Great to Greater: How the Best Schools and Education Systems Keep Getting Better — Douglas Reeves
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Great to Greater: How the Best Schools and Education Systems Keep Getting Better — Douglas Reeves

– This was the, too often
I think, in the K-12 space, we often expect to just jump right in. We’re expected to. People are like just jump right in. Just start introducing yourself. I don’t know how you feel about
that at nine in the morning, but it doesn’t always work for everyone. If it does work for you
I wanna encourage you all to do that though.
(audience laughing) So just jump right in. But this morning’s
discussions are designed to kind of help you ease
into this experience. Why? I think that there are
so many variety of topics that we cover, there are so
many interactive sessions you should be having in
your experiences here, that these speakers are the
ones who are gonna launch you into that experience. The goal is to help you better connect with one another prior to your
first networking opportunity and that’s the Thought
Leadership Exchange Luncheon. Now, in between all of that, you’re gonna have lots of time to chitchat with one another, but
you’re also gonna hear from one another as
you’re asking questions specifically around the
topics that these leaders, these speakers this morning will bring. We’ve lined these folks up
because we really believe they can help spark that conversation. So at that Thought Leadership Luncheon you’re gonna be able to sit
down, dine with the speakers themselves and your new colleagues. All of your new friends
that you will have met over the next two hours, I guess. And you’ll more deeply find out what they have to bring to the table. Our goal is to help you
kick off these next two days with rich shared
experiences that by lunch, you’ll feel like you’re
amongst old friends. So that you’re able to
dive in with great ideas that you can take home and implement or not and say, that
wouldn’t work for my district and here’s why. We want you to have those conversations and this is your chance to do so. We want you to learn new ways of thinking about old challenges and we also want you to build new friendships. Build new understandings and approaches for how to make greater
school district leadership possible with your help. Then, you can put away your notes, you can pull up a chair,
and dive with your friends, colleagues and prepare to
meet up close and personal, the 2019 leaders to learn from. So now let’s dive in together. This is my chance to
introduce you to somebody that I’ve seen a couple of times that I was, when I approached,
I had approached him, couple of conferences actually, and this one I talked
to him and I was like, I really want you to be there. I want you to kick off
this event this year. But before we welcome Dr.
Doug Reeves to the stage, let me first tell you a
little bit about Doug’s work. He’s the founder of Creative
Leadership Solutions. He’s the author of more than 30 books, more than a hundred articles on leadership and organizational effectiveness. He has twice been named
in the Harvard University Distinguished Authors series. He’s received a Contribution
to the Field Award from the National Staff
Development Council, which we know as Learning Forward. And was a Brock International Laureate for his contributions to education. Doug has worked in every
state in the United States and over 20 countries. His volunteer activities, which I thought were really cool when I read this, he does something called (audience laughing) Provides free, right? Providing free non-commercial
support for doctoral students, don’t laugh it’s true. And the SNAFU Review, which
is where they’re publishing essays, poetry, stories and artwork from disabled veterans. If you would all please welcome me, please join me in welcoming
Dr. Douglas Reeves. (audience applauding) – Thank you, thanks very much
for that gracious introduction and thank you all for being here. I realize May is a busy time. Some of you are in testing windows, there’s a lot going on. So I’m deeply honored that you’re willing to spend some time with us today. And I will tell you that
I am particularly honored to share this morning with
Professor Lucy Hawkins. When we’re asked, what
did you do in your life? A lot of us will be able to
say that we were teachers and we were leaders,
which is a noble and great things to do. Lucy will be able to say,
well I taught a couple of billion children to read. And there is, I’m quite
serious, nobody in this world that’s had a more profound
impact on literacy. Not just in the United
States, but around the globe. I’m deeply honored to share
this platform with her. So let’s get underway. I’ve got a few objectives but lemme, if I don’t mind, just share with you, you can take notes as
frantically as you want, but I will always make all
this research available. Both the articles as
well as all these slides. I’ll post them at or if you wanna just give me
a card, I’ll send them to you. The research is there to be shared. There’s free videos, articles, tools, at
that you’re free to take. And a few words about, I had just finished a volunteer
gig in schools in Boston and I went to a friend
at mine at the university and said, “So what should
my next volunteer gig be?” And he said, “Well,
everybody likes to read “to a six year old, nobody likes to read “to a 45-year-old graduate student.” 69% of doctoral candidates never finish. So we started this group, It’s free, it’s non-commercial,
literally in a church basement in Boston we now have
students around the world. And if you or a loved one, or a colleague is struggling to get
unstuck at a dissertation, send it to, we’ll help ’em get unstuck. Here’s what I wanna do. A few words about just recent research. We’re all readers, I’m sure, of “Ed Week” and some of this is from their pages, but I just wanna share some things, literally the last 10 to 12 weeks that I think are important for us to know. Then I’m going to talk about
the hierarchy of claims. Because whenever we talk about research, let’s be candid, it’s not all equal. And I wanna talk about a
way that we can separate the wheat from the chaff as
we discern different research. Then, I’ll finally get to
the great to greater issue. And if I can synthesize
the great to greater issue, then the core competencies
that we’ve learned, it’s the following. Most of my research started
in what you may recall was the 90, 90, 90 schools. High poverty, high minority,
high achieving schools. Then, thanks to Dr. Jennifer
Sparrow, in Singapore, I started learning about so what are some of the world’s high wealth schools doing? And here’s the bottom line. If you wanna be a critical consumer, stop going to conferences that says, there’s a secret to
