Friday, October 30, 2009

"High Schools that Work" - Just Curious - Does it work?

Item number 18 on Monday's Board of Education meeting's agenda is, "Proposed High Schools That Work (HSTW) Contract with Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) for 2009-2010, Presented by: Ms. Stacy Stepney, Director, High School Teaching and Learning". It occurred to me that I've been hearing about this program for a number of years, mostly in terms of what it is going to do for high schools - not much about what it is doing or has done. The whole premise seems full of jargon and mystery and for the life of me, I've never been able to figure out what it is.

Basically, the overview and description of the program goes like this:

High Schools That Work (HSTW) is an effort-based school improvement initiative founded on the conviction that most students can master rigorous academic and career/technical studies if school leaders and teachers create an environment that motivates students to make the effort to succeed. HSTW is a national effort to engage state, district and school leaders in partnership with teachers, students, parents and the community to raise student achievement in high school and middle school grades. HSTW seeks to advance the mathematics, science, communications, problem-solving and technical achievement of students by providing a framework of goals, key practices and key conditions for accelerating learning and setting higher standards. In creating this environment, more students will recognize that high school matters to their future and more students will become independent learners able to set future educational and career goals and choose courses to take to achieve those goals.

High Schools That Work is based on the belief that everyone in the education hierarchy must work together to align policies, resources, initiatives and accountability efforts to support schools in adopting and implementing comprehensive school-improvement designs. Several conditions are fundamental in using HSTW to raise student achievement:

A clear, functional mission statement
Strong Leadership
Plan for continuous improvement
Qualified teachers
Commitment to goals
Flexible scheduling
Support for professional development

The following are the HSTW key practices that provide direction and meaning to comprehensive school improvement and student learning:

High Expectations
Program of Study
Academic studies
Career/Technical Studies
Work-based learning
Teachers working together
Students actively engaged
Extra help
Culture of Continuous improvement

My question is, "What is it?" What is it EXACTLY? Does anyone really know? Is it making any kind of impact? Should we just continue our endorsement of this "initiative" when we simply don't know if we are in any way getting our money's worth? Aren't these guidelines supposed to be things that school system leaders should already know? Why are we paying for what amounts to a consulting program to inform people of how to perform their job? I can't get past this statement, "High Schools That Work (HSTW) is an effort-based school improvement initiative founded on the conviction that most students can master rigorous academic and career/technical studies if school leaders and teachers create an environment that motivates students to make the effort to succeed."

Really? Is that a novel idea? Did we not possess this belief before? Is this "initiative" really as vague as that description makes it sound? If someone has answers and knowledge, please share it with us.


Anonymous said...

High Schools That Are Falling Down Due to Incompetent Maintenance: Cross Keys, Lakeside.

Molly said...

I read that and cringe. The problem isn't that high school students need to be convinced that effort is important, the problem is that by high school many are so far behind no amount of effort could help. If you want high schools that work, insist that elementary schools give kids a solid foundation in reading, writing, grammar and math. Insist that elementary and middle schools give kids a broad exposure to history, literature, science and the arts to help them develop the background knowledge they will need to succeed in school and high school.

Our elementary and middle school students spend far to much time making dioramas and posters and working on time wasting group projects. The crayola curriculum leaves them unprepared for actual academic work. If they haven't got parents who can recognize the deficit and correct it at home, they arrive at high school without any of the necessary skills for success.

Paula Caldarella said...

If these children do not get their academic foundation in elementary school there is no way any high school will ever "work" for them. JMHO.

Anonymous said...

Rather than dumping on HSTW, someone outside the DCSS power structure needs to carefully scrutinize DCSS's deal with America's Choice. The program was bought using virtually all of DCSS's local agency stimulus grant. A former DCSS high-level administrator became a high-level executive in America's Choice, a for-profit company, just before the deal was made.

DCSS exerted absolutely no creative effort (don't those two words sound strange connected to DCSS governance?) in determining how the stimulus money could best benefit students and teachers. It just made a knee-jerk sweetheart deal.

HSTW is not nearly intrusive, expensive, not at all profit-oriented, nor teacher-demoralizing as America's Choice.

Oh, and by the way, AMEN!!! to Molly on her comment about dioramas, posters, and group pojects. They're about as rigorous as flipping burgers at MacD's.

Paula Caldarella said...

