Saturday, January 14, 2017

E, The Letter Missing from the A-F School Report Card

State legislatures have more impact on the future of education than any form of government, and school leaders, teachers, and parents of Texas public schools are gravely concerned about the impact that the new A-F Rating System will have on schools and for good reason.  This archaic form of deeming subjective proficiency served it’s purpose in the 20th century by rating and sorting students, and much evidence proves it does not accurately represent what one person, let alone an entire school, can do.    A letter grade is ambiguous.  It doesn’t tell the whole story about a student or a school, and it is a potentially reckless judgment that in the end will permanently damage more schools and communities than it will help.  

Texas legislators are determined to rollout the A-F school report card system as its answer to school accountability.  I have spent the better part of the year trying to understand this system, and now that it is out and schools have their ratings that were billed as "simple to understand and transparent" to parents and communities, I have to admit that I am more confused than ever.  After reviewing the data, I am wondering what the letters A-F really stand for.

Here are my topics & questions to pose to those interested:

Affluence - How does affluence influence an entire school's grade?
Basis - What is basis for assigning grades because it appears to be ambiguous at best and confusing at worst?
Competition - Why does this system appear to be driven by the business model of competition and survival of the "so-called" fittest instead of the medical model which saves all kids?
Diversity - Why do higher diversity & higher poverty schools have a higher probability for earning lower grades? 
Fatality - Will communities with schools that have F's be devastated.? Will low grades cause divisiveness in school communities that so badly need and deserve unity and camaraderie?

But There is One Letter Missing from this System

Where is the E? I never understood why there wasn't an E in an A-F system, and the first and biggest problem with the A-F grading system is that it is missing the most important letter, E, which stands for EVIDENCE.  There is absolutely no evidence that an A-F grading system will help schools get better at meeting the needs of all kids.  There is, however, substantial evidence from other states that supports the argument that schools receiving letter grades negatively impacts their schools.  One only has to look to the states of  Virginia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Florida, and most recently Alabama to see that the A-F system hurts schools.  In all of these states, variations of an A-F accountability system were implemented and eventually were delayed or flatly rejected by the citizenry of those states.  The evidence is conclusive.  Fair minded people know that a letter grade tells only a negative story about schools and does not accurately represent the hard work happening in schools.

What is a Grade?

Education researcher, Paul Dressel (1957), gave the most perfect definition of an A-F grading system.  He defined a grade as “an inadequate report of an inaccurate judgment by a biased and variable judge of the extent to which a student (school) has attained an undefined level of mastery of an unknown proportion of an indefinite material”. Schools and their stakeholders already know that they will be inaccurately judged by the state’s inaccurate report because there is more to a school than its performance on STAAR.  

Second, they also know that the A-F system, by design, will arbitrarily and inaccurately determine subjective proficiency based on undefined mastery.  The reason for this is simple.  The criteria for assigning the grade will be defined after kids take the test, simply because the A-F system to this day has yet to clearly define what the target is for kids and schools.  Every year, schools take the test only to find out after the fact what was required to pass the test and earn the highest rating.  That by itself is an unconscionable and a reckless thing to do to students and schools.  

Third, the STAAR test is biased against all kids because it is an assessment of an indefinite volume of curriculum and standards that very few students in the state could possibly master in a calendar year.  Furthermore, the test doesn’t represent the real learning that students need to succeed in the 21st century.   The grade will communicate little to nothing about student learning, but it will send the message loud and clear that Texas public schools are doing a poor job.

A-F destroys Communities and Hurt Teachers

The last and most important reason to oppose the A-F accountability system is because it destroys communities (especially poorer and more diverse communities), and the teachers that serve those communities.  In the days of the AEIS accountability rating system (2002 - 2011) based on the TAKS test (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills), schools earned the following ratings:  unacceptable, acceptable, recognized and exemplary.   Often times these lower ratings were imposed on schools that had higher diversity, higher poverty, more language barriers, less experienced teaching staff, and more subgroups evaluated as compared to their higher rated schools.

Further evidence, shown in the charts below of the latest A-F grades from Texas (January 2017), highlights what appears to be a forced distribution of letter grades assigned in the "what if" scenario of ratings. The charts show a clear preponderance of evidence that schools with higher levels of poverty received grades of C, D & F while schools with lesser levels of poverty received grades of A & B.