high poverty education. Because the best things
I’m seeing in schools that have 90% free and reduced lunch kids are the same things that
I’m seeing in Singapore. Same things that I’m seeing in Rwanda. Same things that I’m seeing in Taiwan. Great leadership, great
education, high expectations. So don’t let anybody tell
you that there’s a special formula for doing things
just for poor kids. In fact, the respectful
challenge I wanna place to the floor is if any
of you represent students who maybe have families that
are struggling economically, ask yourself this question, what would we do if they’re rich? ‘Cause if they were struggling readers and they were rich, and they
were paying $50,000 tuition at an independent school, we
wouldn’t say sink or swim kid, you shoulda learned that at home. We’d say, oh my god we’ll
move heaven and earth because we’ll intervene, we’ll
give them whatever literacy support they need, ’cause after all, that’s what rich kids deserve, right? So seriously friends, there is no, if I accomplish nothing
else, let’s bring together what we do for the best
schools in the world, for what we need to do
for the highest needs schools in the world,
that’s the conclusion of that research. And we’ll close with an
unrecognized 65th anniversary. You’ll have to guess between
now and five minutes to 10, what that 65th anniversary is. So let’s get underway. Here is some new research, I’m indebted to The New Teacher’s
Project for doing this. Six urban schools, systems. They looked at thousands
and thousands of assignments and here’s the bottom line. 94% of the high school students said they wanna go to college. And over half of ’em
were getting A’s and B’s. And 17% were doing grade level work. We don’t know if they can do it or not, we didn’t even ask them to. Because if there’s a high
percentage of low income kids, or a high percentage
of kids who are members of ethnic minorities, they
could go all year long and not even being asked
to do grade level work. I do a lot of classroom visits, I hope you are too. Dick Kilmore says, “When you
make a visit, look down.” That is look at what the kids are doing. Don’t just look up at what
the teacher is saying, look down, go to those writing portfolios and pull out some
examples and ask yourself, are we really giving our
students the opportunity to do grade level work,
’cause it’s not happening. And the evidence from that study said it doesn’t have to be that way. I know we have students
come to us substantially below grade level. And I’m not saying
present grade level work and a miracle happens. But their evidence suggests
that within six months, we can close that gap. But it’ll never close if we don’t do it. And to the leaders in this room, that means you gotta give
teachers the time to do it. Look, I’m a math teacher
and you send me kids who can’t add, subtract,
multiply and divide, I’ll teach ’em algebra,
but I probably can’t do it in one period a day. I need you as leaders to give me more time to make that happen. Next study, a stunning
increase in teenage anxiety, stress and depression, you
probably saw this in the “Times”, 70% of our teens are
reporting more concern about stress and anxiety and depression than about bullying, alcohol,
tobacco and drug abuse, teen pregnancy, this is serious. And I know that there’s a lot of stuff that we can’t control, on social media, in a home that contributes
to stress, anxiety and depression, but friends I’ll tell you what we can do. We can avoid contributing to it. And right now, in May, as
I’ll show you in a moment, we’ve got students around the country who have given up hope because
of toxic grading systems that say the mistakes I
make in January doom me now. And they’ve got nothing to do for the next six weeks of class, except make your lives
miserable, and they’ll do it. We’ve gotta at least avoid contributing to stress, anxiety and depression and I’ll give you a case in a moment of exactly how they’re doing that. What about what colleges need? Whenever I talk to systems,
the challenge always is, well Doug we’re, you know,
we really have to have toxic practices in high
school to toughen them up for the toxic practices in college. (audience laughing) Not quite sure I follow that logic. And I was out in California so I picked up the phone and called a friend of mine who teaches at the
University of California, and said, “Well tell me
what you’re really doing.” And here, after interviewing
a number of college professors is what I’m hearing. Number one, our kids have
gotta be able to take and seek critical feedback. What I’m concerned about
is that our Honor Roll kids always do things perfectly
and have never been told, you gotta rewrite something. Redo the lab report, you can
do a better job on that essay. Elaborate that problem
solving and mathematics more. They’ve never had critical feedback and the first time they get it in college and they crater. I want kids who can take
and seek critical feedback. And when they get it they
don’t call their lawyer or their mom, (audience laughing)
they actually talk to you about making it better. They’ve gotta advocate for themselves. I’m really concerned about our students who have gotten the
message that you only go to the counselor’s office
if you’re in trouble. I want kids to be able to
ask for help all the time. What these college teachers told me is the least persuasive thing they hear is a kid coming in in December saying, my mom’s gonna kill me if I
don’t get a B in the class. That’s not the way to ask for help. The first week, ask for help. Lemme tell you an authentic Boston story. We were asking these
students, why don’t you go to the office hours your professors post? And they said, “We
thought office hours were “when the professors wanted to be alone.” They didn’t even understand the mechanics of asking for help. And we’ve gotta help kids
advocate for themselves. Nonfiction writing
friends, listen to Lucy. Write to persuade, write to describe, write to compare, write
about your passions. I don’t care if they’re
an engineering major, they all need to write
more and write better across the curriculum. They’ve gotta close the blooming computer and have human time. Great book recommendation,
Sherry Turkle, MIT, “Reclaiming Conversation”. When an MIT professor says
it’s time to close the computer and have human time, take it seriously. ‘Cause they like computers at MIT. But they also know that
our kids are unable to engage in human conversation
if we don’t practice it. And finally, exploration and curiosity. There was a great article,
you might have seen Adam Bryant’s in the “Times”, some of the worst advice
our kids are getting is find your passion. No, you’re 15 years old, you have no idea what your passion is.
