On behalf of all of us at the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership, I am writing to wish a happy and peaceful new year to all of our partners, peers and supporters. The past year has been an exciting one for us, and we expect an exciting one for you as well. We have focused most of our effort on supporting teachers and principals, and the wide range of leaders you can find everywhere across school systems, from classrooms to the central office and beyond. We are continually humbled by what it means to partner with such committed educators.
In this latest installment of The Throughline, Max Silverman speaks with Gia Truong about ensuring that all students, regardless of background, experience a rigorous education, free from bias.
Gia Truong is the chief executive officer at Envision Education, a mission-driven organization based in Oakland, Calif., that is transforming the lives of low-income, first-generation, college-bound students. Envision operates charter schools in the Bay Area and provides training and consulting services to schools and districts all over the country. Truong leads Envision with a strong commitment to educational equity and a focus on providing enhanced rigor and deeper learning opportunities for students. She is a Leading for Equity Fellow with the National Equity Project, is a member of Education Leaders of Color, and is the former executive officer of California’s Oakland Unified Schools’ Department of Curriculum and Instruction.
Max Silverman: Gia, we both have the honor of leading organizations with deep equity agendas. In your day-to-day work, how do you define equity?
Too often, we as educators confuse talking about student data and progress on key data benchmarks with actually talking about how students are progressing as learners and young people. This point is most easily seen when groups of educators are huddled around spreadsheets or elegant data arrays puzzling over how to best move a group of students over a data hurdle. No doubt this scene is one of progress from when broad groups of students were dismissed as unable to make significant progress. However, our evolution as student-centered educators requires us to make a critical shift from talking about student data to talking about students.
In this inaugural interview of The Throughline, Max Silverman speaks with Ellen Dorr (@ellenjdorr) about her strong commitment to educational equity and system design.
Ellen Dorr serves as the chief technology officer for the Renton School District in Washington, where she oversees technology services including customer service, infrastructure and digital learning. She leads the team to provide the resources and supports to empower educators to create inclusive, equitable instruction in classrooms as well as increase efficiency and effectiveness across the district.
Max Silverman: Ellen, as you know, here at CEL (the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership) we focus on how adults in schools – and the central office where you work – create learning environments for students that are inclusive, engaging and ultimately lead to student ownership of their learning. Describe for our readers what you would love to see when you walk into a classroom or learning environment that has these characteristics.
Lately, I have been getting very excited as I hear more and more leaders and organizations talk about “student-centered initiatives.” Often I hear this phrase about putting students in the center only to later feel disappointed when the follow-up conversations are really about putting student data in the center or, worse yet, launching another professional learning initiative masquerading as student-centered.
Are we making the idea of being student-centered as trite as the other catchphrases that came before? Can it be that the new student-centered miracle is actually the same one that was Common Core-based, or focused on personalized learning, or a must-have for your teacher accountability system? I don’t raise these questions to demean the great work that many in the education field are doing to ensure that improvement efforts remain focused on students. Instead, I want to push for the term student-centered to have real meaning. Our field’s understanding of student-centered should be powerful enough to change how students learn and what we accept as outcomes not only for students, but also for teachers, school leaders, and central office leaders.
The work of educators is changing. First, teachers had to adapt to new classroom expectations and accountability requirements. Next, principals had to think beyond just managing a school and become instructional leaders. Now, central office needs to take up the challenge and offer new approaches to help principals and teachers improve instruction.
Over the last three years, the Center for Educational Leadership together with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has worked with central office leaders to find new ways to support principals as instructional leaders and improve student learning.
In many ways the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) marks a departure from No Child Left Behind (NCLB). But at least in one way it stays the course: the notion of school turnaround is alive and well.
Under ESSA, the federal government still requires states to identify their worst-performing schools and come up with a plan to make them better. If ESSA plays out like NCLB, then schools and districts will be working mightily to stay just above the line that triggers a turnaround — an aspirational low bar for sure.
As part of these efforts, schools and districts will be reaching out for the helping hands of a variety of newly minted — or as is often the case, re-minted — programs and solutions.
A quick scan of education news headlines shows: the role of school principal is less satisfying and attractive than it has ever been. Whether you look at principal job satisfaction surveys or the data on principal tenure, education leaders need to wake up and figure out how to make the principal job not only doable, but doable in a way that positively impacts student learning.
To do this, many systems focus on principal evaluation and the role of principal supervisors. But we believe that school systems have to take a broader look at how central offices need to work differently to support principals. That is why we are excited to release version two of our Principal Support Framework. This updated version continues its focus on how central office leaders can best support principal success, but includes critical updates including:
Apart from Common Core, nothing has changed the face of education in this country over the past few years quite as much as the drive to evaluate educators and hold them responsible for results. Since 2009, over two-thirds of states have made significant changes to how teachers are evaluated.
From a focus on teacher performance the spotlight quickly moved to principals and their role in supporting teacher practice. Recently, we have seen increasing recognition of the fact that principals often don’t have the tools and support to help teachers — shining a light on central offices and their support for principals’ instructional leadership efforts.