August 9, 2017

Teacher Turnover Isn’t Always Negative – Just Look at D.C. Public Schools’ Results

Last week, two D.C. State Board of Education members wrote a memo to D.C. Public Schools’ new Chancellor — Antwan Wilson — asking him to focus less on district reform mandates and more on creating a culture of “transparency” and “support” in the district’s schools. The authors write that reforms such as teacher evaluation and school accountability based on student achievement have led to undesirable outcomes in the district, including higher teacher turnover. It is true that teacher turnover generally harms student achievement. However, what is true in general is not true in all places.

New data show that thanks to the teacher evaluation reform efforts in D.C. public schools (DCPS), teachers who exit the district tend to be lower performing:

Click to enlarge the image.

We also know from research that, on average, new teachers tend to be lower-performing than veteran teachers. But, that’s not what’s happening in D.C. The new teachers that D.C. has hired perform as well in their first year on the job as those they replaced:

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August 3, 2017

Executive Coaching is a Key Ingredient of Strong Leadership — Not a Luxury

As a leader, how often have you been in a position where you had to start something new — whether it was a new role or a new project — and you knew you had to bring your leadership A-game in order to empower your team to achieve a challenging task?

As we, ourselves, stepped into new roles — Lora as Chief Talent Officer at Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Paul as Dean of Students at Achievement First Crown Heights Middle School — we found ourselves in this position. We had our sights set on success, held a vision we felt passionate about, and benefitted from a highly skilled team around us, but we knew that we would only meet our goals if our entire team was invested in that vision. We quickly learned that while having a vision is easy, bringing the team along can be really tricky.

In our experience, there are several factors that make it hard for leaders to achieve their goals or lead major reform efforts:

  • Lack of candid feedback: In most organizations — and for entirely valid reasons (e.g., fear of retaliation for providing critical feedback, bad experiences with prior bosses, unconscious biases and race dynamics, etc.)  — folks don’t often give leaders candid feedback. Indeed, the more a leader is struggling, the less likely they are to receive frequent critical feedback.
  • Difficulty gaining perspective: It can be hard to understand the interpersonal dynamics that are constantly changing while you’re in the thick of day-to-day existence. Amidst a blur of meetings, deadlines, and reports, it’s challenging to get a bird’s eye view and understand the dynamics that are truly at play.
  • Blind spots: Every one of us — leaders especially — has blind spots. By definition, these are invisible to us. It’s hard to just self-reflect your way into finding your flaws. Leaders who don’t receive candid feedback often find themselves dismayed to see their flaws mirrored back to them in their team.
  • It’s hard to row alone: Even if you get great feedback and have fantastic self-awareness, who is going to help coach you to make that change? Who will hold you accountable? Who can you thought partner with?

While these challenges are real, each of us found one invaluable tool that helped our ability to grow as leaders: executive coaching. Weekly executive coaching from a trusted adviser helped Paul see how his “let’s get things done” approach disempowered and alienated some of his teammates. Since Paul still viewed himself in the role of “doer,” he did not give his team enough autonomy to lead their own work and instead stifled their energy and creativity. For Lora, coaching helped her navigate relationships and build trust with peers by listening more, asking for support instead of expecting it, and spending time in one-on-one relationship building. For both of us, coaching helped us to be stronger leaders and to empower our team to produce stronger outcomes.

Now that we sit on the other side of the table as consultants who help coach leaders, we see firsthand the advantages of external coaches. Here are some of the most important things to consider if you’re hiring a coach:

  • Ease of perspective: Just as it’s easier to see the flaws in your in-laws’ family, identifying the dysfunctions in an organization is significantly easier when you haven’t lived in that environment. Likewise, an external perspective can be just as helpful in identifying unseen strengths that can be further leveraged. When searching for a coach, look for someone who can provide a fresh perspective on your work.
  • Freedom: As external coaches, we have no “stake in the game” in terms of office politics or interpersonal relationships. This freedom allows us to voice the uncomfortable truths that are difficult for internal teammates to share and to focus solely on the development of a leader, not the advancement of any internal agenda. Beware of coaches who don’t share uncomfortable feedback with you.
  • Trust: Because leaders often report to a boss who must both coach AND evaluate them, it can be hard to develop a rapport of trust. As external consultants with no evaluative role, it’s easier for us to build a rapport of trust with leaders because their development is the only thing we have in mind. What’s most important when searching for a coach is making sure they are someone you can deeply trust.
  • Pattern recognition: Through our work with multiple leaders and organizations, it’s easy to develop an eye for patterns that repeat themselves time and again. In searching for a coach, look for someone who has worked in similar contexts or faced similar challenges as you. Their experience will allow them to spot patterns more easily.