(audience laughing) Explore, be curious, try different things. And I’m very concerned
about turning high schools into these vocational channels where kids are supposed to have their minds made up. Let them try different things. And at the end of your
medical channel for example, they say, I don’t wanna be
a doctor, god bless them. Let them do different things and try different things and explore. Now, cheating our daughters. Who in this room is a
parent with daughters? This is serious. ‘Cause our kids are getting toxic messages and I’ve illuminated four of them. Number one, good girls get
it right the first time. Our girls, before they enter kindergarten, get the message you’ve gotta be perfect. You gotta get it right the first time. And what does that
message mean by the time they’re in K12 education? They’re terrified of making a mistake. And so they always get
it right the first time, and as a result, they rob
themselves of the opportunity to make mistakes and get feedback. You know, good girls know
that if an A is better, an A plus is, if an A is
good, and A plus is better. I’m indebted to Dr. Lisa
Damour for this research, which she called unproductive overwork. Going from an A to an A plus is staying within the comfort zone. When you’ve mastered the material at an A, we want our daughters to explore, to try new things, to yes, make mistakes. But they’re stuck in
the A to A plus channel. Thirdly, good girls know
that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say it at all. Yeah, I’ve told my kids that too. Lemme tell you about a
conversation I overheard in middle school writing workshop. “I knew Annica made a
mistake on that essay, “but I was afraid if I told her, “it would hurt her feelings.” So the writer didn’t get feedback. The person who was supposed
to learn how to give feedback didn’t learn how to give feedback, and these social consequences of constructive feedback are robbed. If you’ve done Lucy’s writer’s workshop, you know that we practice
conferring at a very early age. It’s one of the most
important things we do. And yet, to be blunt, what I fear is that a lot of people
honor that in the title, we’re doing Readers and Writers Workshop, but I wanna see more feedback, more conferring really
happening in classrooms. And finally, good girls
know that you’ve gotta better than a man to do the job. Well, we’ve got a lot of
women leaders in this room. Here’s the evidence
that might surprise you. Why is it, Dr. Moore says,
that women do better in school, earn more college degrees,
earn more MBA’s today and yet still constitute
only 5% of the leadership positions in the Fortune 500? Part of it is institutional
sexism, to be sure. But Dr. Moore says a bit part of it is, we take ourselves out of the running. 10 criteria for a job
that a woman meets eight, gosh I guess I’m not qualified
until I get those last two. A man needs two of ’em, I
can handle it, bring it on. (audience laughing) Here’s what Dr. Lisa Damour says, “We teach our daughters competence, “we teach our sons confidence.” And I wanna challenge us
to make sure that we’re giving our daughters the same opportunity to exude confidence as
well as the competence that they have. Next, next I’m sorry. Let’s see, decreasing the D/F rate. I said a brief word about grading. This is one of the most
powerful stories that I’ve heard and just to set the stage for you, this is in a large comprehensive system, 70,000 kids, very poor, 90%
plus free and reduced lunch. Very strong union. And the teachers involved in
this all had 20 plus years, so the classic resistant to change, secondary, card-carrying union ever, and yet they decreased
the D/F rate 80, 90, in one case 100% in a single year. And it wasn’t rocket science. What they did was to first of all, get rid of the average. Stop punishing kids in
May for the mistakes that they made later. I mean, if we could all agree, whatever our disagreements may be about grading policy, that grade ought to at least be accurate. Friends if you’ve got
students who are getting C’s and B’s on assessments,
they’re getting F’s for the semester because
of missing work in February and it’s happening all over the country, that is the definition of inaccuracy. That is saying you’ll always be punished for mistakes that were made here. Here’s the analogy. Are some of you gonna
have end of year concerts? And the audience will
all be, don’t applaud. Don’t applaud at those concerts. ‘Cause those kids sounded
terrible in September. (audience laughing) Make sure you punish ’em. You know in that context it’s silly, but it’s what we do in math and English and history classes all year long. And the other thing, if
you can just make those two little things, so I’m not
talking about overwhelming the system, all these educators did, they got rid of the
average and they went back to the old fashioned A, B, C, D, F system. The way we’ve been calculating
grade point averages for almost 400 years. A is a four, B is a three,
C is a two, D is a one, F is a zero, that’s it. Nothing more complicated. Get rid of the dumb hundred point system where people think that it’s precise, ’cause they think an 82
is different from an 83. Get rid of it. Just go back to plain, old
fashion A, B, C, D, F rating. Parents like it, kids like it, you’ll still have transcripts,
you’ll still have GPA’s. And lemme tell you what
these teachers told me. When they got rid of the average, they got rid of the hundred point scale, they stopped grading homework,
here’s what everybody said. Well, you’re just dumbing it down. You’re just trying to help
those low performing kids. That’s not what happened. ‘Cause they also have three
years of final exam scores and they can document that
while they were doing this, actual achievement increased. It wasn’t grade inflation,
it was work inflation. The kids worked harder and what happened when they
stopped grading homework? They could finally have
honest conversations about what they don’t know. ‘Cause these days you can turn
in a perfect homework set, downloaded conveniently from the internet, or copied from a friend and
once you think that I’m perfect, I can’t have an honest conversation
about what I don’t know. When they stopped grading this homework it started honest conversations. How about rethinking silent reading. Here is my concern. I know a lot of you have
invested a lot of money in technology, but when I’m
observing silent reading classes in the last few months, here’s what I’ve seen. Hundreds of books on the iPad. Classroom is silent so everybody
thinks reading is going on. Sit down next to the kids as I did. They’re scrolling through,
title after title after title. Five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, not reading a single thing,
because they’re overwhelmed with the choices. Put the books, real books,
in the hands of the kids, that’s what we need to do. And give them the opportunity to write about what they’ve read. You know, I think people
think that writing has become this drudgery,
because of the way that we’ve manufactured
drudgery into writing and state tests. But reflecting on text,
wondering about text can be a marvelous experience,
and restore some of the joy of reading, thinking
and writing altogether. Homework and practice. The second most emotional
topic in education right after grading is homework. So, I know there’s a lot
been written in the pages of “Ed Week” and elsewhere,
I’ll just say the following. Why do teachers assign homework? Because kids need?
