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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Back To School Night

Here is a link to my power point slides for Monday's presentation titled Jobs, Data and the skills Gap.

If you can't make it, look through these and click on the links.  The Iowa Future Ready website is full of information about careers and jobs that are available to future graduates.  It also gives you a good idea of what entry level pay can be and what Post Secondary Education your kids will need to get there.

Much of the data is in a link called Metrics That Matter, and a link to Iowa Workforce 2025 which will include data form Iowa Workforce Development and the latest LMI (Laborshed Market Information) which is the basis for much of this information.

I'm excited for the new school year and the opportunities we can provide your students.  I hope to see you at Back to School Night, Monday the 21st.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

In Support of Standards Based Grading

As we enter our new school year at NFV, we have plans in place to make a significant shift in the High School Grading processes.  Of course we've been moving that direction for several years and Elementary and MS parents have been learning along with us as we smooth out the rough edges of this change.  The move to HS SBG (Standards Based Grading) is big.  Now it counts!  GPA, college admissions, scholarship applications; we understand all of this is extremely important to many students'  hopes and dreams.

Our first thought on is make sure we do no harm!  That is why we are rolling it out at the HS level after 4 years of study and application.  We have found a sensible way to calculate GPA and letter grades for HS students.  We know that several colleges are themselves shifting to SBG, and others are already receiving applicants with SBG report cards.   For a straight-forward look at what and why we are changing, here is an article for you to digest.

I am confident that this system can and will create better outcomes because we have research from the many schools that have gone before us.  If you are not convinced, here are 100 articles on SBG dating back to 1995.  I focused on one study that seemed very relevent to this change and will provide some highlights,  an academic study called The Association Between Standards-Based Grading and Standardized Test Scores in a High School Reform Model by Marty Pollio and Craig Hochbein (2015).  The researchers summarize their work in an executive summary with;
Results indicated that the rate of students earning an A or B in a course and passing the state test approximately doubled when utilizing standards-based grading practices. In addition, results indicated that standards-based grading practices identified more predictive and valid assessment of at-risk students’ attainment of subject knowledge.
Eleven high schools in Kentucky took part in this study.  A control group of 11th graders in Math and Science courses were exposed to a traditionally graded algebra course in 2010.  The treatment group took part in traditionally graded science classes and classes utilizing standards based grading in 2011.  The indicating data for the study was the relationships between classroom grades and the KCCT, Kentucky's state-wide mandatory test for student achievement.

Here's a summary of the results:
                                   # students with A's /B's          % A's and B's             % proficient KCCT scores        
Trad. Algebra 2 (2010)               466                                   40                                   26
Trad. Science    (2011)               514                                    40                                   28
SBG Algebra 2 (2011)               568                                    45                                   55      

The bottom line is relatively significant when comparing students in SBG math courses and traditionally graded math and science courses.  The stronger correlation of the SBG class to the high stakes tests is what we are after and we also achieve more proficiency in the classrooms.

The researchers' assumption is that:
 If students’ grades were a valid indicator of their learning subject content, then students who scored an A or a B in their content class should have scored proficient or above on the state accountability assessment. 
There are many other studies that show SBG can improve student achievement in state-wide or district wide assessments, but more importantly, SBG gives you the parent a more accurate indicator of your student's learning and should also correlate with community college and university entrance exams.  I have the hard copy of this paper, if you like I can send it to you, just ask, it is not available online for free.

 Our system may seem cumbersome and confusing at first, but isn't everything when we begin anew!  Bear with us, talk with us, and listen to understand. I think you'll find everyone settling into our new system over time and it will create better outcomes for your students when we do.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Valedictorians don't change the world

Research on the accomplishments of valedictorians and salutatorians show us a different kind of success than many would think.  This article followed 81 valedictorians and salutatorians through their career.  While major percentages of these former students have very successful and impressive careers, they don't typically become Steve Jobs or Elon Musk.  Their work doesn't change the world it's found to typically be more conventional and mundane then inventive and innovative.

