What U.S. schools can learn from Russia

“Those of us who have traveled to [other] countries come away with the same conclusion,” Domenech writes: “Their students are more disciplined and full of rote knowledge that comes in handy when being tested—but they lack the independent thinking and creativity that is a hallmark of our system of education.”
“Learning Leadership” column, Jan. 2013 edition of eSchool NewsThere is a tendency to beat up on our public schools based on the performance of American students on international tests. The impression that is created is that our schools are not as good as those in the rest of the world.

Let me tell you, that’s a crock.

I’ve had the opportunity to travel extensively throughout the world, and generally our schools are the envy of other countries.…Read More

Why are women so underrepresented in educational leadership?

Seventy-two percent of the education workforce consists of women. But only 26 percent of high school principals are women, and just 24 percent of superintendents are women.

Learning Leadership column, November/December 2012 edition of eSchool News—Recently, I had the unique opportunity to be one of a handful of males who sat in with a group of 300 women in school leadership when they convened in Newport Beach, Calif., to network, share, and learn from one another.

This was the second year that the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) had collaborated with the Association of California School Administrators to put on the “Women in School Leadership Forum.”

Last year, the event was held in San Diego and drew about 150 participants. Attesting to the success of last year’s event, this year’s attendance doubled. When asked how many would return if the event were held again next year, the majority of women enthusiastically raised their hands and promised to bring a friend, indicating that next year’s attendance might double once more.…Read More

How to achieve true educational transformation

“True transformation would be providing each child with a personalized education plan … and recognizing that, thanks to technology, learning can occur anywhere,” Domenech writes.

“Learning Leadership” column, October 2012 edition of eSchool News—With the country approaching national elections, those involved in education wonder how the results might affect the educational landscape. The last four years have deeply affected schools systems, as the economic downturn has caused significant reductions in spending and the Obama administration has used stimulus dollars as the carrot to implement its policy initiatives. Here are some key points that we should bear in mind as we move forward.

In response to the education critics, there is substantial evidence that America’s public schools are the best they have ever been. Our graduation rates are at the highest levels, our dropout rates are at their lowest, NAEP achievement in reading and math is at its highest level, the achievement of minority students is at its highest levels. According to the latest Gallup Poll, parent satisfaction with the school their oldest child attends is at its highest level. The problem is that we are not satisfied with our performance, and we want it to be better.

There is a significant gap in achievement between children of color, children on free or reduced lunch, children who speak English as a second language, and white middle-class children. We have two educational systems: one in wealthy suburban communities that can compete with the rest of the world, and one in the impoverished urban and rural systems that has defined the American public school system as a failure. We want all of our public schools to be the best in the world.…Read More

Until we get rid of funding inequities, real education reform can’t happen

The sad reality is that the quality of our public schools has always been subject to the tax dollars that can be raised in the neighborhood they serve.

Learning Leadership column, Sept. 2012 edition of eSchool NewsEvery year at this time, I look forward to the release of the Phi Delta Kappa/ Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. Given the apparent dissatisfaction that many Americans have toward public education, the poll results might shed some light on why—and what we as public educators might be able to do about it.

I am immediately drawn to the section that asks the public to grade the public schools. Over the last 20 years, the results have been very consistent on two levels. First, and very much to my liking, the percentage of respondents who have a child in school and give their school a grade of A or B continues to grow. This past year, the number was at 77 percent, significantly higher than it was 20 years ago when the number was 64 percent. What does that tell us? Our public schools are being pounded as being of low quality and dysfunctional and not as good as they used to be. Yet, for those who are direct consumers of what the schools have to offer, parents with children in the school, satisfaction with the public schools is at an all-time high.

Second, when the public at large is asked to grade the school in their community, whether they have children in attendance or not, the results are also consistent in that there has been a continuous increase in satisfaction over the past 20 years. Currently, 48 percent of the public gives the school in their community a grade of A or B. That’s certainly not as impressive as the 77-percent approval rating by parents, but 20 years ago the percentage was 40 percent and it has been increasing steadily over the years.…Read More

Ten tips for forging successful school-community partnerships

The outside organization’s challenge is gaining the trust of the school.

Learning Leadership column, July/August 2012 edition of eSchool NewsThe American Association of School Administrators is a strong proponent for the education of the total child.  What we mean by that is, we firmly believe that the schools cannot do it alone.

We fully accept the responsibility to educate America’s children, and we are willing to be held accountable for that—but we also realize there are many factors outside the school that affect a child’s ability to learn. Consequently, our ability to succeed in the classroom can be enhanced by collaborating with community agencies and other governmental entities that provide the services that can make sure our children come to school ready to learn.

Easier said than done.  I spend a considerable amount of time talking to community groups and nonprofits that are trying to climb over the school wall to offer their programs and services. Often, they find administrators unreceptive to their advances and want to know what they can do to establish collaborative alliances.…Read More

It’s time to blow up the current grade-level structure

“Performance levels could be established as benchmarks that would denote passage from early childhood to primary, intermediate, middle, and secondary.”

Learning Leadership column, June 2012 edition of eSchool NewsI want to blow up K-12 education! Not the public school system, just the grade level structure that has regulated how our schools are organized since the 19th century. It served its purpose once upon a time. It compared well with Henry Ford’s assembly line in the early 20th century as a way to conveniently group kids according to age.

