and
rums for surfacing overlooked challenges, informing retained.
courses of action, or reframing the context in which
decisions are made. The groups convened by foun- Grant commitment: $290 million
dations tend to include, naturally enough, friends, Sites:
allies, and grantees. These arent the folks likely to
offer a fresh take on strategy or to challenge com- Hillsborough County Public Schools
fortable assumptions especially given the sensible (Tampa, Fla.): $100 million
disinclination of grantees to offend benefactors or of Memphis City Schools: $90 million
reformers to offend the engine funding their cause.
But, the truth is that foundations have a hard time Pittsburgh Public Schools: $40 million
getting smart, challenging, constructive pushback The College-Ready Promise (five charter
from the thinkers best equipped to do so. This isnt school networks in Los Angeles: Alliance
a question of foundations trying to stifle free speech College-Ready Public Schools, Aspire
but of self-preservation making potential critics Public Schools, Green Dot Public Schools,
mealymouthed. First, academics, activists, and the Inner City Education Foundation, and
policy community live in a world where philanthro- Partnerships to Uplift Communities
pists are royalty where philanthropic support is Schools): $60 million
often the ticket to tackling big projects, making a dif-
ference, and maintaining ones livelihood. Even indi- Source: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
viduals and organizations that also receive financial Foundation fact sheet.
support from government grants, tuition, endow- about/Pages/foundation-fact-sheet.aspx
ments, or interest groups are eager to be on good
terms with the philanthropic community.
36 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1
All of this results in an amiable conspiracy of si- stalling the plagues of hubris and groupthink. (Foun-
lence among the thoughtful and the serious. The dations would find it easier to do this if the more
usual scolds remain in the good graces of the founda- vehement critics exercised a little more restraint and
tions by training their fire on other, less sympathetic spent more time focused on substance and less at-
targets. Even if foundations take no explicit action, tacking the motives of donors.)
the natural instinct for self-preservation is enough As for explicit collaborations with the federal gov-
to render a skittish education community even more ernment, my advice is this: Stop it. It does indeed
reticent. The result: a vacuum that gets filled by in- build on the notion of leverage. But it threatens to
cendiary voices and marginal figures with ideological stifle criticism, leaves little obvious room for alterna-
agendas and nothing to lose. tive approaches, and takes the risks to a whole new As for the
These concerns are aggravated when we have level. Ultimately, its a bridge too far.
foundations partnering with the federal govern- Embracing public debate would require founda-
ment, as weve seen with Obama Administration tion boards to become more accepting of negative collaborations
initiatives like Race to the Top and i3. When influ- publicity than is the norm. It asks foundation staff with the
ential foundations and the federal government link to view themselves as fair game for public criticism, federal
arms, disagreeing with the Presidents policies is to rather than stewards of noblesse oblige. This may government,
attack the foundation agenda and the foundation seem like a lousy deal. But one lesson the new edu- my advice is
agenda, however subtly, gets politicized. Trust me, philanthropists have learned is that mixed reviews
this: Stop it.
its no fun to square off against the executive branch are the painful price of relevance.K
or to be out of favor with the Secretary of Educa-
tion. Indeed, its when presidential initiatives like No References
Child Left Behind or Race to the Top are dominating
Foundation Center. (2012). Top 50 U.S. foundations awarding
the landscape and political pressures are encouraging
grants for elementary and secondary education, circa 2010.
leading thinkers to close ranks that the availability of
diverse funders with distinctive views and priorities
is especially vital in fostering healthy skepticism and Hess, F. (2005). With the best of intentions: How philanthropy
critical analysis. When foundations are shoulder to is reshaping K-12 education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
shoulder with the executive branch or feel pressure Education Press.
to be team players, it threatens our abil-
ity to seriously debate and weigh the merits
of either federal or foundation efforts (Id
argue that something very much like this New from TCPress
happened with Race to the Top).

What to do?
Odd as it may seem, Im suggesting that
foundations should make it conscious pol-
icy to welcome even encourage public
criticism. Im not talking about hired evalu-
ations or strategic assessments conducted
by friendly consultants but about rigorous
debate over objectives, strategies, and out-
comes. Given that even tart-tongued ob-
Jeffrey S. Brooks Kevin K. Kumashiro Edited by Lisa Arrasta
servers will be unusually reluctant to share Foreword by Lisa D. Delpit and Marvin Hoffman
their thoughts, foundations must make it Afterword by William Ayers This book could be a Foreword by Pedro Noguera
springboard for teachers.
extravagantly clear that they wont blacklist After reading this Grace Lee Boggs, Contributions by Debbie
critics and that they wont look kindly upon important book, one is The Boggs Center Almontaser, Ann Cook,
thoroughly convinced David Domenici, David
anyone who does. that leadership matters Courageous, blunt, and
TC Ellis, James Forman Jr.,
Of course, such debate inevitably en- with respect to race hopeful.
Sonia Nieto, David Greenberg, Dennis
tails critiques that may seem incomplete, andeducation. University of Massachusetts Littky, Rito Martinez,
Dalton Conley, at Amherst Deborah Meier, Samuel
wrong-headed, or unfair. However, the New York University Seidel, Phyllis Tashlik, and
value of skeptics is that they raise unpleas- Elliot Washor.
ant issues and make it possible for those in-
side an organizational bubble to see things TEACHERS COLLEGE PRESS 800.575.6566
in a new light. Engaging with critics in a Teachers College, Columbia University
real and sustained way is essential to fore-
Summer Issue #1 37
Professional development guide to:

Philanthropy gets in the ring:

Edu-funders get serious about
education policy
By Frederick M. Hess

Phi Delta Kappan, 93 (8), 17-21


Philanthropies have changed their focus in the last 10 years from funding programs and practices to funding high-leverage actions
that affect policy, but philanthropists and their staffs must consider the civic responsibility they have to affect education in a positive
and long-lasting way.


In 2005, the educational philanthropy world before Race to the Top and the Common Core was quite different, with big
philanthropies investing in programs and practices that looked promising (but often failed to live up to that promise) and hoping
to change policies.
In 2010, foundation-funded programs amounted to less than 0.2% of total funding on education ($983 million out of $600
The big shift in the thinking of philanthropists and their staffs is that they should no longer fund programs and practices (hoping
to infl uence policy), but should focus on advocacy, research, and efforts to upend structural constraints.
They should consider the degree to which what they fund can leverage substantive change a lot more oomph for their
penny on the dollar. The author calls this approach muscular, or assertive, philanthropy.
While not new, muscular philanthropy requires careful attention to democratic principles.
Foundations must be willing to embrace criticism and feedback much more productively than has been the norm; they need
to become civically responsible.
Public (rather than private) self-appraisal that includes the viewpoints of those who are most skeptical about the philanthropys
efforts (not just the sycophants) and ending explicit collaborations with the federal government are important moves
philanthropies can make in order to become more democratic.

One way of thinking about foundations that fund education is to examine their mission statements. Here are a few:
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Our foundation is teaming up with partners around the world to take on some tough
problems: extreme poverty and poor health in developing countries, the failures of Americas education system. We focus
on only a few issues because we think thats the best way to have great impact, and we focus on these issues in particular
because we think they are the biggest barriers that prevent people from making the most of their lives.
Broad Foundation: Transforming K-12 urban public education through better governance, management, labor relations,
and competition.
Walton Family Foundation: The Walton Family Foundation is committed to improving K-12 student achievement in the
United States at every level in traditional public schools, charter public schools, and private schools. Our core strategy is
to infuse competitive pressure into Americas K-12 education system by increasing the quantity and quality of school choices
available to parents, especially in low-income communities.
Michael & Susan Dell Foundation: Transforming the lives of children living in urban poverty through better health and education.


Choose one or more of these individual topics for thinking and writing:

1. What experience have you had with education foundations?

2. What do you know about the following philanthropies that have funded education: Annenberg Challenge, Small High

38 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1

Schools Project or Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Foundation,
Broad Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and Silicon Valley
Community Foundation?
3. To what extent have these funders affected policy? To what extent have the reforms they sponsored been sustained?
4. What do you know about government and foundation partnerships designed to affect policies and practices: Common Core
State Standards, Race to the Top, i3, and development of teacher evaluation systems, merit pay, charter schools.
5. What comes to your mind as you think about muscular philanthropy or assertive philanthropy?
6. What structural restraints might interfere with making change at the school, district, state, and federal levels?
7. In what ways are advocacy groups, such as teacher unions and associations (such as the National Association of School
Boards), similar to or different from foundations?
8. In what ways might foundations be influenced by friends, allies, and grantees rather than critics and skeptics?
9. How could foundations incorporate the advice of critics and skeptics?
10. To what degree should foundations partner with the federal government to effect policy change?


Use a Deconstruction Protocol to discuss some of the issues raised by the author of this article. Here is how the protocol works:

What do we know about this issue?

Based on what we know, what are the issues within the issue (in other words, unpack the issue to discover its components or
aspects)? What is it about the issue that we might discuss?
Look for polarities or dichotomies within the issue. Are these really opposites? Can they be linked in some way by and rather
than or?
Now, what do we know about this issue? What else do we need to know?
If we were to take some kind of action on this issue, what kind of action would we take? Why?
Here are some issues to discuss:

Why foundations fund education

The appropriate role of private and corporate philanthropies in funding educational reform
Whether private and corporate foundations are buying American schools by funding them
The effect of moral and political beliefs on philanthropic funding in education
The influence philanthropies should have on what schools, districts, states, and the federal government do in terms of
educating youth
Whether philanthropic projects or programs are more likely than publicly funded programs or projects to have an effect on
teaching and learning
The role of leverage; whether funded projects or programs should go to scale and, if so, how they go to scale
The role of scholarly research and evaluation in privately funded initiatives
Muscular, or assertive, philanthropy
Scaling up individual programs, practices, and policy reforms
The relationship of the federal government and private and corporate philanthropies in funding reform
The responsibilities of private and corporate philanthropies to engage in open discussion (including critics and skeptics)
about their funding initiatives
Self-appraisal and public (rather than private) exchanges within foundations
How foundations can get smart
The promise and peril of skeptics, cynics, and sycophants

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (n.d.). Letter from Bill and Melinda Gates.
Broad Foundation. (n.d.). Mission of the Broad Foundations (Education).
Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. (n.d.). About us.
Walton Family Foundation. (n.d.). Education reform.

Summer Issue #1 39

Triggering reform
at public schools
Proponents of parent trigger laws must find ways
to promote stability in the aftermath of a successful
petition if they are to avoid the recurrence of policy
churn, inefficiency, and persistently troubled schools.

By Andrew P. Kelly
An intriguing experiment in direct democracy is afoot in some of the na-
tions struggling public schools. Under new parent trigger laws passed in Cali-
fornia and on the agenda in New York, Ohio,
Colorado, and Chicago, parents of children in
chronically failing schools can petition to un-
seat the schools current leadership and staff.
If petitioners obtain signatures from 51% of
parents, the school must undergo some kind
of major change. The options include replac-
ing the principal or existing faculty, converting
to a charter school, or closing the school en-
tirely. Californias first test case McKinley
Elementary in Compton provoked consid-
erable controversy, including a successful legal
challenge by the district and charges that the
schools current teachers had harassed children
whose parents had signed the petition.
The parent trigger gives reformers a new
weapon in the battle to improve schooling,
and the ideas growing popularity has excited
many across the country. After decades of a
focus on parental choice as a way to pressure
traditional schools to improve, reformers now
have a more direct route to influence individual
schools. The trigger gives parents an option
other than exit through school choice or
loyalty to the school. If parents can collect
enough signatures, the school must listen to their collective voice.
Optimism surrounding parent trigger laws is understandable. We all should be
in favor of giving parents the ability to demand more of their childrens schools.
But the promise of increased democratic control is not without its pitfalls. In
particular, parent trigger proponents must acknowledge that while mobilizing
This article parents to overturn the status quo may be straightforward, encouraging stability
was originally
published in Phi
Delta Kappan, 93 ANDREW P. KELLY ( is a research fellow in education policy
(6), 46-50. at the American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C.

40 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1

Comments? Like
Kappan at www.

Proponents must never underestimate the

power of organized interests to block, water
down, and undo promising reforms.

and patience after the fact could be much more difficult. Without sufficient at-
tention to the rules and institutions necessary to build stability into the process,
parent trigger laws may lead to the same policy churn, inefficiencies, and persis-
tently troubled schools that exist today.

California test Parent trigger

The parent trigger is elegant in its simplicity: Parents whose children attend
schools that chronically fail to live up to expectations can band together to demand
change. In California, if organizers can convince a majority of parents to sign the
laws allow parents
petition and agree to one of the four turnaround models currently favored by the
federal government, then the district must implement it. The four options are: whose children
1. Converting the existing school to a charter in the same school building; attend schools that
2. Replacing the principal and at least half of the teaching staff, and giving
the new leader added control over staffing and budgeting; chronically fail to live
3. Keeping the school intact but firing the principal; or
4. Closing the school and sending students to higher-performing schools
up to expectations
to band together to
In Californias first test case, a majority of parents at McKinley Elementary
School in Compton signed a petition to convert the school to a charter man-
aged by Celerity, a local charter management organization. Parent Revolution, a
demand change.
reform advocacy group that helped to push the Parent Trigger law through the
California state legislature, choreographed the McKinley parent trigger. The
move spawned swift and energetic opposition from the school board and the lo-
cal teachers union, eventually culminating in a successful legal challenge that led
a judge to dismiss the petition on technical grounds. When Celerity opened a
start-up campus a few blocks away and attracted far less than half of McKinleys
student body (30%), critics argued that the demand for change was not as acute
as the petition drive suggested.
As the McKinley experience shows, identifying, and mobilizing sympathetic
parents is difficult, and can provoke fierce resistance from established interests.
But, in theory, convincing parents at a failing school that anything is better than
the status quo should be an easy sell. By definition, these schools are chronically
struggling to make the grade.

Summer Issue #1 41

The real problems are likely to arise after the fact, revisit the earlier agreement. In particular, existing
when any new majority can threaten the agreement parents who lost out in the prior round of petitioning
struck in the earlier round of petitioning. Just be- have incentive to enlist the new entrants in a coalition
cause most parents preferred one model to the status that overturns the current arrangement.
quo the first time around doesnt mean theyll stick Second, the challenge of turning around failing
with it the next year. Barring immediate and palpable schools is extraordinary, meaning that bias against
improvement, the same frustrations that gave rise to the triggered remedy could be strong. If the new
the first petition may resurface to threaten the trig- reform plan fails to produce a quick turnaround in
gered reform plan. school quality, incoming parents are likely to question
Political scientists and theorists call this phenom- whether the current policy is effective and demand
enon cycling and have demonstrated that its com- a change if it isnt. Unfortunately, evidence suggests
mon to many social decision-making processes. Even that turning around low-performing schools is dif-
if individual preferences are rational, majority rule ficult and that doing so quickly is exceptionally rare.
can produce outcomes that are chaotic and irratio- In a study of Californias public schools over the last
nal. Without built-in rules and safeguards to prevent 20 years, Loveless (2010) found that only 1.4% of the
cycling, majority rule systems can produce serious schools that scored in the bottom quartile in 1989
instability in policy outcomes. had moved to the top quartile by 2009; 63% scored in
the bottom quartile again. And when California in-
tervened in the 20% of schools with the lowest scores
on the Academic Performance Index, just 11% of
the elementary schools among the low performers
were able to make exemplary progress over three
years; only one out of 394 middle and high schools
were able to do the same (Smarick, 2010). In one of
Evidence suggests that turning the largest studies of comprehensive school reform,
WestEd concluded that only 12 of 262 initially low-
around low-performing schools performing schools were able to make sizable gains
in math and reading achievement over a three-year
period (Orland, 2011). The study concludes that if
is difficult and that doing so quickly history is a guide, few schools across the nation are
likely to be making quick and substantial gains in
is exceptionally rare. student achievement that are sustained over time
(Orland, p. 1).
Given the difficulty of quickly turning around fail-
ing schools, incoming parents may be biased against
the strategy chosen in the first round of petitioning.
After all, the logic of the parent trigger is to give
parents a mechanism to fix a school that is chroni-
cally failing. Whats more, parents who were initially
The cycling problem has implications for the par- sympathetic to the remedy may also prove impatient
ent trigger, and chronically failing public schools may when immediate progress proves elusive. This pat-
be particularly susceptible to this kind of instability. tern is similar to what my colleague Frederick M.
First, the set of stakeholders at a given school will Hess has dubbed policy churn the tendency of
change over time. Take your average high school: school districts to adopt a particular reform strategy,
Every year, about 25% of the students move on after grow frustrated with its failure to deliver immediate
graduating, and a new class of freshmen enters. Add effects, and then discard it in favor of an entirely
to this turnover some additional attrition by students new approach. Policy churn can be just as trouble-
who move or drop out, and the typical year-over-year some at the school level, resulting in inefficiencies
change in constituents is probably something more and incoherence from year to year.
like 30%. In other words, any majority coalition that
successfully comes together to win a parent trigger A cure worse than the disease?
petition in one year may no longer be the majority How do you get around the potential to churn
in the next year. Some parents who led the petition through one triggered reform after another? The key
drive will move on, and an entirely new group of is to create rules and structures that prevent cycling
parents will take their spots. These new families may what game theorists call structure-induced equi-
very well be up for grabs to any group that wants to librium. Endowing one group with agenda-setting
42 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1
power can lead to a stable outcome, as does eliminat- have a chance to succeed. Its hard to believe that a
ing proposals that have been defeated from consid- school would have a chance of improving amid such
eration, but both of these raise questions about how upheaval. In the absence of some success stories, the
fair and democratic the process actually is. Policy laws opponents will have a much easier time rolling it
makers could also build in a specified waiting pe- back. If the McKinley experience is any guide, there
riod after policy choices are made, allowing time for will be no shortage of opponents chomping at the
implementation before a new coalition can revisit bit to undermine the laws basic tenets.
the decision.
Unfortunately, Californias parent trigger law has Reconciling empowerment and stability
few rules that will discourage policy churn. Petition- Parent organizing groups, coupled with some
ers can include signatures from parents whose chil- rules governing the back end of the process, may be
dren attend feeder schools, although these parents key to navigating this trade-off. In the last few years,
cant be the only signers. Including these constitu- grassroots groups have emerged to rally parents to
ents can cultivate buy-in among incoming parents the education reform cause. High-profile organiza-
and should help alleviate some problems posed by tions like Michelle Rhees Students First, 50Can, and
yearly student turnover. The law also limits the num- Parent Revolution have fomented a new strain of
ber of schools that can be triggered to 75 in total, parent activism and won significant legislative and
though it is not clear whether that limit corresponds regulatory changes. Groups such as these typically
to successful petitions or to schools (which could be are focused on organizing parents to promote policy
triggered multiple times). change, including charter school expansion, trans-
Beyond this limit, there is no provision that ex- parency on teacher quality, or a successful parent
plicitly prevents parents from petitioning each and trigger. But policy changes are often vulnerable to
every year if the school doesnt make Adequate Yearly subsequent challenges that can undo them. In the
Progress (AYP). A school is eligible for parent trig- case of the parent trigger, pulling the trigger may be
ger if its Academic Performance Index (API) is lower the easy part. Institutionalizing this initial support
than 800, has been subject to corrective action un- so reforms can take root is likely to be more impor-
der No Child Left Behind for at least one year, and tant to the long-term success of the school and the
fails to make AYP while under corrective action. law itself. As such, the organizing prowess of these
(Schools must also be outside of the 5% of Califor- insurgent parent groups may be just as crucial after
nia schools labeled persistently low achieving.) Im- the trigger as before.
portantly, the clock does not restart on these criteria Parent Revolution, the group that facilitated the
after a successful petition. If a school is triggered and trigger at McKinley, seems to have learned some of
implements the remedy but still fails to make AYP this through experience. The group spent consider-
and achieve an API score over 800, parents can pe- able energy on the front end of the parent trigger
tition all over again. On its face, this is a recipe for getting the law passed, organizing parents in Comp-
instability and policy churn. ton, getting the signature drive started and validated,
A mandatory post-trigger implementation period and helping parents choose a charter provider. But
also has drawbacks. Sources close to the drafting of as the Los Angeles Times recently pointed out, Par-
the California rules said there was talk of building ent Revolutions proactive role in the McKinley trig-
in a cooling-off period after a successful trigger. ger was criticized for commandeering the process
Proponents decided against it amid fears that doing (Watanabe, 2011).
so would go against the democratic spirit of the law. The criticism has led Parent Revolution to de-
If the trigger were taken off the table for a set period velop a new approach to organizing and change, one
of time, parents may be less likely to remain engaged that may help prevent policy churn. The new model
and vigilant after a successful trigger. establishes so-called parent unions at low-perform-
The ultimate success of the parent trigger experi- ing schools voluntary organizations run by inter-
ment may rest on this trade-off between the desire to ested parents. Rather than a top-down movement
consistently empower parents and the need to pro- to implement a particular change, these unions are
tect against policy churn. The current incarnation designed to endow parents with the power to set
of the policy seems to privilege the former over the their own reform priorities and choose their own
latter, which is understandable in light of the laws in- strategies. One implication is that parents who come
tent. But policy makers and other stakeholders must together to form these unions will then have an in-
do what they can to confront the potential for cy- centive to push for policy changes and also to make
cling. The worst possible outcome for parent trigger sure those changes remain in place over time. In
proponents may be a string of chaotic, short-term an ideal world, Parent Revolution could start these
interventions that are discarded before they even unions and then get out of the way, confident that
Summer Issue #1 43
the organization would provide the ballast necessary riod. Both approaches would acknowledge that re-
to see reform through. In reality, though, it seems forms may take time to implement fully and would
likely that these fledgling unions will require con- limit the tendency to cycle through remedies if the
tinued support and mentoring from Parent Revolu- school doesnt turn around immediately. It might
tion and other groups, particularly if their triggered also free new leaders and charter management or-
changes are challenged down the line. California is ganizations to make changes that have long-term,
already providing a test for this model of grassroots rather than short-term, payoffs. At the same time,
education reform. triggered schools would still have to meet strict
standards to reach the safe harbor.

Dont underestimate opposition

In reality, the potential for cycling may not be as
great as predicted. After all, mobilizing stakeholders
even once, let alone multiple times, is challenging.
For its part, Parent Revolution has found that sim-
Policy makers and activists must ply locating a schools parents is difficult enough,
even before trying to mobilize them around a re-
form agenda. These logistical hurdles suggest that
pay attention to what happens after the cards are stacked against repeated triggering and
policy churn.
the trigger is pulled if this reform But this perspective downplays the fact that there
will be winners and losers in each parent trigger fight,
and that the losers may have every incentive to revisit
is to live up to its hype. the question as soon as possible. The education re-
form experience of the last 20 years has produced at
least one clear lesson: Proponents must never under-
estimate the power of organized interests to block,
water down, and undo promising reforms. There is
no reason to believe that the parent trigger will be
any different. In the McKinley case, the district and
the local teachers union have vehemently opposed
However, even the most successful parent unions the trigger, leading to a messy legal fight. This kind
will struggle to maintain their initial focus and en- of reaction is likely to be the rule rather than the
ergy in the face of collective action problems, turn- exception.
over, and challenges from organized interests. Policy In refining the parent trigger concept, policy mak-
makers should also consider creating post-trigger ers and activists must acknowledge the promise and
rules that would encourage stability while leaving the pitfalls of direct democracy and majority rule.
parents empowered to make changes. Two poten- Without adequate attention to what happens after the
tial measures stand out. First, the law could require trigger is pulled, this promising approach to reform
that any effort to petition again within a certain time may be hard-pressed to live up to the hype.K
period after a successful trigger win a supermajor-
ity three-fifths or two-thirds of parents rather
than a simple majority. Raising the bar would make References
it more difficult to immediately undo triggered re-
Loveless, T. (2010, March 17). The 2009 Brown Center report
forms while ensuring that parents could still force a
on American education: How well are American students
change if the new direction turns out to be on the
learning? Washington, DC: The Brookings Institute.
wrong track.
Second, policy makers could make it easier for Orland, M. (2011). The federal comprehensive school reform
post-trigger schools to avoid being immediately program and school turnaround: Key evaluation findings. San
re-triggered. Already, the law has a sort of safe Francisco, CA: WestEd.
harbor provision making triggered schools tem-
porarily immune to another round of petitioning Smarick, A. (2010, Winter). The turnaround fallacy. Education
for a period of time. The law also could treat the Next, 10 (1), 20-26.
triggered school as a new institution, thereby
restarting the clock on the achievement standards Watanabe, S. (2011, September 15). California parents test
that the school must reach within a certain time pe- ability to organize for school change. Los Angeles Times.

44 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1

Professional development guide to:

Triggering reform at public schools

By Andrew P. Kelly

Phi Delta Kappan, 93 (6), 46-50


According to a new California law, a coalition of parents can trigger school change in failing schools; similar laws are being considered
in other states and cities, but after the trigger, problems can include time for implementation of a new model and cycling or policy
churn that may require reactive policy change.


According to California law (which is being considered in New York, Ohio, Colorado, and Chicago), if 51% of parents petition
for change of a chronically failing school, the school must undergo some major change (most likely by adopting one of the four
federal models for changing unsuccessful schools).
Change is diffi cult to make, as WestEd discovered in studying California schools, determining that only 12 of 262 initially low-
performing schools were able to make sizable gains . . . and sustain those gains.
As the parent population of a school changes over time, remaining and new parents may want to trigger another change before
the first change has shown results, a process called cycling.
The California law was designed to enfranchise parents through majority rule, but subsequent laws may take away some of that
authority in order to prevent cycling and give a reform time to take hold.
The formation of parent unions such as Parent Revolution is one way to ensure both parent enfranchisement and protection on
the back end of a trigger.
Policy makers might want to consider requiring a supermajority if parents want to trigger another reform while the fi rst is still
being enacted; they also might want to make schools undergoing parent-sponsored reform immune from further reform for a
period of time.


Choose one or more of these individual inquiry topics for thinking and writing.

1. What role(s) do parents play in your district (or a district you know well)?

2. How are reforms usually triggered in your district (or a district you know well)? How are parents involved in these reforms?

3. Think of a school you know well. What might be the focus of a parent trigger in that school? What would be the result(s) of the

4. To what extent do you think parents should have a more direct route to infl uence individual schools? What are the benefi ts?
What are the challenges of this route?

5. Are any of the four federal turnaround models operating in your district (or a district you know well)? How well are they

6. What might happen when parents who trigger a reform move on (as their children graduate or move to another school)? What
might happen when new parents become involved in the school?

7. To what extent have you seen reforms come and go in the district youre thinking about? Has there been enough time for each
reform to produce effects before the next reform is implemented? Has there been some immunity from new reform while the
current reform is being implemented?

Summer Issue #1 45

Conduct a focus group with parents related to this article. Follow these directions (adapted from Lois Easton, Harvetta Robertson, and
Shirley Hord) to create a meaningful dialogue.

1. Read the article yourselves. Develop a statement of the issue. Develop some questions you want parents to discuss.

2. Determine how to invite parents to the focus group. Consider the value of inclusiveness versus an approach that seeks
representation from various groups. Keep the focus group to between 10 and 15 people. Determine who should participate in
the focus group, trying to keep the number equal (or nearly equal) to the number of parents.

3. Make sure to send a copy of the article to parents along with the invitation to participate and a way to RSVP.

4. Notify staff in advance, just so they know whats going on.

5. Prepare a space that can comfortably seat two rings of chairs, the inside ring for parents and the outside ring for the school

6. Choose two facilitators, one from the parent group and one from the school group. The parent group should have its own
facilitator so parents dont feel that theyre being led by the educators, but its also important for the two facilitators to work
together to coordinate the process. Have the two facilitators meet in advance to discuss the process below.

7. Set a date and time. Plan 90 minutes for the process. Schedule a debriefing session for educators right after the focus group,
if possible. Provide refreshments.

8. Start the focus group by having the parents sit in the inner circle with their facilitator, facing each other. Have the educators sit
in the outer circle with their facilitator, facing inwards. Put the two facilitators close to each other so they can consult on the

9. Have parents and educators introduce themselves and then review some norms (see Easton, 2011, for some starter norms).

10. Have the educator facilitator share the statement of the topic (see #1 in this list) and invite the parents to discuss the
statement. At this point, the parent facilitator should moderate the process.

11. At some point, as agreed upon by the educator and the parent facilitators, ask the parents to discuss any questions that
educators drafted in step #1. The parent facilitator should moderate this process.

12. The educators remain silent during this process, which might last an hour. They may take notes, but they should not engage in
any part of the discussion with the parents. They should listen closely, however.

13. At a time selected by the facilitators, this part of the focus group should end, and those in the inner circle should turn their
chairs to face those in the outer circle for one-on-one discussion. (Some groups could have three participants.) This discussion
proceeds without facilitation on any issue raised by the parent group.

14. Finally, the facilitators should open the discussion to both groups, based on an issue that people want to discuss.

15. When it seems as if open discussion is winding down, the facilitators should ask the group what went well and what could be
improved in terms of the process. They should then address possible next steps and thank the parents for their participation.

16. The educator group should stay to more completely debrief both the process and the content of the focus group, including
what should be done next, if anything.