If you find yourself in a situation similar to ours — taking on a new challenge that will require you to be a better leader — we encourage you to consider what’s riding on your success. In our experience, external coaches can be a tremendous resource in helping you to overcome some structural challenges to becoming a stronger leader and an extremely worthwhile investment, both for you and your organization.

Our closing question to you is this: what are you willing to do to become a better leader?


August 2, 2017

How to Professionalize the Early Childhood Workforce? Three Approaches for States

Right now there is little incentive to pursue a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. Degree holders have the lowest starting salary of any major, and there are limited opportunities for career advancement. But research shows the achievement gap begins before students enter kindergarten, and our littlest learners need the best teachers.

Many states are exploring ways to professionalize the early childhood workforce, and some are reforming degree and credential requirements. This year, Washington, D.C. passed legislation requiring all early childhood educators to have an associate’s degree. Other states now require a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. With this trend in mind, states should plan ahead to make early childhood education degree programs worthwhile and accessible for educators already in the field.

What can they be doing now? Here are three things states should consider to lay a solid foundation for professionalizing the early childhood workforce:

1) Guided Pathways

As it is now, many two-year institutions offer a range of options to study early childhood education: students can take a CDA preparation course or pursue a certificate, diploma, career associate’s degree, or transfer associate’s degree (to continue at a four-year institution). The differences in these programs can be unclear to students and may not align to build on each other. With confusing programs and poor advising, students end up with additional credits that don’t contribute to a degree program, wasting precious time and money.

Guided pathways require higher education leaders and faculty to redesign their offerings, creating clear outcomes for programs and credentials that build on one another. As seen below in the career map from a community college in Wisconsin, pathways clarify which degree programs are relevant for which careers and other outcomes and give students increased agency in selecting a program that fits their needs and goals.

Source: Career Pathway for Early Childhood Education at Gateway Technical College in Wisconsin [PDF]

2) Articulation Agreements

Articulation agreements are agreements between two- and four-year institutions that allow students to transfer seamlessly without losing credits. Most two-year institutions have some kind of articulation agreement, but not specifically for early childhood education. Expanding the number of early childhood bachelor degree programs at four-year institutions and ensuring every two-year institution has an articulation agreement for early childhood lays the foundation for potentially requiring early childhood educators to have bachelor degrees in the future.

Some states, such as Connecticut and Pennsylvania, have already created statewide agreements between all two- and four-year institutions for early childhood degrees, providing a model of what this could look like elsewhere.

3) Accreditation Support

Early childhood accreditation organizations, such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), work to raise the quality of early childhood programs. But accreditation can be expensive, and many schools prioritize other programs for accreditation above early childhood. State support, such as North Carolina’s innovative grant program, expands the number of accredited programs. As early childhood educators pursue a degree, the seal of accreditation provides peace of mind to students, as well as a degree program designed to meet the needs of today’s infants and toddlers.

If states aren’t already thinking about reforming the early childhood workforce, they are missing an opportunity to professionalize a field that plays a vital role in eliminating the achievement gap. For reform to be successful, institutional structures must be in place to support continuing education. If not planned correctly, the burden of mandated degree policies will rest on teachers and not successfully transform the early childhood education field.


July 28, 2017

School Choice Debates Shouldn’t Forget Rosenwald Schools

Earlier this week my colleague Andrew Rotherham wrote about the complex history of school choice efforts in the United States, and highlighted how current debates about school choice often obscure the wide diversity of school choice advocates and their motivations. Andy notes that, while some voucher and private choice efforts have been motivated by a desire to preserve segregation in education, others have been led by African American leaders and their white progressive allies seeking to expand opportunity for African American children historically underserved by public school systems.