Oh, and by the way, AMEN!!! to Molly on her comment about dioramas, posters, and group pojects. They're about as rigorous as flipping burgers at MacD's.

This falls at the feet of Kathy Cox...Read the Georgia Performance Standards and you'll see where these "ideas" originate.

Anonymous said...

When I was teaching, the HSTW guy for science from SREB was really good...he held good workshops, came and did consulting on our planning time rather than invade us during class time. The county person who was our HSTW coordinator was terrible - she came to "observe" during class and marked teachers off not for the quality of instruction but for stupid things on her checklist - lesson plans posted on your bulletin board, objectives on the board, etc. It was like she couldn't identify good teaching because she had never done any (IMHO). So I got dinged for that...and was told those things are important because people in my classroom need to be able to know what my objectives are when they come to observe. I told her that I center my teaching around the 30 kids in front of me, not the occasional administer who walks through my door. My evals from administration were always excellent, by the way.

Cerebration said...

So - excuse my ignorance on the subject - is that what HSTW is? Consultants who observe and comment or who hold workshops? What kind of workshops are they? I'm just not grasping the whole idea quite yet...

And you're right Anon - the America's Choice program is a whole new animal that we need to monitor. This is strictly being funded with Title 1 money - and only at Title 1 schools as far as I know.

I guess I'm just old-fashioned. I don't recall teachers ever needing "consultants" and "programs" in order to teach. My teachers always did a fine job - simply because they knew what they were doing. I'm sure they went for updated seminars, etc - but all of these programs are kind of an interesting new thing.

Square Peg said...

I don't remember teachers needing consultants, either. The most recent article of the Economist mentioned the BASIS schools in Arizona, which gives their teachers autonomy in the classroom - anybody know anything about them - are these schools all they're reputed to be? "Their schools have charters to receive public money, so they cannot charge tuition fees or select the best students as private schools can. Instead, they have hired the best teachers they can find, many from Ivy League universities. They give them autonomy in the classroom, but then hold them accountable for meeting AP standards." They also look to the best schools in the world as models: "South Korea’s in maths, say, or Finland’s in classics." See

Sounds almost too good to be true - do they have to rely on celebrity donations to afford Ivy League grads with Ivy-sized tuition debts? And you'd have to convince me of the value of making 5th graders memorize a definition of the Minotaur, or pushing 8th graders to take AP tests.

Still, it seems like common sense to hire good teachers, then give them autonomy in the classroom.

Anonymous said...

As an elementary teacher, we are forced to move on, even when an entire class has not fully mastered a concept. Teachers are not able to hold students who have not mastered key concepts back. In a number of cases, I look back at a child's old report card and they have A's and B's in subjects that they struggle in.

As a fourth grade teacher, I fight with my administrators to try to teach my students to mastery. We are told to move on and that they will catch up. At my grade level, more discovery students do not know than do know their basic math facts.

The entire DCSS system needs an overhaul from the ground up. If only parents would complain about what their children do not know, like they will complain about the closing of schools.

Parents who care about education do not have their children in a DCSS school. As an educator who seriously cares about her profession, I will be gladly leaving the DCSS system at the end of this year, as I do not see quality changes happening anytime soon. My child will also not attend a DCSS school, because he deserves better than what DCSS has to offer.

Anonymous said...

More information on the BASIS schools can be found here. This article caught my attention as well.

My one question is how long do teachers stay. I do not think that pay plays as big a role as many believe. There was just an article in Education Week that stated teachers would rather have good working environments and supportive administrations than the extra large pay check.

This would never fly in DCSS, as we don't use successes or failures of others. We try and reinvent the wheel without using the knowledge gained by others. After all we have administrators that we need to continue to employ and promote.

One other thing is that most states do not have Charter Schools like Georgia. Most other states' charter schools are independent and have their own governance and curriculum (yes they have to follow the state's standards, but they can do that as they see fit.).

Anonymous said...

Molly, oct. 31 made an important point...elementary and middle school students spend too much time making dioramas, group projects, and posters, no rigor and practice at actually writing/doing math and ela.
I am a classroom teacher (versus an EIP teacher-see below) and that is what I see. too many group and pair work-that is graded, an not enough independent work, to show have an actual measure of what the student knows. most teachers do not protect the integrity of testing and classwork. Students constantly copy from others. I believe teachers allow that because they do no want the paperwork that goes with failing grades. BUT the biggest thing is that many of the teachers don't care, and the administration doesn't care either and do not stress the importance of protecting independent classwork.