– Practice. – And we all agree, practice is important. But let’s think, ask your music directors, ask your athletic coaches, what does a good practice look like? In fact, let’s just do that here. Do we have anybody here
who’s been a coach? Who’s a coach? What do you coach? – [Audience Member] Track. – You coach track and
so I assume what you do is you have your students
put those hurdles in their backpack and go
home and do the odd number of hurdle problems one through 30? (audience laughing) – [Audience Member] I have them, run in circles around–
– There you go, yeah. Triple jump it in the living room. Look, we know what good
practice looks like, ask your coaches. It’s feedback, it’s response to feedback. It’s immediate. And when there’s feedback,
when there’s coaching, when there’s responsive feedback, that’s good practice, and
that never happens at home. So yes, kids need practice, but what’s happening at homework, and I’m indebted Alexandria
Neason for this study. Said this is a 37th study
that says the impact of homework on academic
achievement is zero, zip, nada. Some of the best schools I’m studying have stopped grading it. Because the sort of things
that we do at homework is not practice. Eric Mazur at Harvard, physics teacher, is a wonderfully brilliant guy. And he used to assign these problem sets and realized they could
do the problem sets, or maybe copy them from a roommate, but they weren’t learning physics. So now, he uses these
old timey white boards to do the work in class. Yes, they need practice,
but practice means coaching and feedback and we can do it in class, not the illusion that it happens at home. And frankly, when I see kids flunking because of missing homework, who in the world are we grading anyway? So, let’s just skip ahead
to the hierarchy of claims, as I promised you. A lot of us have sat in
meetings where people say, research says that, studies show that. And I’ve been there too. So lemme articulate five levels of ways that you can eye and evaluate a claim. Level one, I believe it. I believe kids need homework
’cause it builds character. I believe in the zero on
the hundred point scale. Hey, god bless the First
Amendment of the United States. Everybody’s entitled to their own beliefs. They’re just not entitled
to their own facts. And so when you hear somebody
talking about their belief, let’s stop calling it evidence. Level two, experience. Well, I’ve been teaching for 21 years now. Great, that’s a sample size of one. (audience laughing) Please don’t (words
drowned out by laughter). Well Doug, it’s not just me, it’s the whole third grade team, it’s the whole math department. Great, that’s collective experience, please don’t call it evidence. Level four, this is what
everybody in this room can do. Systematic comparison. Those educators who had the giant drop in D’s and F’s, lemme
tell you what they did. We called it the science fair for adults. No dissertations, no
glitter, no PowerPoint. Just simple three panel boards that said, what was my challenge,
what was my intervention, what were my results? And in beautiful systematic comparison, same teacher, same curriculum, same exam. Last year, now I made these
changes in my instruction and grading system. This year, two simple bars,
systematic comparison. We can all do that, no
matter what the size of your system is. And my experience is this
is that inside out research. Local evidence of effectiveness is some of the best, most
persuasive things you can do. And moreover it allows you to demonstrate to even the most skeptical person that things can work. So systematic comparison, that’s great. And level five preponderance
of the evidence. That’s what I try to bring to the table. Look I’m just a quantitative researcher. And I know they can’t measure
everything with a number. But if I have a study of 2000 schools that I’ll show you in a little bit, that shows you that efficacy
came out number one, and then Michael Fullan
from a quantitative lens says efficacy turns out number one and then Marzano with his
latest October evidence says collective efficacy was number one. And then John Hattie’s
synthesis of many meta analyses says efficacy is number one, brother take it to the bank. (audience laughing) It’s not one researcher anymore. It’s different methods,
different perspectives, different people operating independently. That’s preponderance of the evidence. And I think that ought to be the standard. Level four and level five,
systematic comparison, preponderance of the evidence, that you demand and stop
settling for beliefs and personal experiences. So let us finally get
to the topic at hand. Great to greater and here is the context. We looked at schools all around the world. Dr. Sparrow, my co-worker on this was lucky enough to be
on the visitation team and accreditation team
for a number of schools. So she saw some great ones. And my research principally
in the United States is focused on these schools as well. Some were high poverty,
some were low poverty. Some were suburban, some urban. Some were rural. All kinds of different perspectives here. They included public
and independent schools, charter schools and international schools, and a variety of characteristics. And here is what we learned. Number one, we looked at
top performing schools that got better and better and better. They were already a
success by any measure, but they redefined what
success looked like. And they included schools
with high second language populations, but once
they’ve made achievements it’s too easy, gee, we
went from retched to good and good to great, let’s settle down. They never settle down. And they kept moving the goal
post to challenge themselves to get better and better. My colleague from Alexandria
or Arlington rather, up front and I were talking
about the limit effect. If you’re in a high performing system and you’re close to 85, 90%
of kids being proficient, the closer you get to
any statistical limit, the more error there is. The more random noise there is. So going from 95 to 96
doesn’t mean a whole lot. Nor does it mean anything
if you go from 96 to 95, their achievement has plummeted. The closer you are to the limit, the more random variation there is. So redefine the limit. Create new accountability
systems that go way beyond what your state is asking you to do. And that was the number
one finding of this study. Every one of these
great to greater schools practice what I would call
holistic accountability. Accountability as more than test scores. Because it always includes things beyond what your state measures right now. Now it is not my purpose to pick fights within the shadow of the
U.S. Department of Education about No Child Left Behind. I will tell you this. I spoke to one of the authors of the Every Student Succeeds Act and he said you know, and he