That makes sense.  They are used to complying with school rules and doing what they are told by teachers.  They are not used to thinking outside the box, stirring the pot so to speak, to create change. In comparison Elon Musk has had plenty of failures   but his innovations (Tesla, Space X, SolarCity) are elevating his goal to change the world and placed him on Forbes list of the world's most powerful people.  One of his more recent inventions are roofing and window systems that act as solar cells, if that becomes affordable, energy companies will have serious competition.

Jobs, of course, dropped out of college and started Apple Computer and Pixar.  The point here is that our country is not the most powerful county on the planet because of raising compliant and duty bound valedictorians, but rather innovative and creative people the likes of Jobs and Musk.

So how do we encourage more innovation and creativity?  Stop giving A's for being a good student.  Grade on true accomplishments, not compliance.  Accelerate learning for those who already know the current topics.  But most of all encourage risk taking. If a student fails at homework assignments multiple times, yet at the end shows mastery of the subject, reward the growth, don't penalize the practice.  In our standards based system, that is the goal we should set for all students.  Struggle with content, master it, and then move on.  Marks on report cards (not grades) that reflect the eventual success in the subject are more meaningful than averaged grades that penalize the early struggles

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Fidget Spinners are just TOYS

The biggest fad among our youngsters these days appears to be these strange wobbling 3 pronged ball bearings called a Fidget Spinner.  Some companies have been touting their calming abilities and pushing these things as "theraputic" and a health intervention for those with ADHD or Autism.

While there is anecdotal stories of kids who watch their widget rotate at enormous circular velocity, there are no scientific studies actually showing any benefits to them.  Unless you call being mildly amused a benefit.  Time Magazine attacks the bad science and brings normalcy to the discussion in this article.

I know that some teachers have made rules in how to play with your fidget spinner in the classroom, eager to see the benefits on students' short attention spans.  I would suggest we find other ways to engage our students.  Relevant and real world curriculum, creating relationships and allowing whole body movement in classrooms works much better.  I'm excited to see further transition to alternative seating experiments as they have a much greater chance of improving student attention than rotating toys on your thumbs.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Appreciate a teacher!

This has been Teacher appreciation week.  Always a good time to reflect on the teaching profession.  I love it whenever someone rolls out this quote by Child pyschologist and educator Haim Ginott   who wrote 

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in my classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.” 
How we treat students inevitably shapes the people they become. That is our real legacy. It's an awesome responsibility and tremendous opportunity, and our best chance to prove that education matters!

Thanks to Education Matters for offering it up on his blog.

It is also happens to be National School Board Appreciation Month.  With all of our meetings and policy reading that is going on the next 14 months at NFV, we really need to show gratitude and appreciation for the hard VOLUNTEER work put in by school board members everywhere.

Monday, February 27, 2017

A bill for Education Savings Accounts is illogical in Iowa

As a public school superintendent you probably already know I am opposed to shifting public dollars to private schools or home schoolers.  Let me give you some reasons that as a voter you'll also find good reasons to oppose ESA's.

First of all is this recent Iowa Poll:  58% of Iowans are opposed to public money for private schools.  I believe that is largely because we do not have the problems of the very large urban areas across the nation.  Some states do suffer from over reach by their teacher unions, or the lack of quality instruction that creates poor behaviors and many dropouts.  Iowa leads the nation in graduation rate (91%) and so this should be the last place where the Voucher or school choice movement should get a foothold.

Research shows that Education Savings Accounts will do little for any poor rural Iowa students. Most likely because they are not geographically accessible in most of rural Iowa. But also because the students who attend private schools may be paying more than the voucher is worth, and poor folks won't be able to make up that difference. The bill proposed in Iowa would send $200 million to the same people who already send their kids to private schools, not spreading the opportunity to the poor or unqualified students. This movement has been called an effort to re-segregate our schools, sorting students by income level.  In a year when there is no more than $40 Million to increase the investment in 480,000 Iowa public students, spending $200 Million on 33,000 private school students is no way to provide for long term prosperity of all.