17. The educator group should communicate the outcomes of the focus group to everyone involved (and others, if important) in
whatever form is most appropriate. And, of course, if there are next steps, the educator group (working with the parent group,
if thats desired) should design and implement the next actions.


Easton, L.B. (2011). Professional learning communities by design: Putting the learning back into PLCs. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin and Oxford, OH:
Learning Forward.

Robertson, H. & Hord, S. (2008). Accessing student voices. In L.B. Easton (Ed.), Powerful designs for professional learning, 2nd ed. Oxford, OH:
National Staff Development Council.

46 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #1

Kappan Phi Delta

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Summer 2012

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Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12

Summer Issue #2
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Phi Delta Kappa members have
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follow the instructions to get started.
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Summer Issue #2 1

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Teaching to
the Common Core
by design,
not accident
The Gates Foundations substantial investment in developing the
Common Core State Standards now depends on translating big
ideas into practices that teachers can and will use.

By Vicki Phillips and Carina Wong

fter years of hard work by state leaders, educators, and other advocates, the Common Core
State Standards in English language arts and mathematics are final, and 45 states and the
District of Columbia have officially adopted them.
But getting from standards on paper to the deep changes required in practice will be a
significant challenge. For example, the literacy standards for grades 6 and above assume that
history, social studies, science, and technical teachers not just English teachers will use
their content expertise to help students read, write, speak, and listen using the language of their disciplines.
Yet, historically, literacy has been the sole domain of English language arts classes. The math standards
ask teachers to focus and spend more time on fewer, more important things so students can build concep-
tual understanding, achieve procedural skill and fluency, and learn how to transfer what they know to solve
problems in and out of the math classroom.
As strong believers in clear, consistent standards that focus on what students need to be prepared for col-
lege and careers, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was proud to support the Common Core work. We
also understood that there was a window of opportunity to support teachers in turning the standards from
policy into practice between the time that states adopt the standards and when new summative assessments
come on line in 2014-15. In particular, we wanted to give teachers a good starting place to prepare for the
new assessments and to begin shifting instruction to make the standards real in classrooms. Based on our
experiences as classroom teachers and as state and district administrators, we knew we wanted to invest in
really well-designed tools and supports that could find the right balance between encouraging teachers cre-
ativity and giving them enough guidance to ensure quality. And we wanted to ground these tools in evidence
about what really powerful teaching aligned with the Common Core looks like.
Between 2009 and 2011, the College-Ready Work team at the Gates Foundation committed more than
$76 million in direct charitable expenditures to support teachers in implementing the Common Core. We
funded projects that included the design of new tools to help teachers enact the standards in their class-
rooms, like our $5.9-million investment at the University of California, Berkeley to create a set of Classroom This article
Challenges in Mathematics to help teachers enact formative assessments aligned to the Common Core. was originally
published in Phi
VICKI PHILLIPS is director of education and CARINA WONG is deputy director, College-Ready Work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Delta Kappan, 93
Foundation. (7), 31-37.

Summer Issue #2 3

Weve partnered with states and districts interested ments of standards-based teaching. The literacy tem-
in piloting these new designs, making grants to a plates provide a common framework and language for
diverse set of districts ranging from Hillsborough, teachers, while allowing them to paint in the details
Fla. ($350,000) to the state of Kentucky ($1 million). based on their own context, content field, knowledge,
We also have partnerships to help disseminate Com- and experience. The math tasks are more like vitamin
mon Core aligned tools and practices to educators. shots that teachers can insert in their curriculum as
Weve been working with designers, subject-mat- they see fit to gauge students understanding and their
ter specialists, education leaders, and most impor- ability to apply what theyre learning.
tantly, classroom teachers to develop, field test, and Think of it like printmaking. A printmaker starts
refine tools that resonate with teachers based on a by carving a linoleum block. Then, she does the first
set of design principles. print, steps back, assesses what she likes and doesnt
like about the pattern, and adjusts the carving ac-
cordingly. We wanted to create the same iterative
Most of the tools being developed follow process in collaboration with teachers.
In math, we partnered with the Shell Centre at
the same basic structure that essentially the University of Nottingham in England and U-C,
reverses the traditional, I do, we do, you Berkeley. Many of the people there are former engi-
neers and experts in math. The goal was to develop
do model that many teachers use. tools that would give students ongoing feedback
through formative assessment tasks that zero in on
students understanding of key concepts and their
First, we wanted to focus on the pattern of behav- ability to apply math skills to unfamiliar problems.
ior we were trying to address. In math, that meant In literacy, we invested in a team called the Literacy
helping teachers give students immediate feedback Design Collaborative, which included former teach-
on their mathematical understanding. In literacy, it ers, principals, and literacy specialists.
meant supporting social studies and science teach- By December 2010, the foundations partners
ers to teach literacy skills they hadnt been expected were working in 17 school districts to codevelop
to teach previously and helping ELA teachers focus and pilot the tools, along with a rigorous evaluation
on areas that havent always been priorities, like in- process to ensure they work. We are now working
formational texts and writing other than narrative. with five states and over 30 districts/networks.
Second, we wanted simple elegance: tools that
were flexible, slender, and able to slip into a teachers Literacy collaborative
instruction without requiring them to read through I was a little surprised too, because I thought
hundreds of pages of implementation manuals. We the students would be better writers than they
think the simplicity of the math and literacy tools is are. When you give students a topic and let them
one of the draws. research it, a lot of teachers take it for granted
Third, we wanted to honor the creative tension in that theyre able to pull out the important pieces
teaching. We didnt want to tell teachers what to do of information, that they can organize that in-
lock, stock, and barrel nor did we want something formation, that they can write a well-structured
so open that the resulting lessons would be more paper. But I found that a lot of kids even some
likely to lack rigor or fidelity to the standards. We of my higher-level kids were weak in those
knew that some teachers would produce high-quality areas. They really needed to be guided every
lessons given the standards and wanted to create a step of the way.
starting place for those teachers who didnt know Sean Houseknecht, 7th-grade science teacher
what they should be doing differently.
Fourth, we wanted teachers as cocreators and The goal for the Literacy Design Collaborative
codesigners of these tools from the start. (LDC) was to develop ongoing quality assignments
Fifth, we wanted the tools we developed to evolve and tools that can be embedded across all instruc-
and improve over time based on the wisdom of prac- tional areas so ELA, science, and social studies teach-
tice. ers can all help their students meet the literacy stan-
Sixth, we wanted to point teachers toward the big dards.
changes required by the Common Core and begin The standards emphasize nonfiction reading as
to shift the existing curriculum even before the new well as writing across disciplines and clear analysis
summative assessments come online. based on evidence from demanding texts skills stu-
All that led us to the notion of well-designed tasks dents need to succeed in college and the workplace.
and templates that would draw on the essential ele- At the heart of the LDC materials are broadly
4 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #2
applicable template tasks. These templates allow demands. Using the templates, teachers can create
teachers to create classroom assignments that incor- assignments that typically take students two to four
porate the literacy standards, regardless of the spe- weeks to complete.
cific subject area they teach, the curriculum being Here, for example, is the template for a task re-
used, or the teachers instructional style. quiring students to defend an argument based on
evidence from informational texts. It addresses the
standards for reading (argumentation) and for writ-
Getting from standards on paper to the ing (argumentation):
deep changes required in practice will
Task 1. After researching ________
be a significant challenge. (informational texts) on ________ (content),
write ________ (essay or substitute) that
argues your position on ________ (content).
These assignments require students to read, ana- Support your position with evidence from
lyze, and comprehend the kinds of texts specified by your research.
the Common Core State Standards and then write
cogent arguments, explanations, or narratives. Each Level 2. Be sure to acknowledge competing
template (there are currently 29) includes a prompt views.
that allows teachers to fill in the blanks with their Level 3. Give examples from past or current
choice of texts to be read, content to be addressed, events or issues to illustrate and clarify your
and writing to be produced. position. (Argumentation/Analysis)
The templates allow for common scoring based
on a common scoring rubric aligned to the Com- You can see how a science, social studies, or ELA
mon Core State Standards. Template tasks may also teacher could use this template to produce a qual-
include additions (Level 2 and Level 3 modifica- ity piece of writing. For example, Jenny Beasley, a
Membership_half_ad_Layout 1 1/23/12 8:32 AM Page 1
tions) that can be used or omitted to vary the task 7th-grade ELA teacher at Meece Middle School in

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advance their careers. Dont wait. Join today and become part of a
professional community committed to high-quality education.

Summer Issue #2 5

Somerset, Ky., had previously struggled with her an essay that argues your position on mountaintop
states standards that require students to evaluate removal mining. Support your position with evi-
the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing dence from your research.
whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is Each student chose whether to argue in support
relevant and sufficient to support the claims, and to of or opposition to this form of mining, a major issue
follow rules for collegial discussions. in their community, and each wrote an argument re-
Using the template, Beasley assigned her middle plete with research to make their cases. Then, a Ken-
school students the following task: After research- tucky state representative who owns a coal mine was
ing articles on mountaintop removal mining, write invited into the class to make a case for mountaintop

Learning from the work

In the course of this work, weve learned some critical lessons that we hope will be instructive to approaching the
development of teacher tools and supports more broadly.

Lesson #1: Engage teachers early.

The tools and supports will only be useful if theyre codeveloped, tested, and refined by teachers themselves.
Teachers cocreated the materials, tested tools in their classrooms, and offered real-time feedback to designers
about what worked and what didnt. And teachers could get the necessary support to use the tools in a mean-
ingful and useful way.

Lesson #2: Teachers need to talk to each other.

We saw this firsthand at a June 2011 meeting in New Orleans called Unleashing Group Genius. It was a gather-
ing of teachers, district and state administrators, design and implementation partners, and researchers who had
worked on developing some of these curriculum tools.
They shared their successes and challenges, debated ways to improve upon the already strong tools that are
being piloted, and discussed the kinds of collaborative platforms and killer apps they will need in the future. They
also talked about the practical supports they need, such as identifying the right texts for the literacy tasks. And
they gave examples of how theyre drawing on each others capacity to scale the work. One thing was clear
the enthusiasm was contagious.
Teachers crave the chance to work together. As one high school English teacher said of the peer collaboration,
I get so many ideas from my classroom just sitting around talking about our modules. We steal and take from
each other. I wish there was a way we could do that as teachers all the time.
To give more teachers this kind of opportunity, the Gates Foundation has launched a web site called My Group
Genius ( where teachers can find tools from the literacy and math design collaboratives
and have conversations with each other about their experiences. Over time, we hope that the conversation will
sustain itself without much foundation involvement.

Lesson #3: These tools and supports must go viral.

At some point, well have to let these tools and supports leave our hands, and see how far they go. Were ex-
ploring ways to facilitate the spread and scaling of what works through partnerships with other organizations and
through technology.
Weve also invested in an online module creator in the literacy collaborative to make sure the main design ele-
ments from the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) are called out for teachers as they create their modules. The
module creator software walks users step by step through the LDC framework to ensure teachers dont get off
course by forcing them to focus on key questions: Is the template task robust enough for two to three weeks of
work? Will students be developing the necessary skills to succeed on the task? Does the instructional plan pass
muster, so students can succeed on a series of mini-tasks culminating in the larger student assignment? And,
finally, would the student work be of high enough quality to meet Common Core standards, and is the scoring
solid in relation to benchmark work?
As we explore how to take these tools more digital, however, there are still many outstanding questions.

Vicki Phillips and Carina Wong

6 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #2

removal mining. The next day, the class was joined by same basic structure that essentially reverses the
a member of Kentuckians for The Commonwealth, traditional, I do, we do, you do model that many
a group that has been fighting mountaintop removal teachers use. Instead of the teacher opening the les-
mining at the state and national level for years. After son with direct instruction, teachers give students
each speaker, the students asked informed, pointed an initial assessment task, a problem to work out
questions about the presentations. They engaged in individually. This task gives teachers a sense of how
complex, provocative, informed discussions. They much students grasp certain math concepts.
had learned about the importance of differentiating
fact and unbiased analysis from analysis based on
ideology. They were thinking, analyzing, struggling,
and making tough decisions.
As Beasley later wrote to a district administrator, We didnt want to tell teachers what
This is real teaching and learning. I am so tired and to do lock, stock, and barrel nor did
so energized at the same time.
we want something so open that the
Math collaborative
resulting lessons would be more likely to
I like the idea of the students being pushed to
be learners and not just sitting there and given lack rigor or fidelity to the standards.
answers and information to regurgitate . . . we
can change the way students learn. That was the
most exciting thing.
Math teacher
Then, students talk about their answers and en-
The math collaborative works a little differently gage in collaborative activities to go deeper into the
because the challenges of math instruction are dif- mathematics of the initial assignment. They might
ferent. One of our partners, math education expert work in small groups, engage in discussion, or ex-
Ann Shannon, tells a story that serves as a great ana- amine each others work. In this way, they take re-
logy to how weve been teaching math for too long. sponsibility for their own learning. Teachers provide
As she prepared to drive from Owensboro to Lou- feedback to move their students learning forward.
isville, Ky., she punched the address into her GPS, Next, students engage in a whole-class discussion
and, a few hours later, she arrived in Louisville. designed to pull the lesson together. The teacher can
But later, as she was thinking about her journey, learn more about how students are doing and have
she realized that she had no idea exactly how she an opportunity to provide more feedback. Finally,
got from one place to the other. She didnt know students return to the initial assessment and see if
what roads she had taken, what towns she had passed they can improve their work with the new insights
through, or even whether she had gone north, south, theyve gained from the lesson.
east, or west. She had just dutifully followed the pro- This feedback process is the equivalent of the
cedure spit out by the GPS. template system we created in literacy. The Shell
As one of the teachers she worked with later said, Centre is producing 20 tasks per year for grades 6-10.
too often, we just GPS our students through math. As New York City high school math teacher Michael
Thats why the new math standards are designed to Stevens said, The process is very powerful. It gets
ensure that students go beyond formulas to really the curriculum monkey off my back and gives me the
gain a conceptual understanding of the subject and courage and confidence to take the time for students
how to apply the concepts with precision. to explore deeper mathematical concepts.
But, as with the literacy standards, even the excel- The math collaborative is developing the kinds
lent new math standards arent enough to help teach- of supports that help teachers identify student stum-
ers succeed. So, the foundation worked with the Shell bling blocks and then change their instruction to
Centre to produce a series of classroom challenges, or address those challenges. The work starts with an im-
formative assessment lessons, for grades 6 through 10, portant premise: Evidence shows that good forma-
on conceptual understanding and problem solving. tive assessment increases the effectiveness of teach-
These lessons can be used with any curriculum a ing. The formative assessment is almost like a biopsy
teacher already uses and are built around a set of rich that can help diagnose a problem. When teachers
tasks connected to the standards. The point of these can continually gather student data in real time, di-
lessons is to engage students in a productive struggle agnose problems, and then adjust their instruction to
with the mathematics essential for college readiness. meet student needs, student performance improves.
Most of the tools being developed follow the Learning improves.
Summer Issue #2 7
Early findings them a strong and engaging model for teaching math
Research for Action (RFA) conducted an interim to high school students.
report on the development and piloting of these Second, teachers using both sets of tools like the
collaborative teacher tools. RFA surveyed and in- professional development and they want more.
terviewed teachers, principals, and district adminis- They were particularly interested in getting more
trators, observed classrooms, and observed profes- assistance to differentiate their instruction for differ-
sional development. Their preliminary findings are ent types of students like English language learners,
extremely promising. or those who are gifted or who have special needs.
First, teachers love the tools. More than 90% of They also placed great value on the time to collabo-
surveyed teachers in the pilot sites believed the lit- rate with peers.
eracy tools were a good fit for their curriculum, and Third, principals and district leaders are also see-
most said the tools gave them new information about ing positive change. As one principal said, Teachers
where students were in their learning. Teachers said are more excited, because students are more excited.
that the tools were effective and that they saw in- The tools also give leaders a concrete way to help
creased student engagement with them. teachers improve their instruction for the benefit of
Science and social studies teachers in particular students. One district leader said that during the first
appreciated the opportunity to integrate writing into year, many teachers were really struggling with the
their classes. As a science teacher, Ive had no for- way they taught and the things they were asked to
mal training in how to teach the research process, do and it was painful, for lack of the better term.
said Alex Schubert, a 7th-grade science teacher at But you could almost see them switching over . . . it
Elizabethtown (Pa.) Area Middle School. I mean, took days . . . for them to start thinking differently.
I can spot grammar mistakes and spelling errors, no Michelle Buroker, a chemistry teacher at Scott
problem, but as far as the structure of a paper, I dont High School in Kenton County, Ky., agrees. I was
have what I feel would be a solid enough background incredibly skeptical about how the modules would fit
for teaching those strategies. But the way the tasks into my instruction. I wanted something authentic,
are written, the idea is that you can just plug and play not another afterthought, she said. And I found out
with different topics. that these modules are rigorous, but not in a ridicu-
All the math teachers surveyed said the tools were lously hard way, rather, in a way that asks students
accessible to all students, regardless of their math to apply what they have learned.
skill level, whether struggling or advanced. As one
Will the tools work?
geometry teacher said, I think there is just an en-
try level in these activities for everyone. Everyone is So far, we have strong anecdotal evidence that the
able to get started and do something and then build tools and supports are working well. But over time,
on that to do something else. Then, they build at we will need evidence that is more empirical than
their own rate, and I think that shows. They also anecdotal. Well need data, and well need evidence
reported that the formative assessment lessons gave that student outcomes in test scores are improving.
Its been exciting to learn that teachers feel as
though their students are rising to these higher ex-
pectations. I think that this approach has allowed
me to raise expectations of students and Ive seen
them meet those expectations, said Holly Particelli,
8th-grade science teacher at the Elizabethtown mid-
dle school. For example, did I think that they could
write good five-paragraph science essays? Probably
not. I shortchanged them in my thinking. So it was
good for me to see that. Its enabled me to push the
students, and its shown me that they can do it.
We expect to have quality data when we get results
from new assessments based on the Common Core.
In the meantime, however, teachers should not wait to
align their instruction to the Common Core. Our ex-
perience with the Literacy Design Collaborative and
the Math Collaborative has convinced us that care-
fully designed supports incorporating teacher exper-
My teachable moments never seem to match up with their tise can prepare both students and teachers for the
learnable moments. exciting teaching and learning ahead.K

8 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #2

Comments? Like
Kappan at www.

black males are
different, but
is not
Stop pretending that all students
are alike; teaching to their
differences will improve their
chances for academic success.

By Christopher Emdin

Plenty of reports and research have documented

the achievement gap between black males and other
students. But few have acknowledged that current
structures and practices have contributed to that gap.
To address the low achievement of black males,
schools must be willing to accept that there are ways
of looking at the world, modes of communication,
and approaches to teaching and learning that are
unique to black males. At the same time, educators
must also acknowledge that these unique ways of
being are just as complex as those of other students.
The tie that binds all students is the desire to be
academically successful.


sistant professor for science education at Teachers College,
Columbia University, New York, N.Y. He is the author of Urban
Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation (Sense Publish-
ers, 2010). He was a PDK Emerging Leader for 2008-09.

Summer Issue #2 9

Too often, educators are afraid to acknowledge black males are rude and disruptive in school, yet
that differences exist between black males and oth- quiet, attentive, and responsible in spaces like church
ers. This is due to a commonly held misperception or in the community where their true selves are wel-
that educators who acknowledge such differences are come. They are constantly in a search to find them-
in some way supporting a racist agenda. They are selves and to perform versions of these selves based
not. Instead, part of our collective failure to meet the on the expectations of those within these spaces.
needs of black males is a fear of acknowledging that Black males have developed a variety of ways to
they are always being compared to a white middle- respond to this confusion about how they should act
class norm from which they often differ. This culture in school. Some have developed the ability to ignore
of fear, stoked by political correctness, only serves to or fight through these misperceptions and find aca-
hamper efforts to meet their needs and will inevitably demic success. This is often the case in schools that
maintain achievement gaps. value them for who they are and not for what they
are supposed to be. Others struggle daily as they
dance between the role of being an academically dis-
interested black male and being their true self. Many
There are ways of looking at the world, modes of others have performed the role of disinterested black
communication, and approaches to teaching and male for so long that its become almost second na-
learning that are unique to black males. ture to underperform in school. Unfortunately, as
students have performed these images, educators
have failed to acknowledge that they have a respon-
sibility to help students overcome these expectations
Once difference is fully acknowledged, educators of disinterest and low achievement.
can equip themselves with tools that can be used to
encourage black males to become more interested The five Cs of reality pedagogy
and effective learners. In order to acknowledge the difference of black
males and to consider the variation in their experi-
Different is not deficient ences, Ive developed five tools for teaching black
When I argue for understanding differences be- males that have had some success in my research: co-
tween black males and their peers, Im not refer- generative dialogues, coteaching, cosmopolitanism,
ring to genetic or developmental differences. Any context, and content. This research and its developed
such notion is scientifically unfounded and a waste tools are based on the fact that when black males are
of time to explore in detail. But we should focus on in social spaces that align with their core identities,
the social and psychological baggage that different their desires to think critically, make keen obser-
youths bring to the classroom. The often inescapable vations, support these observations with facts, and
public image of black males does not include a desire engage in dialogue are activated. Most importantly,
or ability to be academically successful. these tools give teachers an opportunity to get feed-
A wide array of black male images in media back from black males about their teaching. They
music, movies, and television programs take char- acknowledge that black males are different, and they
acteristics of black culture, tie them to anti-school help teachers make sense of these differences so that
identities, violence, and misogyny, and use them as they can meet the needs of all students. These tools
forms of entertainment. This means the world is use the communality that exists among black males
inundated with scenarios that leave a false percep- to strip away the media-imposed perceptions of who
tion of black males that these youths must deal with they should be and reveal their true academic selves.
when they enter classrooms. Such images dont af-
fect the academic performance of nonblack males Cogenerative dialogues
nor how they interact with school. But black males In cogenerative dialogues, four to six students and
are being socially typecast and face a constant inter- their teacher during lunch, before or after school
nal dilemma of fitting into expectations embodying engage in a conversation about the classroom.
these false characteristics or finding spaces where These dialogues provide an opportunity for teach-
they can engage in practices that are counter to the ers to engage in discussions with students about the
perceptions. classroom without dealing with formal classroom
This article This constant preoccupation with who they structures that encourage black males to act disin-
was originally should be when theyre in academic spaces results terested in learning. These dialogues will allow the
published in Phi in a battle to find oneself in the classroom. That di- teacher to have conversations with black male stu-
Delta Kappan, 93 minishes their availability to fully engage in teaching dents about how the teacher can better meet their
(5), 13-16. and learning. This is most evident in scenarios where specific academic needs and allow them to present
10 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #2
Allowing the student to be the
teacher moves beyond traditional
coteaching and empowers the black
male student.

their true selves to the teacher. traditional coteaching and empowers the black male
To create the conditions for these dialogues, the student by allowing him to become engaged in class
teacher: and validated for enacting a positive and more aca-
demic behavior.
Selects students to participate based on Coteaching in reality pedagogy can be supported
the different types of black male academic through the following steps:
roles e.g., high-achieving and low-achieving
students. Before class, the teacher:
Tells students that participating in the dialogues Invites black male students who have been
is voluntary and that the teachers goal is to engaged in cogenerative dialogues to be the
become a more effective teacher. initial coteachers.
Ensures that all participants in the dialogues Assigns these student-teachers to design a
have equal turns to talk by soliciting responses lesson.
from all students. Does a quick review of the lesson plan before
Ensures that all talk is respectful of other class to ensure that content is reflected
participants. The teacher also asks all partici- accurately.
pants to listen attentively and allow their peers
to complete their thoughts before responding. During class, the teacher:
The phrase one mic is repeated when this Sits in the seat of the student-teacher and in the
rule is violated by any member of the group, so view of the student-teacher.
students can manage each other and maintain a Takes notes on the students teaching, focusing
fruitful dialogue. on modes of interaction, use of analogy/meta-
phor, and types of phrases used to support
The conversation must generate an action plan learners who are struggling with content.
for addressing an issue raised in dialogues. Pays close attention to parts of the lesson where
the content delivered may not be correct and
Coteaching guides the instruction (by raising a hand as a
In traditional coteaching, a novice teacher ob- traditional student would) only when there are
serves or assists an expert teacher. In reality pedagogy issues with the content.
with black males, coteaching positions the black male
as the expert and allows him to teach the class. Al- After class, the teacher:
lowing the student to be the teacher moves beyond Engages in a cogenerative dialogue with the

Summer Issue #2 11

student so he can reflect on the lesson taught, Such artifacts are objects in the students lives that
and the teacher can ask questions about the can connect to the in-class lesson. For example, rap
nuances of the lesson based on his notes. songs, pictures from the streets students come from,
Teaches the same lesson students previously and other examples that directly relate to whats usu-
taught to another class using techniques from ally associated with negative attributes of black males
the students lesson. should be used to connect them academically.
Discusses with the student-teacher the content For teachers, finding artifacts from the contexts
delivered during the class and how the black where youth are embedded will require them to go
male student who coteaches can help other where black males spend the most time. There must
students who are still struggling to understand be a willingness to visit their neighborhoods, watch
the subject. the television programs that they watch, and listen
to music that they like. This approach connects the
teacher to the learner in complex ways that only be-
Black males have developed a variety of come revealed when students start making connec-
tions to these artifacts on their own. Furthermore,
ways to respond to confusion about how they
it allows the teacher to display the effort involved in
should act in school. making the subject relevant to black males.
For example, youths can be encouraged to cre-
ate rap songs about the content, pictures from local
Cosmopolitanism parks can be used to explain science concepts, and
The cosmopolitanism philosophy holds that all pop culture magazines can be used as the text for
human beings feel an inherent need to be respon- English lessons.
sible for each other in some way. Developing a cos-
mopolitan ethos in the classroom is a responsibility Content
that the teacher should have and must fulfill with The final step in reality pedagogy is content: the
black male students. These students must feel like academic work the teacher is responsible for cov-
they have roles in the classroom that allow them to ering and the teachers willingness to expose and
be responsible for each other and that allow others embrace the limitations of his or her own content
to recognize that they have value in the classroom. knowledge.
Once this happens, black youths become connected In this step, teachers commend black males for
to the physical structure of the classroom and then finding content inconsistencies in what the teacher is
can get connected to academics. For example, they sharing and allow them to share these inconsistencies
may be asked to be in charge of collecting homework publicly. The process requires the teachers willing-
in the classroom or handing out laptops or other ness to make statements such as I dont know and
materials. When these roles are enacted consistently thats a good question when black male students
and youth begin to see that they are needed in the pose questions. Demonstrating this humility helps
classroom, they are more apt to express their true create a classroom environment where vulnerabil-
interests in performing well academically. ity is welcome. Acknowledging that education isnt
To create a cosmopolitan classroom, the teacher: about a completed body of knowledge and that the
teacher does not have all of the answers expands stu-
Identifies the roles and responsibilities for tasks dent perceptions about the nature of learning. When
that make the class run smoothly. black males understand that they arent merely be-
Invites black male students to select roles they ing expected to memorize material from an accepted
want to take on. body of information, they become more willing to
Dedicates the first weeks of school to explicitly behave differently in this new classroom environ-
discussing the roles of students. ment.
Changes roles at significant points in the school
year school breaks, semesters, etc. and Conclusions
transitions youths from roles related to Given the persistence of achievement gaps, edu-
organizing the classroom to roles that support cators must be willing to move beyond political cor-
academic success. rectness, stop rehashing approaches that have not
worked for decades, and stop paying lip service to
Context meeting the needs of black males without changing
For context focus, teachers and students engage practices. Acknowledging the differences between
in a set of practices that brings symbolic artifacts black males and their counterparts and enacting re-
of significance to black males into the classroom. ality pedagogy is a first step.K
12 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #2
Professional development guide to:

Yes, black males are different, but different is

not deficient
By Christopher Emdin

Phi Delta Kappan, 93 (5), 13-16


In order to go beyond paying lip service to meeting the needs of black males, educators need to change their practices, employing a
reality pedagogy that uses tools of cogenerative dialogues, coteaching, cosmopolitanism, context, and content.


Although there are similarities in the perceptions of young black males, there also are variations in their experiences and readiness
to learn.
For fear of being labeled racists, sometimes educators may not want to acknowledge differences between black male students
and other students.
The author is not speaking about genetic or developmental differences but is focusing on the social and psychological baggage of
being both male and black.
Black males are being socially typecast, tied to antischool identities, and face a constant internal battle to t into expectations.
Cogenerative dialogue occurs when a small group of students has a conversation with the teacher about the classroom that
takes place outside the standard classroom setting, is fully participatory, and yields an action plan generated from issues raised in
the conversation.
In coteaching, the black male student is allowed to teach the class, with signicant assistance before, during, and after teaching.
Cosmopolitanism is a philosophy that all humans are responsible for each other in terms of the roles they play and the
responsibilities they assume.
In terms of context, the teacher engages with students to bring symbolic artifacts of their world into the classroom, connecting
the artifacts to the content being studied.
Content is the nal step in reality pedagogy; it requires that the teacher be willing to expose his or her lack of knowledge about
certain subjects, be vulnerable, humble, and invite students into the search for learning.