Today, the K-12 structure is an impediment to progress. All reform efforts still bow to the grade levels as if they were sacrosanct. Amazingly, there are a number of states still debating social promotion and holding kids back on grade level. How mid-20th century!

Think of all of the ills confronting education today, and they can be traced right back to the K-12 grade level structure that all of our schools adhere to.  Some of us have made attempts to get rid of it, but with little success.…Read More

Senate bill on the use of restraint would tie school leaders’ hands

The bill proposes that restraints can be used in emergency situations by trained personnel, but only when the student is at risk of imposing “serious bodily injury” to himself or others.

Learning Leadership column, May 2012 edition of eSchool NewsIn the 1990s I was the superintendent for an intermediate school agency that provided the special-education services for its component school districts. We operated facilities that housed students that were not being mainstreamed with the local population. The push for mainstreaming was well under way, and many parents would petition the local schools to have their children educated there. In the case of some of the students with severe emotional and behavior issues, the local schools did not have the trained staff, equipment, or facilities to ensure that the students would be kept from harming themselves or others. Consequently, they became our students.

Twenty years later, every effort is made to educate all special-education students within the mainstream population. Both special-education and mainstream staff are trained to effectively deal with students whose behavior might result in injury to themselves or others. Administrators in those schools must ensure the safety of all students and staff in the building.

Recently the U.S. Senate introduced a bill, the “Keeping All Students Safe Act,” that would prohibit the use of seclusion and restraint, the very practice that has enabled many students with serious emotional or behavioral conditions to be educated in the least restrictive and safest environment possible. Supporting the bill is an advocacy community that is rightfully concerned with incidents where the use of seclusion and restraint has resulted in injury and, in some cases, the death of students. The education community again finds itself caught in the middle between providing all children with the opportunity to be educated in the least restrictive environment and at the same time protecting those very children from harming themselves or staff and other children in the immediate vicinity who might be injured during the course of a violent behavior episode.…Read More

These core beliefs are critical to the success of U.S. public schools

‘Perhaps the solution is not the proliferation of charters, but rather the elimination of the rules and regulations that allow charters exempt from them to thrive.’

“Learning Leadership” column, April 2012 edition of eSchool News—The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) is one of the oldest education associations in the country. Founded in 1865, its mission is to advocate for the highest quality public education for all students and to develop and support school system leaders.

Our members are the educational leaders in every community in America. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that our job is to represent the interests of local school systems in our nation’s capital. We often find ourselves at odds with a federal government that pushes to become more and more involved in local affairs and with state governments that often will highjack federal funding before it trickles down to the local level.

Our positions come directly from our membership, and we take advantage of today’s technology to survey our members frequently and get real-time responses to what is affecting students in their schools and communities. Indeed, our members often feel that they have direct input into the policy making here in Washington, D.C. Our surveys on the impact of the economy on our schools have become as popular here inside the Beltway as the polls on presidential contenders. We actually think that our surveys better serve the public.…Read More

What public school administrators want from policy makers

School systems should not be required to spend local and state funds to implement federal mandates.

Learning Leadership column, March 2012 edition of eSchool News—Last month, the American Association of School Administrators’ Executive Committee and Governing Board came together at our national conference in Houston to approve our legislative agenda. The year ahead looms as a politically charged period, leading up to the presidential and congressional elections. Much of what ordinarily might happen on Capitol Hill won’t happen because of political posturing. Consequently, we have little hope that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) will be reauthorized prior to the elections. And that’s a shame, because there is substantial agreement between the two parties on key points.

Our governing body numbers more than 150 superintendents from around the country. They represent large and small districts, rural and suburban, wealthy and poor. They are, in fact, representative of every school district in America. You can be certain that the positions emerging from that group represent what our public school districts want in legislation coming out of Washington.

First and foremost, we want regulatory relief from No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The waiver process that the Obama administration has implemented is a replacement for the stimulus dollars that became the carrot originally used to get states and school districts to adhere to the administration’s policy directives. If you want regulatory relief, then you must exchange the old regulations for these new ones. Those states and districts that go along and win approval will get regulatory relief. But the vast majority of children in our schools still will be subject to regulations that both the president and the education secretary have admitted are inadequate and in need of revision.…Read More

Column: It’s time to strengthen the P-16 continuum

“If we are to realize President Obama’s goal of leading the world in college graduates, we’ll need to break down the barriers that currently exist at both ends of the K-12 system,” Domenech writes.

Learning Leadership column, February 2012 issue of eSchool News—A major impediment to education reform is the silos that exist in the pre-kindergarten through college continuum. If we are to realize President Obama’s goal of leading the world in the percentage of citizens who are college graduates, we will need to break down the barriers that currently exist at both ends of the K-12 system: preschool programs and institutions of higher education.

There have been attempts at articulation, but the way these systems are structured, there are legal and operational barriers that are difficult—if not impossible—to overcome.

Child care and preschool programs are operated primarily by private and nonprofit institutions that have no formal relationships with the public school system. Yet, there is ample evidence to suggest that early childhood programs for children who are at risk offer the best return on the public dollar investment. We often write about the education of the total child and how critical it is to coordinate all the community services that come to bear on the needs of children. Child care and preschool programs fall in that category, along with programs that provide for the health and nutritional needs of our youth.…Read More