School leadership and its impact on student achievement was one topic of discussion at a House Education and Labor Committee hearing on May 4 to examine how the federal government can support quality teachers and leaders in our nation’s schools. The hearing is one in a series being held as part of a “bipartisan, transparent effort” to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
“Excellent teachers are the key to success in our schools,” said Chairman George Miller (D-CA) in his opening statement. “But we won’t be able to solve the many challenges facing our schools unless we change the way we treat teachers, talk about teachers and think about teachers. To help attract and retain bright teaching talent, we’ll need to make the teaching workplace look more like what other young workers expect: To be treated like professionals, with the respect, recognition, and resources needed to do their jobs.”
Testifying on behalf of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Pamela Salazar, associate professor of practice in the Department of Educational Leadership at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and editor of the NASSP Bulletin, discussed her role in developing the standards and assessment for the National Board Certification for Educational Leaders. “Having standards that define best practices allows for the development of professional education targeted for the continuum of practice,” she said. “As school districts seek to select and develop principals, assistant principals, and teacher leaders that can lead the transformation of schools, the existence of a continuum of standards to assist and identify accomplished practice is hugely beneficial in the selection, training, and development of aspiring and practicing principals, assistant principals, and teacher leaders.”
Salazar also highlighted the need for principals to participate in ongoing, job-embedded professional development and explained how to fairly measure and reward principal performance, outlining many of the recommendations in the NASSP board position statement on Highly Effective Principals. Commenting on the four school turnaround models that would all require the principal’s replacement as a condition for receiving federal funding, she said that, “turning around low-performing schools and significantly improving student achievement requires, among other factors, a principal that has received appropriate training and mentoring to understand what principals and school leaders should know and be able to do to effectively lead a school. Even more, it requires that the principal have access to appropriate data, a well-trained workforce, and the authority and autonomy to place resources where they are needed most. Yes, it is important to be able to remove principals who cannot effective lead, but we should not adopt policies that assume the incompetence of every principal in our lowest-performing schools.”
Other witnesses focused their remarks on teacher preparation, mentoring, and professional development, including Deborah Ball who is dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan and Randi Weingarten from the American Federation of Teachers.
To read all the witness testimony and view an archived webcast of the hearing, go to the committee’s Web site.
Now that the Department of Education (ED) has released the final notices for the Race to the Top Fund and the School Improvement Grants, senior officials are turning their attention to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
For the past few months, representatives of national education organizations, practitioners, and congressional staff have been attending education stakeholders forums at ED to discuss various topics within ESEA and were requested to submit their formal recommendations by midnight on December 31, 2009. The comments submitted by NASSP build on recommendations developed by the NCLB Task Force in 2005 and take into consideration emerging issues such as the Common Core State Standards Initiative and new developments in school leadership, literacy, and middle level and high school reform.
In his letter to ED, NASSP Executive Director Gerald N. Tirozzi outlined the following recommendations:
NASSP is an endorsing partner of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which is a state-led effort to develop a common core of state standards in grades K–12 for English/language arts and mathematics. Building on our position statement in support of national standards, we urge the development and implementation of common, high-quality assessments aligned with standards and call upon ED to evaluate the progress being made by states to adopt and implement the standards. We also recommend that the federal government offer incentives for states and districts to develop graduation requirements that allow students to choose from multiple pathways to graduation and ensure that students have access to academic supports that help them stay on track toward graduation.
Reiterating our support for additional funding for principal training and professional development, NASSP encourages Congress to enact the School Principal Recruitment and Training Act (H.R. 4354/S. 2896) and the Instructional Leadership Act (not-yet-introduced) as a part of ESEA reauthorization. The bills would authorize grant programs to prepare principals to lead high-need schools and incorporate standards of instructional leadership into state principal certification or licensure requirements. We also urge the administration to consider our position statements on highly effective principals and professional compensation for principals in developing proposals for principal evaluation and pay-for-performance programs. Finally, we encourage Congress and the administration to support the National Board Certification for Educational Leaders recently launched by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
NASSP urges the administration to support the Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (LEARN) Act (H.R. 4037/S. 2740), which would authorize comprehensive state and local literacy initiatives and build on the best components of the federal Early Reading First, Reading First, and Striving Readers programs. The goals of the bill are very much in line with Creating a Culture of Literacy, a guide written for principals to use as they team with staff members to improve their students’ literacy skills by assessing student strengths and weaknesses, identifying professional development needs, employing effective literacy strategies across all content areas, and establishing intervention programs for struggling students.