In a system that was also flatly rejected by parents, educators and communities, schools rated as exemplary and recognized benefitted directly from schools rated as acceptable and unacceptable in large part due to the negative message conveyed by the school’s rating.  No matter how much the lower rated school did for kids, the rating labeled the acceptable and unacceptable schools as dismal failures.  When schools received their ratings accompanied by a litany of potential sanctions and punitive actions for underperformance, lower rated schools saw many higher performing teachers resign to move to higher rated schools.  Additionally, the movement of higher performing teachers to higher rated schools created a vacuum in the lower rated schools which left openings (once occupied by highly successful teachers) to be filled in many cases by either new teachers, less experienced teachers, or in some cases uncertified teachers.  In short, lower rated schools often faced greater challenges educating students, and those challenges were left to be addressed by a less experienced staff each year.  Kids in lower rated schools were hurt by the negative message communicated by a low rating, based on one test on one day.

Are You For or Against Texas Public Schools?

Legislators must decide whether or not they want to help 5.2 million students or not.  If they are for Texas public schools, then they must explain to constituents how labeling 90% of schools as average or even deplorable will help kids, support schools and make the teaching profession attractive.  The A-F School Rating System will do little more than exacerbate the false narrative that Texas public schools are failing.  From the parent, educator, and board member perspective, there is great concern that A-F will create an even larger dilemma because schools will be required to be labeled as failures no matter how well they perform.  Additionally this forced failure model will quickly create a culture of fear that will scare the very best teachers away from the most challenging schools to run for the perceived safety of higher rated schools.  Schools that are predominantly rated as C, D and F (55% of Texas public schools) will inevitably be left with more vacancies in critical teaching fields that will in many cases be filled by applicants that are less experienced and less equipped to meet the diverse needs of students.  Furthermore, the rating system will inevitably create a culture of fear that will dissuade potential teachers currently in high school and college from pursuing the profession.  A-F will ultimately make the teacher profession less desirable and less attractive than ever before, and in the end, communities with these lower rated schools and the students in them will be negatively impacted for years to come.   There is nothing in the A-F system that will help schools, educators, and students grow in their learning, and for this reason all Texas should adamantly oppose this system or any other rating system like it.

Friday, December 30, 2016

4 Steps to Make your New Year's Resolution STICK this Year

Another year is coming to an end, and now it's time to make that dreaded New Year's Resolution.  That means it's time to lose weight, be a better person, do something different that you haven't done before. You know.  Make a promise that chances are you probably won't keep.


The reason that New Year's Resolutions rarely work is because they lack structure, and they are rarely SMART.

  • Strategic, 
  • Measureable, 
  • Attainable, 
  • Results-Oriented and 
  • Timebound

Furthermore, they don't consider your hierarchy of real priorities.

  1. Spiritual or Emotional Health
  2. Physical Health
  3. Family Unit Health
  4. Professional Health
At the end of the day, you must be healthy mentality and emotionally before you can tackle your health, your family unit, or even your professional growth.

When you fail to plan, you make a plan to fail, so this year, let's make a plan, but let's make it comprehensive.  After all, if you want to succeed in your growth, you've got to make a plan to make it happen.

4 Steps to Make your New Year's Resolution STICK this Year

1.  Spiritual or Emotional Health
  • What kind of growth would you like to see in yourself emotionally?
  • What specifically will you do to strengthen your faith or spiritual health? (Bible study, books, podcasts, church, seeking counsel from a friend, mentor or advisor)
  • How many times per week will you do that and for how long each time?
  • How will you know if you have reached your goal?
  • Who will be your accountability partner to ensure that you do it?
  • Make a calendar appointment or set alarms NOW to remind yourself to do it.

2. Physical Health
  • What do you want to change about your health?
  • What type of exercise do you want to engage in to accomplish it?
  • How many times per week will you work out and for how long each time?
  • Who will be your accountability partner to ensure that you do it?
  • Make a calendar appointment or set alarms NOW to remind yourself to do it.

3. Family Unit Health
  • What is the goal that you want to have for your family unit?
  • How will you accomplish that goal?  Date nights, family picnics or excursions, family dinner, etc).
  • Where will you schedule this into your calendar?
  • How will members of your family ensure that you do it?
  • Make a calendar appointment or set alarms NOW to remind yourself to do it.