There is a myth that gets repeated constantly by people like Betsy DeVos and Mike Pence.  It is the myth of public school failure based on international comparisons on test scores like the Program for International Student Assessment, PISA.  U.S. Public Schools are said to be failing millions of kids who can’t afford to attend a private school. This movement likes to tug on your heart strings with, “If only those poor kids could get out of those terrible public schools they could be saved.”  That is simply not the case. For an explanation of PISA scores in U.S. and abroad read

The reason U.S. public schools don't look good is because we educate all of our students. When you compare U.S. schools to places like Finland or Singapore or China’s Beijing schools and adjust for poverty levels, the U.S. public schools come out on top. ( In reality, of all of those international tests from other countries or city states, none tests all of their students because they typically do not educate all students like the U.S. does.  These international test comparisons are from the students qualifying or somehow earning the right to be educated in their home country.

For those reasons, I believe Education Savings Accounts are not right for Iowa, Not right for this year and not right for our nation.  If we continue to work on improving our public schools and address the issues of poverty, our students would shine no matter where they went to school.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Post Secondary Data

We have now received our statewide report on Post Secondary status of students over the past 5 years.  I believe this is some of the most important data we can find to indicate our successes or failures.  The data looks at all graduates of NFV and their status in post secondary education, up to and including successful awards of diplomas or certificates.  Here is our data:

Of course this is only important if you have something to compare it to, like statewide data:

For the most part it looks like NFV graduates are outperforming our state averages.  Check the 5 years of graduates earning awards over the 5 years, statewide (bottom grey on columns) to the NFV graduates earning awards (light blue bar on the far right.  Not only are we above the state average for awards, but more of our students are enrolling in post-secondary programs. This includes community colleges, 4 year universities and other certificate bearing education opportunities.  This is going in the right direction for us, and we hope to be able to improve these numbers every year.

Our enrollment in remedial classes is not great, however we remain close to the state average, which is lower than the averages of all our neighboring states.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

We Are NFV!

First of all I would like to thank everyone who supports the NFV communities and our reorganization vote.  What an awesome turnout and wonderful results.  I pledge to continue to make NFV a point of pride for all of you.  As we work together to create this new school district called North Fayette Valley Community School District over these next 15 months or so, we will rely on input from combined board members and you, our patrons, to continue moving our district forward.  Starting Monday February, 13, when the "Interim Board" is appointed for this new school district, the work of developing policies, contracts and other strategic planning will take a larger and larger focus.  We will be ready on July 1, 2018 to enter the NFV era for our schools.  NFV Pride!

While we have cleared this very important hurdle we have another challenge that needs a response.  Our legislature has approved a very small 1.1% increase in public school funding this past week and they are now working on an overhaul of the collective bargaining law for State of Iowa employees, including teachers.  This could be good for schools, but also has many unintended consequences that we see popping up in our neighbor Wisconsin.  I'll just wait and see how that comes out.  

The bigger challenge is the School Choice movement.  Here is an article by our neighbor Mike Haluska of Decorah on this topic.  Public school advocates need to be aware that the small SSA increase by the Iowa Legislature will be followed up be a potential larger allocation to private school and charter school groups.  They say they are not asking for any of the public school money, but the shifting of priorities in the statehouse is evident.  While they could not fund the Governor's recommendation for 2% SSA they will fund more than that additional $40 million of SSA increase and hand it over to the school choice advocates.  

The bottom line is we do have current choices in Iowa (open enrollment, virtual academies, various home school options and the network of private schools).  Why should we be funding MORE choices when public schools are not failing our youth, the quality of our public schools are far better than some people make you believe.  I'll have more on that in the future, the data is very enlightening.  Thanks for listening and please help us battle the school choice lobbying by contacting your legislators.