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Leading to Reform: Labor Day Edition

This week’s letter highlights similarities of the Democratic and Republican Education Platform, Learning to Read by third grade, and leadership and Labor Day. Also, I have included a follow-up from readers on the merit pay debate.

We are smack-dab in the middle of Political Convention season in America. Education is emerging in both party’s platforms. Look at the platforms and decide for yourself. Some of us paying attention see that President Obama and Governor Romney share some common ground in their educational platforms, but they also have their differences. Here are the details and decide for yourself: What would happen to education under Obama or Romney administrations?

From the Sunday Paper: Wisconsin is on its way to another year of America’s Ground Zero in education. Alan Borsuk, one of my must-read education observers publishes a weekly column “On Education.” Borusk’s blog and Sunday column are a regular feature of this weekly read.

His recent Sunday’s column, "10 Things to watch for in the new school year" includes teacher evaluation and merit pay, a choice high school – St. Andrews that hired a star former MPS principal, a likely shift back to a Republican Legislature working with Governor Walker on more education reform including, school funding charter and choice and revamping high schools likely in the cue over the year. Wisconsin’s proficiency scores are dropping dramatically this year - a wake up call for parents that schools and their kid’s education may not be as good as they have been lead to believe accelerating the reforms outlined. What is your list of what to watch for in the new school year?

You should know that Mr. Borsuk usually gets it right – before the general public and even many who think they have their finger on the pulse of Wisconsin education. Please read Borsuk's, "10 things to watch for in the new school year".

Learning to read is the platform for success in school. Kayla Webly writes in Time Magazine: If you want kids to succeed in school, look no further than the third grade. So says a body of research showing that if kids haven't mastered reading by then, their ability to keep up in other subjects starts to decline. Over 30 states have adopted policies specifically targeting third-grade reading skills. In 2012, 13 states have passed laws that aim to identify struggling readers and intervene before they reach fourth grade; 14 have gone so far as to require schools to hold back third-graders who don't score high enough on the state reading test.

Webly’s article "Retrograde" was in my conversations with school leaders this week. From social promotion to prescriptive reading instruction, length of time kids should be in reading instruction, quality of teachers and merit pay for teacher that teach kids to read efficiently and without out much pain for the child. States are paying attention to reading and taking steps to be sure kids can read and schools are held accountable if they don’t get the job done.

Governor Walker's K-12 Education Round Table recognized the importance of reading well by third grade. We examined Florida’s practice to retain third graders who can’t read well. Instead of retention, though, Governor Walker launched Wisconsin’s Read to Lead Imitative. As Governor Walker said in January, “By the time children reach fourth grade, they are no longer learning to read, but instead reading to learn." To learn more about Wisconsin’s Read to Lead, please click here.

Legislators looking for a quick fix hold back kids, but the way to remediate is not retention. Instead, fix the instruction or if they are held back, be sure the child is assigned a high performing teacher and gets 90 minutes of reached based reading instruction. Struggling readers needing more help must get better and targeted reading instruction. Poor teaching is not to be tolerated and if it is, the school leader is responsible for it. To learn more, please click here.

Labor Day is an American federal holiday observed on the first Monday in September) that celebrates the economic and social contributions of workers. It also symbolizes the end of summer and the start of school or renewed focus on work.

Teresa Amabile & Steve Kramer writes about work that is worth doing. As leaders, we can’t take for granted the gift we have of having such work. In a recent blog they quote Theodore Roosevelt from his comments on September 7, 1903, "Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."

Their research found that people's everyday work lives are greatly enriched when they make progress at work that they find meaningful. But what makes work worth doing?

If you are a leader, be creative in considering ways to help your employees see the impact of their work on others. This Labor Day, make sure they know that their work is worth doing.

Starting school is all about getting off on the right foot -- for school leaders, teachers, parents and children. We all know it is important -- it is the school leader’s responsibility to make it happen every day, not just in the first days of school. Colleague
Sam Chaltain captures the first day of school for his son in a DC Charter school, "In the airy, sun-filled space that will house my son's foray into formal education, I watched as a tow-headed classmate named Thomas patrolled the edges of the room, choking back tears."