*an EIP teacher is a certified teacher, usually two per grade 1st-5th, one teaches math and one teaches ELA to small groups pulled from the grade levels during the math and ELA times, to work with students who have scored below passing, or who are clearly working below grade level. BUT these teachers are usually the ones who do not want to be in the classroom, and ask to teach EIP. This is where the already struggling student loses. OFTEN they are just extra hands for the administration, organizing paperwork, testing materials, ancillary administrative duties, discipline(detention), fill in for absent teachers (where a para could be used), instead of TEACHING as they are being paid for, and being paid a certified teacher's salary. they are not required to give grades, hence there is no accountability pass, fail, progress, or none. the students see it as fun time, because they often return with coloring sheets. They are often working on sheets(coloring sheets) not on grade level of course. They are often given passing grades equivalent to that of the regular classroom student, when clearly they are not functioning on grade level. The EIP teacher prefers to give them a passing grade, than deal with the paperwork.
That's the fleecing of America, and how students are neglected in the elementary schools in Dekalb County's public school system.
yaa_di in yahoo.

Anonymous said...

Another program that Dekalb Schools is pushing, similar to dioramas and projects is called Differentiation. Teacher are given like a one day seminar, and then told they must differentiate daily. All the teachers are trying this model, but are not doing it well because it requires a lot of research and classroom management. Differentiation has developed into this cycle of confusion and cluster of paperwork for students, even at the 1st grade level. Differentiation is not done properly and students are left being burdened with incomplete work. The administration have to put differentiation unit in place before requiring teacher to practice this intense system of learning, which when not done correctly, becomes a burden and confusion on students who are not mature enough to self-manage through differentiation practices. It's such a confusion.
yaa_di in yahoo.

Anonymous said...

Not really following the comments on differentiation. My understanding is the that this term refers to teaching children of multiple abilities and levels in one classroom. In other words instead of tracking students and grouping them in classrooms by their learning levels, they are all lumped into one room.

Most teachers tell me this is harmful because they end up teaching to the middle of the pack. The students on the lower end of the learning curve are frustrated and don't get it and those on the higher end are bored.

And yes, if this is what ANON was referring to, I expect it is very difficult to execute, especially with larger class sizes.

Anonymous said...

I have been told that I am not able to fail any students. This has come from the assistant area superintendent.

Differentiation can work even with class sizes of 25 to 30. Teachers have not been properly trained and do not have enough tools do to this properly. Differentiated instruction requires the teacher to really know each of his/her students strengths and area of need. It also requires the teacher to be a good classroom manager and for students to be able to be self directed and to stay on task, so that the teacher can work with a group. Groups should be in consistent flux, as students strengths and needs should change with solid instruction.

Students are grouped with the same needs or strengths and they work in centers on work that meets their needs. This approach does work, when done properly. Teachers need planning time and time to work on centers to do this. They also need effective tools to know what their students strengths and weaknesses are, as data should be used to determine this. This year teachers have been spending way too much time on Esis and figuring out that system to do anything else.

Differentiated instruction also requires principals and assistant principals to know what to look for in lesson plans. It requires them to talk to their teachers and question what the teachers about their groups and how effective the lessons are with the children. They need to talk to teachers about the data collected.

Trusting DCSS to put differentiated instruction in place for teachers is a big mistake. Have you seen their units of math? A good teacher could do a much better job than what I have seen come out of the district office. They are one of the reasons why our students are failing.

Also teachers need to be keeping up on latest practices and research. How many of your child's teachers read this type of literature? Teachers want to be considered professionals, than we need to act like them, and read, question, and know the research and the researchers in our fields. Would we want a doctor who didn't keep up with the newest medicines? Or a lawyer who didn't know the latest laws?

Not all schools have EIP teachers. There are many schools where the only help EIP students get is from the classroom teacher. I have seen very good EIP teachers and very poor EIP teachers. Any principal who would put a poor classroom teacher into an EIP position is not a good administrator, as that is where your best teachers should be, so that they can reach the students who are struggling.

DCSS does not service it's students who struggle well at all. We are just beginning to do rti, something that other states have been doing for years. My school has no plan and has thrown this on teachers and the people in charge do not understand the concept or what needs to be done. When questions are asked, answers are not known. It feels like another encounter of DCSS reinventing the wheel.