was a red state Republican, standing next to President
Obama when that was signed, at some political risk to himself. And he said the reason we did that was to appeal No Child Left Behind, to give people in this
room the opportunity to redefine what accountability was and all we’ve got to show for it is No Child Left Behind 2.0. And I wanna suggest there is flexibility that for the most part
we are simply not using. And I wanna suggest we can use it. So here’s some things that we saw. They created exceptional depth and focus. So all kinds of opportunities
to go beyond simply curriculum achievement, state standards, international standards, AP or IP, they created their own curriculum with greater depth and (person coughing). Pastoral care, and
that’s their term saying, and I know social and emotional learning, call it what you will, but the, it’s not just seminars in the whole child. It is relationships, one on
one with every single student. I don’t think we oughta
start school next year, without knowing something
about our children beyond what’s happening in the classroom. A sibling, an interest, a pet, a passion. We ought to know what’s going on there. Early childhood, you know,
how much more evidence do we need that what’s happening
in third and fourth grade test scores is profoundly
influenced by early childhood? And yet it’s invisible. It doesn’t show up in the test scores. And worst of all is the
practice of taking teachers who are great in early childhood, but if they’re great, I better move them into a tested grade. And take somebody who’s not so effective and move them into kindergarten. What a Faustian bargain. And so if we believe early
childhood’s important, darn it, put it in the
accountability plan, whether or not your
governing body or state pays any attention to it. Visual and performing arts. I’ll bet a lot of you are proud of that. They’re invisible. One state I wanna honor Connecticut, that we’ve got people in this room. Connecticut is the only state I know of that incorporated the arts
and access to the arts in their state accountability plan. Where’s the rest of the 49 in saying that the arts are really important? When in fact what we have
seen is to see the arts decimated in favor of the
pursuit of test scores elsewhere. And leadership and service,
we say it’s important, it’s not there. In general what I wanna see
is causes as well as effects. So I’ve talked long enough. I wanna give you a couple of minutes to exchange an idea with a colleague. And tell me what you’re proud of that is invisible in your
accountability system right now. Take two minutes and
then I’ll reconvene this. (people chattering) All the hard work of your teachers and (words drowned out by chatter). And it’s invisible. And what I’m saying is
don’t wait for Washington. Don’t wait for your state capital to put it in the accountability system. We need to be creating
accountability systems and schools are doing it, that reflect those things right now. And also reflect the
great work that teachers and leaders are doing as well. So let’s talk about the path to greater. Here are what I’ve identified
as the core competencies of these great and greater schools and you can see them
briefly and lemme just touch on each one of these beginning with focus. Because among the findings that I think are absolutely consistent in
my research and elsewhere, is that schools that try to do too many things become fragmented. And when I looked at achievement data, there was a direct
relationship between the, actually an inverse relationship between the number of priorities that they had, and gains in student achievement. Michael Fullan, who wrote the introduction to that study said that the
quantitative initiatives is inversely proportional
to student success. Now what’s the magic number? I won’t argue with you. In the study that I did it was six. If you wanna have seven or
five, that’s okay with me. But no more than about
six priorities per school, six per department, six
for the system at large. It’s gotta be focused
for deep implementation. ‘Cause here’s what I learned, these half-hearted
attempts, we’ll try this new math initiative, literacy initiative and incrementally get better. Incrementalism doesn’t work. In fact, it is the
prescription for frustration. Because people will implement
something incrementally, well, no results yet. A little bit more, no
results yet, a little bit, well, I guess that didn’t work, let’s go buy a new initiative. And they repeat the same
thing all over again. The evidence, however, shows
that deep implementation, you’re gonna do a Readers
and Writers Workshop, give it that time, and the intensity, and the focus that it deserves, then you will see quick results. But if that, as I’ve seen,
is done simultaneously with six other literacy programs, don’t expect to see a
whole lot of results. It’s gotta have intentional focus, it’s gotta have student focus. Here was a surprising finding. In some of these very
high performing schools, they had fewer electives. Fewer courses. It wasn’t unusual to see
five or six courses there in contrast to low performance schools had eight or nine things on the agenda, in an attempt to satisfy everybody. It is a prescription for fragmentation. And no wonder that our
kids are up till midnight trying to play Whack-a-Mole
with every curriculum opportunity that they have. And it included emotional
and physical health as well. What’s the evidence? I mentioned that big study
that I did a while back. And so I redid the data for this study to say let’s just pull out the
highest performing schools, because the illusion can be
if you look at a big data set, well of course some schools
do better than others and that may be due to
a variety of factors. But I just pulled out the
highest performing schools and said, of those, what
the vertical axis represents were gains in student
achievement over three years, K through 12, and the
horizontal axis represents how they succeeded in focus, in efficacy, in prioritization, those
things really matter. Even if you’re a very
high performing system, you get better and better
when you have higher levels of focus and higher levels of efficacy. Inquiry, these tools have a
culture of hypothesis testing. And it’s interesting to me that it turns the traditional change model on its head, because the traditional change model is, well you gotta have the coalition and you gotta get buy-in from everybody. You wanna know what? When a leader tells me I’ve got
buy-in from the whole staff, one of two things has happened. Either A, they’re not asking for change or B, the real arguments are happening out in the parking lot,