4. Professional Health
  • List the 5 - 10 things that you want to get better at in your work?
  • Out of the list, name ONLY the top 2 things that will benefit your professional growth most.
  • Make a plan to dedicate your time to improve in those 2 target areas?
  • Who will be your accountability partner to ensure that you do it?
  • How will you know when you've reached your goal.
  • Make a calendar appointment or set alarms NOW to remind yourself to do it.

Resolutions Start with Structure and Sustain with Decluttering
If you want your resolution to succeed, you have to start, and then you must remember to give yourself permission to say NO to anything that doesn't fit into your top 4 priorities.  In this world of perpetual busyness, we lose sight of our real business which is self-improvement and making a small dent in the universe.  SMART and structured resolutions work when we ensure their success by accompanying them with accountability.  

Don't make this New Year's Resolution become another one that you add to the list of failures from years before.  Make 2017 a year that you and those around you will never forget.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The 8 Accelerators of Change

Change is the driving force in progressive organizations, but in the hands of the wrong leader, it's more of a wedge than a force. That is the funny thing about change. It is successful only if the leader remembers that his job is not to make the change but to create a culture that instinctively and continuously changes each and every day.

Great leaders become great only after they understand that their first job is to create a culture that thrives on purposeful change.  In fact they embrace the fact that culture is the accelerator of change.  Toxic cultures avoid change by taking their foot off of the pedal and slamming the brakes, but excited and engaged cultures not only push the gas.  They put the pedal to the metal.

The 8 Accelerators of Change
The bottom line is this.  Great leaders understand that change can only be made by people, not the leader, and when more people are making change, the organization is accelerating change.   There are 8 accelerators that leaders must consider if they want to make change and make it rapidly.  The better leaders get at employing these accelerators, the more change and the more sustained change they will see.

Here are 8 strategies that great leaders employ to get substantial change.
  1. How you treat people,
  2. How you listen to people,
  3. How you create a system of continuous improvement,
  4. How you confront change decelerators (negative people, confusion, frustration),
  5. How you invite people and new ideas to the table of change,
  6. How you empower others to lead change with you,
  7. How you communicate the positive growth along the way,
  8. How you reflect, refine and revise change along the way.
Change is hard, but it's really hard in a negative culture.  Change is implemented easiest when leaders remember that they're not there to change an organization.  They're called to change people.  They're called to change minds and the paradigms inside them.  If leaders will always remember that leadership is about influence, empowerment and instilling confidence in followers, change will not only happen.  It will happen at a rapid rate.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The LeadLearner Top 10 of 2016

For me, 2016 has been a fantastic year.  In 12 rapidly short months, I had some awesome experiences.

  • I moved into my first superintendent role at Blue Ridge ISD, and I couldn't have asked for a better school district to work for.  
  • I wrote my first book, "A Leader's Guide to Excellence in Every Classroom", and 
  • I wrote a whole lot of thoughts to share with you.
As we finish up 2016, I'd like to share my Top 10 List of 2016 to give you some ideas that resonated with a lot of people.  I hope you enjoy the remainder of 2016 and gear your mind ready to make your New Year's Resolution for 2017

The LeadLearner Top 10 of 2016

What was your favorite post that I shared with you this year?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Greatest Enemy Against Public Education

Like most states, Texas is about to enter a very dynamic legislative session. There will be lots of people advocating for a variety of things that they believe will be in the best interest of 5.2 million kids. Some are against public education and want to see it greatly restructured if not eradicated, while others will be advocating strongly for strengthening public education.  Whether you like it or not, something is going to change in the public education system for our children.

But Here is the Scary Part 

In this session there is a great enemy lurking in the midst.  There is something out there that is silently killing public education. It is not the Democrats, and no, it's not the Republicans either. 

The greatest enemy against public education is Apathy.

Our government is established on this very principle. It should be of the people, by the people, and for the people, but the only thing that can kill that great philosophy of our democratic process is constituent apathy. Once voters cast their vote, their work is not done. In fact it has only just begun.  The problem is that many feel that their voice really doesn't matter since there's 
nothing they can do now that the politicians have taken office, and what we must realize is that there is nothing more incorrect about that kind of thinking. 

There is an awful lot that you can do to influence this legislative session for public education.