In their article, Implementing Coteaching and Cogenerative Dialoguing in Urban Science Education, Kenneth Tobin and Wolff-Michael
Roth believe these practices should include representatives from all stakeholder groups in teaching since the purpose is improving
school life and learning environments. Coteaching typically includes the coteachers, two or three students, and frequently a university
supervisor or a school administrator talking about specific lessons. On the surface, a cogenerative dialogue may look like reflection
on practice (Schon, 1987). However, the authors say there are crucial differences: When cogenerative dialoguing is associated with
coteaching, teachers and a selection of students reflect together on a lesson they shared not long ago, and participants have a
concrete, common object on which to focus verbal interactions. The session is used to identify what worked and what did not work in
order to design strategies for the next lesson.

The power of cogenerative dialoguing lies in the fact that all participants refer to the same set of events, often replayed using
videotapes of the lesson, and that the views and understandings of all participants are valued. Thus, understandings and explanations
are cogenerated. Cogenerative dialogues can be used by new and inexperienced teachers to learn from their experiences and other
participants, especially from the perspectives of the youths they teach, said Tobin and Roth.

Summer Issue #2 13


1. To what extent did you grow up with the notion that black males are different and deficient?

2. As an educator, have you been in situations in which people act as if all students are alike?

3. How will teaching to student differences improve their chances for academic success?

4. Have you been in situations in which acknowledging differences (related to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, etc.)
results in an -ist label (e.g., racist, sexist)?

5. How do schools treat genetic or developmental differences? How are social and psychological differences treated differently?
Are black males seen as bringing social and psychological baggage to their classrooms?

6. How does the media portray black males in school settings? How do you think these images affect young black students?

7. Which of the five aspects of the authors reality pedagogy seem most applicable in the educational system where you work?

8. Why would applying them make a difference for black male students? Would applying them with other students also make a


Engage in a protocol to consider this article with your colleagues. The most appropriate protocol is called the text-rendering or the
three levels of text protocol. Follow these steps to read the article. Then, follow the next steps to have a dialogue about the article.

1. Read the article quickly, looking for a sentence that strikes you as particularly important. Underline or star it.

2. Continue reading the article. Look for a phrase (group of words) that is particularly meaningful. Underline or star it.

3. Finally, find a single word that means the most to you. Underline or star it.

When everyone has finished reading the article and found their sentences, phrases, and words, begin dialogue by round-robin sharing:

1. Have each person read the highlighted sentence and help others find it on the page.

2. After everyone has read their sentences, have each person read the highlighted phrase and help others find it on the page.

3. Finally, have each person share the single word that was most meaningful.

4. Then, launch a discussion based on any sentence, phrase, or word that interested the group.

Note: This is called a text-rendering protocol because participants render the text down to a single word. It is an effective way to
get everyones voice in the room as each person shares an important sentence, phrase, and word before opening up a general


Schon, D.A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Tobin, K. & Roth, W.M. (2005, October). Implementing coteaching and cogenerative dialoguing in urban science education. School Science and
Mathematics, 105, 313-322.

14 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #2

Like PDK at www.

A crash course on
giving grades
Grades tell students how well they did in comparison to each other,
but almost nothing of what they need to work on to get better.

By Timothy Quinn

Grades. Almost no one likes them. Most students deplore them, many teachers hate giving them, and I
havent met one teacher who enjoys the process of determining them. In fact, grading is often the bane
of a teachers existence. Yet, it must be done at least until we have a major shift in educational philoso-
phy. Nonetheless, grades can be important and useful. Ideally, grades give students constructive feedback
on how they performed on an assessment, and, on a societal level, one can argue that we need grades so we
can categorize students before we send them to appropriate colleges and hire them for appropriate jobs.
This essay, however, is not about grading, it is about the physical act of giving grades. Sure, we all
agree that teachers dont give grades; students earn them. Yet, while this adage is correct in spirit, literally,
it is untrue. Teachers do, in fact, physically hand students tests, quizzes, and essays, with grades on them.

TIMOTHY QUINN ( is director of the Westminster Teaching Initiative and an English teacher at
Westminster School, Simsbury, Conn.

If students ask for their overall

grade, you can tell them to
determine the average themselves
since to do so will require them
to look at each section of the rubric.
This article
was originally
published in Phi
Delta Kappan, 93
(4), 57-59.

Summer Issue #2 15

The very manner in which grades are presented or to the content and skills the assignment is intended
given to students can hold significant implications to assess. However, even a rubric of this nature may
for a students ability to learn from an assessment and not be good enough if there is still a final grade at
the feedback provided. Hence, the manner in which the bottom, allowing students to find out what they
grades are presented is essential to assuring that a got without actually reading any other part of the
teacher assesses not just the learning, but also, and rubric. For this reason, I recommend that teachers
perhaps more importantly, provides assessments for avoid putting an overall grade on most assessments
learning (Stiggins, 2002). as if a single letter or number could really sum up
Unfortunately, grades frequently become the everything a student did well or poorly on a given
sole focus of a students education often because assessment.
theyre the sole focus of parents who assume, cor- If you give a different grade for each area on the
rectly in many cases, that theyre a primary focus of rubric, rather than having a student come away with
college admission offices. With so much emphasis the hazy notion that, I got a B, so my paper was
on grades, students, parents, and even teachers may good, he or she would come away with a more nu-
become unaware of the actual student learning that anced understanding such as, I got an A for organi-
may or may not be happening. Assignments that zation so I must have organized my essay very well.
are intended to help students understand course I got a B for writing because there were a few too
content and develop academic skills simply become many errors, so next time I need to proofread bet-
a means to an end, leaving students oblivious to ter. But I got a C- for ideas, so I guess Id better put
whether theyre actually learning and improving some more thought into my next essay. Of course,
their skills. Instead, students know only what grade you could put all of that in a written comment, but
they got, but have no information about whether whos to say the student would read this, so why not
they have or havent done well and, more impor- use multiple grades on a rubric to save time and get
tantly, what they must do in order to improve their the same point across? The essential point is that if
performance. you put a final grade on the essay, the students more
The result of this is that a teachers efforts to pro- thorough understanding of his or her performance
vide important feedback amount to nothing. As we often vanishes. This doesnt mean that you dont av-
all know, when a student gets an assignment back, the erage the grades and put a final grade in your grade
grade is not only the first thing that he or she looks at book, but you should not feel compelled to tell stu-
often, its the last. Opportunities to learn from the dents what that grade is. If they ask for their overall
assessment vanish and, even worse for the teacher, grade, you can tell them to determine the average
the hours of provid- themselves since to do so will require them to look
ing feedback on ex- at each section of the rubric.
ams and essays end While those strategies for how to present grades
up being for naught. to students may help shift the focus from the grade
If teachers put a final grade on the I have spent many a to the learning, in the end, assessments still have
late night wondering numbers and/or letters on them, and a student
essay, the students more thorough why the heck I was may still fail to see the connection between those
understanding of his or her writing comments numbers and letters and specific elements of their
on student essays own knowledge and skills. So, heres a more radical
performance often vanishes. that were never go- strategy for how to give grades differently: Write all
ing to be read, think- the comments you want (either as part of a rubric,
ing why not just read throughout an assignment, or in a paragraph at the
it, put a letter on it, end), record grades in your grade book, and then
cut my grading time simply dont put any grade on student assignments.
by 90% and get busy writing that great novel Watch the look of shock on their faces! How do we
that all English teachers know they could write if know what we got? they ask. Your response: The
they didnt have to spend so much time grading. question you should be asking is how do we know
This issue may be most pronounced for teachers how well we performed? To find that answer, youll
of the humanities who grade essays. However, even have to read the comments. Whats to stop them
teachers in the quantitative disciplines undoubtedly from just throwing away the essay and not even giv-
do more than make Xs and check marks, and, assur- ing a thought to reading the comments? Well, heres
edly, they too do not wish their efforts to be wasted. where you can use their obsession with grades to
Teachers can address this problem by using a your and their advantage. Tell students that
clear rubric that provides specific feedback on stu- if they want to know what grade they earned, they
dent performance in different areas that correspond must read your comments carefully and then send
16 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #2
you an e-mail indicating what grade they think they need to do to learn their fi-
earned and why? If they make a good faith effort to nal grade, then thats what
do this, youll respond with their overall grade for theyll do. While this
the assignment. If not, they can wait for report cards practice doesnt guarantee
How teachers present grades is
to come out. any more focus on learn- essential to assuring that a teacher
This will encourage students to read and hope- ing, it does guarantee that assesses not just the learning,
fully learn from your comments, perhaps prompt- at least some students will
ing a further conversation. Additionally, by inviting read comments, which is a but also provides assessments for
them to determine and explain their overall grade, step in the right direction. learning.
youre helping them develop their self-assessment Nevertheless, I cant help
skills. Instead of seeing a good grade and thinking, but think that as students
oh, I did well, they see a clear link between their become more used to
work and their grade. this process theyll begin
Teachers benefit from this practice as well because thinking more and more
it forces us to have clear standards and to be sure that about their actual performance and
our comments are specific, clear, and actually reflect less and less about a label that is eventu-
the grade in the grade book. A thoughtful student ally placed upon it. The ideal scenario
who reads the comments carefully should be able to would be that they dont ask about the final
accurately determine his or her grade, particularly if grade, they just come to see you to discuss your com-
the teacher has made the standards and expectations ments.
clear beforehand and provided exemplars of strong, This is all an effort to deemphasize grades and
weak, and mediocre work. Hence, student attempts put the focus on learning that is not to say that it
to determine their grades from a teachers comments will instill in the apathetic student a passion for the
is also feedback for teachers, allowing them to self- material. That will take more than changing how you
assess the clarity of their standards and the accuracy present students with their grades. But it will shift
of their feedback. Furthermore, if the two grades the focus to the learning process and to the students
dont match, this should lead to a conversation that actual performance rather than simply the end result
addresses this important disconnect. Did the stu- and that will go a long way toward making our
dent misunderstand the feedback? Were the stan- assessments more meaningful. So, think about the
dards and expectations unclear? These are important importance of how you present students with their
questions to answer, and, in so doing, teachers have grades and think about not presenting them at all
created an opportunity for an invaluable dialogue since, in the end, its the feedback, not the grade
about student work. that matters.  K

Understandably, this method of giving grades may

prompt some concerns. Students may try to guess Reference
their grades without reading the teachers comments
Stiggins, R. (2002, June). Assessment crisis: The absence of
carefully, and that is why you should require that they
assessment for learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 83 (10), 758-765.
make a good faith effort to explain why they think
they earned that grade based on your comments, and
why you should not give students their grade until
they have done so. (This requires that you remember
what your comments were, which is why grading
papers electronically and saving your comments is
a good idea.) However, what if students choose not
to read your comments, dont inquire about their
grades, and simply toss their papers away? Well, then
youre simply no worse off than you were before
when they didnt read your comments, except now
you have the added bonus of having concrete evi-
dence of this something that just might be worth
mentioning in parent-teacher conferences.
Admittedly, it remains to be seen whether this man-
ner of giving grades actually shifts the focus from the
end result to the learning process. One could argue
that, in the end, students may still only care about
their grade, and if reading your comments is what they My teacher says D stands for dont stop trying.

Summer Issue #2 17

Taking on
Students will continue to media multitask
to their own detriment. Nonetheless,
teachers can limit the multitasking effect
and improve learning.

By Jerome L. Rekart

The average high school upperclassman reports spending between seven and eight hours a day using vari-
ous electronic media, such as television and cellular phones. Of those eight hours, only about 25% is spent
watching television, which means the rest is devoted to playing video games, using the computer, text mes-
saging, etc. On average, students report that over one-third of the time that theyre reading and over half
of the time they spend completing homework on a computer theyre also using at least two other forms of
electronic media (Foehr, 2006). Thus, it can be presumed that a typical high school student routinely media
multitasks while studying. Contrary to what may have occurred as recently as 20 years ago, todays students
arent focusing solely on assigned pages of reading or completing an assignment, but are jumping back and
forth from homework to Facebook updating both their own status (Im reading right now) and checking
on updates from others to a phone call to a text message (R U DONE YET?).

JEROME L. REKART ( is an associate professor of education and psychology at Rivier Col-
lege, Nashua, N.H.

18 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #2

Comments? Like
Kappan at www.

Given the pervasiveness of media multitasking, the need to focus and reduce extraneous stimuli while
examining how it affects learning in and out of the studying or reading.
classroom is important. Luckily, research from both Certainly getting todays youth to turn off devices
cognitive psychology and neuroscience can provide that may be antithetical to learning is no small task.
important insights into what happens when students Given the Net generations comfort level, they may
media multitask and how to combat negative effects feel as though their performance on school-related
on learning. work is unaffected by multitasking. Unfortunately,
The multitasking brain
Dividing attention by multitasking
When one tries doing several things at once, as
occurs with media multitasking, there is no choice Individuals who multitask
but to divide attention. Because the total amount of
attention available is limited, the amount of focused
impedes learning and performance in
attention for any single task decreases as the number more often are more distractible than
of demands increases. Changes in the amount of at-
tention for tasks are caused by changes within the the short-term and could also affect
brain. When neuroscientists examine the brains role
in cognition, they focus on areas that show changes
those who do so less often.
in different markers of activity, such as blood oxy- long-term memory and retention.
gen levels or the amount of a radioactive substance.
Hypotheses about the importance of different brain even when a task is mastered, true media multitask-
structures for cognition are then based on relative ing impairs the performance of experts and novices
changes in the amount of these markers. Thus, if an similarly (Lin, Robertson, & Lee, 2009). Further-
increase in the activation in the frontal cortex occurs more, because of multitasking-induced changes in
when someone learns strings of letters, this suggests the brain regions recruited for learning and long-
that this area is important for this type of learning. term memory, even diligent students who multitask
The total amount of brain activity present when while completing homework may be jeopardizing
two tasks are attempted simultaneously seems to be their long-term success.
less than the sum of brain activation that occurs when
each task is completed in isolation (Just, Carpenter, Distractibility in the classroom
Keller, Emery, Zajac, & Thulborn, 2001; Newman, So, dividing attention away from school has an
Keller, & Just, 2007). In addition, the patterns of effect on not just short-term performance, but per-
brainwaves look quite different (Mangels, Picton, & haps long-term learning as well. But are there effects
Craik, 2001) when individuals are asked to complete caused by excessive multitasking outside of school that
one task at a time compared with when they try to can affect attention and learning in the classroom?
work on both simultaneously. Reductions in brain An elegant study conducted at Stanford University
activation and the changes in brain waves that are suggests that time spent multitasking may be affect-
seen during multitasking are accompanied by de- ing how students pay attention in general. This study
creases in short-term learning and task accuracy. assessed the amount of time college students spent
Therefore, the impairing effect of multitasking performing one task, computer word processing, for
upon learning may be related to reduced brain re- example, while using another form of media at the
sources that are available to satisfactorily complete same time (Ophir, Nass, & Wagner, 2009).
tasks when theyre tried together. Separating light from heavy media multitaskers,
Dividing attention reduces total brain activation the study found that individuals who multitasked
and could recruit brain regions normally involved more often were more distractible than those who
in habit or rote learning the striatum rather did so less often. Heavy multitaskers had more dif-
than regions such as the hippocampus that are nec- ficulty switching between stimuli than light multi-
essary for acquiring the type of knowledge thats taskers. This result suggests that frequent media
critical for academic success (Foerde, Knowlton, & multitasking may be affecting ones ability to switch
Poldrack, 2006). This means that dividing attention focus between tasks that are important, such as a
by multitasking impedes learning and performance teachers lecture, and those that may not be, such as
in the short-term and may, by underutilizing brain extraneous sounds in a classroom (Ophir, Nass, & This article
structures necessary for the correct type of learn- Wagner, 2009). These results may have far-reaching was originally
ing, affect long-term memory and retention. The ramifications as they suggest that lifestyle choices published in Phi
implications of these findings make it critical that may be changing how an entire generation attends Delta Kappan, 93
educators and parents try to impress upon students to information. What happens when everything one (4), 60-63.

Summer Issue #2 19

encounters has an equal chance of grabbing atten- underlie learning as well as giving students a chance
tion? One possibility is that even irrelevant stimuli, to assess their own learning progress and styles. In
which should be dismissed as unimportant, will grab addition to facilitating learning via the testing effect,
the attention of students used to responding to ran- frequent assessments also give teachers opportunities
to reiterate and reinforce the importance of focus-
The frequent and routine quizzing of ing attention vis--vis good study habits. In a time
of worries about teaching to the test and concerns
Anything that may unnecessarily divide about long-term retention of information, frequent
knowledge throughout a term can more assessment of information throughout the year may
be a critical pedagogical tool that actually reinforces
attention or that could prove to be distracting learning and memory.
than double student performance on Strategy: Limit competing stimuli

should be considered for removal. Todays students are used to attending to mul-
tiple streams of information, which may make them
final exams. more distractible than previous generations. Teach-
ers can respond to such a trend by limiting items in
dom clicks, pop-up windows, and ring tones. Stu- the classroom that may distract student attention.
dents who spend more time instant messaging are An informal audit, conducted by the teacher who
less likely to read and they report being more easily knows her students and class best, is recommended
distracted while reading than students who instant to remove potentially distracting stimuli. This audit
message less. An increase in student distractibility should indicate what items in the class are critical
presents a challenge for the lecturing teacher trying for learning and which are not. Example questions
to maintain the focus of students as well as the stu- to guide such an audit should include:
dent taking a test whose focus should be on the ex-
Is the class well-organized?
amination, but is routinely redirected to classmates
tapping pencils and sighing in exasperation. Is there clutter on shelves, the floor, etc.? What
can be moved, removed, or organized?
Proposed classroom solutions
Are there too many posters or signs on
Teachers everywhere openly lament shrinking at-
the wall? Do the posters reinforce learning
tention spans and a lack of focus by their students.
or pose potential distractions?
Professional educators know that an inability to pay
attention will limit the amount and quality of learning A careful consideration of the class environment
that can occur. So, given changes in attentional control may even uncover that some learning tools may ac-
and the reliance on study habits that use brain structures tually be counterproductive. For example, Hem-
that dont facilitate deep learning, what are teachers to brooke and Gay (2003) found that using laptops in
do? Fortunately, teachers can employ several research- a classroom may limit understanding and retention
based strategies to grab and maintain attention and, in of course concepts. Students who used their laptops
turn, facilitate learning in the classroom. for course-related learning while listening to lec-
tures actually fared worse than students who used
Strategy: Assess often
their laptops during lecture to surf the web for non-
Teachers can use course-based quizzes and tests course-related information.
for more than assigning grades. Testing enhances Counter-intuitive findings such as these indicate
learning. Formative assessments themselves have a that it never hurts to re-examine practices and even
pronounced and lasting effect on a students ability to class layouts with the goal of finding the best fit for
learn, retain, and retrieve information. The frequent optimizing learning. Anything that may unnecessar-
and routine quizzing of knowledge throughout a ily divide attention or that could prove to be distract-
term can more than double student performance on ing should be considered for removal.
final exams.
Though the significant learning gains obtained by Strategy: Introduce novelty
testing frequently would make this particular strategy Students are spending roughly one-third of their
a best practice for all students, evidence demonstrat- day immersed in environments where something new,
ing its effectiveness when individuals are multitasking be it a text message or e-mail, can and does pop into ex-
reinforces its importance as a pedagogical strategy in istence unexpectedly. How can standard lectures, seat-
the modern classroom. The testing effect likely works work, and recitation compete with the flash-bang-whiz
by reactivating and strengthening brain pathways that novelty of video games and Internet sites? Class periods
20 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #2
should be structured so students arent just engaged at attentional changes with sound pedagogical strate-
the beginning but consistently reengaged throughout gies, such as testing frequently, reducing unnecessary
a session. For example, rather than spending an en- stimuli, and using multiple, novel instructional meth-
tire class period lecturing about the fall of the Roman ods. What should not be overlooked,
Empire and reading passages from a text, teachers can however, is that most researchers and Share these
break the material to be covered into 10- to 12-minute teachers are designing studies and view-
findings with
modules with each module covering key concepts using ing students through lenses colored by
a different instructional vehicle a film clip, role play, a different age. Todays student may be students
pair-share activities, class debates, etc. paying attention in a different way, and The majority of time
Many individuals have advocated using multiple ap- so one must be careful not to assume that that students are
proaches as a way to address different learning styles the ramifications are entirely negative.
media multitasking
and as a best practice for general instruction. However, One effect of media multitasking is that
the novelty of using a modular approach is whats most students are paying attention to multiple is spent away from
important here. Incorporating the novelty throughout stimuli rather than sustaining focus on school. Because of
a single class session by using a modular approach is just one stimulus. This has been referred this, its imperative
likely to engage the brains medial temporal lobe, in- to as a breadth approach, and it may yield that educators share
cluding the hippocampus, which has been found to be benefits that have yet to be uncovered or with students and
a kind of novelty detector. As indicated when discussing realized. In addition, the ability of mem-
their parents the
the selective recruitment of brain regions when mul- bers of the Net generation to use current
titasking, the hippocampus is critical for storing the technology is likely to be critical to their facts concerning
type of new information necessary for academic suc- own future success in the 21st-century multitasking, the brain,
cess. Thus, by using multiple approaches, an educator job market. By employing evidence- and learning.
not only grabs student attention via novelty detection based strategies to harness attention and
but, due to a focus of attention, increases the likelihood facilitate learning, educators can help ensure that to-
that the student will store the conveyed information. morrows citizens have the knowledge and skills nec-
essary to be successful in a multitasking world. K
Closing thoughts
Research supports the popular notion that the at- References
tention of todays student is different from students of
Foehr, U.G. (2006). Media multitasking among American
past generations. These differences, at a cognitive and youth: Prevalence, predictors, and pairings. Washington, DC:
brain level, are likely to become more widespread as Kaiser Family Foundation.
smartphones and laptops are most likely here to stay.
Because of the importance of attention for learning, Foerde, K., Knowlton, B.J., & Poldrack, A. (2006). Modulation
of competing memory systems by distraction. Proceedings
we need to be concerned about the ramifications of
of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of
widespread media multitasking. Classic and current
America, 103, 11778-11783.
research on best practices for teaching and learning
suggest that it may be possible to counteract some Hembrooke, H. & Gay, G. (2003). The laptop and the lecture:
The effects of multitasking in learning environments. Journal of
Computing in Higher Education, 15, 46.

Just, M.A., Carpenter, P.A., Keller, T.A., Emery, L., Zajac, H.,
& Thulborn, K. (2001). Interdependence of nonoverlapping
cortical systems in dual cognitive tasks. Neuroimage, 14,

Lin, L., Robertson, T., & Lee, J. (2009). Reading performances

between novices and experts in different media multitasking
environments. Computers in the Schools, 26, 169-186.

Mangels, J.A., Picton, T.W., & Craik, F.I.M. (2001). Attention

and successful episodic encoding: An event-related potential
study. Cognitive Brain Research, 11, 77-95.

Newman, S.D., Keller, T.A., & Just, M.A. (2007). Volitional

control of attention and brain activation in dual-task
performance. Human Brain Mapping, 28, 109-117.

Ophir, E., Nass, C., & Wagner, A.D. (2009). Cognitive control in
We were told to multitask, so I was attending class while
media multitaskers. Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences of the United States of America, 106, 15583-15587.

Summer Issue #2 21

Professional development guide to:

Taking on multitasking
By Jerome Rekart

Phi Delta Kappan, 93 (4), 60-63


Although most students multitask, forcing their brains literally to divide attention and decreasing focus on any single task, educators
can use special strategies to minimize the toll on learning.


Research by cognitive scientists and neuroscientists shows that attention is nite, and the multitasking brain has to divide
attention so that the focus on any single task may be less than optimum for learning.

Students report, on average, that they spend over one-third of the time theyre reading and one-half of the time theyre doing
homework on the computer simultaneously using at least two other forms of electronic media.

When students try to perform two tasks at the same time, the total amount of brain activity actually falls below what it would be if
students were completing only one task.

Brainwave patterns are different when students are multitasking versus working on one task.

The effect on learning is a decrease in short-term memory, retention, and accurate task completion; students suffer the same
decreases when theyre in classrooms that distract them with irrelevant stimuli.

The author provides some strategies for addressing these decreases, especially when teachers use lecture and text reading;
these include frequent assessment, limiting competing stimuli in the classroom, and teaching in 10- to 12-minute modules that
each feature novel learning media.

Multitasking may one day provide an advantage to learners who may be paying attention in a different way, taking a breadth
approach to their stimuli, and preparing for success in the 21st century.

In a National Public Radio broadcast, Think Youre Multitasking? Think Again, Jon Hamilton (October 2, 2008) reported on a multitasking

At a lab at the University of Michigan, researchers are using an MRI scanner to photograph test subjects brains as they take on different
tasks. During a recent test, Daniel Weissman, the neuroscientist in charge of the experiment, explained that a man lying inside the scanner
would be performing different tasks, depending on the color of two numbers he sees on a screen. If the two digits are one color say, red
the subject decides which digit is numerically larger, Weissman said. On the other hand, if the digits are a different color say green
then the subject decides which digit is actually printed in a larger font size. MRI studies like this one, Weissman said, have shown that when
the man in the scanner sees green, his brain has to pause before responding to round up all the information it has about the green task.

When the man sees red, his brain pauses again to push aside information about the green task and replace it with information about
the red task. If the tasks were simpler, they might not require this sort of full-throttle switching. But, Weissman said, even simple tasks can
overwhelm the brain when we try to do several at once.

22 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #2

Choose one or more of these individual inquiry topics for thinking and writing.

1. To what extent do you multitask? When are you most likely to multitask? What electronic media do you use? Whats the effect
on your short-term memory, retention, and accurate task completion of any one task?

2. What have you noticed about todays students? To what extent have they increased or decreased multitasking? To what
extent has multitasking affected learning?

3. To what extent do you believe that attention is finite (limited) in the brain? To what extent do brains change as demands

4. How is multitasking with electronic media like being in a classroom stuffed with irrelevant distractions?

5. How well would these solutions help in a classroom featuring lecture and reading text: Frequent assessment? Limiting
competitive stimuli? Working in short modules with a variety of learning media?

6. Is there any way to use students multitasking tendencies to enhance learning?


Student Focus Group:

Convene a focus group of students (4th grade and older). Use the following process to discover students multitasking habits, their
attitudes toward multitasking, and how they can learn best in your schools classrooms.

1. Plan on two facilitators a student from the group and an adult from the group. Prepare the student facilitator for the task.

2. Prepare a room with two circles of chairs, both facing inward. Have students and their facilitator sit in the inner circle facing
each other; have teachers sit in the outer circle facing in, with the adult facilitator sitting near the student facilitator.

3. Teachers will be listening in (flies on the wall, an image students will enjoy!) to the discussion among students but wont
interact with them. Teachers will be silent during the focus group process, until the last step.

4. After introductions around both groups, students should talk freely with each other about the topics and try to ignore the
teachers in the room.

5. After discussion of the topics and subtopics, students should turn their chairs to face the adults and engage in follow-up
questions framed by the teachers.

6. After the adult facilitator debriefs students about the process and the students leave, the adult facilitator should take 15
minutes or more with the teachers in the room to debrief the process as well as to create a list of key ideas from the students.


Hamilton, J. (2008, October 2). Think youre multitasking? Think again, National Public Radio (NPR) broadcast.

Summer Issue #2 23

is predictable and preventable
Look for the keys to curbing bad behavior in the patterns and problems of
the student offenders; then serve up a healthy dose of engaging lessons.

There is little doubt that students challenging behavior in schools is always on the minds
of teachers, school administrators, and parents. But what precisely are the challenging be-
haviors of greatest concern? Media portrayals and surveys of public opinion suggest a wide-
spread perception that schools are dangerous places, but data dont support such conclu-
sions. School violence has been on a steady decline for more than a decade. Nonetheless,
student behavior presents consistent, albeit less violent, challenges to teaching and learning.
This hypothetical represents what we think is a typical example:

ason is a 7th grader with below grade-level academic skills.
He is one of 24 students in a general math class. His teacher
Mr. Monroe does his best to present material that all stu-
dents can understand, but faces the constant challenge that
his more capable students will be bored if he moves too
slowly through the curriculum, while Jason and others who
struggle academically will be lost if he moves too quickly.
Predictably, when theyre bored or frustrated, students become dis-
tracted and disruptive. On this particular day, as Mr. Monroe reviews
the process of simplifying fractions by demonstrating a few examples
on the smartboard, his capable students essentially ignore this review
and engage in their own off-topic conversations, while Jason and his
friends begin complaining that this stuff is too hard, that Mr. Mon-
roe is a terrible teacher who never explains things right. When Mr.
Monroe challenges them to stop talking and pay attention, they es-
calate their complaints. Jason becomes defiant, and says, This whole
TIMOTHY J. LANDRUM (tlandrum@ school and all the teachers suck, which draws laughter from a few and AMY S. LINGO are students. Mr. Monroe threatens a discipline referral to the office if he
associate professors and TERRANCE M.
SCOTT is a professor and chair of the
hears one more word, to which Jason replies, Fine, thatd be better
department of special education at the than sitting in here.
University of Louisville, Louisville, Ky.