not in your office. (audience laughing) so I’ve stopped asking for buy-in. Change does not happen after buy-in. Change happens through
action and then I observe the results and then having
observed the results, I buy in. Stop waiting for buy-in. If you believe that model of change, you’ll never make a change. And so out of these respectful dialogues with colleagues who say
I know you don’t believe in writing in mathematics
or writing in history, I grant that, I’m not
asking you to like it. I’m asking you to do
it, observe the results, and if I’m wrong, I’ll
admit in front of God and everybody that I was wrong. But if I’m right and we
can observe these things in hundred day cycles, then and only then, will I ask you for buy-in. Holistic accountability. I mentioned earlier the
things that you’re doing that we don’t pay attention to, and it’s not just music and art and social and emotional health, it’s us. The missing part of most
accountability systems is teaching and leadership variables. And we can be as specific and clear in effective teaching
and leadership variables as we are in measuring
student achievement. We just haven’t done it. I mean, think of it this way. If we were to have a health initiative, and we know that there’s
a teenage obesity crisis, and we decided great,
we’ll weigh every student. We’ll publish their Body Mass
Index in their report cards. Would you wanna know as a
parent if those variables were changing due to your
diet and exercise program? Or due to anorexia and drug abuse? ‘Cause both of those things will make their Body Mass Index go down. But I’d wanna know as a parent what the underlying cause was. An accountability system that does not include causes, teaching
and leadership is bankrupt. And again, don’t wait for
any governmental authority to tell you to do it, just do it ’cause it’s the right thing to do. And we have a system of
indicators that includes what the system needs and
what the schools need. Feedback. The acronym here is
FAST, it’s gotta be fair, accurate, specific and timely. I know we are burdened with
ridiculous teacher evaluation systems in many of your states, and probably nothing I
can do to change that. But I have never seen
anybody get evaluated into better performance. I have seen people get better
performance with feedback. So feedback that is
accurate, specific and timely for students, for teachers, for leaders, that’s what we need to do. Don’t wait for the
evaluation system to change, I’m tired of holding my breath on that. But all of us independent
of evaluation systems, can improve the clarity
and specificity of feedback we provide the students and to each other. I realize that this is a
controversial thing to say, but there’s a lot of things
out there masquerading as formative assessment
that are better described in an article that I wrote called “Uninformative Assessment”. (audience laughing) That is they’re not summative,
but if it’s formative, it’s informing teaching and learning. If it’s uninformative, it
means thank god that’s over, now I can go back to
what I was doing before. There’s a lot of assessments out there that we’re spending money on that are just in that category. Ask yourself, can it be
used to influence tomorrow’s teaching and learning? If the answer is no, it’s uninformative. We’ve gotta get rid of what I’ve called academic
corporal punishment. Now, I guess I should
check my assumptions here. Will everybody who thinks
that beating children is a good way to improve
their behavior please? Okay, I don’t see, well
you’ll probably tell me after, ’cause I have heard people
say, well it worked for me. (audience laughing) You know, to our national
disgrace, but you know 19 states still allow corporal punishment? You know that last year 110,000 kids received corporal punishment? And just to go on a
slight research bird walk, anybody wanna guess at
the date of the study that said it doesn’t work? In fact it’s counterproductive, leads to worse behavior and more bullying. 1960. That’s three years before
the Surgeon General said smoking is a bad idea. (audience laughing) So corporal punishment doesn’t work, and most of us don’t believe in it. But we tolerate academic
corporal punishment all the time, because we
still have this culture that grading as punishment works. And it doesn’t. When Thomas Guskey reviewed
a century of research on grading, if there’s one conclusion, it’s that grading as
punishment does not work. And if you think those
F’s and zeros do work, you oughta be able to
raise your right hand and say, we’ve got as a
result of a century of F’s and zeros and grading as punishment, the most on-time, quality
work every submitted in the history of our school system. Nobody is telling me that. It doesn’t work, stop using
grading as punishment. And, they reject some ineffective teacher and leadership evaluations
and they have a culture instead of daily feedback. Constant feedback that is not
part of the evaluation system. What about efficacy? The operational definition. Here’s a practical idea you can take away. Please do not hire the
inspirational speaker to sing the efficacy song and
do the efficacy dance, okay? That’s not evidence. Instead, ask this question. What causes student achievement? And I do this with faculties. What causes student achievement? And write ’em all down. And they’ll say, well you
know, it’s effective teaching and effective feedback,
but they’ll also say it’s alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse, it’s sleep deprivation,
it’s inattentive of parents, I grant all those things. Write ’em all down, and
you’ll have three categories. Stuff I can control, stuff I can influence and things I can neither
influence nor control. Efficacy is all about
the first two columns being greater than the last column. I admit there are things we can’t control that influence achievement. But there’s a ton of
things that we influence and control that are
dramatically more powerful even including attendance. Even including screen time. There’s a lot of things
that when we talk about ’em, we can influence, that’s efficacy. They redefine what great is. For example, one of the
highest performing schools in the world that we studied,
stopped using superlatives in their yearbook. They’re getting rid of the
notion of the valedictorian which is 3.99995 who is clearly superior to the salutatorian at 3.99996. It’s a farce and here’s why. What really separates those two if you’ve got quality points? The kid who was wise enough
not to take ninth grade band, was able to get the quality point. The kid who didn’t have
to work a summer job and so was able to take
an extra college course got the quality points
and is the valedictorian. I don’t mean to in any way
malign your valedictorians. I mean to say that the