  1. The very first thing you can do is educate yourself about the bills and proposals that are being made for and against public education. Now this takes a little bit of work, but it is essential that you educate yourself about the things that people want to do to public education.
  2. Once you have educated yourself, pick up the phone, and call your representative. (CLICK HERE). I placed seven phone calls today to representatives and left messages, and received callbacks from two of them. Representatives do you want to hear what your thoughts are.
  3. If you believe strongly in your position about saving public education, then educate your neighbors and fellow constituents. Tell them about what is happening to public education and encourage them to pick up the phone and call their representatives as well. 
  4. Repeat steps one through three ad nauseum

The state of our public education system is very strong, but it is under tremendous pressure to be dissolved under the guise of improvement. There are people who want to privatize it for some kids, instead of adequately subsidizing it for all kids. If we care deeply about the future of our kids, then we must all advocate for all of them. 

The Challenge
To learn more about how public education will be impacted in the Texas Legislature this January, you can go to, Raise Your Hand or Friends of Texas Public Schools. You can also contact your school district's superintendent to get more information.

Once you educate yourself with the information from the session, I challenge you to call your state senator and representative to ask their position and encourage them to vote for public education. Finally, I challenge you to contact three people and inform them of what you've learned and encourage them to get active and reach out to three additional people. The only way that change will ever be made for Texas public education is when public education advocates take an active part in the legislative process.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Are You Making the Right Choice about Choices?

Choice is essential to connect with those that you lead, and in schools providing choice makes sense.  More choice equals more freedom, and more freedom leads to more ownership.  Let's face it.  When people have more choice, they will be more engaged and even more empowered, but here is the reality about choice.

Choice is in the mind of the beholder.

If you don't believe me, watch The Art of Choosing.

Choice requires people to see a meaningful difference, and just because you offer it doesn't mean that you're helping people.  Just because you offer choices, doesn't mean you are empowering freedom.  According to research, too many choices can actually lead to higher stress, depression and perhaps psychological paralysis.

Too much choice
When was the last time you walked down the cereal aisle?  There are just too many choices.  If you don't know what you want, you could be there all day long.   The same goes for our schools.  If you offer people to many unfamiliar choices, they will become overwhelmed because they don't which choice is the best for them.

Too little choice
Ever been to a concession stand when all that was left was the one soda that you didn't want?  It is downright frustrating.  The same applies to choice in school.  If you don't provide enough choices to those that you lead, you will create an organization filled with resentment of the tasks they are asked to do.

Finding the Right Balance
If you believe in offering your people the right amount of choice, you must remember this.  If you don't know those that you lead, then you won't know the right kinds of choices or appropriate amounts of choice your people need to be more empowered.  Choice only works when leaders include followers in the development of the menu of options, and when leaders provide the right balance of choice, followers will always select the best choice that makes them more efficient, effective and ultimately successful.

Monday, November 21, 2016

26 Things You Should be Thankful for, but Probably Aren't

Thanksgiving is here, and that means it's time to give thanks for all the blessings bestowed upon us.  But to truly have the right heart for appreciation, one must be able to give thanks in all things. That means giving thanks for the good as well as the bad, but nobody wants to give thanks for bad stuff.  After all, it's bad, and it has hurt us and it has made our lives difficult.

So to help you truly give thanks for the most difficult things in our lives, I wanted to share 26 things that you should give thanks for but probably aren't. 

26 Things to Give Thanks for that You Probably Aren't. 

Aggravation and Annoyances
Betrayal and Bewilderment
Conflict and Confrontation 
Disappointment and Dismay
Embarrassing Events
Failure and Friction
Growing Pains and Gray Hairs
Injustice, Impatience, and Insecurity 
Jerks and Jams
Knives in the back and Knotheads
Loss  and Long Meetings
Mistakes and Misfortune
No's and Not Yets
Overwhelming Days
Painful Moments and Pettiness
Quirky People
Rejection and Retaliation
Setbacks, Scars, and Stress
Turmoil and Tyrants
Volatile People
Wounds and Weariness
Youthful Inexperience

If you made it through the list, how many of these bad things have found their way into your life?  If you said all of them, consider yourself lucky because that means you are living your life to its fullest. You have been stretched by these items, and they have brought you to where you are today. Give thanks in these things for they are responsible for making you the excellent person you are today.

Happy Thanksgiving