24 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #2

While extreme forms of school violence, however
rare, arent to be taken lightly, school officials should
be more concerned with the far more prevalent ex-
amples of problem behavior like that described
above, which are seen in most schools every day.
If teachers can identify environmental
Such behavior often occurs in a predictable, esca- predictors, they can generally manipulate
lating cycle if left unchecked (Walker, Ramsey, & them to prevent undesirable behaviors.
Gresham, 2004), typically resulting in problems of
increasing frequency and intensity. Scenarios like
Jasons are among the most frustrating, demanding,

By Timothy J. Landrum, Terrance M. Scott, and Amy S. Lingo

and frequent problems teachers face. But three ele- PREDICT PROBLEM BEHAVIOR
ments of chronic patterns of disruptive behavior give Fairly simple analyses consistently show that be-
us reason for hope, though our optimism is contin- havior positive and negative generally occurs
gent on schools changing how they view and respond quite predictably in relation to objects or events in
to problem behavior in general. the environment. Some might argue that environ-
mental events may come and go in a random manner,
Problem behavior is predictable. but how students respond to environmental cues is,
Problem behavior is preventable. in fact, highly predictable. If teachers can identify
environmental predictors, they can generally manip-
Preventing problem behavior
ulate them to prevent undesirable behaviors. Such
requires attention to instruction. predictions are based on repeated observations of a
behavior in the context of the environment in which
Toward the third point, we emphasize that atten- it occurs. In Jasons case, above, careful observation
tion to instruction means two things: First, academic and analysis of his problem episodes may reveal that
instruction must be designed and delivered in a way his most common misbehaviors occur during group
that engages all students; and second, many of the instruction, when the class is split so that some are
social and academic skills teachers expect students to working and others talking, or when questions are to
display must be actively taught. We briefly consider be answered orally in front of the class. Identifying This article
each of the elements of prediction, prevention, and these predictors would allow his teacher to be much was originally
instruction with an eye toward what teachers and more prescriptive, both in how he organizes the en- published in Phi
administrators must do to reduce and reverse pat- vironment for each lesson and in how he delivers Delta Kappan, 93
terns of disruptive, challenging behavior in schools. prompts and reminders during the lesson. (2), 30-34.
Summer Issue #2 25
Students with challenging behaviors are more bling student (e.g., show up at 11 a.m., biology, 3rd
likely to have academic deficits in reading, math, and period; watch him and his lab partner as soon as
written language (Lane, Carter, Pierson, & Glaeser, theyre told to start their lab independently). As
2006). While the precise nature of the relationship a general rule, if teachers can make such predictions
between academic deficits and problem behavior re- with some accuracy, theyre well on their way to pre-
mains unclear, indeed presenting a chicken-or-the- venting the problem behavior in question.
egg conundrum, we do know with some certainly
that each influences the other in a reciprocal way PREVENT PROBLEM BEHAVIOR
(Scott, Nelson, & Liaupsin, 2001). Problem behav- There is no shortage of interventions touted as
ior contributes to academic difficulties, which con- best practice in dealing with difficult behavior, but
tribute to additional behavioral concerns, which fur- no single strategy or program has been demonstrated
ther impinge on a students academic success, and so to be effective with all individuals and all types of
on. No matter which came first, students identified challenging behaviors in our schools and commu-
as having challenging behaviors or academic deficits nities. There is no magic bullet. The most logical,
in the classroom are more likely to experience nega- practical, and efficient way to deal with failure is to
tive or punitive interactions with teachers, regardless use information on predictors to create physical and
of their behavior; less likely to receive time engaged instructional environments that both avoid predict-
in instruction with their teachers; and more likely able problems and create predictable successes. We
to be subjected to reduced demands and lowered believe that we can increase the odds of academic
expectations. engagement and positive behavior, though its absurd
to think of raising that rate to 100%. Likewise, we
believe that we can lower the odds of problem be-
havior, but again well never lower that rate to zero.
Use information on predictors to create Using what we know to increase our odds of success,
physical and instructional environments we think, is simply the best approach we have.
that both avoid predictable problems and The key to tipping these odds in our favor is to
help teachers consider how to use identified predic-
create predictable successes. tors to prevent certain behaviors. Think of a follow-
up to the earlier hypothetical we posed, with one key
alteration; imagine that a teacher is now asked: If
As a result of this pattern, we shouldnt be sur- I were to come in tomorrow at the same time and under
prised that students with academic or behavioral dif- the same conditions you just named, but this time Ill give
ficulties dont see school or time in academic classes you $1 million if Jason is successful, rather than disrup-
as exciting opportunities for learning, or even op- tive, what would you do differently? The object is to
portunities to demonstrate their success and receive help the teacher consider how to use information on
positive acknowledgement for their efforts. Rather, predictability to create success. Generally, preven-
they come to see school itself as an aversive situa- tion involves efforts to control those events that are
tion. Failure in reading class leads to withdrawal and identified as most predictive of student failure, and
avoidance of reading tasks, which, in turn, sets the to teach specific skills that will help the student to
occasion for less instruction and growing academic more effectively deal with those events.
deficits. For students with academic skill deficits, Teachers can prevent certain behaviors by de-
even physically laborious tasks come to be more ap- veloping routines and arrangements. Teachers have
pealing than academic activities (Juel, 1988). great control over some things, such as the number of
The key to prediction is to help teachers consider students engaging in a task at one time, the procedure
multiple episodes of behavior and to begin think- for transitioning from one task to another, and the
ing in terms of the larger environment. Imagine, for routine for lining up at the door. Still, controlling the
example, that a teacher were asked something like environment is a tricky proposition for teachers. To
the following by an outside, objective observer: If I be sure, well never have the foresight or ability to
were to come in tomorrow to observe for only five minutes, control all of the potential events in school. For ex-
and offered you $1 million if I could see Jason display his ample, manipulating where the teacher is located in
typical problem behavior, when would you have me come the room so as to better answer questions or changing
observe? Where should I be looking? What would be going the seating arrangement to separate two antagonistic
on in the environment? This gets the teacher thinking students are simple prevention strategies because the
seriously about the environments role in predicting predictors are largely under the teachers control. In
behavior. We think most teachers could answer this contrast, predictors cant be as easily controlled for
question quickly and easily about their most trou- a student whose misbehavior is sparked by a peers
26 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #2
comments or a perceived slight on the playground. use is crucial. The reluctance to acknowledge posi-
While the teacher may create environments where tive behavior is sometimes justified by the notion
student comments are limited and playgrounds are that internal reinforcement success is prefer-
well monitored, preventing the random remark or able to external reinforcement praise. While this
look that precipitates a perceived slight will always might be true in certain contexts, the teachers role
be much more difficult. Thus, prevention must al- in developing, recognizing, and reinforcing initial
ways involve arranging environmental variables and success is critical. For example, if we asked a student
events that are under a teachers control to increase
the odds of positive engagement and decrease the
odds of problem behavior. But, even when we do our The teachers role in developing,
best to manipulate the environment to tip the odds in
our favor, what teachers do instructionally remains a recognizing, and reinforcing initial
key ingredient in dealing with challenging behavior. success is critical.
What teachers do during instruction is often sim- to solve a math problem and then refused to let him
ply a matter of whats most comfortable or familiar or her know whether the problem was solved cor-
to the teacher, often with little attention to evidence- rectly, we wouldnt have taught anything, nor would
based strategies. Recent large-scale analyses clearly we have changed the probability of the students suc-
identify instructional practices associated with in- cess or failure in the future. While most teachers
creased student success (Hattie, 2009). Among the understand this in the context of academic instruc-
most effective teacher-based practices identified are tion, positive feedback is often missing in dealing
such basic strategies as teacher clarity, teacher feed- with behavior. Even teachers who routinely praise a
back, opportunities for students to respond, model- student verbally for a correctly performed academic
ing, and guided practice. What we find most strik- task rarely say thank you to the student who raises a
ing about these strategies is that while theyre listed hand in class for the first time or gets to class on time.
here because of their link to students
academic success, they also provide a
high probability of positively influencing
student engagement and, consequently, What are we going to do about homework?
their behavior. Is homework an effective instructional tool?
Providing students with opportunities Do you have students that are failing because
to respond in class, using effective mod-
els, and relevant and engaging opportu-
they do not complete their homework?
nities to practice, and offering consistent
feedback doesnt constitute special pro- Answers to these questions and more are found in this
gramming for students with challenging compelling research from the
behavior. Rather, these essential compo- students perspective.
nents of instruction allow us to shape and Whether your students
maintain success for all students. The
are gifted, have special
key is to use these effective strategies to
help students avoid contexts that predict needs, are English
problems and teach behaviors that will language learners, or
effectively replace and prevent problem they follow the general
behavior. Still, students with challenging curriculum, there is
behaviors present special problems when something crucial they
teachers are trying to provide effective
want to tell you.
instruction. Whether a student responds
best to group versus individual question-
ing, verbal versus physical modeling, or Listen to them!
private versus group feedback are ques- Available now for $66.32
tions that are determined through the at
trial-and-error history thats part of the
prediction and prevention process.
Feedback may present one of the
more difficult issues for teachers, and its
Summer Issue #2 27
As a general rule, what makes instruction effective in he asks students to look at the challenge problem in the
the academic realm applies equally to teaching social book. He says that its extremely difficult and that it will
behavior. In all cases, we simply use the tools at our require someone very smart at math. Several students,
disposal to maximize the probability that the student including Jason, raise their hands. Mr. Monroe calls on Jason
will be successful with the very next trial. who strolls confidently to the board. As Jason works the
problem, Mr. Monroe asks questions to both Jason and
the class about why different steps were taken engag-
The same routines used to teach and ing all in the lesson. As Jason finishes, Mr. Monroe publicly
acknowledges his success and then directs the class on to
reinforce reading, math, or science independent work. Jason returns to his desk and slowly
concepts can and should be used to brings himself to begin the work.

teach and promote positive social and There are no guarantees that any given instruc-
classroom behavior. tional or management approach will work with a
given student. Indeed, we believe that our best hope
is merely to increase our odds of success. If failure has
SUMMARY occurred repeatedly, manipulating environmental
variables or instructional routines can increase our
We argue that dealing with difficult behavior is a odds of success. Picking apart Mr. Monroes response
matter of awareness of the factors involved in predic- to Jason would be easy, and we recognize that teach-
tion, prevention, and instruction. This means three ers might come at this problem with any number
things. First, teachers know or can be assisted in of proposed solutions, potentially including drastic
thinking through the environmental events and con- variation from the one described here. Indeed, we
texts associated with higher probabilities of problem accept that any number of responses to Jason might
behavior. Second, based on these predictions, teach- be appropriate. But we return to our original sugges-
ers can actively manipulate many of the environmen- tion that effective responses must address the three
tal or contextual variables under their control in ways concerns we raised above: We can predict problem
that increase the odds of students being engaged and behavior in the classroom; we can manipulate the
displaying positive behavior, and decrease the odds environment in response to these predictions; and
of disruptive behavior. Finally, instruction is key to instruction can be used or altered in ways that engage
success in this area. This means that instruction must students and ensure success. We think Mr. Mon-
be designed and delivered in a way that addresses roes response represents a reasonable approach to
student needs and skill levels appropriately, provid- the problem. More important, if the alternative is
ing ample opportunities for successful responding. to do nothing, we can say with great certainty that
It also means that the same routines used to teach the prognosis for Jasons success in school and life is
and reinforce reading, math, or science concepts can extremely bleak. K
and should be used to teach and promote positive
social and classroom behavior. Consider a potential References
outcome to the scenario described earlier:
Hattie, J.C. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800
After Jasons suggestion that hed love to be sent to the meta-analyses relating to achievement. London, UK & New
office, Mr. Monroe quietly slides a chair next to Jason and York, NY: Routledge, Taylor, & Francis.
sits by him. Mr. Monroe says calmly, We can talk about
that later; right now, get out your math book because Ive Juel, C. (1988). Learning to read and write: A longitudinal
got a trick solution to show you on our challenge problem. study of 54 children from 1st through 4th grade. Journal of
I want you to show the class when youre ready. Jason Educational Psychology, 80, 437-447.
just scowls. Mr. Monroe takes a look around the room,
Lane, K., Carter, W., Pierson, M., & Glaeser, B. (2006).
praises those whose books are out, then picks up Jasons
Academic, social, and behavioral characteristics of high school
book himself, and opens it to the correct page. Look
students with emotional disturbances or learning disabilities.
at this problem. Its the hardest one, and nobody knows
Journal of Emotional & Behavioral Disorders, 14 (2), 108-117.
how to solve it, but I can give you a trick to make it work
and youll be the only one who can do it. Jason switches Scott, T.M., Nelson, C.M., & Liaupsin, C. (2001). Effective
his glance to the book and stares at the problem, finally instruction: The forgotten component in preventing school
asking, Whats the trick? Mr. Monroe talks Jason through violence. Education and Treatment of Children, 24, 309-322.
the problem, modeling the key procedures, and giving
Jason opportunities to demonstrate his understanding. Walker, H.M., Ramsey, E., & Gresham, F.M. (Eds.). (2004).
After about two minutes, he leaves Jason and returns to Antisocial behavior in school: Evidence-based practices (2nd
instruction with the entire group. After a few minutes, ed.). Belmont CA: Wadsworth/Thomson.

28 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #2

Professional development guide to:

Classroom misbehavior is predictable and

By Timothy J. Landrum, Terrance M. Scott, and Amy S. Lingo

Phi Delta Kappan, 93 (2), 30-34


KEY SENTENCE: The odds of success with difficult students are increased when educators view misbehavior as predictable,
preventable, and manageable through instructional strategies.

Although schools may be portrayed as dangerous, data indicate that school violence has decreased; however, problem behavior
that doesnt necessarily lead to violence is seen every day in most schools.

Educators need to be aware that problem behavior can be predicted in relation to whats happening to students personally and
in the classroom, school, and larger environment.

Educators can manage an environmental problem (such as a learning decit or whole-class discussion) to change behavior.

They can also prevent problems from occurring (such as focusing on the needs of a child struggling to learn or having small
groups engage in discussion).

Prevention requires routines and arrangements that facilitate learning as well as teaching students strategies to become better

Educators can also use proven and engaging instructional strategies, such as feedback, to positively influence student

Robert J. Marzano, Debra J. Pickering, and Jane E. Pollock describe several research-based strategies for increasing student
achievement in their book Classroom Instruction That Works (2001). These are listed at the end of this Professional Development
Discussion Guide.

These strategies are becoming increasingly popular in todays schools but, according to the authors, they were not understood and
used 30 to 40 years ago. Indeed, teaching had not been systematically studied in a scientific manner (p. 1). Teaching was seen
as an art rather than a science. In fact, in 1966, James Coleman and his colleagues determined as a result of analyzing data from
600,000 students in 1966 that the quality of schooling a student receives accounts for only about 10% of the variance in student
achievement (in Marzano, et al., p. 1).

Two books are especially helpful in describing what researchers now know about how students learn: How People Learn: Brain, Mind,
Experience, and School (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000) and How Students Learn: Reforming Schools Through Learner-centered
Education (Lambert & McCombs, 1998).


Choose one or more of these individual inquiry topics for thinking and writing.

1. If you had been asked before reading this article whether violence has increased in schools, what would have been your

2. How are challenging behaviors related to school violence?

Summer Issue #2 29

3. What are the key differences between the opening and closing scenarios with Jason and Mr. Monroe?

4. To what extent do you think problem behavior is predictable, preventable, and dependent on attention to instruction?

5. How well do educators today teach students the personal, social, and academic skills they want students to exhibit?

6. What percent of environmental conditions can a classroom teacher control, arrange, or manipulate?

7. What are the barriers to using instructional practices that help students succeed? Can these be overcome, and if so, how?

8. What kind of feedback do students receive in classrooms? To what extent do these types of feedback help students improve


Activity: Applying the Double-Feedback Loop

The authors suggest that academic deficits and challenging behavior are something like the chicken-or-the-egg problem. Which came
first? Which influences the other?

With your colleagues, make a list of students who challenge their teachers in terms of personal, social, and educational behaviors.
Select one student and picture this person; work together to describe this student. Prepare a chart like this:

Student identifier (to ensure student privacy):

Demographic (as necessary):

Challenging personal, social, and education behaviors:

Then, engage in the chicken-or-the-egg conundrum the authors mention. What came first?
What reinforces the other?

Actually, if you read Marc Brasofs article, Student Input Improves Behavior, Fosters
Leadership and its Professional Development Discussion Guide in this issue of Kappan, you
have encountered single- and double-loop thinking. What are the typical responses a teacher
might make toward this student? These are chicken-or-the-egg or single-loop thinking. Draw single loops to represent these and
consider that typical reactions might result in increased problem behavior.

Then, push yourselves to step out of single-loop thinking in order to consider other responses (based on different mental models or
assumptions) that might help this student learn. Think about how this students teachers and principal could act or react, based on
viewing misbehavior as predictable, preventable, and manageable through instructional strategies. Create some double-loop models.

Select another student you named and repeat the process.


Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC:
National Academy Press.

Coleman et al. (1966). Equality of educational opportunity. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office as cited in Marzano,
R.J., Pickering, D.J., & Pollock, J.E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student
achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Lambert, N.M. & McCombs, B.L. (Eds.). (1998). How students learn: Reforming schools through learner-centered education.
Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Marzano, R.J., Pickering, D.J., & Pollock, J.E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing
student achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

30 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #2

Like PDK at www.

Teaching students not

to sweat the test
Teachers can change some of their practices to ensure that
students dont feel extreme anxiety at exam time.

By Spencer J. Salend
Every student takes tests, whether theyre in 1st grade or graduate school. Many
of those students will experience some degree of test anxiety, which can negatively af-
fect their grades, promotions, graduation, and post-secondary opportunities (Salend,
2011a). Even though educators are the ones responsible for testing students and
probably creating much of that anxiety they can also be the ones who help alleviate
student test anxiety if they are armed with information and knowledge about useful
During testing, students experiencing test anxiety encounter extreme levels of stress,
nervousness, and apprehension that drastically hinders their ability to perform well
and negatively affects their social-emotional and behavioral development and feelings
about themselves and school (Cizek & Burg, 2006; Huberty, 2009). Students may have
Students can learn to generalized anxiety disorders, but anxiousness over tests is different (Huberty, 2009).
use anxiety reduction Students with generalized anxiety disorders are distinguished by a trait anxiety, which
results in experiencing high levels of stress across a wide range of situations (Cassady,
strategies before, during, 2010; Cizek & Burg, 2006). Conversely, students experiencing test anxiety have a state
and after testing. anxiety, which results in high levels of nervousness specific to testing.
A variety of interrelated variables associated with individualized student character-
istics, family and peer interactions, and school and classroom practices can lead to test
anxiety (Salend, 2011a). These factors include:

Anxiety, attention, or obsessive compulsive disorders;

Perfectionist tendencies and unrealistic expectations;
Negative self-esteem, self-statements, and criticism;
Poor motivation, lack of confidence, and procrastination;
Stereotype threat;
Inadequate study and test-taking skills;
Poor prior testing performance;
Pressure from peers, family, and teachers;
Unfavorable testing environments;
Invalid, awed, and timed tests; and
Ineffective teaching (Cizek & Burg, 2006; Huberty, 2009; Osborne, Tillman, &
Holland, 2010).

These factors often interact to create a cycle that results in heightened levels of
This article test anxiety (Cassady, 2010). For example, a student may initially do badly on a test
was originally
published in Phi SPENCER J. SALEND is a professor of education at the State University of New York-New Paltz, N.Y.
Delta Kappan, 93 He is author of Creating Inclusive Classrooms: Effective and Reflective Practices. (Pearson Education,
(6), 20-25. 2011) and Classroom Testing and Assessment for All Students: Beyond Standardization (Corwin, 2009).

Summer Issue #2 31

due to inadequate study habits or a poorly devel- dents in classes for the gifted and talented tend to
oped test, and then experience family pressures and experience high rates of test anxiety (Goetz, Preckel,
negative self-statements, which collectively increase Zeidner, & Schleyer, 2008; Whitaker Sena, Lowe, &
the probability that the student will experience high Lee, 2007). Students from culturally and linguisti-
levels of anxiety that interfere with subsequent test cally diverse backgrounds are prone to test anxiety
performance. because of social, cultural, and psychological stress
Experiencing some anxiety related to testing is and beliefs that some group members may feel when
normal, and reasonable amounts of stress can even asked to complete an activity where their poor per-
enhance test performance (Cizek & Burg, 2006). formance may reinforce negative stereotypes about
However, students experiencing detrimental levels them (Osborne, Tillman, & Holland, 2010).
of stress during testing usually exhibit a variety of
physical, behavioral, and affective warning signs. Helping students with test anxiety
(See Table 1.) Educators can assess whether students Teachers can help relieve the anxiety experienced
evidence the warning signs by observing them dur- by students by employing a variety of interventions
ing testing and interviewing them and their families that have been proven useful (Salend, 2011a). Al-
about their behavior and feelings while preparing though the interventions described here may be es-
and taking tests. Educators, students, and family pecially helpful to students experiencing test anxiety,
members also can respond to questionnaires assess- they are also good strategies for all students.
ing the degree to which the warning signs of test anxi-
ety are present (Cizek & Burg, 2006; Salend, 2011a). Use student-friendly tests
Research suggests that between 25% to 40% Poorly designed tests can hinder student perfor-
of students experience test anxiety (Cassady, 2010; mance and increase test anxiety. Educators can mini-
Huberty, 2009). Students with disabilities and stu- mize test anxiety by using student-friendly tests that

Possible symptoms associated with test anxiety

Excessive perspiration Difficulties with concentration, attention, and memory that interfere Making negative self-statements
Sweaty palms Having pessimistic expectations
Reading and understanding test directions and items
(e.g., Im going to fail this test.)
Unexplained headache or Retrieving words, facts, and concepts
stomachache Organizing thoughts and answers Being apathetic and unmotivated

Nausea Performing poorly on tests when the content: Negative comparisons of self to
others (e.g., Im not as smart as
Has been studied
Shaking body parts others.)
Has been mastered previously as demonstrated via nontesting
Rapid heartbeat performance assessment activities Making excuses for poor test
performance (e.g., I dont do
Dizziness and light-headedness Off-task behaviors such as inappropriate comments, fidgeting, well on tests because I have test
squirming, pacing, staring, tapping, crying, and rapid speech during anxiety.)
Muscle tension testing
Expressing avoidance and fear
Tics Asking numerous unnecessary questions about test of testing situations

Flushed skin color Experiencing repeated mental blocks and forgetting

Difficulty sleeping, eating, or Feeling overwhelmed during testing

using the toilet before tests
Complaining about test items (e.g., We didnt cover this in class.)

Seeking unnecessary assistance from others

Cheating on tests

Feigning illness and being absent on testing days

Source: Salend, S.J. (2011, November/December). Addressing test anxiety. Teaching Exceptional Children, 44 (2), p. 61. 2011 Council for Ex-
ceptional Children. Reprinted with permission.

32 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #2

are valid, accessible, and motivating and that employ items on each page; (c) grouping similar types
best practices for creating test directions and items of questions; (d) surrounding test directions in
(Salend, 2009; Salend, 2011b). text boxes; and (e) providing sufficient space to
Promote validity
Readability: Tailor the readability of tests by:
Tests that are not valid are unfair and stressful.
(a) removing unnecessary words; (b) decreasing
Educators can promote the validity of their tests if
the length of sentences; (c) using vocabulary,
tense, sentence structure, and voice that
Determine the content of tests. The students understand; (e) avoiding pronouns,
content of tests should be directly linked to double negatives, abbreviations, acronyms, and
the curriculum and the most important topics, parentheses (Salend, 2011b).
concepts, and skills taught.
Legibility: Enhance the legibility of tests by
Align test questions to instructional selecting readable and familiar fonts and type
practices and terminology. Test questions sizes; using all capital text and stylistic variants
should be consistent with instructional (e.g., italics, bold, underlining) sparingly to
practices used to promote student learning. highlight brief amounts of text; presenting text
Essay questions should address material taught in line lengths of 40 and 70 characters or seven
via role playing, simulations, cooperative to 12 words; avoiding right-justified text; and
learning, and problem-solving strategies. printing tests with black or blue ink and on
Objective test items should relate to fact-based off-white, pale, or matte pastel backgrounds.
learning covered during teacher-directed
activities. In addition, terminology in the
test directions and in test items should be
consistent with vocabulary that the teacher uses
during instruction.
What is test anxiety?
Students experiencing test anxiety encounter extreme levels
Weight test content. The percentage,
number, and point values of test questions of stress, nervousness, and apprehension during testing that
addressing specific content should be weighted drastically hinders their ability to perform well and negatively
to be consistent with the amount of instruc- affects their social-emotional and behavioral development
tional time committed to teaching that content and feelings about themselves and school.
and the complexity of the material taught.
As a case in point, if 15% of the instructional
time was spent on teaching the Declaration
of Independence, then a corresponding
percentage of test questions or point values Foster motivation
should be related to that material. Student-friendly tests should motivate students
Schedule tests. Promote validity and student to stay focused and engaged. Educators can foster
performance by regularly scheduling tests student motivation during testing by embedding
that cover a reasonable amount of content, prompts, relating test questions to students lives,
and coordinating tests with other teachers so giving students choices, and having students work
students arent taking too many tests in a short collaboratively.
period of time. Embed prompts. Place prompts in strategic
locations that will help students stay focused,
Enhance accessibility remain calm, and succeed on tests.
Inaccessible tests are confusing, frustrating, and Relate questions to students lives. When
anxiety producing for students. Teachers can make possible, personalize items to include student
tests more accessible by enhancing the tests format, and teacher names (obtain their permission
readability, and legibility. beforehand), integrating popular characters,
Format: Ensure that tests have proper layouts, trends, humor, novelty, and student interests
organization, spacing, and sequencing by: (a) and communities. For instance, make true/false
presenting items in a predictable and numbered questions more relevant by presenting them in
order that facilitates the transition from item the context of students being fact checkers for
to item; (b) having a reasonable number of a web site who must decide whether to tweet

Summer Issue #2 33

true statements or delete false statements. response for each pair and with about 25%
more items in one column than in the other.
Give choices. Give students some choice in
responding to items. For instance, teachers can Anxiety-reduction strategies
present test items in a tic-tac-toe format and
ask students to respond to a specified number Students can learn to use anxiety reduction strate-
of items or to answer three questions that give gies before, during, and after testing (Whitaker Sena,
them tic-tac-toe (Edyburn, 2009). Lowe, & Lee, 2007). For instance, rather than ar-
riving early to the testing site, students can learn to
Work in collaborative groups. Reduce the stress come on time so they avoid anxiety-producing ques-
of competition by having students collaborate on tions about the test from peers. Additionally, stu-
answering test items . Later, they may be assessed dents can learn relaxation training techniques such
individually. as meditating, praying, smelling fragrances, taking
deep breaths and breaks, engaging in positive self-
Best practices for test directions talk, and focusing on past successes (Cizek & Burg,
Tricky and poorly constructed test items and di- 2006). Some students may find it relaxing to listen to
rections can undermine validity, accessibility, and guided imagery, affirmations, mediations, or calm-
motivation. Student-friendly tests have clear, con- ing music, to visualize positive and relaxing images
cise, complete, and grammatically correct test direc- and experiences, or to sit in a nondistracting area of
tions and items. the room. Others may reduce stress by tensing and
relaxing muscles, doing yoga, exercising, or using a
Test directions squeeze ball. Teachers can embed visual reminders in
Good directions guide students in understanding tests to prompt students to these anxiety-reduction
what to do, how precisely to respond, and tell them strategies.
the point totals associated with items and sections.
Teach test-taking strategies
Embedding an example of a correct response, avoid-
ing vague terms and irrelevant information, and us- Teachers can alleviate some of the tension associ-
ing bullets and numerals can help students compre- ated with testing by teaching students to use effective
hend test directions. and efficient study and test-taking strategies. Rather
than teaching to the test, teachers can help students
Test items prepare for and succeed on tests by:
Good test questions are academically appropriate Developing and reviewing study guides that
and employ best practices for composing multiple- communicate the purpose, content, and format
choice, matching, true-false, sentence completion, of the test.
and essay items. For example, in devising matching
items, teachers ensure that: Having students work in collaborative groups
to identify content and test questions that
Directions inform students of the basis for are likely to be on tests, tutor each other,
matching the item pairs. and design study and memory strategies. For
Students are provided with a blank space instance, students can devise mnemonic devices
(rather than a line) where they can record the such as HOMES to remember the Great Lakes
letter or number associated with their response (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior).
Providing students with opportunities to play
Columns contain less than 10 understandable, educational games and complete practice exams
grammatically similar item pairs related to a that contain questions that parallel the content
single topic with longer item statements listed and conditions theyll encounter during testing.
on the left, and shorter item statements on the
Distributing a list of potential essay questions
likely to be included on tests.
Columns are labeled appropriately and
Educators also can teach students how to study.
organized in a logical way with items listed in
Rather than cramming, effective studying involves
one column labeled with numbers, and items
creating a schedule that includes a list of goal-based
presented in the other column labeled with
sessions that are reasonable in length and content.
Students also can learn to enhance their studying
Columns contain feasible choices related sessions by having the appropriate resources and ma-
to common elements with only one correct terials textbooks, notes, homework, study guides,

34 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #2

professionals can help identify students experienc-
ing test anxiety and using effective strategies. For
students, these professionals can conduct sessions
Teachers can make tests more to help students understand and deal with test anxi-
accessible by enhancing the tests ety. For families, these professionals can offer work-
format, readability, and legibility. shops, information, and resources about test anxiety
and ways to overcome it.
In addition, educators can balance their use of
testing. Rather than relying solely on test perfor-
and highlighters. They should take breaks and con- mance, educators also can use observations, perfor-
clude sessions by devising narrative and visual sum- mance assessment, active responding systems, and
maries and outlines of critical information. portfolio assessment to obtain a complete picture of
Teachers can reduce tension during testing their students learning progress. However, educa-
by teaching students to use test-taking strategies tors should keep in mind that students experiencing
(Salend, 2009). For instance, teachers can help stu- test anxiety also may show high levels of stress during
dents perform well by teaching them to: these other assessment activities.K
Perform a memory dump/download when
tests are distributed by jotting essential points, References
names, definitions, formulas, dates, and Cassady, J.C. (2010). Test anxiety: Contemporary theories
memory clues. and implications for learning. In J.C. Cassady (Ed.), Anxiety
in schools: The causes, consequences, and solutions for
Survey the test, respond to items that can be
academic anxieties (pp. 7-26). New York, NY: Peter Lang.
easily answered, and mark and work on items
based on their level of difficulty and point Cizek, G. & Burg, S. (2006). Addressing test anxiety in a high-
values. stakes environment: Strategies for classrooms and schools.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Budget time according to the time allotted,
the point totals of items and sections, and the Conderman, G. & Pedersen, T. (2010). Preparing students with
difficulty level of the items. mild disabilities for taking state and district tests. Intervention
in School and Clinic, 45, 232-241.
Highlight critical parts of test items and
Edyburn, D. (2009). RTI and UDL interventions. Journal of
Special Education Technology, 24 (2), 46-47.
Technology-based testing Goetz, T., Preckel, F., Zeidner, M., & Schleyer, E. (2008). Big
Technology-based testing allows the testing ex- fish in big ponds: A multilevel analysis of test anxiety and
perience to adapt to students individualized prefer- achievement in special gifted classes. Anxiety, Stress, and
ences regarding the testing format and conditions Coping, 21, 185-198.
they want to use (Salend, 2009). For example, stu- Huberty, T. (2009). Test and performance anxiety. Principal
dents in consultation with their teachers can deter- Leadership, 10 (1), 12-16.
mine whether they want to have tests presented in
Osborne, J., Tillman, D., & Holland, A. (2010). Stereotype
any of a number of ways, including verbal, written,
threat and anxiety for disadvantaged minorities and women.
video/pictorial, masked, or via text/screen readers.
In J.C. Cassady (Ed.), Anxiety in schools: The causes,
They also may choose to respond via voice recog-
consequences, and solutions for academic anxieties (pp. 119-
nition, word processor, touch screen or keyboards.
136). New York, NY: Peter Lang.
Family matters Salend, S.J. (2009). Classroom testing and assessment for all:
Interventions to address test anxiety are more Beyond standardization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
likely to be effective when teachers collaborate with Salend, S.J. (2011a, November/December). Addressing test Portions of this
students families and other professionals (Conder- anxiety. Teaching Exceptional Children, 44 (2), 58-68. article were
man & Pedersen, 2010). Teachers can foster family adapted from
Salend, S.J. (2011b). Creating inclusive classrooms: Effective
involvement by providing parents or caretakers with Salend, S.J.
and reflective practices (7th ed.). Columbus, OH: Pearson
information about test anxiety, testing and assess- (2011, November/
ment practices, and ways to foster a childs use of December).
effective study and test-taking strategies. Whitaker Sena, J.D., Lowe, P.A., & Lee, S.W. (2007). Addressing test
Professionals such as school counselors, school Significant predictors of test anxiety among students with and anxiety. Teach-
psychologists, and social workers can be an excel- without learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 40, ing Exceptional
lent resource (Huberty, 2009). For teachers, these 360-376. Children, 44 (2).