distinction between one and two, is a distinction without a difference. A far better system is
the Latin honor system. Highest honors, high honors and honors. And you set the criteria
and if nobody meets it for highest honors, nobody meets it. If three students meet it, three meet it. But you stop the silliness
of the competition that creates these distinctions
that are unhelpful. And when some of the
best schools in the world are going to that system, I would at least
respectfully like to ask you to consider it as well. My colleague Dr. David
Gleason wrote a splendid book, “At What Cost?”, the
emotional and developmental cost of high performing students. And what I saw in these
schools wasn’t just this incessant race to superiority, but time to get off the
treadmill, time to care about the lives of our students. Read yesterday’s “New York
Times” Ethicist column by Professor Anthony Appiah. It is, it’ll make you weep. Because it is a response
to a kid who was rejected by his colleges of choice and
Professor Appiah’s response to that was if you spend
the rest of your life deciding you’re gonna compare
yourself only to others, who are now celebrating college admissions you’ve got a miserable life ahead of you. It’s not about comparison. It’s not about always being superior. It’s about being the
best you that you can be. Read this column this week in
the “New York Times” magazine. Let’s take a few vignettes
from these schools. I love this teacher. They get together, they
share their exit slips. So it’s very authentic. What happened today in class
and how can I get better? And she deliberately showed her exit slips from her last class of the day. It was hot in an
un-air-conditioned building. This happened to be eighth
grade English Language Arts. Not easy in any circumstance. And here’s the footnote to that, as she’s saying how can I
make my teaching better? She was in her last 30 days of her career. And she’s trying to make
her 40th year better than her 39th year. That is the sort of thing
that I find deeply inspiring. I’m sorry that I can’t read this. Oh, it was clear by December
that even high performing students were behind in grammar. These teachers, on the
fly, during the year, were creating new curriculum. Nobody ever got awards for
creating new curriculum during the year when they
all feel overburdened, but that’s what they did. They identified the
deficiencies, created new things. I just wanna say a few
more of these vignettes. They talked about good
meetings were worth having, meetings only for
deliberation and inquiry. And if you as leaders wanna make one thing that your faculty will regard as a gift, stop having announcements in meetings. Sing happy birthday once a year. (audience laughing) And honest to goodness,
let the rest of that, if it’s not for deliberation and inquiry, stop doing the meetings. I know superintendents who
are setting quantitative goals to reduce meeting times
so we can have time to deliberate, have time
to look at assessments, have time to look at
authentic student work and confer with one another. They are clearly raising the bar. And they’re just never ever satisfied with what they’re doing. I want to jump ahead to
a blueprint for action, ’cause I wanna give you a few
opportunities for questions and stay rigorously on time,
’cause I’m not gonna step one minute on Lucy’s time. Here are some things that
I’d like you to consider. Define what happens beyond test scores. And that means for the
school and for the system. Define causes. You don’t need a 30
page evaluation program to say what are the essentials of teaching that lead to better achievement. We know, for example, that
whenever I do an observation, I simply count objectively, what percentage of students got feedback? What percentage of students
responded to feedback? I don’t need a 30 page evaluation form. And that is objective clear feedback. And if the answer is zero, that tells me that there
was all teacher talk, and not nearly enough engagement. So there may be other things. For example, do we have
every student engaged? Every student with an
opportunity to be called on? Or are we still using the
primitive hand raising? If I could ask one
request of my colleagues in the classroom, it
is to use hand raising to ask a question, never
to answer a question. When there’s time to answer a question, everybody has an equal
probability of being called on and stop the practice of hand raising. We all did it, we all raised our hands, that’s why we got college
degrees and became teachers. But we gotta stop doing it
now with today’s students. And, plan the science fair,
another practical idea. If you want one take-away from today, you don’t need a study. You don’t need a research firm. You’ve got the research
in your classrooms. Plan a science fair. Literally before the end
of this calendar year. And the science fair are these, this is money now, $2.59 at Office Max, to buy these three panel things. What was my challenge? What was my intervention? What were my results? With that simple science fair idea, you’ll document the innovations that work, and some of them won’t work, but you’ll learn well from that as well. That some of the best change initiatives that I see happen inside
out, because people were courageous enough to have this simple science fair approach that works. Here are some enemies of great to greater. Words like effect-based accountability. Which is all that’s test
scores, it’s ruining us. Think we can learn that after
19 years and still haven’t. Words like adequate progress. Now that’s inspiring, isn’t it? (audience laughing) Even words like proficient
and Guskey, to his credit, many of you are using words
like exceeds standards, it’s sending the wrong message. Exceeds sounds like a quantitative gain. Seven pages instead of five. And a longer report
instead of a shorter one. If you really wanna have
differences in rigor and complexity, call it exemplary. Talk about rigor and complexity, don’t use words like
exceeds ’cause it seems like a little bit better than proficient, which I don’t think is a high
enough bar for any of us. So I’m going to talk
about the anniversary, but I’ve still have got
about seven or eight minutes that I can take some
questions or comments. And friends this is also a
safe and appropriate place for challenges, if you think
I’m wrong about something, please feel free to push back. That’s what good academic
discourse is all about. So I welcome your questions,
but also your disagreements. I won’t make anybody
speak into a microphone, I’ll repeat the question so. Who’s, and I’m afraid
I don’t see very well, so if I don’t see your