Middle Level and High School Reform
Building on the Breaking Ranks framework for school reform, NASSP has called upon the federal government to provide additional resources for our nation’s middle level and high schools. We support legislative proposals that would create a new funding stream for school improvement at the secondary school level, implement an early warning and intervention system to identify at-risk students, and provide differentiated and evidence-based interventions in eligible schools. Enacting the Success in the Middle Act (H.R. 3006/S. 1362) hand-in-hand with the Graduation Promise Act (H.R. 4181/S. 1698) would strengthen ESEA by providing the support necessary to turn around our nation’s lowest-performing middle and high schools and give our struggling students the help they need from preschool through graduation.
NASSP supported the final Title I regulation that requires states to use a uniform and accurate method of calculating graduation rates, but has concerns with defining the graduation rate as the “four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate.” Because not all students enter the ninth grade reading and writing at grade level, we have long recommended that the graduation rate be extended to within at least five years of entering high school. State should be required to use, as a supplement to the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate, extended adjusted cohort graduation rates that are approved by ED. In addition, identified special-needs students who complete high school with a state-approved exit document should have until age 21, inclusive, to be counted as graduates as defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Act.
As stated in the NCLB Task Force recommendations, states should be allowed to measure adequate yearly progress (AYP) for each student subgroup on the basis of state-developed growth formulas that calculate growth in individual student achievement from year to year. NASSP has been very pleased with the expansion of the growth model pilot program, which was first announced in 2006, and we hope that growth models will have a permanent place in a newly reauthorized ESEA.
Multiple Measures of Student Performance
NASSP recommends that states should be allowed to use multiple measures of student performance in determining AYP, including state assessments in subjects beyond reading and language arts, mathematics, and science; portfolios, performance tasks, and other examples of a student’s accomplishments; traditional quizzes and tests; interviews, questionnaires, and conferences; end-of-course exams; comprehensive personal academic or graduation plans; assessments aligned with high school and college entrance requirements; and senior projects.
The importance of principals in school improvement efforts is finally acknowledged in a recently released report by the Aspen Institute’s Commission on No Child Left Behind, but the recommendations included in the report fall short of truly addressing the needs of today’s middle level and high schools.
The Commission recommends establishing a definition of Highly Effective Principal (HEP). Under the proposal, states would have four years to implement a system to designate principals as HEPs. Principals who are employed by a school that does not make adequate yearly progress could have his or her HEP status revoked if the school does not make AYP after corrective action interventions.
“While it is important to acknowledge the role principals play in influencing student achievement, the Commission’s recommendations on HEP are not designed to build incentives for a profession which has become increasingly difficult to perform,” stated NASSP executive director Gerald N. Tirozzi, “if enacted, this recommendation will discourage aspiring principals from applying for available positions, for fear of facing additional sanctions without the necessary resources.”
NASSP is also concerned about the Highly Qualified Effective Teachers (HQET) recommendation, which requires teachers to demonstrate effectiveness in the classroom through the learning gains of their students using a “value-added” methodology. No matter how well students perform, only 75% of teachers can obtain HQET status in a single year and 25% will always be underachievers.
“While the problem the recommendation seeks to address is real—the least qualified teachers are assigned to the most vulnerable students—the recommendation will only exacerbate the situation. Why would anyone choose to work in a Title I school under these circumstances? The result will be good teachers and principals fleeing to the suburbs where schools don’t have to rely on Title I funding.”
While NASSP supports recommendations around growth models, longitudinal data systems and the creation of voluntary national content standards, overall, the commission’s report can be described as a highly intrusive, sledgehammer approach to what is a very complex issue.