Summer Issue #2 35

Professional development guide to:

Teaching students not to sweat

the test
By Spencer J. Salend

Phi Delta Kappan, 93 (6), 20-25


Although a number of factors can influence test anxiety, teachers can change their testing practices to lessen test anxiety.


Test anxiety is a state anxiety, specic to a situation; students may also experience trait anxieties that are more generalized.
A variety of factors can result in test anxiety, including negative self-esteem, pressure from peers or family, poorly made tests, and
ineffective teaching.
Test anxiety may result from doing poorly on one test and then transferring that experience to subsequent tests, intensifying the
anxiety with each test.
While some stress is good for optimum performance on a test, 25% to 40% of students experience disabling test anxiety.
Teachers can deploy interventions in terms of creating student-friendly tests (that are valid, accessible, and use best practices for
creating items and directions), fostering motivation, teaching test-taking strategies, using relaxation techniques before and during
tests, involving family members in preparing students for tests, and enlisting the help of other professionals in the school.
The author provides a chart describing physical, behavioral, and affective symptoms associated with test anxiety.

Here are some other ways of thinking about test anxiety:

George Washington Universitys Counseling Center distinguishes between two phases of anxiety: Anxiety can be labeled as
anticipatory anxiety if you feel distress while studying and when thinking about what might happen when you take a test. Anxiety can
be labeled as situational anxiety if it occurs while taking a test.

The Education Testing Service (ETS) in its booklet on test anxiety related to taking the Praxis (a teacher-licensing test) recommends
that students not waste time on beat the test strategies. There are a number of test-prep books and classes out there that advertise
shortcuts for studying, such as methods for finding the answers to multiple-choice questions or secrets for fooling essay-test scorers
into giving you a high score. But the truth is, you cant trick your way to a high score.

In a study of the relationship between test anxiety and academic performance at Missouri Western State University, Vogel and Collins
found no effect. Academic performance of students in two undergraduate psychology classes took quizzes and completed surveys
on anxiety. The quiz grades were then compared to the survey scores in order to determine if high- and low-anxiety groups perform
lower than moderate-anxiety groups (Vogel & Collins, 2009). The researchers found no difference in quiz grades between the two


Choose one or more of these individual inquiry topics for thinking and writing.

1. Do you experience test anxiety (or do you know someone who does)? How does the anxiety manifest itself (physically,
behaviorally, affectively)?

2. What factors that affect test anxiety are out of a teachers control? What factors are within a teachers control?

36 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #2

3. To what extent is some anxiety a positive factor when you face a challenge? At what point does it become unhealthy?

4. In your experience, what types of students are more likely to experience test anxiety than other students?

5. The author suggests that test question format should align to instructional practices. For example, an essay question should
address material taught via role playing, simulations, cooperative learning, and problem-solving strategies. Objective test
items should relate to fact-based learning. How does your experience in creating tests and taking tests align with that

6. To what extent would the educational community with which you work consider having students collaborate on test answers

7. To what extent should students have choices on their tests? What kinds of choices?


Working with colleagues, decide how you would address these reasons real high school students gave for not doing well on tests
(Easton, 2008):

I used to hate tests. Everybody thought some- I was afraid the tests
thing was wrong with me, so they would prove that Im not
kept giving me these tests. I used to freak out, and very good at things, so I
Id get all the answers wrong. I knew something messed up on purpose.
was wrong with me. Sevi

I didnt see why we needed to

take these tests. They didnt
relate to what interested me. I would look around and all the other kids
Elliott were finished and I had barely started. I would
get more and more nervous and then I would
just give up. I knew I couldnt do well.

I just dont think that way. I think all the answers

are right in some way.

Summer Issue #2 37

Well, we certainly werent the ones getting good
grades and looking so preppy on test-taking days.
The hurry-up part of tests We didnt see the point in having sharpened pencils.
makes me nervous. I like to Nobody I knew did well on those tests.
think about things. Mahkaea

I never planned to go to college, so I

didnt see the point of these tests.

Complete with what you think a

student might say.


Easton, L.B. (2008). Engaging the disengaged: How schools can help struggling students succeed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Education Testing Service. (n.d.) Reducing test anxiety.

University Counseling Center, George Washington University. (n.d.). Test anxiety.

Vogel, H.L. & Collins, A. L. (2009). The relationship between test anxiety and academic performance.

38 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #2

Kappan Phi Delta

service | research | leadership

Summer 2012

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from Kappan,
Summer Issue #3
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Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12

Summer Issue #3
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35 How to steer the tough budget road ahead: Phi Delta Kappan publishes articles
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Cover art: Thinkstock/Hemera

Summer Issue #3 1

The Shrinking

As dollars for schools

a school district
decline, K-12 schools
need to reduce staff
and focus efforts.
How do schools
realistically do more
with less? Kappan A dramatic self-examination led the Kansas City, Mo.,
will be publishing
articles related to this public schools to close schools and cut $68 million from
throughout the year. We
are seeking manuscripts its annual budget.
that help educators
address these issues:

What ideas will benefit By Mary Esselman, Rebecca Lee-Gwin, and Michael Rounds
school and district
leaders as they balance
conflicting needs and
conflicting challenges?
What disasters are
looming as budgets

If teachers are a finite
resource, how can
schools/districts best
deploy them where
they matter the most?

What is the role of
technology in helping
schools work smaller
and smarter?

If schools and districts
must abandon the 25-
to-1 student-to-teacher
model, what other
models could be ad-
opted to ensure high-
quality learning?

Where are there
examples of schools
and districts that have
successfully reduced
themselves and
continued to provide
high-quality learning
for students?

Submit manuscripts
to manuscripts@

2 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #3

Comments? Like
Kappan at www.

The transformation of the Kansas City, Mo., These statistics strongly suggested that, at the
School District (KCMSD) has been long overdue. current rate of progress, the district would achieve
Multiple superintendents and administrations, using only minimal success. (See Figs. 1-4.) Making incre-
billions of dollars of desegregation funds, tried to mental changes each year would have tempered the
transform the district by creating magnet schools, affect on the community, but there was little political
themed schools, and career-focused high school ini- will to make any changes because the school district
tiatives. Missing from these initiatives, but included was a major employer in Kansas City. To create a
in the current restructuring, was a laser-like focus on sense of urgency throughout the community regard-
teaching and learning. ing the plight of public education for Kansas City
By the 2009-10 school year, the district faced a
myriad of problems: More than 70% of its schools
posted student proficiency levels below 25% on the Kansas City saved $68 million, cut vendor
state assessment, and fewer than one-third of ele- contracts from 6,000 to fewer than 1,000,
mentary students were reading at grade level. Stu- and improved its focus on optimizing
dent enrollment had dropped from 30,000 in 2000 resources to support teaching and
to just over 17,000 in 2010, creating a building use learning.
rate of 48% in the districts 63 open schools. (Fifty
percent of all open seats were in secondary schools.)
State revenues had sharply declined in the face of students, newly appointed Supt. John Covington
the worst recession since the 1930s. The result was called for a radical transformation and rightsizing
a projected budget deficit of $8.5 million in FY2011 of the district.
and a two-year revenue decline of over $100 million
with little likelihood of a significant upturn projected The plan takes shape
for FY2012. Finally, the district had been cited by the In October 2009, a community task force ap-
state as having no viable and guaranteed curriculum, pointed by Covington kicked off the rightsizing
with local schools having scant capacity for ensuring process by having two sets of forums. The first fo-
that students would be college, career, or workforce rum confirmed the priorities in deciding on school
ready when they graduated from high school (Essel- closures, and a second set in spring 2010 obtained
man & Reynolds, 2010). feedback on the final recommendations. To avoid

MARY ESSELMAN ( is chief officer, accountability, equity, and innovation for the Michigan Education Achieve-
ment Authority. She is a former assistant superintendent for professional development, assessment and accountability in Missouri.
REBECCA LEE-GWIN is deputy chancellor business and fiscal affairs and operations for the Michigan Education Achievement Author-
ity, an agency tasked with handling Michigans lowest-performing schools. She is a former chief financial officer in Missouri. MICHAEL
ROUNDS is chief operating officer for the Kansas City Public Schools, Kansas City, Mo.

FIG 1.
Percentage of students reading at or above grade level

45 - Spring 2007 Spring 2008 Spring 2009

40 -
Percentage of students

35 -
30 -
25 -
20 -
15 -
10 -
This article
was originally
Source: Esselman, M. & Reynolds, M. (2010). Rightsizing the Kansas City, Missouri, School District: Teaching and learn- published in Phi
ing for a new millennium. Kansas City, MO: Kansas City School District. Delta Kappan, 93
(6), 56-61.

Summer Issue #3 3

FIG 2.
Annual percentage of students proficient in communication arts
60 -

Percentage of students proficient 50 -

2007 2008 2009

40 -

30 -

20 -

10 -


Source: Esselman, M. & Reynolds, M. (2010). Rightsizing the Kansas City, Missouri, School District: Teaching and learn-
ing for a new millennium. Kansas City, MO: Kansas City School District.

relying on a single factor to determine which schools Ultimately, data from the scorecards, along with
would close, district officials created a matrix of 52 input from the task force, community forums, and
indicators across four categories academic perfor- economic indicators provided by city planners were
mance, building conditions and infrastructure, en- used to identify 30 schools for closure. While grade
rollment and demand for schools and programs, and configurations in the elementary schools did not
other special program considerations and created change, secondary schools were reconstituted to
scorecards for each district school. 7-12 grade-level organizations, with many of the sec-
Upon review of the districts recommendations ondary magnet programs collapsed into one building
for school closures, the second set of community from two.
forums unearthed disagreements over grade-level The district made reducing vendor contracts an
organizations and gang issues. The administra- important objective. For years, the district had sup-
tion initially recommended reorganizing schools plied contracts to a number of individuals in the city
into grade-level groupings of K-2, 3-6, and 7-12. whose lifestyles required this flow of money to con-
Numerous parents opposed this and cited personal tinue. These individuals pressured board members
hardships in getting children to as many as three and the superintendent to no avail.
schools each day as a significant problem. Com- In March 2010, the board approved closing all
bining middle school students with high school 30 targeted schools on a 5-to-4 vote. Kansas City
students also provoked strong sentiments. Parents reduced its budget by $68 million for FY2011, cut
did not want their 13- and 14-year-old daughters vendor contracts from 6,000 to fewer than 1,000, and
mingling with 17- and 18-year-old boys. improved its focus on optimizing resources to sup-
Parents, community activists, and students raised port teaching and learning. Rightsizing continued in
concerns that changing school attendance boundar- FY 2012 with an additional reduction of $37 million
ies would send children across gang turf lines, plac- across both operations and instruction.
ing them in jeopardy. Also, there was a strong sense Included in the cuts were 1,247 full-time equiv-
that comingling gang-connected students would alent positions over a two-year span. The district
bring trouble. They worried that adding 7th and spent $8 million to provide a retirement or buyout
8th graders in the mix would provide bigger pools incentive for eligible employees, both certified and
for gang recruiting. City Council members joined classified. The plan was designed to recoup the cost
the fray, focusing on the number of schools being of incentives within three years through lower sal-
closed in each subdistrict. They wanted the pain of ary expenditures and reduced legal fees. The union
school closings to be shared equally among atten- requested but the administration did not sup-
dence districts. port a 4% raise for teachers and support staff.
4 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #3
The district took the stance that including a raise in access to both aggregated and disaggregated student
the proposed collective bargaining agreement would progress reports aligned with local, state, national
have returned the district to its prior state of finan- and international standards. The increased use of
cial instability. The district intends to restructure technology provides cost savings by eliminating out-
the salary schedule to reward performance rather side vendors and is therefore financially sustainable.
than longevity. In light of shrinking dollars, professional devel-
opment funds have shifted to support in-house cur-
A new pedagogy riculum writing and other leadership activities. The
In transforming teaching and learning after the districts new teaching and learning center hosts
cuts, district leaders wanted to create a system in resource rooms for each content area and teacher-
which students assume ownership for their learning led workshops. The district uses technology to sup-
under the guidance of teachers working as facilitators port collaboration among teachers through profes-
(Prensky, 2009). Through a culture of continuous sional learning communities, data teams, discussion
improvement, the district plans to eliminate path- threads, and transmedia platforms. Teachers con-
ways based soley on age and time. tinue to have access to individual professional devel-
The new instructional model embraces a learner- opment through commercial and district-generated
centered paradigm of education in which peda- video links.
gogy, assessments, and support systems are changed
(Reigeluth et al., 2008). Students work individually,
in pairs, and small groups facilitated by teachers, KCMSD is using technology more widely
peers, technology, and/or tutors. Students are orga-
as a result of the rightsizing.
nized by instructional level rather than grade level
and progress via mastery rather than time.
KCMSD is using technology more widely as a re-
sult of the rightsizing. The districts distance learning Principals and other administrators are able to
platforms support individualized learning plans for evaluate teachers with observation tools that al-
all students. Low-enrollment classes will be offered low them to use iPads to electronically document
through distance learning labs in each high school teachers instructional practices. Information from
during the 2012-13 school year. Virtual courses are walk-throughs is downloaded in real-time to a data
planned to support students with diverse interests, a warehouse that immediately generates a report for
desire to accelerate, or a need for remediation. In ad- viewing by teachers and administrators. Teachers
dition, parents, teachers, and students will have ready who need additional assistance receive video links

FIG 3.
Annual percentage of students proficient in math
60 -

50 -
Percentage of students proficient

2007 2008 2009

40 -

30 -

20 -

10 -


Source: Esselman, M. & Reynolds, M. (2010). Rightsizing the Kansas City, Missouri, School District: Teaching and learn-
ing for a new millennium. Kansas City, MO: Kansas City School District.

Summer Issue #3 5

FIG 4.
Enrollment history (KCMSD K-12 and charter schools) from fiscal year 1999-2010
40,000 -
KCMSD K-12 enrollment
35,000 -
Charter/ISAs enrollment
30,000 -

25,000 -

20,000 -

15,000 -

10,000 -

5,000 -

1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009* 2010** 2011 2012

* Independence annexation was effective 7/1/2008. ** Actual enrollment as of 10/13/2009. Projected enrollment.

Source: Esselman, M. & Reynolds, M. (2010). Rightsizing the Kansas City, Missouri, School District: Teaching and
learning for a new millennium. Kansas City, MO: Kansas City School District.

aligned to the area of need. The district bought small, tally sound buildings, and the opportunity to have
portable cameras to provide panoramic filming; the effective teachers.
footage will be used for coaching, evaluating, and
demonstrating achieved competencies for new and Operational changes
struggling teachers. A school can be considered operationally effec-
tive if teachers and school administrators can focus
on learning and not on the surrounding environ-
ment. In each of the 33 open KCMSD buildings,
The district will continue to bear the
some level of infrastructure dysfunction routinely
expense of maintaining the large number disrupts teaching and learning. In many cases, its
of closed school buildings until theyre difficult to guarantee day to day that the physical
either sold or leased, a process that is environment in district schools will be adequate to
projected to take at least five years. support all school activities. Twice during spring
2011, for example, elementary school students had
to be sent home early because of plumbing failures.
Acute maintenance issues exist because the district
The broad restructuring resulted in balanced largely ignored routine and preventive maintenance
budgets for FY2011 and FY2012, demonstrating the for three decades. A 2007 study by ACI/Frangkiser
districts ability to respond effectively to changing Hutchens outlined over $150 million of deferred
student needs; even with fewer dollars, KCMSD can maintenance that needed to be addressed in order
no longer depend on its once privileged funding for district school buildings to remain viable in both
status. Rightsizing forced the district to truly assess the near and long term.
revenues and reduce expenditures accordingly. The To re-establish the functionality of all schools
district had to rethink staffing, class sizes, and tech- and address a good portion of their deferred mainte-
nology to replace some teachers (Hess & Osberg, nance, KCMSD has embarked on an aggressive pro-
2010). gram to refurbish its buildings. Putting the buildings
Leadership adopted the mantra of nothing into acceptable shape will require an $85-million in-
changes if nothing changes. The operational side of vestment. Equally important to the rapid execution
the district took the approach that efficiency would of the building refurbishment process is a commit-
ultimately strengthen the instructional side. The ment to keep the project funding neutral for district
budget, buildings, and staffing, if controlled effec- stakeholders. About $40 million will be provided
tively, would offer financial stability, environmen- up-front as available capital funds from the district.
6 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #3
The remaining $45 million, secured through leased- vide a benchmark cost to refurbish existing build-
purchase bonds, will be paid back over 15 years from ings and replace several. The cost is expected to be
the maintenance and utility savings achieved from between $200 million and $300 million. To meet
upgrading the schools. Similar projects have realized these needs, the district will ultimately need to gain
more than 20% savings on both maintenance and voter support for the first school bond in Kansas
energy costs. The proposed KCMSD refurbishment City since 1969.
project will be funding neutral by achieving mainte-
nance and utility savings of only 10% even though Conclusion
savings are expected to be well over the normal 20%. By erasing inefficient practices in the instruc-
The district has demanded that the selected con- tional, financial, and operational arenas, Kansas City
struction partner guarantee the performance of the has freed resources that can be redirected to teach-
refurbished energy management systems for the full ing and learning. The district must now turn its full
15 years of the contract, ensuring at least one genera- attention to meeting the challenge of regaining its
tion of building functionality. accreditation. For the past decade, the district has
not met the states proficiency requirements. In Sep-
tember 2011, the Missouri State Board of Education
The operational side of the district took gave the district an unaccredited status. The constant
the approach that efficiency would cloud of financial stress does have a direct relation-
ultimately strengthen the instructional ship to performance. With operational stability, the
side. district now has the financial wherewithal to move
forward to address student performance.
Rightsizing is not an isolated event. Rather, its an
At the same time the district is refurbishing all iterative process that requires continued self-exami-
existing schools, KCMSD is making a concerted ef- nation as the student population evolves. A lean orga-
fort to change the maintenance culture of the work- nization sends a signal that efficacy is valued. In com-
force. A key element is a new data-driven mainte- ing years, KCMSD must be agile enough to make
nance management system that provides real-time adjustments based on population shifts, student per-
visibility for each work order from the time its initi- formance, and shrinking dollars. The district must
ated until the work is completed. Tracking mainte- make decisions according to a zero sum mandate.
nance performance indicators will be a key factor in The district wants new programs to be funding neu-
ensuring that maintenance backlogs are eliminated tral while also ensuring that new schools, such as the
for good. proposed advanced career and technical education
The cost of securing and maintaining the large center, are sustainable and have the resources they
inventory of closed buildings is considerable. The need to achieve. Staying the course will continue
district is working with the community to repur- to be challenging for KCMSD as it seeks to regain
pose the buildings to meet local needs. This can be its accreditation, but its essential if the district is to
difficult because neighborhoods surrounding the remain independent and able to determine its own
buildings have been declining for years. KCMSD future.K
will keep seven of the buildings to provide for hoped-
for expansion as the district once again becomes the
education option of choice for students and parents References
in the district. These seven schools already have been
Esselman, M. & Reynolds, M. (2010). Rightsizing the Kansas
staged and mothballed. The district will continue to
City, Missouri, School District: Teaching and learning for a new
bear the expense of maintaining the closed buildings
millennium. Kansas City, MO: Kansas City School District.
until theyre either sold or leased, a process projected
to take at least five years. Hess, F. & Osberg, E. (2010). Stretching the school dollar:
The true operational transformation of the How schools and districts can save money while serving
KCMSD will require a sustained effort by all dis- students best. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
trict stakeholders. A key element of the transfor-
Prensky, M. (2008, November-December). The role of
mation is creating a living Facilities Master Plan.
technology in teaching and in the classroom. Educational
District stakeholders are collaborating on a 20-year
Technology, 48 (6), 64.
model that ensures the district has the right capacity
to meet an ever-evolving student population. The Reigeluth, C., Watson, W., Watson, S., Dutta, P., Chen, C., &
right capacity includes sustaining the right inven- Powell, N. (2008, November-December). Roles for technology
tory of buildings in the right locations and in the in the information-age paradigm of education: Learning
right condition. The facilities plan will also pro- management systems. Educational Technology, 48 (6), 32-39.

Summer Issue #3 7

Is modeling enough?
Leaders must be explicit
if they want teachers
and others to get the
messages theyre trying to

By Khym G. Goslin

The last two decades have done little

to reduce the managerial responsibili-
ties of the school principal and, in many
ways, their duties have increased. Such
dramatic and radical changes have re-
quired educational leaders at all levels
to become conscious of guiding and
directing large-scale changes. But, as
Sergiovanni (2001) said, the role of
the principal is so rooted in manage-
rial tasks that leading transformational
change hasnt been within the purview
of the job. In fact, he said, principals
have tended to either ignore or been
ambivalent (p. 26) about symbolic
leadership. From what Ive seen and
read, a principals modeling of behav-
iors alone may not be enough to ignite
and sustain change.

I remember once walking down a
school hallway, picking up paper and
placing it in the trash container a few
steps away thinking, Doesnt anybody
else see this? I cant recall others pick-
This article
was originally
published in Phi is an assistant professor at the University of
Delta Kappan, 93 Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Prince
(7), 42-45. Edward Island, Canada.

