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Teacher-Driven Education Reform That Works

February 19, 2011

This guest post was written by Lynne Formigli, a middle school science teacher in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area.  Lynne is a National Board Certified Teacher and an active teacher leader both in ACT and in the California Teachers Association.

Tired of hearing how teachers and our unions are obstacles to “real” education reform?  The accusation comes because we have the nerve to stand up to stupid ideas like paying and evaluating teachers based on student test scores, firing the majority of a school’s teachers and staff or turning over our public schools to private companies which are not held accountable for their results.  When we mention how the education reform being jammed down our throats has no supporting research on its effectiveness, we hear “all you want is to throw money at the problem and that doesn’t work.”

So let me tell you about real reform by teachers.  I doubt you’ll be surprised to hear what teachers choose to do when given additional funding: reduce class size, add time for quality professional development which supports and promotes collaboration, and offer intervention programs designed to help us teach the struggling students teachers see in our classrooms.  I also suspect you won’t be surprised to hear the preliminary independent analysis showing these strategies work.

Senate Bill 1133, the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA), provided $3 billion in additional funding to 488 schools in the lowest two deciles over 7 years starting with the 2008-2009 school year.  Oddly enough, this money wasn’t provided out of the goodness of our elected politician’s hearts.  Turns out this bill was passed to settle a lawsuit, CTA vs. Schwarzenegger, which was pursued to address Schwarzenegger reneging on his agreement to fund CA schools at the levels written into statute during the budget process.  Since the courts agreed with the teachers, QEIA was as the result.

After three years we are getting the preliminary results.  CTA funded an evaluation of how the money has been used and the results, conducted by an independent company, Vital Research, LLC, which analyzed API scores and an action research project.  Here’s what they found.

Comparing API scores between QEIA schools and a comparable group of non-QEIA schools, the QEIA schools had API gains of 62.7 points compared to 49.3 points for non-QEIA schools since the start of the program.  Significantly, QEIA schools had greater gains in API scores in the sub groups of African American, Hispanic, English Language Learners and socio-economically disadvantaged students.
The results of the action research project resulted in 10 lessons learned:

  1. School goals for QEIA were consistent with the purpose and intent of the legislation
  2. School implementation plans were largely focused on class size reduction (CSR), professional development, collaboration time, and the adoption of curricular interventions.
  3. Although somewhat challenging to implement and maintain, class size reduction enabled teachers to focus on classroom instruction.
  4. Professional development decisions in higher API growth schools were made in collaborative teams with teacher input, leading to greater satisfaction among stakeholders.
  5. Higher API growth schools had more focused professional development in core content areas.
  6. Higher API growth schools used student data to guide professional development decisions.
  7. Higher API growth schools engaged in more teacher collaboration to develop lesson plans, create common assessments, and analyze student data.
  8. School site councils in QEIA schools are approving school budgets; influence on other decisions and stakeholder involvement varies considerably by school.
  9. The exemplary administrator requirement has not been fully realized in QEIA schools.
  10. QEIA has provided valuable resources during the state budget crisis, but schools are still facing financial challenges.

It’s not news to any educator that lower class size allows teachers to improve focus on instruction.  It’s not news that collaboration improves student learning.  It’s not news that collaboration and teacher input into professional development increases satisfaction among the participants.  It’s not news that interventions created by teachers, collaboration and lower class size are good for all of our students.  And it’s certainly not news that schools are facing “financial challenges”.

It’s great to have research which supports our ideas of how to improve our schools.  It also shows a small part of what we can accomplish with more money.

For more information, or f you’d like to read the entire report, go to CTA’s  QEIA page.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Vicki Embrey permalink
    February 19, 2011 7:43 am

    My school runs very much like you describe here. My state won RTTT money and my district is fighting tooth and nail to maintain the way we run our schools–including our peer assistance and review evaluation system which has been acknowledged nationally. Our union leader met Arne Duncan when he was touring one of our schools and he asked Sec. Duncan if he knew about the PAR system. Sec. Duncan replied that he was familiar with it and impressed by it. Our union leader informed Duncan that RTTT requirements might ultimately force us to abandon our system for something imposed by the state based predominantly on student test scores. Duncan said that RTTT wasn’t meant to be so inflexible yet that is what we have been dealt. It’s very frustrating.

    I wish your post could be published in a more visible place as I feel that you are preaching to the choir. Teachers know what we need to do. We just have to be allowed to do it and given the support we need. I hope word gets out about your schools and I hope the research is made public on a broader scale. The current model of school reform is harming our schools like nothing I’ve ever seen in my 35 years of teaching.

    • February 20, 2011 4:33 pm

      I agree that word ought to be spread about this… I posted at our storiesfromschool.org blog in Washington state about it, so at least a few of us up here can see what you’ve shared.