Indeed, there is a long history of African American leaders and their white allies responding to inequities in or exclusion from established education systems by building their own institutions outside those systems. That’s the impetus behind some charter and private schools today, but has much deeper historical roots. The Freedom Schools movement during the Civil Rights Era is one example. Prior to that, the Rosenwald Schools — built with funds from both philanthropist Julius Rosenwald and matching resources and efforts from local African American communities themselves — played a crucial role in educating African American students in the first part of the 20th century. By 1928, one-third of African American children in the rural South were educated in such schools.

Rosenwald schools fell out of use following Brown v. Board of Education and the (sadly far too slow) progress of desegregation that followed, and The National Trust for Historic Preservation named them one of the 11 most endangered historic places in America. Yet those that remain are a powerful reminder that when groups of Americans are denied access to public education systems or feel those systems are not respecting their values or serving their children well — from Catholic immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries, to rural African American communities in the 1920s, to Black and Latino charter founders today — leaders within those groups will find ways to create opportunities outside established systems. Those efforts aren’t perfect, but they deserve our respect and attention to the lessons they offer — even as we seek to address inequities in established systems.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Rosenwald Schools, you can visit Fisk University’s searchable database of Rosenwald Schools or read the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Guide to Preserving Rosenwald Schools.


July 26, 2017

Four Things You Should Know About the ADA on its 27th Anniversary

Twenty seven years ago today, the first comprehensive civil rights act for individuals with disabilities was signed into law. The vote yesterday to move forward on debate for the “Obamacare” repeal has created a strange anniversary for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Now with the possible repeal of Obamacare and massive cuts to Medicaid looming, the legacy of progress for individuals with disabilities is threatened. On the anniversary of this groundbreaking bill, here are four things you should know about the ADA:

President Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. Wikimedia.

1. Like other civil rights bills, the ADA didn’t work as intended right away and was only the first step in a long process to advance civil rights for individuals with disabilities. 

Twenty seven years ago, former Senator Tom Harkin, the chief sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, proclaimed: “The ADA is indeed the 20th century emancipation proclamation for all Americans with disabilities.” He likely wasn’t aware of how unfortunately prophetic those words would become.

Harkin intended to celebrate the major breakthrough of passing comprehensive civil rights for individuals with disabilities. The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications. The law ultimately requires that buildings and transportation be wheelchair accessible, television programming have closed captioning, and that individuals with disabilities be provided with appropriate workplace accommodations.

Yet similar to the emancipation proclamation which did not end slavery, the ADA did not immediately grant full civil rights for individuals with disabilities. The path from ADA passage to ensuring individuals with disabilities received the access Congress intended included a series of setbacks. In 1999 the Supreme Court restricted the reach of the ADA’s protections by narrowly construing the definition of disability. As a result, individuals with a wide range of impairments — including cancer, epilepsy, diabetes, hearing loss, multiple sclerosis, HIV, intellectual disabilities, and post-traumatic stress disorder — were routinely found not to be disabled and therefore not covered by the ADA. This lead to the eventual passage of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), which reversed those decisions by broadening the definition of disability under the law. These Amendments also extended protections to individuals using a variety of supports including cochlear implants, hearing aids, and prosthetics.

2. Before passage of the ADA, many students with disabilities were not being educated at all.

Prior to the ADA, large numbers of children with disabilities were systematically excluded from American public schools. Many have estimated that in the early 1970s, approximately one million school-aged children with disabilities were excluded from public educational programs. Moreover, an additional three million children with disabilities attended public schools but were not provided services to meet their educational needs.

3. The ADA applies to non-religious private schools and private universities even if they do not receive federal funding.

Unless subject to the exemption for religious organizations, private schools must comply with the public accommodations portion of the ADA and ADAAA. This means private schools must ensure students with disabilities are not excluded, denied services, segregated, or treated differently than other students. These schools must also make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures that deny access unless this would result in a fundamental change in the nature of their program or result in undue administrative costs.

4. While accessibility extends to websites, the standard for web accessibility is an unsettled area of the law.

When originally enacted, the ADA did not include websites as places of “public accommodation” because the internet was still in its infancy. As internet usage has become ubiquitous and an unlimited number of goods and services have been made available online, courts have interpreted places of public accommodation to include websites.

During the Obama administration, the Office of Civil Rights required schools to make their websites accessible to the disabled. Yet, currently there is no clear legal standard that has been adopted for schools to follow. While the Department of Justice has asked for public input on website accessibility issues, their proposed rules have been delayed several times and are expected to be released in 2018.