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Lillian M. Lowery, Delaware’s Secretary of Education, spoke at a recent Hechinger Institute seminar for reporters new to the education beat. Lowery was on a panel with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Peter Cunningham, assistant secretary for communications and outreach at the U.S. Department of Education. The Hechinger Report’s Richard Lee Colvin led the panel discussion. Dr. Lowery’s comments, edited for clarity, are transcribed below.
Policy matters. And so before the federal government even gave out a dime, states were looking at their codes and their regulations to determine if they have the appropriate flexibilities to do the kind of reform work that we need to do.
If we continue to do what we’ve always done, we are going to continue to get what we have always gotten.
We are taking the policies that we have revised in Delaware – and Delaware was in a good place because Delaware had a code – [and] we had to put stronger regulations around the code. We had code that had liberal charter laws, we had code that had statewide choice, we have statewide evaluations for teachers and leaders. We have one of the – if not the – most robust data systems in the country. It’s an interactive data system that we are going to make better.
We can have all of the reform foundation in place, but if we don’t have policies to give people cover to do what we need to do, we are not going to get we need to get.
It’s not about the money
The money in the total scheme of things is not the big driver, the amount. The big driver is the common language, the common focus on moving school reform forward for every child that walks into the doors of our schools.
So, while Delaware got $119 million spread over four years with 50 percent going out to 38 LEAs and the other 50 percent staying at the state level to then support those LEAs, we are not wrapping our heads around the dollar but what the dollar has generated – policy, regulation, conversation and a common focus around improving Delaware schools.
When we do juxtapose ourselves against our international industrialized peers, we are not doing so well. The President has said that over and over again. What do we do to stop it?
When we talk to people from international concerns around what they are doing around public education, everything they are implementing they found on research-based initiatives in the USA. They are just doing it with fidelity. And with policies that really compel people to move forward.
Ninety days to come up with a plan
From March 29th to June 28th, we had to write a plan – every LEA, based on the state’s memorandum of understanding – and every single one of ours signed on. Now, they had to take the scope of work that we submitted to the federal government and say that we are going to write our individualized plans in 90 days. We met with U.S. Department of Education staff on April 9th, and then we had to hold statewide workshops and county-by-county workshops to give technical assistance. We did meet our 90-day deadline.
We took those four assurances: the college- and career-ready standards, which we are aligning with our curriculum, will inform what we do with our curriculum and grade-level expectations; the data system; the teacher-leader effectiveness; and the turning around of persistently low-achieving schools. And we put those into 12 areas of focus. Every LEA had to choose from those 12 areas of focus – which four or six, based on their data, would they use their funding on (not just the Race to the Top funding but all of their consolidated federal funds, local funds) to move their agenda forward.
The work continues
It’s going to be a flexible plan that will evolve over time as we get more information and as we share our national agenda.
One of the pieces, statewide, that every LEA has to address, and to me who was a teacher for many years, a principal, a superintendent, it is the most profound one. It is the teacher-leader effectiveness tied to student growth.
For years, the only person or people who have been 100 percent accountable for growth has been the students. While they depend on the leaders and the teachers to give them what they need when that accountability report card went up around those children’s individual performance, and then the school’s performance is based on those – that’s unfair. If the child is going to be held accountable, then the people who are supposed to prepare the child – and that includes the Secretary of Education, the state board, local boards – must be held accountable.
We all have to own this. We all have to be invested in this. So, the teacher-leader effectiveness piece is huge. I have indicators of success, superintendents are going to have indicators of success, teachers are going to have indicators of success.
No one indicator can tell the story, there have to be multiple indicators of success, and we are working on this in our state. When I say “we” are working on this, our teachers are sitting at the table with us telling us what those indicators should be, helping us drive that conversation.
Highly qualified teachers and leaders in schools
How do we deal with having high-quality people, leaders and teachers in the schools doing this work? Teach for America was brought in, in our urban schools in particular, and every year there is a turnover from 30 to 50 percent. If we can get some high-quality folks who come in with a passion to work side-by-side with veteran teachers, if we have them for three years – in some instances, we are having them longer than teachers who rotate through, but we also believe that when they go back out into the community as doctors or lawyers or whatever, we need advocates. We need those people out there who truly understand the complexity of education and what it takes to reform and sustain great reform efforts pushing those opportunities for funding, whether it’s private or public partnerships.
Inputs and Outcomes
We do inputs well. What we’ve got to focus on are outcomes. Inputs are wonderful. That’s what we do well in education. What we have got to focus on are outcomes. What we do now has to be outcomes-based. We are going to train all of our Advanced Placement teachers over the summer, 100 percent of them would be trained. That’s an input. The question is “so what?” You get them all trained. What percentage of students then would be making 3s to 5s on AP assessments? If you get more teachers trained, what percentage of underrepresented students now would you be able to give those courses, because right now a lot of those courses are singletons. So inputs are great – we do that well, but we’ve got to be focused on outcomes. Those are the hard questions, if something is going to be different from what it has always been at the end of this reform. How are you determining what inputs there should be, how are you going to determine the outcomes, what is the timeline for those outcomes, and what are the expectations for everyone involved to be sure that those outcomes are realized?