Cerebration said...

I think this is one of the most fascinating discussions we've ever had here at the blog. You teachers have greatly enlightened me as to the challenges you experience in the classroom with administrative paperwork simply piled on top.

I have been advocating for simply placing more and more qualified TEACHERS in our schools working directly with children - and cutting back on administrators and "supervisors". Teachers don't need supervision as much as they need help and support. We could instantly add several hundred teachers into our schools by simply making a majority of those with the job description of "curriculum specialists/supervisors" teachers. We have plenty of them, as discussed in our conversation about Dr Lewis' presentation to DCPC on September 2.

Dr Lewis at DCPC

On top of that, we spend over $2.5 million on 45 graduation coaches (on top of 108 HS counselors)

In the area of "Curriculum", we have our Asst Superintendent of curriculum, Gloria Talley, with her salary of $162,648.00 - 5 directors of curriculum instruction at a cost of $438,500.00, 72 "Instructional Supervisors" at a cost of almost $6.4 million - plus 473 "Instructional Specialists" totaling $23.9 million.

That's a grand total of nearly $31 million for 551 people in the curriculum department.

(For comparison, we have 982 food service employees at a cost of $16.8 million.)

Molly said...

Differentiation can work, but it requires a teacher with both the skills, experience, motivation and the time to make it happen, as well as students who can remain on task and work independently. Why choose a model of instruction that works only under ideal conditions? How many of our students are lucky enough to get placed in an ideal classroom?

Even under ideal circumstances, think of how much more material a teacher could cover if classes were grouped by students readiness to learn a topic. That ideal, energetic, motivated, well trained teacher could cover so much more if s/he weren't force to span 4 or more years of variation in student levels in the same class. Differentiation is mostly a buzz word used to keep parents from complaining that their child isn't being appropriately educated.

Anonymous said...

"I have been told that I am not able to fail any students. This has come from the assistant area superintendent."

Anon 10:40, please tell us which Asst. Area Super told you this. That person needs to be made public for such an unacceptable order.

Anonymous said...

All of the programs like High Schools That Work and America's Choice are a waste of taxpayer money. Teachers need support in the classroom, not programs. I work in a school with both these programs, plus at least 2 others. (I've lost count over the years.) They all conflict and the only change I've noticed is we are required to have nonnegotiables on the wall. Good teaching focuses on the subject matter and the students.

Anonymous said...

I think one reason kids don't succeed in HS (or at any level for that matter) in the north end of the county is that we have kids at LHS and, most likely at CKHS, who do not speak English at grade level. Classes are taught in English at grade level. So long as kids are placed in English speaking classes at grade level by age (particulaly immigrant children) rather than being placed by their ability to speak the language (as was done decades ago), they will not succeed -- you can't pass a class in English if you can't speak the language. It used to be that you could pass math because you didn't need English for math, but that isn't the case wtih the new curriculum (this is true at all grade levels) the problems are mostly (if not entirely) word problems and it is imperative that they have a command of English (then the examples we've been shown by the folks in charge actually have had grammatical errors so they aren't necessarily in good Enghlish). We need to do something about the langauge barrier for our ESOL kids.

Social promotion of kids doesn't do them any favors. It is more just to hold a 3rd grader back because he or she doesn't know how to read or can't multiply than to socially pass the kid and have the kid drop out and wind up on welfare or a criminal. We need to focus on only passing kids who earn the right to pass and who have those basic skills.

Anonymous said...

As a classroom teacher, I am more and more convinced that HSTW is all form and very little substance. Once again, it is a way to blame teachers for the problems in education. It is about WHO can read and write by the time they get to high schools. We are so concerned about self-esteem that we continue to pass students on, whether or not they are capable of the work. By the time they reach high school, they are unable to read and write at grade level, and it now becomes the teacher's fault. Providing "incentive" pay is basically saying that if you teach "AP" classes, you will get more money - those who teach average kids will never see that money. When parents decided to get involved with their child's work and stop blaming the school for being a lousy babysitter, things will begin to change.

maryannsouthard said...

I am a high school teacher in New Mexico. I discovered your respectful and open-minded blog while searching for information on HSTW. Our high school is in Phase 3 of the program and from the teachers' perspective, it is not going well. I would like to know if your school district adopted the program. It appeared that you were going to hear a presentation and consider adopting it. Am I right?