“One who opens a school door, closes a prison” --Victor Hugo

Follow Up: Last week’s From the Sunday Paper: Wisconsin Teacher Merit Pay drew out readers’ thinking. Also, Journal Sentinel Reporter Erin Richards continued the conversation on a Milwaukee radio talk show while I said, “There are two obvious sides pro and con but I think there is a third or fourth way in Wisconsin."

Demand for better education for all kids and laws governing Wisconsin public school means pay for results has to be considered. Some school districts are venturing in– starting programs and seeking publicity While quietly, star teachers or those with rare certifications are testing the waters -- interviewing and then negotiating aggressively for competitive compensation -- supply and demand matters -- they know it and now can demand quality compensation. A few districts are spreading out a few bucks to most of their teachers calling that merit pay resulting in their teachers seeing it for what it is -- smoke and mirrors or pr for the superintendent and board. Many Wisconsin districts are holding off for another year studying the situation -- getting ready to try to give all teachers a 2-3% pay raise -- but what is missing from the conversation is the struggle districts now have to balance the budget searching funds to pay teachers or cuts in programs or let class sizes rise that kids nee

Trouble is merit pay doesn’t come easy either. Here are some of Leading to Reform readers and I on Merit Pay.
  1. Training principals to make the necessary decisions based on facts and results instead of relationships with their faculty or popularity with parents. Most teachers aren’t evaluated every year and when they are, the evaluation system doesn’t account for measurement effect of their work. Wisconsin is putting together a new yearly teacher and principal evaluation system which will h up the pressure on districts to produce a merit based system. Teachers and Principals are going to be in a very different reality shortly.
  2. Finding the money to pay teachers – not by raising class sizes, cutting staff or programs. There just won’t be enough money to pay all staff a salary based on the old salary schedule taxpayers are willing to pay higher taxes which could happen in some communities – voting Yes for more money for schools. Wisconsin districts face financial cliffs if they keep trying to offer the same kind compensation models. Each year is going to be tougher.
  3. Using a private industry model of merit pay – better performance equals more pay – is the wrong paradigm to apply to a service vocation such as teaching. Teachers don’t respond to the same incentives or measure themselves against their peers; they measure themselves against state and national standards and the best who get results their own benchmarks – seeing students learn and can prove it to anyone who visits their class.
  4. Superintendents and Boards and in some districts teacher leaders could decide to differentiate _ pay teachers differently – a gym teacher and a physics or theatre teacher makes the same salary. In the new world of teacher pay, shouldn’t a hard to find highly effective physics, middle or elementary or theatre teacher make more than a teacher that is doing the minimum? Let the market drive the salary along with how hard the professional will stand and deliver for kids.
  5. Teachers want students to be lifelong learners. The benefits from this perspective impact everyone in a positive way, from the global society at large, to the student, that student’s eventual children, and beyond. Teachers need to practice what they preach (teach) – learning is good, because it is good.

My Own View… a few Wisconsin districts will develop new pay models. Most are siting back either to learn from the pioneers or to hang on another year to the past. Star teachers are being recruited by districts; willing and able to pay well when the teacher says, show me the money and I will sign the contract.

A third way through the thicket of teacher merit pay is a combination of merit based system coupled with measured outcomes set by local school districts that the community will accept and support – even if they have to pay higher taxes The time of paying everyone the same is past, but local citizens like their schools and will support them if they see the money is going to the right place.

I think many teachers -- especially effective ones, want to be recognized and rewarded when they do well. With a strong evaluation system, used by effective principals trained to evaluate teaching and results and overseen by boards and administrators as biased free as possible -- it can be done. By paying teachers differently for different skills, need (a gym teacher versus a valued theatre or outstanding third grade reading teacher that gets results -- we may have it. Schools will be able to reward with credibility those teachers who are excelling.

Even the Teacher’s Union with its Commission on Effective Teachers and Training made similar recommendations recently for elevating the teaching profession. It is time for Wisconsin school districts to realize that new ways of paying high performing teachers is upon us.

Here are your links of the week:

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