Can We Make Secretary Lowery Even Prouder?

January 12th, 2011

Category: News

Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery said the approval of the Partnership Zone schools’ plans was one of the proudest moments of her career. Previously, I outlined my hopes that these plans would be different and aggressive enough to yield significant change–such as doubling proficiency rates, or increasing proficiency by 50 percent in just two to three years, as schools indicated in their plans. Now that I’ve seen the plans (Glasgow, Stubbs, Howard, and Positive Outcomes,  I have questions about both the plans and the implementation process.

First, the plans. The plans list three to six partners per school, all managed part-time by a team of administrators dedicated to outside projects—a management challenge we’ve discussed before.  Some of these partners have promising histories and plans—such as New Leaders for New Schools’ principal selection, Big Picture Learning internship and service-learning curriculum, and the tools of the National Center for Time and Learning. But the criteria used for their selection is unclear and weak (previous experience in the school and needing to engage students are not enough). Will this cast of consultants—few of which are embedded in the school on a daily basis—yield a coherent, focused approach?

Plans include expected data points and targets (DCAS proficiency, graduation rates) but lack deep analysis into individual students, year-by-year patterns, feeder schools, and district comparisons. And the associated strategies don’t always address the identified issues. For example, if basic literacy and numeracy skills are a significant challenge, as they are at Stubbs Elementary, are student-engagement strategies such as STEM and project-based learning the most important ones? At POCS, a curriculum will be created, teachers must be trained, and associated assessments must be designed: is a bonus for teachers showing results the most effective use of resources when teacher leadership and collaboration will be critical?

Next, I question the rationale of the implementation process. Readers expect to see detailed plans for multi-million dollar budgets—how much professional development, based on what need, for whom, and at what cost? But perhaps schools were wise to keep plans vague, given the requirement that new leaders will be hired in part for their commitment to the new vision of the school. Giving them ownership of this immense task seems reasonable.

PZ plans are expected to be new, bold, and noticeably different. While they are in some ways —such as career academies, experience-based learning, and smaller learning communities—all four schools will continue strategies in place today, including Learning Focused Strategies and the Vision Network. Given the likely minimal change in district office and school staff, a common language and framework may provide stability in a turbulent time. However, a single, responsible partner, working with an autonomous principal, could effectively bridge the gap between these new and old initiatives.

Unless districts choose to utilize one accountable Lead Partner, they must take deliberate steps to coordinate among the various district partners. They will also need strong leaders dedicated to the goals of the plan and community support to ensure successful implementation.  If these take place, Secretary Lowery could expect to be even more proud in two years when these schools publish their results.   

Madeleine Bayard



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