September 2017 Articles

9/13/2017

Superintendent's Blog: Busting the Myth - Toward Educational Success for Low-income Students

By: Paolo DeMaria

ThinkstockPhotos-587513796.jpgI still run into people who buy in to the myth that low-income students can’t achieve academically at the same level as other students. I’m so discouraged and sad when this happens — because it is fundamentally wrong. What’s worse is that this myth gets a boost every time someone runs a correlation between levels of poverty and academic achievement and doesn’t take the time to explain what it means.

This week, the state will issue school and district report cards reflecting the 2016-2017 school year. The release of report cards is an important annual occurrence that gives Ohioans an opportunity to gauge how well schools are doing relative to academic standards established by the state as measured through the state’s system of standardized tests. Ohioans should understand that the report cards are only one gauge of the quality of our schools and that many aspects of the outcomes achieved by students are not reflected on the report cards. A more complete picture of what happens in schools can be gained by visiting them and talking with teachers, administrators, parents and students. (On this year’s report cards, for districts that have chosen to do so, we are including links to district profiles that allow users to see more information about accomplishments and achievements that go beyond report card measures.)

Each year, at the time the report cards are released, the misleading and incorrect assertion is made that the only thing that state tests measure is students’ socio-economic circumstances. Number crunchers will engage in the annual ritual of running a correlation between district performance and the percentage of economically disadvantaged students and boldly pronounce, with a sweeping statement, that schools with higher concentrations of economically disadvantaged students do worse on state tests.

For example, one report[1] released after last year’s report cards contained a graph (shown at the end of this post) that took data for 1.6 million students being educated by about 100,000 teachers in more than 3,000 buildings in more than 600 districts and reduced them to seven data points. These seven data points plot the average performance of districts within an average of district percentages of low-income students within seven specified ranges of the state’s Performance Index measure. The report then concluded that “the graph clearly shows the strong negative relationship between PI score and economic disadvantagement.”

There is no doubt that poverty impacts children’s knowledge acquisition and skill development in profound and significant ways. Poverty is related to housing instability, homelessness, food insecurity, adverse health issues, traumatic event experiences, brain development and much more. All these issues create challenges to students’ success in school. Many high-poverty students start kindergarten not ready to learn and often stay behind as they advance from grade to grade. The persistent achievement gaps have implications for these children’s lives, as well as their communities, our state and our nation.

If, rather than looking at seven data points, we look at every school, and even every student, we see reasons for hope. We can find schools that have a better handle on how to help students overcome the challenges of poverty and reach success. We see low-income students who achieve at the advanced and accelerated levels. We see the possibilities of what could be rather than being confined by what is.

Consider the graph below developed using 2015-2016 school year data. It has more than 3,200 data points. Each one represents one school building. Why is it different from the previously discussed graph? Because it shows details. It shows that what is going on in Ohio’s schools shouldn’t be reduced to seven data points. Clearly, there are school buildings that have high percentages of economically disadvantaged students that, in fact, have higher performance indices (see the red circled area). This graph gives us the evidence to believe that, in fact, it is possible to help low-income students achieve success and that possibility exists to bust any correlation that might exist.

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Click graph to enlarge.

Are there enough of these successful schools? Of course not. But by knowing they exist, believing that others can achieve the same outcomes and applying our skills at understanding the dynamics of schools and transformation, we can make progress. Solid research and analysis (see my favorites listed below) shed some light on what it takes. It’s about excellent leadership; high standards and expectations; quality curriculum and instructional practices; a culture of collaboration and excellence among staff; school climate that is focused on learning; supports for students; parent and community engagement and partnerships; and a commitment to continuous improvement. Notably, it isn’t about top-down mandates or significant additional financial resources. The right combination of reform strategies for each school has to emerge from the collective work of the staff in the school with input from the local community in order to ensure the necessary buy-in and increase the likelihood of success.

This kind of customized school improvement is hard work. No two schools are alike, and the specific mix of strategies will be different for every school. Fortunately, there is renewed energy around taking on the challenge of improving educational outcomes for low-income students. The Ohio Department of Education and the State Board of Education are committed to this work. By all of us joining together with the shared belief that we can make a difference, and with the knowledge that committed school teams can identify and implement evidence-based solutions that will work, we can make a real difference for thousands of students and for our future. 

Ohio Education Policy Institute, FY16 Local Report Card Initial Analysis

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Click graph to enlarge.

Paolo DeMaria is superintendent of public instruction of Ohio, where he works to support an education system of nearly 3,600 public schools and more than 1.6 million students.


List of Favorite Resources:

Baroody, Karen, Rho, Lois and Huberlie, Ali. Back from the Brink: How a Bold Vision and a Focus on Resources Can Drive System Improvement. Education Resource Strategies. April 2015. https://www.erstrategies.org/cms/files/2862--lawrence-case-study-back-from-the-brink.pdf

Berger, Ron. An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students. Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH. 2003.

Bryk, Anthony S. et. al. Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better. Harvard Education Press: Cambridge, MA. 2015.

Elmore, Richard. School Reform from the Inside Out: Policy, Practice, and Performance. Harvard Education Press: Cambridge, MA. 2004.

