School Reform: A focus on Franklin and the Government

So I have been involved in a number of discussions about reform (and by now, I hope it is overly clear that the context is school, and specifically Unit 4 🙂 ).

This morning I hear (and now Unit 4 Facebook) about Franklin Principal Angela Smith heading off to Washington to speak with President Obama on the topic of the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. She and Franklin were recently awarded with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) MetLife Breakthrough Middle School recognition.

That sounds really awesome!

And now I want to learn more about this “reauthorization” act. And the MetLife award.

Just so you know, my cynic’s hat is on whenever I hear “propaganda” from the government. But let’s take a look at what our fine government says about this act. The splash page says:

This blueprint builds on the significant reforms already made in response to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 around four areas: (1) Improving teacher and principal effectiveness; (2) Providing information to families to help them evaluate and improve their children’s schools; (3) Implementing college- and career-ready standards; and (4) Improving student learning and achievement in America’s lowest-performing schools by providing intensive support and effective interventions.

These all sound really good, don’t they? As I read through (and skim) this interesting report, I keep asking myself “How?” There is a ton of excellent-sounding rhetoric which can be boiled down to “we want everything to be better”. I mean, there are really some good focuses, I do not belittle the effort and the ambition to which this effort aims. But I am not seeing a roadmap, not seeing a plan on how to achieve this awesomeness. Only a Utopian destination. Perhaps that is why it is a called a “Blueprint”? I guess I expected something a little more tangible, and little more realistic. I can only hope that we as a nation are serious about wanting everything to be better. And I pray the onus does not fall to the few passionate folks who really do care.

It is really hard to find more information about the MetLife Foundation Breakthrough Schools. I mean, they have a pretty website, and a FAQ and a list of Past and Present schools to have received the award, but what is it? I found this blurb:

The MetLife Foundation-NASSP Breakthrough Schools program, initiated in 2007, is funded through a generous grant provided by MetLife Foundation. The goal of the project is to identify, recognize, and showcase middle level and high schools that serve large numbers of students living in poverty and are high achieving or dramatically improving student achievement.

Further down the page, I see:

About the Program
Selection criteria are based on a school’s documented success in implementing strategies aligned with the three core areas of Breaking Ranks II for middle level and high schools that have led to improved student achievement, and include the following:

  • Collaborative leadership: professional learning communities, shared leadership, and student and staff leadership development;
  • Personalization: attention to all students, mentoring, and school/community connections;
  • Curriculum, instruction, and assessment: access to rigorous coursework for all students, differentiated instruction with multiple assessments, data-based decision making, and opportunities for career development.

Selected schools will receive a $5,000 grant and be featured in the association’s monthly magazine, Principal Leadership. Principals of Breakthrough Schools participate in dissemination activities at the NASSP National Conference and other venues throughout the year.

And now, “What is Breaking Ranks II?” It’s like the rabbit hole that just keeps going on and on….

EDIT: Found it. Linked above.

Removing my cynic’s hat, I must applaud Franklin and all the staff wrapped up in this effort. There are indeed good things going on, and I am glad for them that they have received this seemingly prestigious recognition. It will be interesting to hear what Angela Smith has to say when she gets back. 🙂 I am very inspired and encouraged when I read her statements in the ED.gov blog and how she gives credit to the “personalization” of the program they are using at Franklin. It does indeed sound like cool stuff. The NASSP whitepaper on Franklin offers many more details and it blows me away. One diamond in the rough:

One of the most important things I had to do as a building administrator was to listen! I listened to teachers’ needs, desires, frustrations, and reservations. I also listened to parents; students; community members; and more importantly, the data.

Apparently, they were heavy on monitoring. And gathering data. As a database person, that caught my attention. 🙂

And Dr. Alves model of Controlled Choice, the School District should now be trying to figure out what Franklin is doing right and using those gems to guide the rest of the schools. Will that happen? Furthermore, how does this align to the Reauthorization Act? They are obviously connected.

Is this true reform? Is this where we want to go? I think so. But there is so much I do not know and so much to learn.

More links:

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6 Responses to “School Reform: A focus on Franklin and the Government”

  1. charlesdschultz Says:

    Just spotted a NG article about Obama’s blueprint, with a totally different angle:
    http://www.news-gazette.com/news/education/2011-09-23/obama-rolling-back-bush-era-education-law.html

  2. charlesdschultz Says:

    It is amazing how much per-student-spending does not match with an equal rise in average math and reading scores. Personally, I blame the tests, but that’s just me. 🙂

    http://edtechdigest.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/trends-infographic-the-home-advantage/

  3. roughriderfan Says:

    Need to point that – as a former Jefferson Middle School staff member – that they too are being noticed – Jefferson Social Studies Teacher Chris Adrian was named National Middle School Social Studies Teacher of the Year – and Jefferson got a National Horizon Award from the Middle School Association – one of five nationwide IIRRC – so good things are happening across the district

    In my opinion each building needs the freedom to do what is best for their students – as each building is different aond has it’s own needs – so long as the children’s needs are addressed

    Let 10,000 flowers bloom

    My .02

    Greg Novak

  4. charlesdschultz Says:

    Agreed. Lynn Peisker has been doing a great job highlighting various “good news” at each of the schools in her weekly updates and Facebook. But thanks for saying something. 🙂

    You mentioned that “each building needs the freedom to do what is best for their students”. Do they have such freedom now?

  5. Follow-up to Franklin Principal’s trip to the White House « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] School Reform A little bit of a media blitz after yesterday morning’s Press […]

  6. charlesdschultz Says:

    Also just received a noticed that Voices for Illinois Children is holding a “Policy Call” along these lines:
    http://action.voices.org/site/Calendar?id=102661&view=Detail

    Join Voices’ federal policy call: Hear from Senator Kirk and Representative Biggert’s offices on the reauthorization of “No Child Left Behind.”
    http://action.voices.org/site/R?i=kmcg4MQTYJP8P0RpmrrcUA

    Monday, October 3rd at 11:00am:

    * Call-in number: 888-537-7715
    * Passcode: 15346795

    Lost in the debate over the federal budget and deficit-reduction talks are a number of overarching priorities for supporting children’s learning. We need to re-focus attention on what’s most important for boosting kids’ education, both inside and outside of the classroom. Join Voices for Illinois Children as we hear from top education staffers about the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind) and a discussion of significant priorities including early childhood education and social and emotional learning.

    Featured Speakers:

    Kathy Ryg ― President, Voices for Illinois Children
    Madelyn James ― Project Director, Great at Eight, Voices for Illinois Children
    Jeannette Windon ― Staff, Senator Mark Kirk’s Office
    Brian Looser ― Staff, Representative Judy Biggert’s Office


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