8 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #3

Like PDK at www.

ing up on my practice. Ive come to believe that peo- pick it up please? How about going for a two pointer
ple interpreted the nonverbal message of my model- in that trash can? Crumpling the paper in my hand,
ing behavior as, Hes the principal, and its his job to I make my attempt. Regardless of the outcome of
keep the place tidy. The individuals who interpreted the playful challenge, Ive made more explicit my
my behavior werent picking up on the message that message conveyed through my modeling, and Ive
I intended, which means that my modeling was in- invited others to share in the value of maintaining
sufficient to send the message I wanted to send. My a tidy environment.
error was twofold. I had failed to grasp Sergiovannis I became more aware of the challenge principals
assertion that leaders must help constituents make face in effectively communicating their vision and
sense of what they observe the leader model. Further, intentions for teaching and learning as I studied their
I had ignored the six elements that are part of suc- instructional leadership practices. The stories of four
cessfully communicating any message symbolic principals (represented with pseudonyms) help to il-
or otherwise. Leaders use modeling effectively when lustrate that modeling, as a channel of communica-
their actions attend to the: tion, is no easy task.
Carol Ross, a mid-career elementary school prin-
Intended target audience; cipal, had an understanding of modeling similar to
Message; mine. She characterized being a role model as one
Channels of articulation; who maintained contact with staff and students.
Interference; She described her instructional leadership actions
Feedback; and as being a facilitator of resources and a participant Modeling
Context. in staff activities. Providing teachers with resources is more
may send a symbolic message that the principal cares, complex than
but, more likely, the principals action reinforces a
Modeling explained teachers belief that she is doing her managerial job simply taking
My action of picking up trash was symbolically correctly. High school principal Barry Lewis ex- an action
hollow. People were more quick to assume that emplified a more sophisticated understanding. An repeatedly
caretaking duties were part of my job. I gave them administrator needs to demonstrate through their
no cause to believe otherwise or to be self-reflective actions that instructional practice is an important in hopes that
about their beliefs that keeping the school tidy was part of the school climate, he said. As a teaching others will
a shared responsibility for everyone. My first er- principal, he icollaborates in grade-level meetings pick up on it.
ror was thinking that actions alone speak louder and leads teachers in his school in discussions of how
than words. The leaders actions must be consistent curriculum mapping could enhance student engage-
with the observers state of consciousness regard- ment.
ing the actions (White & Marx, 2011). If students Learning that symbolic leaders serving as models
and teachers arent conscious about the tidiness of require actions and conversations that convey the
the school or arent inwardly seeking a positive role values and beliefs surrounding the desired changes
model to inspire them to act, the leaders symbolic helped clarify my first error. Failing to help constitu-
act is lost. Sergiovanni argued that the key to sym- ents consciously make sense of what is being mod-
bolic leadership is focusing the attention of others eled limits the leaders influential use of modeling as
on matters of importance to the school (2001, p. a strategy for conveying messages about the values
24). He went on to explain that leaders signal the they hold and the behaviors that exemplify them.
beliefs and values that underlie the action by using While modeling without consciousness-raising is
more explicit communications. In this way, others tremendously important in letting teachers see who
begin the process of making sense of symbolic mes- the principal really is, the mode of communicating
sages. Effective symbolic leaders who use modeling is passive and ambiguous. As such, modeling allows
understand that the real message is not do as I do. individuals to misinterpret the symbolic message or
Rather, it is value what I value believe what I ignore the message as irrelevant. My second error
believe. To gain this level of understanding, lead- was failing to recognize that effective modeling is
ers must engage others in conversations that ignite an active and strategic form of communication. By
self-reflection and sense making. As a trash-pick- re-examining modeling through the lenses of the ele-
ing principal, I would have been a more successful ments that constitute all communications, I became
leader using modeling by holding on to the piece conscious of how some principals were successful
of paper and waiting until I spotted some litter near using modeling to guide and direct change.
some students. Seeing opportunity, I would have
simply called out, Hey, Jason, theres some paper Six elements of communication
by your foot, can you help keep the place tidy and The six elements of communication apply when
Summer Issue #3 9
symbolic leaders model behaviors to communicate of creating a more coherent curricular experience
messages about either the behaviors or the values for students. He has taken steps to create common
and beliefs behind them. Communication successes planning periods for teachers and uses his class-
and failures can be better understood by examin- room visits to inform his conversations with teach-
ing the people involved, the type of message used, ers about necessary changes in instructional practices
the channels used, the interference that distracts or that lead to enhanced student engagement. While
distorts the message, the feedback provided to the his own teaching and classroom visits symbolically
messenger, and the context within which the mes- tell staff that he cares about teaching and learning,
sage occurs (Simonds & Cooper, 2011). My own ex- Hughes also has recurring conversations with staff
ample of picking up paper may have been admirably that he believes helps them make sense of the shifts
altruistic, but if no one noticed because the channel toward a more engaging, coherent curriculum. He
of modeling was too subtle or because the hallway also uses other modes of communications, such as
too crowded (context and interference), then the memos and staff meetings, to express the values por-
message was lost. I believed I was being a symbolic trayed through his modeling.
leader and modeling the behavior I wanted to see in Hughes admits that a lot of challenges related to
others. The feedback I got didnt tell me my mes- improving instruction and learning remain, which
sage was wrong or culturally inappropriate, but it suggest that communicating transformative changes
did tell me that communicating important messages is complex and ongoing. It is possible to hypoth-
by modeling is more complex than simply taking esize why Hughes is making headway if we look at
an action repeatedly in hopes that others will pick his symbolic leadership through the communica-
up on it. tion elements lenses. His teaching may signal to his
Carl Taylor, a middle school vice-principal, ex- colleagues that he is credible, which enhances the
pressed his frustration about how he works hard to value of other symbolic gestures. Teacher attitudes
model that teachers should work together, develop toward his verbal and nonverbal messages, a pos-
shared goals, and participate in professional discus- sible source of communications interference, may be
sions to develop a robust learning community. Yet, he more positive because they perceive him to be more
reported that, at his school, there is little sustained credible. Hughes explicit work to engage teachers
dialogue around current research and best practice, in the discussions about changes in the school gives
and that staff meetings are clerical with little dialogue him opportunities to gain feedback and reinforce the
among staff. Taylor indicated he has presented im- core values hes trying to express through his actions.
portant issues for discussion at faculty meetings and Recognizing that teachers cant develop a sense of
brought consultants to speak to teachers on topics curricular coherency when they work in a context
that concern them. However, his messages are run- that supports isolation, Hughes developed a school
ning into interference from the school principal and schedule with common planning times, thus aligning
others who are happy with the status quo. The peo- the context more closely with the values and actions
ple with whom Taylor is communicating, through he modeled.
his modeling and verbal messages, have a different
frame of reference (Simonds & Cooper, 2011, p. Leading through modeling
8) in that their values and beliefs about school devel- My study of principals instructional leadership
opment arent consistent with his. Symbolic leaders practices suggests that modeling, as a strategy used
must recognize that groups have norms that create by successful symbolic leaders, is more sophisticated
and maintain social order. Group members judge and complex than first assumed. From this review,
potential leaders as capable if the leader reflects and I have three tips for school leaders confronted with
symbolizes the groups norms. If incongruity exists, leading the changes that will touch and transform
then it tends to interfere with communicating the the values and beliefs of the teachers with whom they
intended message because the group does not share work: reflect, envision, articulate.
the same meaning. For Taylor, this may mean tena-
ciously sustaining the delivery of his messages until REFLECT
the current school leadership changes. Symbolic leadership has at its heart values and
Principal David Hughes middle school serves beliefs (Kouzes & Posner, 2005; Sergiovanni, 2001).
a large central urban population. Hughes has pur- But a leaders actions must appear to be consistent
posely positioned himself as a symbolic model for with the beliefs they espouse (Argyris & Schn, 1996;
teachers. Besides having teaching responsibilities Schein, 2004). Thus, begin by honestly reflecting
that he believes help him better understand the chal- on what actions you model now and the content
lenges teachers face in the classroom, he contributes and clarity of the messages youre trying to project.
to the ongoing discussions about the schools goal What values do those actions explicitly and implicitly
10 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #3
model? A principal seen happily monitoring hallways flict and discomfort that is a part of change. Help-
doesnt convey the same message or values about ing others articulate their values and beliefs through
high learner expectations as a principal who regularly dialogue creates shared understanding. Modeling is
visits classrooms and observes instruction. A prin- one-way communication. To be most effective, suc-
cipal shoveling snow-covered sidewalks in front of cessful principals must combine it with other mes-
the school believes that he is modeling behavior that sages that reflect the elements of good communica-
teachers will interpret as caring for students. This tion.
may be admirable, but, as one teacher pointed out,
it fails to communicate a message that the principal A final word: Nonbelievers
cares about instruction and learning. Recall Carl Taylors efforts to model positive col-
laborative learning processes and his frustration aris-
ENVISION ing from those whose attitudes and beliefs were out We use our
The power of symbolic leadership is its ability of sync with his. We must remember that even the beliefs to
to advance transformative changes in organizations. most well-regarded symbolic leaders who are skilled
Principals who use modeling as a strategic leader- at modeling the best behaviors, values, and beliefs guide our
ship approach do so in conjunction with their vision couldnt convert everyone. The very fact that we are behaviors,
for the changes they want to achieve. David Hughes not all of one faith yet can recognize the modeling comfort
envisioned a transformative change in how teachers exhibited by the symbolic leaders at the heart of each
develop and deliver the implemented curriculum. faith is evidence of this. Symbolic leadership and lead- our fears,
He held and espoused a belief that all students have ing through modeling has a long history of practice. and give us
a right to experience the most robust and complete Sergiovanni found inspiration for his understanding meaning.
curriculum that a school can offer. Hughes mod- of the approach arising from his deeply rich back-
eled how that could be achieved through his own ground in Christianity. Others have recognized paral-
teaching and by valuing teamwork by entrenching lel leadership styles in other cultures. Gardner points
shared planning time as a new cultural norm. Fur- out, humans are believing animals (1986, p. 9). We
ther, his clarity of purpose created some constancy in use our beliefs to guide our behaviors, comfort our
his verbal and nonverbal messages, thus reinforcing fears, and give us meaning. Not every teacher will
the change process. believe that working in collaboration rather than in
isolation will result in a better education for students
ARTICULATE any more than everyone believes that Sundays are a
Successful principals seeking to improve teach- day of rest. The question in these instances is whether
ing and learning help others make sense of what the people can work respectfully with each other so as to
leader models. These leaders articulate the values do no harm to those they serve.K
and beliefs message directly and indirectly. Verbal
messages are used to reinforce the values being mod-
eled through the principals use of deliberate con- Argyris, C. & Schn, D.A. (1996). Organizational learning II.
versations with colleagues (Sergiovanni, 2001, p. New York, NY: Addison-Wesley.
34). Principals facilitate these conversations both
formally and informally, using multiple channels Gardner, J.W. (1986). Heart of the matter: Leader-constituent
while maintaining an eye on the envisioned change. interaction. Washington, DC: Independent Sector.
Good communication also requires the messenger
Kouzes, J.M. & Posner, B.Z. (2005). Encouraging the heart:
to target the message to the people for whom its
A leaders guide to rewarding and recognizing others. San
intended. At times, a principal may feel that teachers
Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.
are oblivious to the message she or he is attempt-
ing to convey. Following up from this feedback, the Schein, E.H. (2004). Organizational culture and leadership. San
principal resorts to using a blanket message at a Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
staff meeting to try to draw it to everyones attention.
Like spraying rock salt from a shotgun, this subtle Sergiovanni, T. (2001). Leadership: Whats in it for schools?
approach covers a lot but may be more irritating than New York, NY: Routledge.
effective. Those who thought they got the message Simonds, C.J. & Cooper, P. J. (2011). Communication for
are wondering if they really did get it the first time. the classroom teacher (9th ed.). Toronto, Ontario: Pearson
Those who failed to pick up on the visual cues, now Education.
ask, Is she talking to me?
By enhancing peoples understanding through White, J. & Marx, D. (2011). Beyond behavioral modeling:
conversations about the values and belief expressed Three ways role models guide leadership development.
in your actions, the principal can manage the con-

Summer Issue #3 11

Professional development guide to:

Is modeling enough?
By Khym G. Goslin

Phi Delta Kappan, 93, (7), 42-45


Principals as symbolic leaders who want to inspire transformative change need to model desired behaviors, explicitly
communicate the values or beliefs behind the behaviors, consider six elements of communication in terms of their message, and
reflect, envision, and articulate this process.


Modeling is a form of one-way communication.

If principals and others who are symbolic leaders want to inspire change, they must not only model the desired change but
also communicate in a variety of ways the values and beliefs behind the change.
Modeling and explicit communication about what is modeled and why ensures that the message is brought into anothers
consciousness and consideration.
Six elements of communication can guide the symbolic leader in terms of the communication that accompanies the
modeling: the people involved, the type of message used, the channels used, the interference that distracts or distorts the
message, the feedback provided to the messenger, and the context within which the message occurs (Simonds & Cooper,
School leaders who want to make a difference need to reect on their own behaviors and ask themselves how congruent
they are to the changes they want to see; envision the change they want, based on strong beliefs; model behavior that
advances the vision; and articulate or communicate verbally the values and beliefs behind the modeled behavior and the
vision of change.
Even by this enhanced model, not everyone can be inuenced to make change.

Thomas Sergiovanni identifies five leadership forces:

1. Technical: Derived from sound management techniques

2. Human: Derived from harnessing available social and interpersonal resources

3. Educational: Derived from expert knowledge about matters of education and schooling

4. Symbolic: Derived from focusing the attention of others on matters of importance to the school

5. Cultural: Derived from building a unique school culture (1984, p. 7).

Sergiovanni describes the symbolic leader as one who assumes the role of chief and, by emphasizing selective attention
the modeling of important goals and behaviors signals to others what is of importance and value: touring the school; visiting
classrooms; seeking out and visibly spending time with students; downplaying management concerns in favor of educational
ones; presiding over ceremonies, rituals, and other important occasions; and providing a unified vision of the school through
proper use of works and actions are examples of leader activities associated with this fourth force (1984, p. 9).

12 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #3

Choose one or more of these individual inquiry topics for thinking and writing.

1. Who are the symbolic leaders in your organization? How well do they achieve the characteristics Sergiovanni and the author
delineate for such leaders?

2. What changes are being implemented in your educational organization?

3. To what extent are leaders modeling the changes they want to effect?

4. What values or beliefs seem to be fundamental to the modeling?

5. To what extent do the leaders involved in change make their modeling and the beliefs and values that underlie it explicit
through communication?

6. How well have the leaders of this change analyzed the needs of the people involved? The type of message theyll use? The
medium theyll use for communicating? Possible interference that distracts or distorts the message and the context of the
message itself? (Simonds & Cooper, 2011).

7. How are reflecting, envisioning, and articulating important processes for change leaders to go through?


Working with colleagues, list changes that school principals (perhaps one of you) might want to make in their schools. Use the
template below (transferred to a large piece of chart paper) to think about the role of modeling and communicating desired behaviors
related to the change. Use the example as a starting point for your discussion.

Values and beliefs What and how to

related to this Desired What and how to communicate to
Change wanted change behaviors model others

The principal models Walking the talk no The principal examines Whatever the issue is, The principal makes
desired behavior. matter what the current behaviors; the principal models a point of saying that
issue is; honesty in compares them to the it. Example: being on he/she values walking
relationships. change envisioned; time to meetings. the talk because
models the change; it inspires honesty
and articulates it to in relationships
colleagues. and announces
the intention to do
whatever he/she
requires of others.


Sergiovanni, T.J. (1984, February). Leadership excellence in schools: Excellent schools need freedom within boundaries. Educational Leadership, 41
(5), 4-13.

Simonds, C.J. & Cooper, P.J. (2011). Communication for the classroom teacher (9th ed.). Toronto, Ontario: Pearson.

Summer Issue #3 13

Sounding the charge for change
How leaders communicate
can inspire or defeat the

By Brooke Haycock

ne of the most dramatic scenes in Shakespeares Henry V occurs on the eve of
the great St. Crispins Day battle. The king stands before his ailing, battle-weary
troops, and uses his words to renew their spirits and resolve: That he which
hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart; his passport shall be made, And crowns
for convoy put into his purse; We would not die in that mans company . . . but we in it
shall be remembered we few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that
sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.
Henry communicated a clear course to victory to his band of brothers, marked by
honor at all costs, bolstering the fighting spirits of his men while inviting the disillusioned
to depart. The sheer strength of his words and conviction inspired his men to risk their
lives for their country. The following day, he led them to victory.
School leaders could learn a lot from Henry V.
Listening to leaders
For more than a decade, Ive had the privilege of spending time in schools and districts
across the country. Im not a traditional educator, a curriculum specialist, or a turnaround
leader. Im a playwright with a background not in pedagogy but in performance and
communication. I create and perform documentary dramas based on interviews with
educators and students to start conversations about race, class, and equity in schools.
Im often invited to share these documentary dramas at kickoffs for achievement gap
initiatives and equity-focused school professional development days. Over the years,
Ive learned that these moments are ripe with opportunity for inspired leadership and
that the way leaders talk about change matters a lot.
This article Unlike Henry Vs inspiring speech to his troops, what Ive witnessed over the years
was originally often goes more like this:
published in Phi
Delta Kappan, 93
(4), 48-51. BROOKE HAYCOCK ( is artist-in-residence at The Education Trust, Washington, D.C.

14 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #3

Comments? Like
Kappan at www.

[Cue school bell]

[Its the first week of school. The principal stands at a podium in front of 40 teachers who are
seated in tiny plastic chairs in the small library. The room is buzzing with conversation. This is
the principals first opportunity to harness the energy of his staff and focus it squarely on stu-
dents, the schools mission, and the year ahead.]

PRINCIPAL: So, this is our first faculty meeting this year, but it already feels like weve been in school
for months, doesnt it?

The first order of business is chairs. Some teachers have been saying they dont have enough chairs in
their rooms. If you need chairs, please e-mail Mrs. Micks, and well put an order into Central. Second,
I promised I would update you on the 8th-grade science books. They are still at the warehouse, but
Im told theyll be here next week.

As I think you all know, we didnt make AYP last year because of scores from our diverse students.
Were going to be starting a new reading program this year as part of our improvement plan for raising
test scores to get off the list. Well talk more about who will be affected by that later. But first, I want

to brief everyone on the new hall pass policy.

ould Henrys troops have been these details are handled. But great leaders dont get
willing to risk their lives to follow stuck on the details. Lessons emerging now from
this leader? successful schools have much to teach us about the
Its not that chairs or new practices of dynamic leaders, everything from how
programs are unimportant. Cer- they guide instruction to how they grow leaders
tainly, leaders must ensure that within their ranks. Surely these practices are core

Summer Issue #3 15

to good leadership. But if leaders cant talk about dead wrong. They drown out overwhelming evi-
the what and the why of those practices in ways that dence to the contrary: that a familys race or class
inspire their staffs to action, they may change pro- tells us little about their circumstance, their values
grams, policies, or chairs in classrooms, but theyll and aspirations for their children, or the academic
never change people. potentials of those children. These corrosive myths
disenfranchise students, families, and communities,
HOW LEADERS TALK ABOUT CHALLENGES MATTERS. and they demoralize and debilitate educators. When
I cant get one superintendents words out of my education leaders use narratives like these to explain
head, mostly because I hear some version of them away student performance, teachers are left without
all the time: We do have some problems still. And agency or urgency, powerless observers of an inevi-
you all know what they are: our subgroup popula- table achievement gap, not the great equalizers of
tions. Now, this superintendent is a good man. And the American dream.
he cares about kids all kids a lot. Hes dedicated
his life to serving students. But intended or not, the HOW LEADERS TALK ABOUT CHANGE MATTERS. We
implicit message he conveyed that its the kids need to raise our test scores or the [insert: state/feds]
and not adult practices, policies, or systems that are are going to come down on us.
the problem is damaging to students and to the Somewhere along the way, we seem to have for-
districts mission. gotten that we assess kids to measure their learning,
not to torture and terrify schools and teachers with

scantrons, No. 2 pencils, and a spot on the dreaded
list. Test scores are an indicator of academic learn-
ing and, in many states, a low-level one. If lead-
leaders talk about assessments as ers talk about assessments as somehow disconnected
from the work of schools to grow student learning,
somehow disconnected from the work then they become meaningless measures. Indeed,
of schools to grow student learning, when we discredit assessments, we leave leaders
without one of the most powerful tools in their di-
then they become meaningless agnostic toolbox for highlighting success and driving
real achievement and outcome-oriented change in
measures. their buildings.
Similarly, when leaders frame achievement and
accountability through a daunting lens of state take-
over and federal sanction, they shift the impetus of
change from being driven by whats right for kids
I listen to school leaders send versions of these to what will keep adults out of trouble. This not
messages all the time; messages casting kids, parents, any accountability policy is the seed of drill-and-
and communities as obstacles to a schools otherwise kill test prep, strangled curriculum, teacher disillu-
inevitable path back to perfection, an ideal that, at sionment, and student disengagement. How leaders
best, is an unsubstantiated goal and, at worst, a desire respond to external pressures and filter those mes-
to vanish certain sets of kids. The explanation I too sages for their staffs will determine how the school
often hear for why students cant read goes some- community internalizes and responds to those chal-
thing like this: These kids just dont like to read. lenges.
Or, Nobody at home reads to these kids. Parents
would rather buy video games for their children than THE RIGHT WORDS GET RESULTS. There are hard-
books. Comedian Bill Cosby said as much, so it must charging school and district leaders across the coun-
be OK for educators to say, right? try who know how hard change is and how much
These are fictions woven from threads of truth, honor there is in this work. They know their staffs are
and spools of misunderstanding. Educators fre- critical to winning the battle. They know the power
quently talk about kids using the same clichs prop- of their words and choose them accordingly. And
agated by Hollywood directors: African-American they get results.
kids come from multi-child, single-parent, drug-ad- Theres the elementary principal in poverty-
dicted, bullet-riddled homes while white kids play stricken, post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans who
hopscotch in the two-car driveways of their two- I witnessed bring a room of educators to tears and
parent, two-point-five kid, education-centered sub- to their feet as she spoke of the importance of her
urban homes. schools mission, declaring education the best war on
These narratives are not only damaging, theyre poverty this nation can wage.
16 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #3
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once leadership is beginning to move the needle on stu-
more . . . dent achievement. But, perhaps more important ul-
timately to the long-term success of the district, it
Just four years after Katrina, a time that seemed to has changed the way an entire system of adults think
wash away what little hope there was for this strug- of themselves.
gling school, achievement is soaring over state av-

erages, surpassing mere proficiency and giving new
hope to a community that has seen too many safe-
guards fail.


that theyre the tone setters and meaning makers eaders must ensure that details are
in their buildings. They choose their words to build handled. But great leaders dont get
urgency and collective agency.
A high school principal in the rural northwest stuck on the details.
took the reins of a school so devastated and de-
moralized that many thought it beyond repair. He
marched past the graffiti-covered school sign, the
teachers smoking in the parking lot, called a faculty
meeting, and played the battle speech from Brave
Heart, declaring an end to the days of expecting less NO EXCUSES. Good leaders constantly communicate
of the children of this community of farm workers to their staffs how critical they are to the mission and
and inviting any who wished to leave to make a clear to the children they serve. They dont allow excuses
path to the door. to trivialize the importance of the work or the people
who do it.
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Like Henry V leading his troops into battle, these
let him depart . . .
leaders focus relentlessly on the heart of the mis-
The next several years were punctuated by leaps sion. They elevate the strength of their men and,
in achievement and graduation, staff retention, and in so doing, make them stronger. They dont waste
parent engagement. And the results arent evident breath on the obstacles or on conditions not in their
only from looking at the data: You can feel the change control. They build within their ranks a true sense of
in the classrooms and hallways and in the community honor, camaraderie, and duty. And they fight along-
outside the school doors where improved prospects side them all the way to victory.
for kids have resulted in drastic drops in juvenile
crime. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers . . .
gentlemen in England now a-bed
TIE LANGUAGE TO BELIEFS AND GOALS. Good lead- Shall think themselves accursed they were not
ers send clear, consistent, mission-focused messages here, And hold their man-hoods cheap whiles
about expectations. They use language to unify their any speaks That fought with us . . .
staffs around common beliefs and goals.
The superintendent of a district nestled in the
Rockies, a district with high populations of migrant What Henry knew, and what the principal in the
students and English language learners, addressed scenario at the beginning of this article missed, is
teachers and staff at the beginning of the school that, if he framed the battle ahead correctly if he
year, nullifying any excuse: We are it. For these spoke to his weary troops passions, their courage,
kids, we are it. And you could feel the sea of teach- and their better selves his men would have gone
ers before her sit up straighter in silent resolve. It charging into battle for him and for France even
is on us. She then spent the entire professional without armor. He did not linger on the details the
development day sitting side by side with teachers sharpness of their swords or strength of their shields.
in sessions, engaged in the instructional nuts and He did not shrink their purposes to the field combat
bolts of real change. in which each man would engage. He stood before
his men his band of brothers and lifted their
For he today that sheds his blood with me shall heads, hearts, and sights to their collective mission
be my brother . . . to serve a cause bigger than themselves.
Like Henrys troops, I would follow leaders like
This kind of relentless, can-do, on-the-ground these into battle for kids any day. K

Summer Issue #3 17

Dancing in the rain
Tips on thriving as a leader
in tough times
Leaders who learn a new way to respond to the stress
and strain of leadership can enhance their performance
and enrich their experience.

By Jerome T. Murphy
In todays education arena, theres no leading without bleeding. No matter what we call it stress, agita-
tion, loss, frustration, fear, exhaustion, shame, confusion, sadness, loneliness, hurt theres not an execu-
Discomfort is tive alive who can lead without experiencing emotional discomfort. As a Harvard dean, I certainly had my
share of spills along with the thrills.
inevitable, but
Unfortunately, many leaders inadvertently transmute everyday discomfort into debilitating anguish. In
anguish is the privacy of our minds, we can make things worse by fighting our discomfort, getting hooked on our
preventable. troubling thoughts, and scolding ourselves for falling short. As a consequence, we can sidetrack our work
and lose sight of what really matters to us. Too often our performance deteriorates, our joy evaporates, our
misery escalates, our energy dissipates and some of us even burn out.
If this pattern sometimes rings true for you, theres good news: Discomfort is inevitable, but anguish is
preventable. Indeed, you can thrive as a high-performing leader who takes emotional discomfort in stride,
who averts debilitating anguish, and who savors what can often be the exhilaration of leadership. To do so,
consider this unconventional approach:

Open up to your here-and-now uncomfortable experiences just as they are instead of trying to escape them;
Simply notice your negative thoughts, instead of becoming ensnared by them;
Treat yourself with compassion and kindness; and
Concentrate on action guided by your core values.

This approach draws heavily from Western psychology, which is increasingly applying Eastern practices
to challenges ranging from anxiety to optimal athletic performance (Forsyth & Eifert, 2007; Gardner &
Moore, 2007; Hayes & Smith, 2005; Orsillo & Roemer, 2011). In this sympathetic look at the painful side of
leadership, I explore how insights from this marriage of West and East can help leaders thrive by foster-
ing a transformation in how we relate and respond to discomfort. Strange as it may sound, instead of fleeing
the storms of leadership, I invite you to step into the rain. Better yet . . . dance in it!

This article Real leaders feel real discomfort

was originally The strains of everyday life are multiplied and magnified in high-stakes leadership positions. Rick Gins-
published in Phi
Delta Kappan, 93 JEROME T. MURPHY ( is the Harold Howe II Research Professor of Education and dean emeritus of
(1), 36-41. the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, Mass.

18 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #3

Comments? Like
Kappan at www.

berg has documented this pattern in the life of edu- the Measure Up Monster MUM for short that
cation leaders who encounter surprising upheavals emerges from its cave waggling a censorious claw as
and the agony of decision making, which can take we struggle to do a good job. In our darkest moments,
a heavy emotional toll with which few are prepared MUM is there voicing such criticism as Leaders
to deal (2008). dont get confused youre an impostor! Little
Moreover, discomfort levels skyrocket when lead- wonder that we try to get rid of the problem.
ers promote transformative change. We can expect
personal attacks, marginalization, and efforts to di- The solution becomes the problem
vert us from our goals. Leaders will be undercut, While control stratagems solve problems in the
Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky (2002) argue, physical world caught in a rainstorm, we put up
because people want to be comfortable again, and our umbrella they often dont work the same way
youre in the way. in the psychological arena. More often than not such
Even if youre not knocked out of the game, almost solutions as suppression, escape, and avoidance be-
inevitably youll fail to placate a key constituency, come the problem as captured in this rule of thumb
commit a public gaffe, be misunderstood, or face about our inner life: Everyday Discomfort x Control
biting criticism. The harsh truth, Heifetz and Lin- = Debilitating Anguish (Young, n.d.)
For sure, some self-control efforts e.g., learning
to relax can provide significant temporary relief.
In the long run, however, trying to control discom-
Discomfort levels fort is usually like trying to escape quicksand. The
skyrocket when more we thrash around, the deeper we sink. As psy-
chologists remind us, what we resist persists.
leaders promote Whats more, our thoughts about our emotions
transformative can add to our anguish, particularly when we identify
change. with our negative self-evaluations and worries and
take them as the literal truth. In the grip of mind
chatter that sounds like a Greek chorus of naysay-
ers, its not unusual to rehash the past, fret about
the future, and hang ourselves out to dry (Hayes &
Smith, 2005).
Whether we pretend were not uncomfortable, or
we resist pain whenever it erupts, or we become en-
snared in our thoughts, or we berate ourselves for
failing to master our difficulties, we often end up
feeling like were trying to hold down the lid on
sky remind us, is that it is not possible to know the a boiling cauldron; the effort requires unrelenting
rewards and joys of leadership without experiencing focus and energy, and demands essential resources
the pain as well. that sidetrack our leadership work.