Hagelskamp, Carolin and DiStasi, Christopher. Failure is Not an Option: How Principals, Teachers, Students and Parents from Ohio’s High-Achieving, High-Poverty Schools Explain Their Success. Public Agenda. 2012. https://www.publicagenda.org/files/FailureIsNotAnOption_PublicAgenda_2012.pdf

Levin, Ben. How to Change 5000 Schools: A Practical and Positive Approach for Leading Change at Every Level. Harvard Education Press: Cambridge, MA. 2008.

Meyer, Peter. Needles in a Haystack: Lessons from Ohio’s high-performing urban high schools. Thomas Fordham Institute. December 2012. http://edex.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/publication/pdfs/NeedlesHighSchoolEdition_6_0.pdf

Suffren, Quentin and Wallace, Theodore. Needles in a Haystack: Lessons from Ohio’s high performing, high-need urban schools. Thomas Fordham Institute. May 2010. http://edex.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/publication/pdfs/Needles_Full_Report_10.pdf


[1] Fleeter, Howard. FY16 Local Report Card Initial Analysis. Ohio Education Policy Institute (OEPI). Sept. 20, 2016.

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9/7/2017

Are You Asking the Right Questions to Drive Continuous Improvement?

By: Jo Hannah Ward

9-7-17-Purple-Rings.pngHumans have an innate desire to learn and improve. We work to improve our health through nutrition and exercise. We also might set a schedule or use tools and apps to collect data and track our progress on our smart phones. We focus on changing our behavior (exercise and nutrition) to impact our data (the number of steps to help improve our cardiovascular system and our weight). Sometimes we join a gym, engage in group activities or obtain a coach. Along the way, we also ask ourselves and others in our lives questions that might lead to greater improvement: “What did I do to lose a pound this week?” or “How can I find time to walk in the evenings?” As we work toward our goals, we are continuously evaluating our personal data and engaging with others in ways that help us reach our goals. Continuous improvement in schools is very similar.

Just as we each have personal goals for which we continuously strive, Ohio’s education system has goals. Our focus for education is that all students begin school ready for kindergarten, actively engage in learning and graduate prepared for college and careers. Each district and school is working toward those goals and toward ensuring all student groups have equal access to high-quality instruction. Schools and districts that want higher achievement for all students should continuously plan for improvement.

The Ohio Improvement Process (OIP) is the process by which Ohio’s schools and districts examine their data and continually respond to it with plans for improvement. Although Ohio’s most challenged schools use the Ohio Improvement Process, all schools and districts can use the process as a means of continuous improvement. The following items are seven key elements of the Ohio Improvement Process:

  1. Aligns vision, mission and philosophy. Every step of the continuous improvement planning process should always consider the vision, mission and philosophy or beliefs of the district and community school. The questions should be, “Do the strategies, actions and resource allocations support our vision, mission, beliefs and goals?” and “Are our behaviors and decisions congruent with our vision, mission, beliefs and goals?”
  2. Is continuous and recursive. Districts fully committed to high performance do not view continuous improvement as a process that occurs in addition to what they do. Continuous improvement is the core work at every level of the organization and, by nature, repeats itself.
  3. Relies on quality data interpretation. An effective planning process is based on the ability of the district, schools and classrooms to use data to name critical problems, develop a focused plan, check progress of the plan and evaluate the plan’s impact.
  4. Is collaborative and collegial. Every plan gets its strength from the people who are committed to it. Engaging the community in understanding the plan will make it stronger and help others become invested in making it work. Make sure the plan reflects the joint thinking and planning of collaborative teams that include businesses, community members, students and families who support plan development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
  5. Ensures communication with those who are affected by the success of the district or community school at each stage. Districts and community schools may have the same needs that their communities or school buildings have. Gathering their feedback may help the planning team better understand the situation. Multiple opportunities for communication and feedback should be included throughout the process.
  6. Produces one focused, integrated plan that directs all district or community school work and resources. Districts and community schools have had many plans (for example, technology, professional development, Title 1, Title 2, special education, career and technical education) for many reasons (basis of funding applications or federal or state requirements). Multiple plans diminish the district’s or community school’s ability to respond to the most critical needs. By developing a single, focused plan that responds to the most critical needs, the district or community school will prioritize resources to achieve lasting success.
  7. Sets high expectations for changes to student performance and adult practices. The purpose of having a thoughtful planning process is to produce a plan that will change student and adult behaviors. This leads to improved instructional practice and student performance.

More than 400 districts and thousands of schools across Ohio engage in the Ohio Improvement Process. The Ohio Improvement Process is now 10 years old (Happy Birthday OIP). The Department has improved and updated the process through a continuous feedback loop, illustrated in the graphic at the beginning of this article.

For the 10-year anniversary, we have the biggest update coming your way soon! We have simplified the four stages and five steps in our current model into a single model. In the model, we move between steps in a not-so-linear fashion. Here is a sneak peek at the new look of the upgraded model:

OIP-New-Model-1.png

For comparison, here is the current model:

Old OIP Model

You will notice in the new model that supporting implementation is key along every turn. Please stay tuned — in the near future, we will release updated Ohio Improvement Process resources, tools and visuals. 

Jo Hannah Ward is director of the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the Ohio Department of Education, where she helps Ohio’s most challenged schools and districts improve outcomes for their students. You can learn more about Jo Hannah by clicking here.

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