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

U.S. education is still the best in the world—but here’s what we can learn from others

The fact that we have to defend U.S. public education in the first place is puzzling.

“Learning Leadership” column, January 2012 edition of eSchool News—Defending public education in America is a daunting task. The fact that we have to defend public education in the first place is puzzling. Here we sit as the most powerful country in the world, with the largest economy, and the system responsible now and in the past for the education of close to 90 percent of our children is under attack. It makes you wonder how we ever became so prosperous.

Last year, I developed a PowerPoint presentation I named “The 95/5 Dilemma.” It is available on the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) web site at In it, I provide benchmark statistic after benchmark statistic that prove conclusively: America’s public school system today is the best it has ever been. Graduation rates are the highest. Dropout rates are the lowest. Reading and math performances on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are the highest. College attendance rates are the highest. The rigor of the high school curriculum is the strongest ever.

These results support America’s economic and political leadership in the world. Those of us who are fortunate to travel around the world are not surprised when our overseas colleagues refer to our school system as the gold standard and when parents in every corner of the world want to send their children to American schools.…Read More

The key to doing more with less: Collaboration

The move is more than a mere change in facilities; it’s a process that might serve as a model for other education organizations on how to survive during hard economic times.

Learning Leadership column, Nov./Dec. 2011 edition of eSchool News—On Nov. 14, the American Association of School Administrators moved offices from our current location in Arlington, Va., to a building in nearby Alexandria now occupied by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. We have purchased half of the building from NAESP, and the two organizations plan to occupy the space together.

This move is more than a mere change in facilities. It is, in essence, a process being engaged in by the two associations that might well serve as a model for other education organizations on how to survive and thrive during hard economic times.

The economic recession that came upon us three years ago has had a major impact on all businesses, both for-profit and not-for-profit. The Washington, D.C. area, in addition to being the nation’s capital, is also home to more than 2,000 associations representing every conceivable interest. Many of these agencies have fallen upon hard times during the past three years.…Read More

Improving public education isn’t a mystery

Do we really want a system that will generate free thinkers, or are we leaning more toward institutions that will perpetuate a particular set of values?

Learning Leadership column, Oct. 2011 edition of eSchool News—What is the purpose of a public education system? In America, we would like to believe that our forefathers envisioned the creation of a strong democracy that would necessitate an educated populace capable of governing itself and use the acquired knowledge to elect and direct the actions of their representatives in government. Perhaps one of the reasons why public education is currently under attack is because it seems that we have not done a very good job in electing and directing our representatives. Their actions reflect badly on our wisdom—and, consequently, our system of education.

Our anger at members of Congress for their actions, or perhaps more accurately, their inactions, is misplaced. We put them there. They believe they are acting on our behalf. Therefore, when they bring our country to the brink of economic disaster and our nation’s weaknesses are exposed to the eyes of the world, we have to acknowledge that it is a mere reflection of the split nation we have become.

Education policy making has been affected by the same paralysis that grips other areas of lawmaking. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known in its current iteration as No Child Left Behind, languishes in our schools and classrooms, negatively affecting the public’s perception of the quality of our schools by virtue of the faulty accountability system that it created. Our lawmakers can no more reach agreement on a fix to our educational system than they can to our economic malaise.…Read More

New teacher evaluation framework promises to serve students, and educators, fairly

“We have seen over the past few months a strong backlash against unions and collective bargaining. … (But) essentially, improved labor-management relations are in the best interest of every district.”

Learning Leadership column, Sept. 2011 edition of eSchool News—The principal of P.S. 147 in Cambria Heights, N.Y., offered me a sixth-grade teaching position in September 1968. It was to be my first regular teaching assignment. Several weeks into the school year, Al Shanker, then president of the New York City United Federation of Teachers, called for a teacher strike. For several weeks that fall, I found myself walking the picket line with Al and my fellow teachers. As the strike progressed, unsettled, I took a job on Wall Street to make ends meet. I was getting married that January, and I had bills to pay.

Fortunately, the strike came to an end before the holidays, and I resumed my teaching career. I experienced another teacher strike in New York City before I left the classroom and then several others after I became an administrator. During the 30 years I spent in New York, the unions and collective bargaining were very much embedded in every aspect of education. Negotiations often were contentious and bitter, particularly if they culminated in a strike. As a superintendent, I learned to work with the unions and walk that fine line between teacher compensation and working conditions and my responsibility to the taxpayers and the students we served. Harmonious relationships were always in the best interest of the students, as long as both sides were fair-minded and willing to compromise.

In February, the American Association of School Administrators co-sponsored a conference in Denver along with the U.S. Department of Education, the two teacher unions, the National School Boards Association, the Council of Great City Schools, and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The conference focused on how labor-management collaboration could lead to enhanced student learning. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is a strong proponent of that process, and he invited 125 school districts from around the country to participate in the conference with teams consisting of the superintendent, the union president, and the school board president. Amazingly, more than 200 districts applied to attend the conference.…Read More