  2. Bill Younglove permalink
    February 19, 2011 10:28 am

    Lynne,
    Thanks for sharing the QEIA history reminder, data, and outcomes. No surprise about the value of smaller class sizes for most teachers, although communicating such–not to mention financing such–to/via the public is problematic. What I would like to see is a “re-allocation” of funds at school sites, along the lines of changing the TSL (Total Student Load). (See William Ouchi’s THE SECRET OF TSL, c. 2009.)
    Bill Younglove🙂

  3. Lynne Formigli permalink
    February 21, 2011 1:33 pm

    Thanks all for suggesting we work to get this information out more directly to the general public. I know many of you who follow ACT are on the front lines, fighting against the attacks on public education. One of the most important ways you do this is by demonstrating in your classrooms every day what quality teaching is. My hope was to give you ammunition to support our position. While our detractors continue to spout their on about the value of data and how we must use student test scores to measure everything in education, they are missing the tragic irony of the fact they have no data to support the effectiveness if their vision of school reform. It would be funny if it wasn’t ruining the education of an entire generation of children.
    Vicki, I sorry to say I am not surprised by Secretary Duncan’s response to you. He and the Obama administration have access to all the information they need about what a stupid idea RTTT is and why his approach to the re-authorization of ESEA (NCLB) is bad for our students. I don’t know why they both are refusing to listen to the voice of teachers, I just know we are all suffering as a result.

  4. February 21, 2011 2:48 pm

    Thanks for sharing this information. Working at a school which would be considered in the area of performing, one could see that what makes our school successful is the collaboration, the willingness to not dumb down our expectations and administrative support. It is a crying shame that politicians and bureaucrats refuse to look at successful models and instead opt for the band aid approach. We are given release time in the core content areas to create and modify common assessments at least twice a year. We also use are negotiated modified days to collaborate within our departments in order to assess writing, math, and other components of our subject area. Student data is studied to the best of our ability despite using a somewhat unfriendly data system.

    As previous comments stated we need to get this message out to the public and to our legislators who seem at times out of touch what what really takes place in our classrooms and what is good teaching. With more of the same in our education funding crisis situation this year, the public must be made aware that further cuts in education made concurrently while the expectation for successful schools via AYP and API continues to rise is not sustainable.

  5. jsb16 permalink
    February 25, 2011 9:54 am

    I notice that the biggest gains were at the elementary school level. High schools showed mixed results on the tests and API markers. I didn’t see any graduation rate information. Presumably that will show up in the next round of results?

  6. March 30, 2011 12:55 pm

    The Entire Educational Village is Warped & Dysfunctional…Teacher Education and especially “Professional Development” are wholly inadequate. There is no common core curriculum of Best Instructional Practices despite claims of such. “Standards” are little more than architecture teachers need precise engineering solutions; i.e., definable teaching methods and training in how to strategically select the most appropriate array for a given situation and global climate. For example for all the talk about competitiveness in today’s world there is frightfully little in Standards addressing precisely HOW to teach for creative outcomes, HOW to teach students to be job makers more so than just job takers. Ironically the methodology exists for addressing each of these options. Most attempts to hold teachers accountable for student progress are illogical, if not irrational, since there is no process for agreeing on what should be known or done. The entire Education industry can never be taken seriously until we, at the very least design systems for identifying, vetting and promulgating Best Instructional Practices. We have been at this for many years, should you like you can look in at: http://www.bestmethodsofinstruction.com/

    • April 1, 2011 8:59 am

      Standards are about what should be taught, not how to teach. I see some value in standardizing a minimal set of skills and knowledge that everyone is supposed to learn. I see no value in standardizing how it is taught, as different teachers and different students need different approaches.

  7. April 1, 2011 1:07 pm

    Teachers get an F for Educational Outcomes, but it is Professors who deserve the F for “Unprofessional Education”

    I would have us join together in a fraternity that would help us to get a very basic Professional Education beginning with the identification of the BEST Instructional Practices in Professional Teaching. Without this elementary step, we simply do not qualify as a Profession. No other profession, not hair care or surgery, ever skipped this fundamental step. The World Wide Web now is filled with millions of pages of unsupported practices, and quirky Educational Reforms. Currently teachers are the only ones held “accountable,” the vetting of Best Instructional Practices would shift accountability to professors, Schools of Education, State Departments, Self-Serving Foundations and other power brokers …where it belongs. Ironically, there is 75 years of powerful teaching methods waiting to be uncovered. Only competing ideologies and lack of a central system for vetting and identifying Best Practices stands between where we are and where we easily could be. The way forward is simple, very, very cheap and straight.
    Please join the dialogue at: http://bestmethodsofinstruction.com/

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