Controlling discomfort A new approach

Not surprisingly, many leaders cope with discom- To regain your perspective and productivity,
fort by doing what leaders know how to do get consider relinquishing control of your internal
rid of the problem. In private, we invoke control drama that private Hollywood production in
stratagems such as analysis, suppression, escape, which you are writer, director, hero, and victim all
avoidance, or denial. For example, we may dissect in one. You dont need to be a believer to embrace
our anxiety, bury our disappointment, flee our con- the familiar wisdom of the Serenity Prayer: Grant
fusion, skirt conflict or we may simply refuse to me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
admit the pain of leading. the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom
We resist discomfort partly because we humans to know the difference.
simply dont like to feel bad. But the reasons go much We can all be better leaders if we learn how to ac-
deeper. Many leaders steer clear of discomfort be- cept our emotional discomfort and focus our ener-
cause we believe its not just a plain vanilla annoy- gies on changing not our feelings but our behavior
ance, but a sure sign that were a flop as a leader. consistent with our true and enduring values. Wed
After all, we are expected to be winners, not whiners also be better leaders if we could take a step back
(Murphy, 2007). and watch our upsetting thoughts from a distance,
In our minds, some of us even create what I call while treating ourselves with more compassion. Of
Summer Issue #3 19
course, this is much easier said than done, but here In doing so, we can hold them more lightly, believe
is a template that might help you start the process: them less resolutely, and take them less personally.
We can have our thoughts rather than be had by
them (Harris, 2009).
Acceptance means opening up and welcoming our
troubling thoughts and feelings as part of who we are,
instead of trying to avoid them, fix them, or banish If you accidentally cut your finger, you coddle it
them. To accept discomfort, we must be willing to you dont call it a worthless finger and leave it to
experience it fully, which is different from wanting fend for itself. You know it will heal more quickly
it. Acceptance entails making room for our internal if it gets tender loving care. But when it comes to
struggles, greeting them with an open heart, and psychological wounds, many of us are more apt to
turning toward them with curiosity. whack our bleeding psyche with a hammer as pun-
Acceptance is not the same as giving up. We can ishment for letting us down. This makes no sense:
accept what were experiencing at the moment Both intuitively and through scientific research, we
while still working to make things better. We may know that self-compassion is central to our well-
not love our experiences, but we can choose to stay being (Germer, 2009; Gilbert, 2009; Neff, 2011).
with our ups and downs, just as seagulls bob atop Self-compassion is also a mental quality that can be
ocean waves. developed. Kristin Neff (2011) has done pioneering
A fundamental lesson about the value of accep- work on self-compassion and says it starts with self-
tance just allowing things to be as they are is kindness: being warm and understanding toward
captured in a story about a teacher who, walking with ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate,
his students, calls their attention to a huge boulder rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating our-
and says, Students, do you see that boulder? The selves with self-criticism. When our imperfections
students respond, Yes, teacher, we see the boulder. are accepted with kindness, greater emotional equa-
The teacher asks, And is the boulder heavy? The nimity is experienced.
students respond, Oh, yes, very heavy. And the Neff also says that self-criticism is often ac-
teacher replies, Not if you dont pick it up (Shapiro companied by an irrational but pervasive sense of
& Carlson, 2009). isolation as if I were the only person suffering
or making mistakes. But when we recognize that
suffering reflects our common humanity, it can be
The wondrous human mind is a veritable thought acknowledged with nonjudgmental compassion and
machine on steroids. Each day an average person understanding. Neff suggests that feelings neither
spawns an astounding 17,000 thoughts, according be suppressed nor exaggerated. If we ignore our pain,
to one estimate (Kornfield, 2008). Thats more than we cant feel compassion for it at the same time.
1,000 thoughts each waking hour. If we exaggerate our pain, we can get caught up
At this rate, over a lifetime the mind and swept away by negative reactivity (www.self-
spews out about 50 million judg-
Mindfulness is not aimed
ments, self-evaluations, plans, wor- Neffs research, and the work of other scientists,
at making us feel better, ries, stories, memories, longings, argues that self-compassion is not a self-indulgent
but rather at getting fantasies, and more. act that drains time from our important work, nor
Many of these thoughts are ex- is it a soft practice that makes leaders weak. Just
better at noticing tremely helpful. After all, our the opposite is true: Self-compassion befriending
our feelings and uniquely human capacity to analyze, ourselves is essential in maintaining our balance,
thoughts. reflect, and solve problems is what and crucial in our dealings with others.
defines us as a species; it is the qual-
ity that lets us subdue creatures that Keeping faith with our values
are stronger, faster, and far hardier If humans are discomfort-averse, why should any
than we are. But many of us know leader consider opening up to uncomfortable expe-
firsthand how quickly our big, busy minds can turn riences? The answer is that staying in our comfort
on us, spewing out all sorts of crippling distractions, zone will often force us to compromise our values.
doubt, and criticism. They tell us were falling short To insist on comfort is simply too high a price to pay
of our potential, failing to live up to our own stan- for undercutting what truly matters to us.
dards, succumbing to our own weaknesses and im- Its therefore crucial to keep our core values front
perfections and we believe them. and center in our consciousness to think deeply
Rather than clinging to our troubling thoughts like about what we treasure and stand for; our deepest
Velcro, we can learn to watch them come and go. aspirations; and even our heartfelt yearnings for how
20 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #3
we wish to be remembered and use those values to identify with this aspect of ourselves is especially
to inform our goals and actions. helpful in developing the three mental qualities dis-
Its easy for us to confuse goals with values, but cussed above: accepting our discomfort, watching
the two are very different. Our goal may be some our thoughts come and go, and taking care of our-
distant shore, but our values, like the stars overhead, selves. After that, I explore mindfulness what it is
are always with us, helping us chart our course. They and is not and identify four other mental qualities
keep us oriented, lighting the way forward even into central to leadership in tough times.
new and unfamiliar waters. Goals, on the other hand,
are achievable outcomes in the service of our values.
Goals speak to our destinations; values speak to our In emotion-charged situations,
journey. many leaders identify with what I call
Knowing what matters, however, is not enough. the Reactive Self. We show up in To regain your
Values-driven action is crucial, and this requires a an agitated state and respond reflex-
willingness to accept discomfort and hardship, and ively with unhelpful thoughts, feel- perspective and
to persevere when swamped by the storms of lead- ings, and actions indeed, overre- productivity,
ership. In the end, its this willingness that allows actions. We yell, hide, lash out, and consider
us to remain true to our deepest values instead of make hasty, ill-informed snap deci-
retreating to our comfort zone (McKay, Forsyth, & sions. To ourselves, and to others, relinquishing
Eifert, 2010). we appear to be nothing more than a control of your

Learning new tricks

bundle of reactions. internal drama.
We can learn to show up with a
Learning this new approach not only suggests a quite different identity, the Balanced
commitment to action guided by our enduring val- Self, which is a step removed from
ues, but also new mental qualities, which can be culti- whats happening, somewhat akin
vated through mindfulness training. I begin by exam- to a curious scientist watching our interior dramas
ining what I call the Balanced Self because learning from the outside. The Balanced Self can be thought

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Summer Issue #3 21

of as a place of awareness within us that is separate autopilot, multitasking, getting lost in thought, and
from our immediate experiences. We can notice daydreaming. Its the opposite of having your body
and accept our discomfort but not be consumed or in one place and your mind in another e.g., walk-
defined by it. ing along a beautiful beach while perseverating over
The difference between the Reactive Self and the your e-mail. Mindfulness is not aimed at making us
Balanced Self is the difference between saying to feel better, but rather at getting better at noticing
oneself Im furious at my colleague for making a our feelings and thoughts.
bad decision and saying I notice something in me I emphasize mindfulness not as a spiritual path-
thats furious. . . . In the midst of our discomfort, way to enlightenment, but as an evidence-based
if the Reactive Self were asked the question who secular technique that fosters the development of
am I? the answer would probably be I AM my qualities of the mind that are central to leadership
reactions. The Balanced Selfs answer would prob- (Boyce, 2011).
ably be Im that aspect of me thats aware of my In addition to the mental qualities described above,
reactions (Deikman, 1982; Cornell, 2005; Harris, mindfulness training can help us cultivate four other
2009). important leadership qualities, to name just a few:
By identifying with the Balanced Self, we no longer
feel a desperate need to escape discomfort or over- Situational awareness observing with clarity and
react because our uncomfortable thoughts and objectivity our inner and outer experiences as each
feelings no longer define who I am. Our internal moment arises, as distinct from judging them and
trying to fix them;
dramas may still be intense, but we can witness them
from a safe place without becoming overwhelmed. Task attention focusing our minds eye on the
Consequently, its easier to make room for our dis- task at hand and quickly regaining concentration
comfort, watch our troubling thoughts, show com- when distracted by discomfort;
passion for our predicament and respond wisely. Poise calmly taking action guided by our values,
Indeed, I call this observing state while letting our discomfort just come and go in
of mind the Balanced Self because private; and
By getting out of our own it enables us to balance emotion
Resilience snapping back when we are startled
way, and pursuing our with reason, to intuitively grasp and lose our poise in leadership situations (Gardner
values and dreams with the whole situation, and to develop & Moore, 2007).
responses that are calm, clear, and
passion and zest, we deliberate.
can reach our peak To be sure, the Balanced Self is All these mental qualities can be strengthened
through mindfulness meditation as well as through
performance. difficult to fathom fully without ex- other practices and exercises (Orsillo & Roemer,
periencing it directly, but this state
of mind can be developed and en- 2011).
hanced through the practice of mindfulness as well as
Shall we dance?
through other techniques (Cornell 2005). Its worth
the effort because its the shift in identity from the Faced with relentless pressure to transform educa-
Reactive Self to the Balanced Self that lies at the heart tion, its easy to get dragged down by the demands
of changing our relationship with discomfort so that of leadership and think of ourselves as weak leaders
we can deal with it more effectively. when we struggle. Whipsawed by our emotions, its
all-too-human to try to escape our discomfort, but
MINDFULNESS that can unintentionally undercut our performance
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer in adapting Buddhist and drain joy from our work.
practices to stress reduction, defines mindfulness Given this gloomy picture, its only natural to ask:
as the awareness that emerges through paying at- Why lead? Because leadership work can be enor-
tention on purpose, in the present moment, and mously rewarding and these disheartening out-
nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience comes are optional. Indeed, Ive suggested a counter-
moment by moment (2003). Attention speaks intuitive approach that can help you survive, thrive,
to observing our experiences as distinct from think- and make a difference in these tough times a
ing about them. Nonjudgmentally speaks to how realistic approach thats optimistic and that can be
we pay attention with an open mind that is ac- learned through dedicated practice.
cepting and curious (Boyce, 2011; Ricard, 2010; Faced with emotional storms, we can change how
Shapiro & Carlson, 2009). we relate and respond to them. Instead of fighting
Mindfulness can also be defined by what it is not. uncomfortable feelings, we can accept our here-and-
Its the opposite of everyday habits operating on now reality. Instead of getting snagged by disquieting
22 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #3
thoughts, we can watch them come and go. Instead The new acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA:
of chastising ourselves when things go awry, we can New Harbinger.
treat ourselves with compassion. Instead of obsessing Heifetz, R.A. & Linsky, M. (2002, June). A survival guide for
over whats going wrong, we can relish our moment- leaders. Harvard Business Review, 80 (6), 65-74.
to-moment victories. By getting out of our own way,
and pursuing our values and dreams with passion and Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003, Summer). Mindfulness-based
zest, we can reach our peak performance. interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical
Transforming education starts with transforming Psychology: Science and Practice, 10 (2), 144-156.
our minds. And our inner transformation starts with Kornfield, J. (2008). The wise heart: A guide to the universal
opening to indeed, welcoming the inevitable teachings of Buddhist psychology. New York, NY: Bantam.
cloudbursts of leadership. To thrive as a leader, I
invite you to pause, close your umbrella, and dance McKay, M., Forsyth, J.P., & Eifert, G.H. (2010). Your life on
in the rain.  K
purpose: How to find what matters and create the life you
want. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

Murphy, J.T. (2007). Embracing the enemy: Moving beyond the

pain of leadership. In (Eds.), P.D. Houston, A.M. Blankstein, &
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Cornell, A.W. (2005). The radical acceptance of everything: Orsillo, S.M. & Roemer, L. (2011). The mindful way through
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Germer, C.K. (2009). The mindful

path to selfcompassion: Freeing
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Gilbert, P. (2009). The compassionate

mind: A new approach to lifes
challenges. Oakland, CA: New

Ginsberg, R. (2008, December).

Being boss is hard: the emotional
side of being in charge. Phi Delta
Kappan, 90 (4), 292-297.

Harris, R. (2009). ACT made

simple: An easy-to-read primer
on acceptance and commitment
therapy. Oakland, CA: New

Hayes, S.C. & Smith, S. (2005). Get

out of your mind and into your life:

Summer Issue #3 23

Professional development guide to:
Dancing in the rain: Tips on thriving
as a leader in tough times
By Jerome T. Murphy

Phi Delta Kappan, 93 (1), 36-41


KEY SENTENCE: You can thrive as a high-performing leader who takes emotional discomfort in stride, who averts
debilitating anguish, and who savors what can often be the exhilaration of leadership.


Leaders face tough times in todays world of diminished budgets and demanding agendas for learning.
Combining both Eastern and Western philosophies, the author recommends that leaders:
o Open up to your here-and-now uncomfortable experiences just as they are instead of trying to escape them;
o Simply notice your negative thoughts, instead of becoming ensnared by them;
o Treat yourself with compassion and kindness; and
o Concentrate on action guided by your core values.
Real leaders feel real discomfort and learn how to control it but not necessarily solve it through suppression,
escape, and avoidance, which become the problem.
Our thoughts about our emotions can add to our anguish, particularly when we identify with our negative self-
evaluations and worries and take them as the literal truth.
Instead of letting our discomfort rule us, we can accept it; watch our thoughts come and go; take care of
(rather than deprecate) ourselves; act according to our values; and learn the process of mindfulness.
Leaders can learn how to cultivate the Balanced Self (versus the Reactive Self).
When leaders attend to events and situations, rather than react to them, they are being mindful; they dont ignore
the bad news, but they dont let it rule them.
If leaders are mindful, they are aware of situations, pay attention to the task at hand, demonstrate calmness and
poise, and snap back to what matters.

Mindfulness applies not only to leaders and adults. Mindfulness has made its way into pedagogy. Ron Ritchhart and
David N. Perkins wrote Life in the mindful classroom: Nurturing the disposition of mindfulness in the Journal of Social
Issues (2000). In their article, Ritchhart and Perkins focus on the creation of mindfulness as a disposition, that is, as
an enduring trait, rather than a temporary state.

Ritchhart and Perkins reference the work of Ellen Langer and her colleagues who designed studies that demonstrate
the conditions under which mindfulness is more likely to flourish and supported them in their own work. Earlier studies
focused on inducing a period of mindfulness; Ritchhart and Perkins focus on development of mindfulness as a trait.

Ritchhart and Perkins explore mindfulness as a desirable school goal and conclude that it is. They describe the
nature of mindfulness as a disposition. They identify three high-leverage instructional practices for enculturating
mindfulness: looking closely, exploring possibilities and perspectives, and introducing ambiguity. They also describe
an experimental study and present a case study of a mindful algebra classroom. They conclude in its best incarnation,
schooling strives to cultivate the dispositions that lead to a lifetime of learning and enjoyment. Mindfulness is surely one
of those dispositions.

24 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #3

Choose one or more of these individual inquiry topics for thinking and writing.

1. In what ways are you a leader in your education environment?

2. How well did you relate to the authors description of todays tough times: Theres no leading without

3. What experiences have you had with learning ways of opening up to your here-and-now, noticing but
not being ensnared by negative thoughts, treating yourself with compassion and kindness, and taking
action guided by your core values?

4. What leaders do you think of (within and outside education) who exemplify the four characteristics listed

5. Why would education leaders be more likely to feel discomfort today than in the past?

6. To what extent should leaders talk about discomfort and their reactions to this state of mind?

7. What are the downsides of stepping away from our upsetting thoughts and treating ourselves with more

8. What issues in education need to be held more lightly, believed in less resolutely, and taken less

9. How do you see mindfulness practiced in your education environment?


How can you apply the advice in this article to situations described in other articles in this issue of Kappan? Work with your colleagues
to consider both dilemmas and dancing in the rain related to other articles.

Article Dilemmas Dancing in the rain

Disestablishing sex: The case for released-time sex education

I learned to believe in me

Not teaching ethics

Improving teaching and learning when budgets are tight

R&D: The minority teacher shortage: Fact or fable?


Ritchhart, R. & Perkins, D.N. (2000). Life in the mindful classroom: Nurturing the disposition of mindfulness. Journal of Social Issues, 56 (1), 27-47, 56.

Summer Issue #3 25

Improving teaching and learning when
budgets are tight
Spending limited dollars
strategically is key in an era
when funding is tight and
expectations are high.

By Allan Odden and

Lawrence O. Picus
Education budgets are imploding at the fiscal
seams. A sluggish economy and falling property
values are shortchanging public education budgets
across the country. At the same time, there are growing
expectations for improved student performance, better teach-
ers and closing the achievement gap. Schools and teachers are
caught in this double squeeze.
Is there a way to meet these demands? Is it reasonable to ask
schools to continue to raise student performance and improve
teaching with no additional money and in some cases with
less? Does the way forward absolutely require more money?
We believe there is a way to move forward. Schools can
improve learning and teaching using research-based and best
practices-based strategies that in many cases dont require
more money, and in others where more money will help if
its spent strategically.
But there are competing views about this. One group argues
that more competition will ensure that schools spend educa-
tion dollars more efficiently, and that the demands on schools
today require more choice vouchers, charter schools, con-
tract schools and other market-driven solutions. Some who
support competition also want to give schools more control

ALLAN ODDEN ( is a professor of educational leadership and policy analysis, director of strategic management of human
capital, and co-director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education in the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wis. LAWRENCE O. PICUS ( is a professor at the Rossier School of Education, University of South-
ern California, Los Angeles, Calif.

26 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #3

Comments? Like
Kappan at www.

over spending decisions. These approaches have merit, but competition per se wont
improve schools. After all, two of Americas automobile manufacturing companies went
bankrupt in competitive markets. To survive and compete in a vastly different market-
place, they had to redesign and improve the cars they build. So competition only works
if it leads to school redesign, and there is scant evidence for that in education so far,
but what is important is school redesign regardless of the competitive environment.
Others argue that schools just need more money. But, if that argument were valid,
high-spending schools would be doing better than low-spending schools, and thats not
always the case. Weve found that even when resources increase substantially, schools
frequently dont use the new dollars to strategically improve performance (Picus,
Odden, Aportela, Mangan, & Goetz, 2008).
But, were confident school performance can improve even when funding is con-
The Shrinking Schoolhouse
strained. These conclusions draw from our work in school finance adequacy (Odden As dollars for schools decline, K-12 schools
& Picus, 2008), our study of schools and districts that have literally doubled student need to reduce staff and focus efforts. How
do schools realistically do more with less?
performance on state tests over a four- to six-year time period (Odden, 2009), and our
Kappan will be publishing articles related
partnerships with districts in reallocating resources to more powerful education vi- to this throughout the year. We are seeking
sions. We see five interrelated strategies. We present four here and a fifth in a sidebar manuscripts that help educators address
to this article. these issues:

Strategy #1. Resist the cost pressures on schools. What ideas will benet school and district
leaders as they balance conflicting needs
Our current system of local control of education works well, but it tends to boost and conflicting challenges? What disasters
costs, not student performance. Key factors behind these pressures to increase costs are looming as budgets shrink?
include: If teachers are a nite resource, how can
schools/districts best deploy them where
Smaller classes. Most districts find that reducing class size by one or two students eats they matter the most?
up large portions of the budget and generally has modest impacts on achievement. More
What is the role of technology in helping
specifically, research mainly the Tennessee STAR experiment supports class-size schools work smaller and smarter?
reduction only for grades K-3. In that study, larger classes (24-25 students) were compared
to similar size classes with an instructional aide as well as to smaller classes (15-17 students). If schools and districts must abandon the
25-to-1 student-to-teacher model, what
The small class sizes (but not the regular classes with an instructional aide) did increase other models could be adopted to ensure
student achievement by about 0.25 standard deviations for all students (Nye, Hedges, & high-quality learning?
Konstantopulos, 2002) and about twice that level for low-income and minority, primar-
Where are there examples of schools and
ily black, children (Krueger & Whitmore, 2001). Subsequent research showed that the
districts that have successfully reduced
positive impact of small classes continued on into middle and high school and beyond themselves and continued to provide
(Nye, Hedges, & Konstantopulos, 2001). Unfortunately, theres no similar research on high-quality learning for students?
class-size reduction in upper elementary, middle, and high school grades.
Submit manuscripts to manuscripts@
Yet pressure to reduce class size remains a high priority for many school districts.

Five interrelated strategies for matching resources with desired outcomes

Strategy #1. Resist Strategy #2. Develop a Strategy #3. Identify Strategy #4. Reallocate Strategy #5. Rethink
the cost pressures on more powerful school necessary resources to resources to meet the teacher compensation.
schools. vision. meet the new school new school vision. Educations traditional
Schools must redirect Educators need a vision vision. School resources compensation structures
spending away from of a redesigned school Drawing on schoolwide must be allocated or are unrelated to better
traditional patterns of that will produce twice and districtwide findings, reallocated to support teaching and learning
resource use for smaller the student performance as well as studies of that new vision of a and they keep all
classes, more elective with the same or individual programs, successful school. This education budgets
courses, automatic pay possibly even fewer educators can identify includes using existing structurally out of
raises, and enhanced dollars. what resources are staff in new ways balance every year.
benefit programs and required to support that focus on helping
their associated cost these best practices. students learn.

Summer Issue #3 27

Mario Noche
Unfortunately, after the smaller classes are funded, health and pension benefits all of which increase
theres little left to fund anything else. costs and none of which have significant positive
More electives. The public also pressures schools to impacts on student learning. The public pressures
offer many elective courses art, music, health, and school boards, school boards respond, and the sys-
physical education; career and technical education; tem moves on each year costing more. No wonder
advanced classes like Chinese 4 or Spanish 6; fun spending per pupil has risen dramatically in the past
classes like jewelry making, cheerleading, and on and three decades while performance has been flat or
on. To respond, schools often expand to seven or only modestly increasing.
eight periods a day, an option that increases costs by
20% to 40% compared to a six-period day. Further, Strategy #2. Develop a more
because many elective classes are small and often powerful school vision.
taught by senior teachers, the cost per pupil can be Scores of schools and districts that have boosted
four to five times the per pu- student performance and closed achievement gaps
School performance can pil spending on core courses have used similar processes to attain impressive out-
(Roza, 2010). comes (Odden, 2009). These schools and districts:
improve even when funding is Theres little correspond-
constrained. ing pressure other than Use data-based decision making. Often, they use state
from parents of children with tests to identify macro-problems and issues; bench-
disabilities to provide extra help for struggling mark data to monitor student progress throughout
students. These include programs such as teacher the year; shorter-cycle assessments to help frame in-
tutoring, extended-day programming, English as a structional units before theyre taught; and common
second language instruction, and summer programs. formative assessments to assess the effect of collabora-
Since parents of many of these students often dont tive instructional practices on student learning.
have enough political clout to get these services, the
calls for smaller classes and more electives often carry Set very high and ambitious goals regardless of
the day with local school boards. school demographics. Goals might include doubling
student performance on state tests; doubling the per-
Automatic pay increases. Nearly all school districts centage of students achieving at the advanced levels
compensate teachers via step and lane salary sched- on those tests; closing achievement gaps by 50%;
ules that produce virtually automatic annual pay in- and relentlessly pursuing attainment of those goals
creases. Even if the prices for everything else that irrespective of student demographics.
a school district buys stay the same, districts need
more money each year because teachers and admin- Adopt new curriculum and textbook materials. They
istrators have moved up a step of experience, and/ believe that new and better materials are needed to
or across an education lane, and are due those salary move the student achievement needle; over time, this
increases. If the entire salary schedule is increased includes developing a schoolwide vision of effective
for a cost of living adjustment, the impact of these instructional practice and expecting all teachers to
automatic increases is even greater. This is a key use those practices.
reason why structural budget gaps exist every year, Invest in professional development. This includes
gaps that grow larger in states with more inelastic summer institutes, instructional coaches in schools,
tax structures. time for collaborative teacher group meetings dur-
Since salary structures arent linked to the twin ing the school day, and funds for trainers and related
strategic goals of improved teaching and higher costs.
achievement (Odden, 2008a), salary schedules not Change the work life of teachers. They organize teach-
only push up costs, but also have virtually no positive ers into collaborative groups (grade-level teams in
impact on system performance. elementary schools, subject teams in middle schools
Growing benefit costs. Finally, the public is realizing and course teams in high schools), and engage those
pension and health benefits are another huge draw teams in data-based decision making to improve in-
on the education dollar. Few districts actually funded structional practice and target appropriate interven-
retiree health and other benefits, so those costs must tions to struggling students.
be included in every years budget. Further, most Provide extensive extra help strategies for struggling
districts are experiencing large increases in health students. These include 1:1 teacher tutoring (and no
This article
and pension costs for those still working. more than a 1:5) and extended-day and summer pro-
was originally
published in Phi Increased costs and flat performance. In sum, schools grams with a strong academic focus. These extend in-
Delta Kappan, 93 are buffeted by intense pressures smaller classes, structional time while holding high performance stan-
(1), 42-48. more electives, automatic pay increases and costly dards constant.
28 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #3
Pay attention to teacher and administrator talent. position for every 100 students eligible for free- or
Distribute the schools instructional leadership by reduced-price lunch.
identifying teachers who are collaborative work team Administrative and clerical support. Allocate funds
leaders, instructional coaches, or school curriculum for principals, assistant principals, librarian, secre-
council coordinators. They also ensure that high- tarial staff, and funds for substitute teachers and
poverty schools have their share of effective teach- supervisory aides to cover
ers and principals, which can require changing re- recess, lunch and bus super-
cruitment and hiring practices, and altering teacher vision, as well as janitorial Schools and districts that have
transfer policies. and security staff. boosted student performance
Instructional materials. Allo- and closed achievement gaps
Strategy #3. Identify necessary cate $250 per pupil for com-
resources to meet the new school puters and related equipment
have used similar processes to
vision. and technologies, $200 per attain impressive outcomes.
Drawing on these schoolwide and districtwide pupil for instructional mate-
findings, as well as studies of individual programs, rials and short-cycle assess-
weve identified the resources needed to support ments, and $250 per pupil for student extracurricular
these best practices (see our adequacy studies on activities including athletics, student clubs, and other In brief, the resources are: service opportunities.
These resources and the strategies they support
Small class sizes. Provide core teachers at ratios of are likely not the only way to dramatically boost stu-
15:1 in grades K-3 and 25:1 in grades 4-12. How- dent achievement, but they offer a good approxi-
ever, fund all the resources identified below before mation of what we now know from research and
expending additional resources on smaller classes. best practices about the fiscal side of dramatically
Elective teachers. Provide that 20% of all teachers boosting student performance.
in elementary and middle schools and 33% of all
middle and high school teachers are elective teach- Strategy #4. Reallocate resources
ers. This would allow all schools to provide a full to meet the new vision.
liberal arts curriculum plus a range of electives, with Weve estimated what these recommendations
ample provision for planning and collaborative time would cost in each of the 50 states, including ad-
for all teachers. justing the funding by state-specific percentages of
Professional development. Ensure that teachers poverty, ELL, and handicapped students, and us-
work and are paid for 10 pupil-free days above ing state specific average prices (Odden, Picus, &
the standard 180 instructional days, and use those Goetz, 2009). Our research shows that 20 states
days for professional development. Provide school- mostly in the Midwest and the East already
based instructional coaches at the rate of one coach provide more funding than these recommendations
position for every 200 students. Allocate $100 per require, often as much as $2,000 to $3,000 more per
pupil for trainers, who could either be central office pupil. Another 20 states provide less funding than
staff or consultants, and other related costs. needed to support the resources identified above,
which means that absent new sources of revenue,
Multiple resources for struggling students. Provide districts and schools in those states need to be more
one tutor position for every 100 students from a pov- strategic about how they use their funds. The other
erty background (with at least one in every school of 10 states provide funding at about the level sug-
about 500 students.). Extend the school day and pro- gested through our research, suggesting that they
vide summer school programs with class size limited could come very close to deploying all the strate-
to 15 students. Provide one ESL teacher position gies behind these recommendations with modest
for every 100 ELL students. Allocate $25 for every adjustments in their class size practices.
student enrolled in the district for services for gifted
students. For students with mild and moderate dis- Schools funded at or above these levels
abilities, ensure one special education teacher posi- Their task is to understand and adopt the vision,
tion and half of an instructional aide position for ev- and reallocate staffing resources toward these strate-
ery 150 enrolled students. Ensure full state funding gies over a number of years.
for children with severe and profound disabilities.
Pupil support. Allocate funds to support guidance Schools facing budget reductions
counselors and nurses augmented by additional po- Use the core recommendations to help determine
sitions (e.g., family liaison) at the rate of one more which cuts will have the least impact on student
Summer Issue #3 29
performance for example, slightly larger classes, week for collaborative work, even if it means
fewer instructional aides, less focus on pullout reme- increasing class sizes.
dial programs, and fewer administrators.
4. Provide all of the resources to help teachers
and students especially instructional coaches
Schools with inadequate resources to fund this model and staff for extra help strategies by
We suggest five macro-strategies for allocating varying class size, if necessary allowing class
scarce dollars: size in secondary schools to rise substantially
before reducing the instructional coach and
1. Use these staffing recommendations as a extra help staff.
general guideline, and reallocate current staff
to these configurations. 5. If increasing class size still doesnt enable
2. Be flexible about class size. the school to fund the necessary staff, then
consider reducing, but not eliminating
3. Organize schools so that all key teacher instructional coaching, extended day and
groups have at least three 45-minute periods a summer school, and lastly, tutoring staff.

