Effective Schooling Shouldn’t Place All of its Cards on High-stakes Testing

Editor’s Note: Eagle Rock works hard for high school reengagement nationally. One of our partners in this work is Tony Monfiletto, who is the executive director of the New Mexico Center for School Leadership. Monfiletto penned the provocative piece that follows on the counterproductive effects of narrow measures on school reform. And, as a result of Eagle Rock’s Professional Development Center recent visit with the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives in New Orleans, we can confirm that most school models in New Orleans have adopted a narrow approach to school reform. We strive to connect work in one place such as developing New Metrics in Albuquerque, N.M., with work in another such as the education reform efforts in New Orleans, La., to make an impact that lifts all students in their engagement. 

By Tony Monfiletto

I am a former school principal and I currently lead an incubator for new schools in my hometown of Albuquerque N.M.. The schools are focused on project-based learning as a means to provide a thrilling and relevant education to young people who are off track on the road to graduation or who have dropped out of school and are returning to earn a diploma.

Just yesterday, I was listening to NPR while making my daughter’s breakfast. Cooking a meal from scratch for her is a highlight of my day, and most times we listen to one of hers — or my — favorite Pandora stations while we eat. But yesterday, we happened to be tuned into NPR and heard a report entitled “A New Orleans Charter School Marches To Its Own Tune  (editor’s note: please have a listen).

It’s a story that hit close to home and adds a new dimension to the school reform discussion and movement. New Orleans is a city that has been dominated by schools that specialize in preparing students to score well on high-stakes standardized tests.

The currencies for these high-stakes tests are math and reading scores. These scores are the blunt instruments that our policy makers use to determine whether schools are effective, and these metrics drive the “no excuses” type of attitudes that dominate in New Orleans. The charter school movement was intended to inspire educational innovation, and it’s remarkable to me that a school focused on acquiring project-based learning through art would be considered such an aberration.

While New Orleans has staked its future on schools that focus on improving basic skills, the real world is focused on Continue reading…

Here’s Eagle Rock’s Take On The Common Core

Common_Core_Image_oneOne of the hottest topics right now in the field of politics and education is the Common Core — that set of college- and career-ready standards for students from kindergarten through 12th grade that were developed by education leaders and governors from 48 states.

In one state — Louisiana — the topic is so hot that its governor recently went to court asserting he’s protected from questioning under oath in a legal dispute over his administration’s actions that are said to undermine the Common Core standards in that state.

With a focus on English language arts, literacy and math, most states (43) have adopted the standards, with a goal of ensuring high school grads are ready for college courses or can successfully enter the workforce.

They are distinct from previous state standards in that a non-state organization created them for all states to use rather than each state deciding to use their own. The advantage was to eliminate a variety of standards and improve the quality across many states.

Common_Core_Image_threeI once attended a National Network for Educational Renewal (NNER) event where Vicki Phillips, director of education for the Gates Foundation, suggested that teachers need a common set of tools to reference if we are going to take advantage of teacher effectiveness research. For Vicki Phillips, Common Core answers the question: Effective toward what end?

Proponents of the Common Core believe that teaching toward these standards will better prepare students for college level work and entry into career pathways and civic engagement. In their view, the added value of establishing some national continuity serves all students across the United States to the degree that states voluntarily adopt the standards. For the supporters, the quality of the standards and the consistency of adoption from state to state make the Common Core the greatest lever for educational reform.

The arguments against the Common Core are widely varied and sometimes contradictory. For example: Continue reading…

Our Report From The School Reform Initiative’s Winter Meeting

In mid-January, some of our faculty and staff traveled across the country to attend the School Reform Initiative’s (SRI) Winter Meeting held in Cambridge, Mass. If you’re unfamiliar with it, SRI is an organization that helps people and organizations create “transformational learning communities that are fiercely committed to educational equity and excellence.”

SRI14_ERSDuring this annual winter event, participants from all over the nation gathered to explore SRI’s core practices:

  • Critical Friends Groups (CFG’s)
  • Facilitative Leadership
  • Collaborative Learning

After a brief opening ceremony, participants split into small groups and immediately began to explore shared professional dilemmas, student work, and lesson plans. Each group featured six to eight participants, which gave each educator the opportunity to receive feedback on his or her own work as well as facilitate another person’s presentation. As an aside, the purpose of a CFG is to use “protocols” — structured conversations — as a means for educators to support each other and gain diverse perspectives on their work. Each protocol is tailored to produce different results, with some participants examining and modifying work while others presented questions or created action steps.

This CFG work is at the heart of the meeting and is a primary reason why Continue reading…