We have a counter full of back-to-school lists at home. I have a list of data-related projects I want and need to complete during the first few weeks of the new school year. My wife, an art teacher, has a back-to-school list; we have a kindergartner, and she also has a list of mandatory supplies (I’m going to include a new Littlest Pet Shop lunchbox as not mandatory, though there is still debate over this matter). Finally, though she is the youngest, our 19-month-old daughter actually has two pre-school supplies lists. In the spirit of all these lists—and to take my mind off of how much money we’ve spent on glue sticks alone over the past two weeks—I will devote a post to creating a Hamilton County back-to-school list.
The 2013-2014 school year will require the following supplies:
—Common Core Standards training and implementation
—Pathways to Prosperity
Over the past two years, Tennessee public schools have been slowly shifting to more rigorous math and reading-language arts standards. Tennessee signed on to the nationwide Common Core Standards initiative; and those standards, and the professional development and infrastructure to teach and measure those standards, are very much in the development phase. Common Core Standards as they relate to Hamilton County were the topic of a previous article. The reason why Common Core education standards are on the back-to-school list is in this quote from a Tennessee Common Core resource: "The PARCC assessments will begin during the 2014-15 school year. They will replace TCAP in math, reading and writing in grades 3-11."
PARCC is an acronym for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. PARCC is a collaborative effort to develop ways to measure or test students’ Common Core knowledge and skills. The quote above provides a timeline for when those new tests are expected to be ready. Theoretically, the 2013–2014 school year will be the last time students will complete the state’s standardized tests, as the new assessments are scheduled to be in place during the 2014-2015 school year. This year will be a challenging year because while teachers and education leaders are gearing students up for the new standards, they will also be preparing students to take the old math and reading tests. In many ways, educators will be using two sets of standards and getting students ready for a familiar test and testing format AND an unfamiliar test and testing format (the new exams will be computer-based).
Another item on our 2014 school year list is the leadership pipeline. The new standards described above will be challenging, and if we are to meet and overtake that challenge, our schools will have to be equipped with phenomenal leaders. Because of the strong, proactive collaboration between the Hamilton County Department of Education, PEF, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga—with support from Unum, Joe Davenport and the United Way—we are ahead of the curve in developing great leaders. That good work will continue during the 2014 school year, with an emphasis on providing sustained support for developing leaders. Part of that support will include a principal evaluation instrument that is similar to the coaching-style evaluation tool used when evaluating Hamilton County’s teachers.
Though not officially described as such, I consider the county’s teacher residency to be part of the leadership pipeline. Leadership is typically not a skill that jumps out at someone at the 11th hour but rather is an identifiable trait with visible buds early in the blooming. If we expect principals and assistant principals to serve as the instructional leaders of our schools, we must rely on teacher residency programs like Project Inspire and STEM Teaching Fellows to support and develop stellar educators, some of whom will eventually feed the leadership pipeline. Think of the power of having a school principal who was originally handpicked for a residency program, in which they were trained to be a master teacher, who then eventually became a school principal after training with a master principal.
Pathways to Prosperity
The final item on our school list requires a paradigm shift. That same shift in leadership discussed above will start to occur with students during this school year. In our efforts to leave no children behind, we’ve left behind so many students. The new standards push us to approach teaching from a college AND career-readiness perspective. The collaboration between HCDE and PEF to place college and career advisers in every school is a huge step in the right direction. In 2014, as we see initiatives like Pathways to Prosperity come to life, we will see a shift from counseling students to coaching students.
Though it sounds like a little thing, the switch can make a huge difference. Counseling is important and provides an opportunity for students to reflect, explore and develop academic and career interests. Coaching is outcome-based. A counselor can help you determine which path may be right or wrong for you, while a coach will help you develop a concrete plan of action. Above, I asked you to imagine the power of a residency-trained teacher eventually becoming a leadership pipeline graduate. Add another layer to that, and you have the perfect reciprocal model: educated and informed students who become teacher residents who become education and community leaders. The Pathways to Prosperity initiative is exciting because it widens the spectrum of what it takes to be considered college- and/or career-ready. For too long, technical and vocational training has been the pink sheep of the education family. Not only is that thinking leaving too many Hamilton County students behind, but it also fails to recognize the important role technical training can play in the development of Common Core-style critical thinking and problem-solving. Businesses and business leaders are hungry for people who can think critically and meet technical challenges, and the initiatives described in this section can satiate them. For more information and college and career resources, visit College for TN or PEF’s College Advisers.
Back in the saddle
As we dip our collective toes into the school year waters, we are facing more than a few challenges. The biggies on this "supplies" list are just the beginning, really. What is most important about this list is that the crossing-off part is not the point. Any single item on the list is really not very useful in isolation. It is when the items are combined and used together that you get beautiful results.
Keith White is PEF Chattanooga’s director of research and effectiveness. Feel free to reach out to him by email with any questions, comments or requests. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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