FIG. 1
Proposed Teacher Salary Schedule Based on Multiple Measures of Teacher Effectiveness

level BA MA MA 60/Doctorate
Entry 1 $40,000 $41,600 $43,264
Level 1 Effectiveness 2 $40,600 $42,224 $43,913
3 $41,209 $42,857 $44,572
Emerging Professional 1 $45,330 $47,143 $49,029
Level 2 Effectiveness 2 $46,010 $47,850 $49,764
3 $46,700 $48,568 $50,511
4 $47,400 $49,297 $51,268
5 $48,112 $50,036 $52,037
6 $48,833 $50,787 $52,818
Professional 1 $53,716 $55,865 $58,100
Level 3 Effectiveness 2 $54,522 $56,703 $58,971
3 $55,340 $57,554 $59,856
4 $56,170 $58,417 $60,754
5 $57,013 $59,293 $61,665
6 $57,868 $60,183 $62,590
Master 1 $63,655 $66,201 $68,849
Level 4 Effectiveness 2 $64,610 $67,194 $69,882
3 $65,579 $68,202 $70,930
4 $66,562 $69,225 $71,994
5 $67,561 $70,263 $73,074
6 $68,574 $71,317 $74,170

Percent increase for effectiveness level 10.0%

Percent increase for step 1.5%
Math and science incentive 10.0%
MA or MA60/Doctorate in license field 4.0%
National Board Certification 10.0%

30 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #3


Rethinking teaching compensation

ts time to rethink a teachers effectiveness stays bonus programs for individual only way to address pension
how educators are at level 3, his or her salary will teachers or all faculty in grades or change is to shift pension
paid. Weve argued always be lower than the salary schools could and we argue responsibility from employers
elsewhere that the current for teachers in level 4. should be provided on top to employees by moving from
teacher salary schedule of these base salary schedules defined benefit to defined
is antiquated (Odden, Third, the largest pay increases (Milanowski, 2008). contribution plans (e.g. 401ks),
2008a). Beyond the first three are provided when the This approach to compensation there is an alternative. Several
or four years, experience is not effectiveness measures indicate would structure base pay for companies, including IBM, have
linked to teacher effectiveness, performance at a higher level. teachers and principals on their adopted cash balance plans.
and except for graduate degrees instructional (or leadership) Such funds share a number of
in the area of licensure, neither Fourth, this schedule shows effectiveness and provide common qualities:
are education units or degrees. some step increases within bonuses for directly improving
And there is nothing linked each level; fewer or more steps student performance. Finally, if Cash balance plans are
directly to student performance. could be provided, but the desired, the system could even individually based; each worker
As a result, the current teacher highest step in each category eliminate automatic pay increases has his or her own cash
salary structure provides weak is, and should be, lower than by specifying an annual salary balance fund.
if any incentives for the core the first step in the next highest increase pool, and then establish
goals of the education system effectiveness level. priorities for how the pool would Both the employer and
improved teaching and learning. be allocated to the various employee contribute to the
As the country develops new Fifth, this basic structure can compensation elements. fund monthly based on agreed-
approaches to teacher evaluation, be augmented with incentives upon relative shares from each
including multiple measures of a for teachers in areas for which party.
there are teacher shortages, Personnel benefits
teachers instructional practice The issue of benefits is too
and multiple indicators of impact such as math and science, as They are portable. Contributions
complex to cover completely
on student learning, states and well as provide an additional are provided wherever one
in this article and, in the short
districts will have metrics they incentive for certification works, eliminating the inequity
term, there are few options for
can use to redesign teacher from the National Board to individuals who move and
reducing benefit costs. For the
salary structures, such as the one for Professional Teaching cant take their pension benefits
most part, the only realistic
displayed in Figure 1. Standards. with them.
short-term solution is to increase
There are several points to briefly the employee share of the costs
This structure would transform The value of each individuals
note about this salary structure, in places where employees have,
how teachers are paid, by linking pension fund is linked to
for which the numbers, steps, to date, only paid for a small
the level of pay to the level of the contributions made to it
and columns are only illustrative: portion of health and pension
effectiveness, a goal long sought over their work life, and can
benefit costs.
by policy makers and education be turned into an annuity at
First, the various performance
leaders. In addition a salary The major longer-term issue is to retirement. Payouts would
categories would be driven
structure of this type is affordable address pensions for educators. not be artificially increased by
by multiple measures of
by almost all school districts if they In addition to substantial significantly larger salaries in
effectiveness and the higher
reallocate current salary dollars to unfunded liabilities in many their last few years of work,
the effectiveness level, the
this structure over time (Odden, states, a number of research artificial retirement multipliers,
greater the salary.
2008b), and assuming the overall studies now show that educator or other options that often
Second, movement up the system develops the multiple pensions: are inequitably inflate pension fund liabilities.
schedule is determined by effectiveness indicators needed distributed; redistribute pension
the level of effectiveness. to operate it. A similar structure resources from younger to Though states would need to
Young super stars, if theyre could be developed for principals. older teachers; discriminate determine how pension costs
really effective, can get to the against educators who move would be shared, cash balance
School systems could use such
top levels more quickly; as across state lines; and can be plans would eliminate pension
structures and NOT provide
effectiveness indicators show gamed to pay large pensions underfunding because pension
automatic pay increases every
they meet the standards for by inflating salaries in the last contributions would be made
year. Each year, a district would
the next higher performance years of service. Consequently monthly by law, would make
first determine how much
category they can skip steps many pension plans are not pension amounts fairer by having
additional money was available
in the schedule and jump up economically aligned with them vest immediately with the
for salaries. The district would
to the higher salary category. lifetime pension contributions employee regardless of where
then decide priorities for salary
But salaries are capped and the investment gains linked the individual worked, and link
increases, such as funding all
(except for periodic market to contributions to those plans them appropriately to the work
effectiveness level increases first,
adjustments) by the top step in (Costrell & Podgursky, 2010). life contributions and investments
then subject-area shortages, and
each effectiveness level, so if then step increases. In addition, Though many believe that the gains of each individual.

Summer Issue #3 31

These macro-principles for resource realloca- help close the black-white achievement gap? (Working paper
tion have emerged from working sessions with #451). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University. www.irs.princeton.
faculty and administrators in the schools and dis- edu/pubs/pdfs/451.pdf.
tricts where weve worked. Milanowski, A. (2008). How to pay teachers for student
In those schools, small class performance outcomes. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin,
20 states mostly in the size wasnt a prime consid- Wisconsin Center for Education Research, Consortium for
Midwest and the East eration. Instead, they felt Policy Research in Education, Strategic Management of
instructional coaches were
already provide more funding necessary to improve core Human Capital.

than these recommendations classroom instruction for all Nye, B.A., Hedges, L.V., & Konstantopulos, S. (2001). The

require; 20 states provide less. students, and they felt time long-term effects of small classes in early grades: Lasting
for teacher collaboration benefits in mathematics achievement at grade nine. Journal of
during the regular school day Experimental Education, 69 (3), 245-258.
was critical to improve core instruction. They also Nye, B., Hedges, L.V., & Konstantopulos, S. (2002). Do low-
argued that teacher tutors were the most effective, achieving students benefit more from small classes? Evidence
initial intervention strategy for struggling students, from the Tennessee class-size experiment. Educational
particularly for reading (Odden & Archibald, 2009). Evaluation & Policy Analysis, 24 (3), 201-217.
This overall school vision and these particular
staffing formulas and configurations provide guid- Odden, A. (2008a). New teacher pay structures: The
ance for estimating an adequate level of education compensation side of the strategic management of human
funding. They can serve as a structure when schools capital. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, Wisconsin
with greater resources face budget reductions, and Center for Education Research, Consortium for Policy
offer guidance to schools with fewer resources as Research in Education, Strategic Management of Human
they face further cuts. They can also help schools Capital.
determine how best to benefit from any increases Odden, A. (2008b). How to fund teacher compensation
in revenues. changes. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, Wisconsin
Conclusion Center for Education Research, Consortium for Policy
Research in Education, Strategic Management of Human
Despite tight budgets, all schools across the coun- Capital.
try can and must continue to focus resources on im-
proving instructional practice and student learning. Odden, A. (2009). Ten strategies for doubling student
Though some schools clearly have more flexibility performance. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
than others, most schools probably need to engage Odden, A.R. & Archibald, S.J. (2009). Doubling student
in some instructional revisioning and staff reallo- performance . . . and finding the resources to do it. Thousand
cation. The current fiscal shortcomings buffeting Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
schools shouldnt be used as a rationale for failure
to make continued progress toward higher levels Odden, A.R. & Picus, L.O. (2008). School finance: A policy
of student achievement. Despite the recent budget perspective, 4th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
cuts, the United States spends over $500 billion on Odden, A.R., Picus, L.O., & Goetz, M.E. (2009). A
public K-12 education including many billions for 50-state strategy to achieve school finance adequacy.
students who need extra help to meet state standards. Educational Policy.
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boost student learning and close existing achieve- Picus, L.O., Odden, A., Aportela, A., Mangan, M.T., & Goetz,
ment gaps. The country needs this performance for M. (2008). Implementing school finance adequacy: School
its economy, and each child needs it in order to fully level resource use in Wyoming following adequacy-oriented
participate in family, work, and our democracy in the finance reform. North Hollywood, CA: Lawrence O. Picus and
future. K Associates. Prepared for the Wyoming Legislative Service
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Roza, M. (2010). Educational economics: Where do school
Costrell, R.M. & Podgursky, M. (Eds.). (2010). Rethinking funds go? Washington, DC: The Urban Institute Press.
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Snyder, T.D., & Dillow, S.A. (2010). Digest of Education
Finance and Policy, 5 (4).
Statistics, 2009. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of
Krueger, A.B. & Whitmore, D.M. (2001). Would smaller classes Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

32 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #3

Professional development guide to:
Improving teaching and learning when
budgets are tight
By Allan Odden and Lawrence O. Picus
Phi Delta Kappan, 93 (1), 42-48


KEY SENTENCE: Schools can improve learning and teaching using research-based and best practices-based
strategies that in many cases dont require more money and in others where more money will help if its spent


Education budgets are imploding . . . at the same time that there are growing expectations for improved
student performance, better teachers, and closing the achievement gap.
The authors suggest ve strategies for meeting higher expectations with less money.
Strategy #1: Resist the cost pressures on schools, especially public pressures to fund traditional aspects of
education, such as reduced class sizes, a panoply of electives, and automatic pay raises.
Strategy #2: Develop a more powerful school vision of redesigned schools that, with current funding (or
less), increase achievement based on effective use of current data from a variety of sources; set very high
and ambitious goals regardless of school demographics; adopt new curriculum and materials; invest in
professional development such as coaching and organizing teachers into collaborative groups; providing extra
help to struggling students; and distributing leadership among talented staff.
Strategy #3: Identify necessary resources to meet the new school vision by studying resources needed to
support best practices, such as having optimal class sizes; 20%-30% elective teachers on the faculty; at least
10 student-free days for professional development; tutors, extended day, and summer programs for struggling
students; student support positions; help (including duty relief) for administrators and teachers; and up to $700
per pupil for technologies, instructional materials and assessments, and extracurricular activities.
Strategy #4: Reallocate resources to meet the new school vision, including using existing staff in new ways
that focus on helping students learn. With 20 states providing more than the authors recommended funding,
10 providing funding at the suggested level, the authors provide five macro strategies for the 20 states that
provide less funding.
Strategy #5: Rethink teacher compensation, including new approaches for evaluation and multiple measures
of student achievement; they also consider benefits and pensions.

Strategy #5 brings to mind the mid-1990s research of William L. Sanders and others at the University of Tennessee
Value-Added Research and Assessment Center who suggested a relationship between effective/noneffective
teaching and current and future student achievement. Their research was the foundation for many policy decisions,
including alignment of teacher compensation with student achievement.

In a research progress report, Cumulative and Residual Effects of Teachers on Future Student Academic
Achievement (1996), Sanders and June C. Rivers summarized their findings:

Differences in student achievement of 50 percentile points were observed as a result of teacher sequence
after only three years.
The effects of teachers on student achievement are both additive and cumulative with little evidence of
compensatory effects.
As teacher effectiveness increases, lower-achieving students are the rst to benet. The top quintile of
teachers facilitate appropriate to excellent gains for students of all achievement levels.
Students of different ethnicities respond equivalently within the same quintile of teacher effectiveness.

Summer Issue #3 33

Choose one or more of these individual inquiry topics for thinking and writing.

1. To what extent is there a budget crisis in your district? How have conditions for teaching and learning
changed as a result of this crisis?

2. Have expectations for student achievement increased, decreased, or remained relatively the same?

3. Would you agree with the authors that schools and teachers are caught in this double squeeze?

4. What kind of competition (charter, private, or religious schools) do public schools have in your community?
What are the results of competition?

5. In what ways do schools need to be redesigned to enhance student achievement? What are the budget
implications of school redesign?

6. What are the typical class sizes in your district for primary students? Elementary students? Middle school
students? High school students? What are the effects of these class sizes?

7. Have there been staff reductions in your local schools? What have been the effects of these reductions?

8. What do stakeholders in your local schools most want in their schools? Lower class sizes, more electives,

9. How are struggling students helped to succeed in your local schools?


The authors make the point that, while parents and others may ask for small classes or more electives, theres little
corresponding pressure other than from parents of children with disabilities to provide extra help for struggling
students. . . . Since parents of many of these students often dont have enough political clout to get these services,
the calls for smaller classes and more electives often carry the day with local school boards.

With your colleagues, create a diagram of who has the clout in your district. Consider all possibilities from business
owners to students. Represent the power each group has according to the size of the circle you create and
proximity to action. Be sure to describe what these stakeholders want with their power.

Your diagram might look like this:

Average Major
students Getting business
(engagement) things done owners (cost

Parents of Elected
special needs boards (no
children lawsuits)

34 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #3

Comments? Like
Like PDKatatwww.
Kappan www.

How to steer the tough

budget road ahead
The fiscal nightmare isnt over yet
so educators and district leaders would do
well to look ahead with no illusions and a resolve
to make the most of this difficult time.

By Frederick M. Hess

Despite the pervasive sense that K-12 schooling has been

hammered by the recent recession, K-12 spending has
fared better than one might think. Nonetheless,
things are likely to remain tight much longer
than we might wish. Knowing how to respond
to the looming challenges is something that will
pay hefty dividends in the half-decade to come.
It certainly feels like things have been tough so far. Yet, U.S. Department of
Education data show that school-district staff increased by 2.3% nationally over the
course of the Great Recession (Education Intelligence Agency, 2010). During
that same period, private-sector jobs fell by 6.8%. While national per-pupil
spending data isnt tallied yet for the last two years, state legislatures have
generally sought to protect K-12 while taking enormous bites out of spending
on public safety, transportation, higher education, and other services.
Unfortunately, national education leaders have too rarely been candid with educators and communi-
ties about where matters stand. In 2010, while touting the $10-billion federal Edujobs bill, Secretary of
Education Arne Duncan said that while we want people to be responsible to be efficient, districts had
This article
was originally
FREDERICK M. HESS ( is director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, Washington, published in Phi
D.C., author of the Education Week blog Rick Hess Straight Up, and co-editor of Stretching the School Dollar (Harvard Education Delta Kappan, 93
Press, 2010). (2), 57-61.

Summer Issue #3 35

already been cutting for five or seven years and had More specifically, four factors will continue to
cut through . . . fat, through flesh, and into bone squeeze states and districts. First, schools have been
(U.S. Department of Education, 2010). But Dun- cushioned for most of the past two years by tens of
cans claims were inaccurate. The National Center billions in federal stimulus aid, and then by 2010s
for Education Statistics, for instance, reports that, Edujobs bill. Those dollars are now almost tapped
nationally, per-pupil spending increased 16% from out, leaving districts that used them to minimize cuts
2000 to 2007. Indeed, nominal per-pupil spending in staff or services in a position where theyre about
rose every year from 1933 until 2007. to confront dramatic shortfalls. CBPP has noted that
in fiscal 2011, states had approximately $59 billion
in federal aid to assist in closing budget shortfalls
that totaled some $130 billion. For 2012, states are
already reporting shortfalls that total $112 billion
with only $6 billion still available.
The reality is that school Second, while the worst of the real estate col-
lapse is past, the impact on property tax collections
district budgets are likely to be hasnt yet fully rippled through. Homeowners are
constrained at least through 2015. well aware that state property tax assessments tend
to lag market valuation by two to three years. That
means most states are still collecting property taxes
based on 2008 or 2009 valuations. With most ex-
perts expecting residential real estate to bottom in
2012, and commercial real estate to bottom in 2012
While educators hope better days are just around or 2013, there will be a downward gravitational pull
the corner, the reality is that school district budgets on property tax revenues until 2014 or 2015. Given
are likely to be constrained at least through 2015. For that property tax revenues account nationally for al-
starters, the Center for Budget and Policy Priori- most 30% of school spending, the challenge is clear.
ties noted in March that, The upcoming fiscal year Third, states are and will continue to be squeezed
(FY2012) is shaping up as one of the most difficult by underfunded pension and health care systems in
budget years on record for states. Thus far, some years ahead. That means fewer dollars for other ser-
44 states and the District of Colum- vices, including current school spending. The most
bia are projecting budget shortfalls recent analysis by the Pew Center on the States in
totaling $112 billion for fiscal year spring 2011 reported that the gap between promised
2012. CBPP also reports, Al- public employee retirement benefits and the money
ready, some 26 states are pro- set aside to fund them grew to at least $1.26 trillion
jecting shortfalls totaling $75 in fiscal year 2009. In fiscal 2009, 31 states were be-
billion for FY 2013 . . . Once low the 80% funded threshold (Pew Center on the
all states have prepared es- States, 2011).
timates, this total is likely Finally, state budgets are under growing pres-
to grow. sure, particularly when it comes to health care. In
Unemployment fiscal 2010, Medicaid eclipsed K-12 education as
is expected to re- the single most expensive item in state budgets. Na-
main above 8% into tionally, state-run health insurance programs con-
2012 and above 6% sume almost 22% of state spending, while growing
through 2015. While by 8.2% last year (Vestal, 2011). When the stimulus
the worst of the recession dollars targeted to help states with Medicaid bills
may be over, Nobel Prize- are gone next year, states will have to find a way to
winning economist Joseph replace about $60 billion a year.Looking forward,
Stiglitz cautions: This is an the 2010 Affordable Health Care Act means states
anemic recovery . . . and is likely will be shouldering substantial new health care obli-
to remain anemic (Heath & gations starting in 2014. The Congressional Budget
Salamat, 2010). Stateline reported Office projects that health care reform will boost
in January that revenues while state Medicaid enrollment by at least 16 million
up a bit now plunged so deeply in between 2014 and 2019, and one recent report from
2008 and 2009 that it will take years for the Senate Finance Committee predicts that this
many states to return to levels they saw will cost states at least $118 billion through 2023
before the recession (Goodman, 2011). (Fox, 2011).
36 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #3
The upshot? Good times are not just around the or Internet connectivity, they just added these to ev- The Shrinking
corner. Rather, at least for the next half-decade, edu- erything already in place. This dynamic may be why Schoolhouse
cators are facing what Secretary Duncan has termed education is the only professional sector that seems
the new normal. After three generations in which to have realized no increase in productivity since the
national, nominal per-pupil spending went up every introduction of the personal computer.


Good times are not just around the One superintendent asserted, It is impossible to
make cuts in a district and not have it impact teachers
corner. and students. We cut a secretary, and many tasks are
As dollars for schools
decline, K-12 schools
now falling to teachers. This takes up their precious need to reduce staff
and focus efforts. How
time to prepare for students. We cut a technology do schools realistically
single year, learning to operate in an environment integration person, and now teachers are having to do more with less?
of flat or declining spending is a new challenge for spend more time researching web sites and online Kappan will be publish-
most educators. Its important to know how not to projects. We cut a mail delivery person, and now sec- ing articles related to
this throughout the
respond, and then to start thinking proactively about retaries and paras are having to do curbside pickup year. We are seeking
how to find the silver lining in this cloud. and drop-off of mail so the mail can travel on buses. manuscripts that help
By this logic, no organization not the U.S. mili- educators address
tary, not the U.S. Postal Service, not General Mo- these issues:
FIRST, WHAT NOT TO DO . . . tors can ever make cuts or trim personnel without
A clinic in how not to respond was provided by in- compromising quality. In fact, lots of organizations What ideas will benefit
school and district
terviews in the 2011 Phi Delta Kappan article Lead- have made cuts that seemed painful but ultimately leaders as they balance
ing Through a Fiscal Nightmare, in which a variety boosted productivity, strengthened the culture, and conflicting needs and
of comments by superintendents and principals re- left them more nimble. Obviously, cutting in dumb conflicting challenges?
vealed four common fallacies likely to alienate sup- ways such as zeroing out music, art, or sports What disasters are
looming as budgets
porters (Ginsberg & Multon, 2011). to save small dollars has an adverse impact. The shrink?
challenge for leaders is to use rough periods as an
opportunity to prune in smart ways so their organiza- If teachers are a finite
One leader said, I feel as though I am at a point tions emerge leaner and healthier. To act otherwise resource, how can
where I have to say that it is OK for some kids to fail is to abdicate responsibility. schools/districts best
because we cannot provide the extra help they need. deploy them where
MISTAKE #4: ALLOWING RATHER THAN they matter the most?
When parents lose their jobs, or take a pay cut, they
dont say, Its now OK for my kid to go foodless. CONDEMNING UNACCEPTABLE EMPLOYEE
What is the role of
When police budgets are cut, wed be furious if the RESPONSES.
technology in helping
police said, Hey, we cant keep you safe. Its fine Said one principal, I was and continue to be sur- schools work smaller
for educators to look askance at vacuous declarations prised at how some people react. I had typically rea- and smarter?

that all children will learn. Whats not OK is to use sonable people telling me that they werent going
budget cuts as an excuse to accept mediocrity to If schools and districts
to do their job . . . I feel we have taken a huge step
must abandon the 25-
say, Well, we used to think no one should fail, but backwards in our communication, trust, and cooper- to-1 student-to-teacher
now weve changed our mind. Every leader, public ation. So, we have more work to do and are working model, what other
and private, has good budget years and bad ones. together more poorly. The principal should have models could be ad-
opted to ensure high-
Responsible leaders make it their mission to do the been outraged rather than calmly relaying the em- quality learning?
very best they can with the resources they have. ployee reaction; he should have expressed disbelief

that reasonable people were declaring an intention Are there examples of
to shortchange children. Until that kind of sentiment schools and districts
routinely draws an appropriately fierce public reac- that have successfully
One leader insisted, You cant push forward with tion from leaders, instead of a watery we have taken reduced themselves
and continued to
new innovations without the funding to see them a huge step backwards in our communication, its provide high-quality
through. Thats just silliness. The most innovative tough to make the case that the public can be confi- learning for students?
organizations in the world tend to be cash-poor start- dent that new funds will be well spent.
Submit manuscripts
ups. They rely on moxie, creativity, and elbow grease. What to do? The winning course, given that fami-
to manuscripts@
In schooling, innovation has typically meant layer- lies, i.e., taxpayers, across America have lost jobs and
ing new dollars and programs atop everything that homes, and had to tighten their belts, is to recognize
came before. So, districts didnt rethink staffing or that things are tough all over and then protect kids
school libraries when they got classroom computers and programs by optimizing spending, rethinking
Summer Issue #3 37
instructional delivery, or finding ways for adults to that can take root, and how leaner, efficiency-hun-
shoulder the load. gry organizations create an environment that attracts
and energizes talent.
TOUGH TIMES ARE AN OPPORTUNITY The Council of Great City Schools, the nations
Michigan state treasurer Andy Dillon, whose primary coalition of big-city districts, has launched
state knows something about dealing with wrench- a Performance Measurement and Benchmarking
ing economic challenges after the travails of the Project that allows urban school systems to com-
auto industry, has encouraged states to view tough pare their operational and financial efficiency against
budgetary conditions as an opportunity to pursue their peers. In the first few years of the project, dis-
reform. We have to do what General Motors did tricts have saved millions by improving the efficiency
to itself, Dillon said. It wasnt until [General Mo- of their custodians, bus fleets, procurement opera-
tors] hit the wall that the real structural changes tions, and electricity use. CGCSs roster of power-
happened. We have a small window of opportu- ful diagnostic tools will prove useful to any district
nity to make structural, long-term changes to state (Casserly, 2010).
government to avoid hitting a similar wall. That University of Washington scholar Marguerite
time is now. Roza has shown how districts can use unit-cost anal-
yses of programs and practices to identify savings
(2010). In one district, for example, cheerleading
The most innovative organizations cost the district $1,348 per cheerleader. The prob-
lem: cheerleading was offered as a class, requiring a
in the world rely on moxie, creativity, salaried teacher. The superintendent shifted cheer-
leading to after-school status, saving tens of thou-
and elbow grease. sands of dollars without eliminating any opportu-
Boosting productivity requires grappling with
Educators would do well to embrace that same the cost of teaching. Teacher salaries and benefits
kind of mindset. Fortunately, as contributors ex- amount to half or more of district spending. The
plored in my 2010 book Stretching the School Dollar, most promising way to control costs without slashing
education leaders have a wealth of ways to control services is to get more value out of each employee.
spending by tightening operations, rethinking staff- While American schools have been in a multi-de-
ing, and using technology in more powerful ways. cade push for class-size reduction cutting student-
Lets be blunt: No one makes tough choices in teacher ratios from 23:1 in the early 1970s to about
flush times. The leaders of any organization would 15:1 today this massive increase in staffing has
rather sidestep problems than confront them. It shown no evidence of academic benefits. Smaller
doesnt matter if youre a tough-minded, for-profit classes are attractive in the abstract, but its also the
CEO or a cuddly koala of a nonprofit executive; no- case that the need to hire more bodies dilutes the
body is eager to squeeze salaries, shut down ineffi- quality of teacher selection and training. Indeed,
cient programs, seek out savings, or trim employees some high-performing nations, like South Korea
when they can avoid it. A manager who tries when and Singapore, have some middle school and high
times are good is just a mean-spirited S.O.B. who school classes that are much larger than the Ameri-
alienates staff and creates disruptions. Thats why can norm. Increasing aggregate student-teacher ra-
recessions, threats posed by new competitors, diffi- tios by about two students, from 15:1 to 17:1, could
cult fund-raising cycles, and the like are so beneficial yield savings of nearly 10% when it comes to district
for organizations. They make possible the occasional salary and benefits.
pruning. They allow managers to tackle problems Another key to getting much more bang for the
that otherwise get swept under the carpet. buck is to explore how to seize on the transformative
Tough times come to serve as a healthful (if bit- power of education technology. Unfortunately, too
ter) tonic by forcing leaders to identify priorities often, education leaders, industry shills, and tech-
and giving them political cover to trim the fat. Un- nology enthusiasts seem to insist that the technol-
fortunately, most districts havent had a meaning- ogy itself will be a difference-maker. Fact is, its the
ful house cleaning in decades. Consequently, in my rethinking that matters, not the technology. The
experience, I have found district after district to be promise lies in using these tools to solve problems
careless about deploying talent, undisciplined at the more smartly, deliver knowledge, support students,
negotiating table, and lax about pursuing operational reimagine instruction, refashion cost structures, and
efficiencies. This is not just about making sure re- challenge students in new ways. Put another way:
sources are better used. Its also about the lethargy The greatest power in emerging technologies is the
38 Must-Reads from Kappan, 2011-12/Summer Issue #3
opportunity to reconsider whats doable. Technology picture is grimmer than we might wish, and educa-
makes it possible to deliver expertise over distances, tors and district leaders would do well to look ahead
differentiate functions of support staff and educators with no illusions and a cool resolve to make the most
and permit them to specialize, automate rote instruc- of this difficult time. K

tional tasks, and customize lesson plans and pacing

of curriculum for particular children. Embracing
technology in these ways will yield vast new oppor-
tunities for higher-quality and more cost-effective Casserly, M. (2010). Managing for results in Americas great
instructional delivery. city schools. In F. Hess & E. Osberg (Eds.), Stretching the
school dollar: How schools and districts can save money while
serving students best (pp. 97-124). Cambridge, MA: Harvard

Lets be blunt: No one makes tough Education Press.

choices in flush times. Chubb, J. (2010). More productive schools through online
learning. In F. Hess & E. Osberg (Eds.), Stretching the school
dollar: How schools and districts can save money while
serving students best (pp. 155-176). Cambridge, MA: Harvard
Hoover Institution scholar John Chubb has cal- Education Press.
culated that integrating online instruction into the
Education Intelligence Agency. (2010, October 4). Education
school day by having elementary students work
hiring grew 2.3% during recession. Elk Grove, CA: Author.
online for one hour, middle school students for two
hours, and high school students for three hours
could cut spending by perhaps 8% (or more than Fox, M. (2011, March 1). Health care law to cost states
$700 per student) in the typical district (Chubb, $118 billion, Republican report says. National Journal. www.
2010). The Rocketship Academies in San Jose have
used computer-assisted instruction to deliver im- 118-billion-republican-report-says-20110301
pressive results while relaxing student-teacher ra-
tios because classroom instruction is complemented Ginsberg, R. & Multon, K. (2011, May). Leading through
by technological tools. A handful of school districts the fiscal nightmare: The impact on principals and
are using providers like Rosetta Stone or superintendents. Phi Delta Kappan, 92 (8), 42-47.
in ways that start to reduce some of the burdens on
Goodman, J. (2011, January 13). State budget outlook: the
classroom teachers, creating the opportunity to take
worst isnt over. Stateline.
a fresh look at staffing approaches.
More broadly, states and districts have em-
braced accountability systems predicated on student Heath, M. & Salamat, R. (2010, August 5). Stiglitz says U.S.
achievement, but this is only half of the equation. faces anemic recovery, needs more stimulus. Bloomberg
Any well-run public or private organization cares Businessweek,
not just about outcomes but about the inputs re- stiglitz-says-anemic-u-s-recovery-means-obama-should-seek-
quired to deliver those outcomes. Today, however, more-stimulus.html
theres not a single state and precious few districts
where accountability metrics emphasize cost-ef- Pew Center on the States. (2011, April). The widening gap:
fectiveness. This is an enormous opportunity. By re- The great recessions impact on state pension and retiree
porting spending data in tandem with school and dis- health care costs. Washington, DC: Author.
trict achievement data (adjusting appropriately for
Roza, M. (2010). Now is a great time to consider per-unit
cost-of-living and student need), it becomes possible
cost of everything in education. In F. Hess, & E. Osberg
to start talking about which programs, schools, and
(Eds.), Stretching the school dollar: How schools and districts
educators are doing more with less. And it provides
can save money while serving students best (pp. 71-96).
an opportunity to ask whether seemingly impressive
Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
or disappointing results look the same once weve
considered the resources in play. If we want district U.S. Department of Education. (2010, August 10). U.S.
and school leaders to focus on maximizing bang-for- Secretary of Education Arne Duncan press conference call on
the-buck, we need to start tracking it and recognizing passage of education jobs bill. Washington, DC: Author.
those who are getting it done.
Some educators and education advocates have Vestal, C. (2011, January 14). Health care budgets in
hoped that theyve ridden out the worst and that critical condition. Stateline.
things will get better soon. Unfortunately, the fiscal story?contentId=542173

Summer Issue #3 39