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Whether California carries out sustainable change in its public schools is still to be determined, but reform advocate Michael Fullan said at an EdSource symposium Wednesday that system change was so close “you can almost taste it.”

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Michael Fullan speaking at the EdSource Symposium 2014. Photo credit: EdSource Today/ Lillian Mongeau

Quoting poet Seamus Heaney, Fullan said that the state appears poised for a transformative moment when the “longed-for tidal wave of justice” rises up and “hope and history” become aligned. Growing numbers of superintendents, teachers and parents, he said, are rejecting punitive measures called for under the No Child Left Behind law in favor of what he called more collaborative, humane and effective approaches to supporting teachers and improving student achievement.

“California is the most interesting, provocative laboratory for whole-system change we’ve been working on,” said Fullan, an emeritus professor at the University of Toronto who works with school systems around the world and has extensive involvement in California education. He is working with the unified districts of Garden Grove, Napa, Alameda, Pittsburg and San Lorenzo, as well as with the seven-district collaboration known as the California Office to Reform Education, or CORE.

The seven CORE unified districts of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Fresno, San Francisco, Santa Ana, Oakland and Sanger collectively received a federal waiver from the No Child Left Behind law. Sacramento City Unified remains a member of CORE but said in April it will not extend its waiver to the No Child Left Behind law.

Fullan, who made his remarks at the EdSource Symposium 2014 in Los Angeles, titled his talk “Accountability that Sticks.” He noted wryly, “It’s a preposition away from accountability with sticks.”

Firing teachers and closing schools if student test scores and graduation rates do not meet a certain bar is not an effective way to raise achievement across a district or a state, Fullan said.

“Linking student achievement to teacher appraisal, as sensible as it might seem on the surface, is a non-starter,” Fullan said to a smattering of applause in the Los Angeles Convention Center. “It’s a wrong policy. Its days are numbered, the way the days of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are numbered.”

If the goal is to improve teaching, Fullan asked, what’s the best way to do this?

Teacher evaluation is “the biggest factor that most policies get wrong,” he said, terming the feedback teachers often receive from administrators as “in your face” and punitive. Furthermore, he said, “Teacher appraisal, even if you get it right – which the federal government doesn’t do – is the wrong driver. It will never be intensive enough.”

And professional development, he noted, often “doesn’t find its way into ongoing implementation.”

Instead, a culture of collaboration is the most powerful tool for improving what happens in classrooms and across districts, he said. “A collaborative culture stares you in the face every day,” he said. “This is the foundation. You reinforce it with selective professional development and teacher appraisal.”

Collaboration requires a positive school climate – teachers need to feel respected and listened to, school principals need to step back, and the tone has to be one of growth and improvement, not degradation, he said.

New Local Control and Accountability Plans, created individually by districts, could be used by teachers and parents to push for ways to create collaborative cultures, he said – although he didn’t specify exactly what that would entail.

Without a collegial relationship among administrators, staff, teachers and parents, teachers will choose to stay in their classrooms and try to work out difficulties on their own, Fullan said. “If you are in a bad relationship, you’d rather be alone,” he said. “That’s why teachers have retreated.”

“Talented schools will improve a weak teacher,” he said. “Talented teachers will leave a weak school.”


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  1. Cynthia Jurjens 1 year ago1 year ago

    You say one thing, but the school systems do what they want to do any way. I use to live in Waterloo, NY 13165 until Aug. of 2010 when I had to leave all my family and friends and move south for health reasons. When my son was alive, I had a minor problem with a principal named Mr. Farrara. My son died in 2003 and from things I have read on Facebook from friends, … Read More

    You say one thing, but the school systems do what they want to do any way. I use to live in Waterloo, NY 13165 until Aug. of 2010 when I had to leave all my family and friends and move south for health reasons. When my son was alive, I had a minor problem with a principal named Mr. Farrara. My son died in 2003 and from things I have read on Facebook from friends, Mr. Ferrara has gotten completely out of hand. I wrote a letter to the editor that showed up over a month later and most of it was cut out. I have called news stations with no luck, I reached out to the Senators of the district only to have 2 of hiss assistants call me to say that they don’t deal with educational. The people that live there have already went to the Super Intendant of Schools, the School Board. The Handicap Committee (since some of the students being abused by the principal have minor disabilities), there have been incidents where people have went to the emergency room for treatment and when the police from that area went to take a statement, the police from the Waterloo area said they would take it and nothing was done and it was all swept under the carpet. When anybody tries to turn this abuse in, their children get repercussions from it in school and the parents get repercussions from the police. I have a petition with almost 200 names as well as comments. Nobody in the whole state of NY will help this whole school of children from the abuse this man is doing to them. They live in fear and hate to go to school because of this man. He grabs the boys unprovoked, he has grabbed the females inappropriately, he has called them names like slut, retards, etc. he has broken their own personal property, etc. These children go to school to learn, no to be tortured by the principal and the whole school district and police allow it. What does that teach our children? This man should be fired now and have charges placed on him as well as everybody else that could have stopped him, but did nothing and let him continue. They should get a new principal that is nice, a new Super Intendant, a Whole new School Board and a Whole new Handicap Committee and a Counselor from a different county to come in to help these children get through all the torment this man has caused in their young lives. If you decide you want to help these people then let me know and I will send you everything I have, but right now this school is leaving many behind and/or they are quitting as soon as they can because of this man. This man sucks up to the kids whose parents have power, or money, or hold offices, or have a parent that is a police officer. If you don’t have any type of clout or aren’t afraid to go up tp him and let him have it, then the rest of the children suffer. Those that have the clout think he is god’s gift and a great man, but the others families parents and students don’t have the same feelings.

    Replies

    • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

      Well, the least you can say is the district has a Super Intendent and not just one of those old plain Intendents.

  2. Helms 2 years ago2 years ago

    Wow, so all we need to do is collaborate. Hmmm, and all this time I thought making someone accountable for getting something done was the way to accomplish a task. We don't. We just determine what each individual teacher needs of PD and then we appraise them,like a house I am assuming to see what they are worth. The evaluation process needs to be straightforward and collaborative in nature, with specific requirements … Read More

    Wow, so all we need to do is collaborate. Hmmm, and all this time I thought making someone accountable for getting something done was the way to accomplish a task. We don’t. We just determine what each individual teacher needs of PD and then we appraise them,like a house I am assuming to see what they are worth. The evaluation process needs to be straightforward and collaborative in nature, with specific requirements in some areas and agreed upon growth in others. Making it some nebulous conceptual thing with no real way for teachers or administrators to be sure if it is based on performance or on how the evaluator feels about the teacher, or the process or just feels that day is ridiculous. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath and work to find an evaluation process that promotes teacher growth and student achievement.

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