hand, I’m not being rude, just holler out at me. Yes, please. – [Audience Member] Good morning. How do you overcome the state giving you what you have to do and the expectation of the state exams and all the things that you’re saying is not good practice, how do you overcome that? Because you only have a
certain amount of time in a year, and you have
to accomplish these goals, so how do you overcome that? – Yes ma’am. The question is how do we overcome some of the state demands
particularly focused on tests? And the obvious answer is
we don’t fight City Hall in terms of the compliance
with the state requirement. But I’ll tell you what I saw last night that my editor sent me. Her child’s teacher sent
a note to every parent and every child, and I
wish I could quote it, because it was so beautifully written. It basically said, “We all
know that we have tests “coming up in the next few weeks “and the state takes them seriously “and I know you’ll do
your best, ’cause we work “hard all year, but I
wanna tell you something,” this teacher said, “Really important. “You are not your test scores.” And if we could just say
that to our children, we could reduce the anxiety. ‘Cause I’m concerned ma’am
that the anxiety of teachers is telegraphed to students right now. Not a whole lot of
evidence that high anxiety leads to better performance. Thank you for raising that. Yes please. – [Audience] You made
mention of cutting back on electives to go more
in depth with the portion that would be (voice drowned out by
acoustics in room and coughing) talked about whatever you proudly assess is what’s not assessed. So you talk about (words
drowned out by room acoustics) talked about (speaks
quietly) things like that. So I’m just interested
in seeing how you balance between those cutting back on electives and also (speaks quietly) – Yes sir. The question is I appear
to be contradictory when I said they have fewer electives, but I still said they arts were important. Here’s what I saw in these schools that only had five or six courses. They absolutely included the arts. And there was a choice. It might be visual arts,
performing arts, and so on. So the kids were
definitely doing the arts. But it was a choice of one or two, not these days filled
with nine separate periods that I’m seeing in low performance schools where the kids are fragmented
and focused on nothing. So I, thank you for
letting me clarify that. Absolutely believe in support for the arts and athletics as well,
those schools had every kid involved in some kind of
extra curricular activity. And that, by the way, oughta
be another accountability indicator, what percentage
of kids are involved in extra curriculars? In these great to greater
schools it’s 100%. – Exactly.
– Because it’s strongly related to good peer groups. Thank you sir. Yes. – [Audience Member] What was
the article you said to read from yesterday’s “New York Times”? – The question from
yesterday’s “New York Times”, it’s the, if you read the Sunday magazine, it’s the Ethicist Column,
by Professor Appiah. And it is, and it’s on the, online. If you go the “New York Times” website, click magazine, Ethicist. You’ll see it right there. It is stunningly good. If you follow me on
Twitter, I already posted his article last night too. Yes please. – [Audience Member] You mentioned that the valedictorian selection process, basically there was quality points. Having been an arts
advocate, one of the things I’ve discovered was that the universities discount students taking the arts when they look at the quality points for their admissions. – Yes sir. The gentleman says that the universities discount the arts because they
don’t have quality points. And we do the same thing. That’s why some of these great schools don’t do quality points. Because they’re making a big statement on their transcript that what we do with you sir in the arts, is
as important as what they do with me in calculus. And if we believe that,
let’s put our policies where are philosophies are. Couple more. Okay, the reveal of the anniversary. What happened 65, oh I’m
sorry is there a question in the very back? Okay. What happened 65 years ago this month? – [Audience Member] Brown
versus the government. Nailed it. May, 1954. Brown versus Board of Education. A case about which I happen to know a lot, ’cause I was raised in Topeka. And I knew the people on both sides and my father was an attorney involved with knowing these
folks, working with them. And it’s a remembrance I
wanna leave you with today. There’s a fella named John Davis, very distinguished litigator,
represented the state of South Carolina among
many other defendants in this case, and here is what he told the United States Supreme Court assembly. He said, “You’re moving too fast.” 1954. “Moving too fast, you should
take a more gradual approach. “You’re taking away local control.” He said, “Things are fine as they are, “people are happy, why change it?” And here, stunningly in the transcript, “We’re not gonna change, I
don’t care if the decision “is nine to zero, and you can’t make us.” And he opened the oral arguments with the following statement. He said, “If the appellant,”
that’s Linda Brown and her father Mr. Oliver Brown, “The appellants in this case, “in their construction
of the 14th Amendment “should prevail, there’s
no doubt in my mind “it would include the
Indian within its grasp “as much as the negro.” The argument was if you let Linda Brown go to this school, the
next thing you know, we’ll have Indians going to school, and everybody knows we can’t do that. It gets worse, if you’re not offended yet. “If Linda Brown should
prevail, I’m unable to see “why a state would have any further right “to segregate people on
the ground of sex or age, “or mental capacity.” If you let Linda Brown win this case, the next thing you know
we’ll have disabled kids in schools and we all
know we can’t do that. Now, who knew that this
case wasn’t just about one child in Topeka? It was about all kinds
of disadvantaged groups including our disabled kids. We owe her such a legacy 65 years later. Finally, after this guy
Davis had gone long enough, Felix Frankfurter interrupted him with words that should
resonate with us today. He said, “Attitudes in
this world are not changed “abstractly, as it were,
by reading something. “Attitudes are partly
the result of working. “Attitudes are the result of action. “You do not fold your hands “and wait for attitudes
to change by themselves.” I recognize everything you
learn at this conference can run into a buzzsaw of opposition. Just as it did 65 years ago today. And you’ll have people say
you’re moving too fast. Take a more gradual approach or we’re just not gonna change. And if we listen to what
the legacy of this case is, it is the following. Let your actions speak. Thanks for sharing your morning. (audience applauding)

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