Calling Principals

Today's Puzzles: 1. Are there any "easy" ways for Ed Schools to analyze their performance?

2. How much time should rookie teachers spend today or tonight in lesson planning?

3. What are some ways that KIPP schools across the USA vary from one another?


1. Are there any "easy" ways for Ed Schools and teacher residencies to analyze their performance?

There is lots of debate nowadays on how Ed Schools (and equivalent "alternative" operations) should assess their grads. And therefore their institutions.

Arne Duncan wants 2 things.

a. Ed Schools should be transparent about job placement data.

He wants this for every higher ed provider -- law schools, cooking schools, etc. Exactly how many people have jobs, what type, what salary, on the day they graduate or shortly thereafter.

b. Examine how the teaching grads do with actual kids.

Usually this refers to test score data. There are many challenges, however, with getting test score data, having a large enough sample size, etc. So folks want other options to measure rookie teacher success.

One way our teacher residency explores this question is: Orin + Telephone.

That is, my colleague Orin calls up all the principals who hired MTR grads last year. He asks:

Tell me about X's rookie year as a teacher in your school.

This would be a simple and inexpensive exercise for every Ed School to try.

a. Come up with a very short list of questions. b. Divide up list of grads. Farm out to various professors. c. Call principals, take notes.

Add it all up, and you learn something about your program as a whole.

[We do this with our charter schools, too. Call up parents each year. "What worked? What did not?"]

So what have we learned from these Orin calls? I'll elaborate in a future post.

For today: I'll repeat one anecdote I mentioned in an earlier blog. Anna, a KIPP principal who has hired 6 of our teacher grads, told Orin that our grads need a little more Joy Factor. That is, as teachers, incorporate some more songs, chants, moving around, etc., as small but useful parts of a typical class.

Our KIPP customers value J-Factor a bit more than other No Excuses charter schools. This is valuable information for our trainees.

I.e., presumably IBM, Facebook, and Google each value certain skills differently among the 22-year-old comp sci grads they hire. Same is true in charter-world. By knowing this, we can help our grads a bit in getting jobs. And in knowing what to expect once they are hired.

I wonder if if this is true in district-world. I.e., would the Chelsea public schools care more about certain teacher skills or knowledge than, say, the Boston public schools?

Some of these values are actually less about the charter school network. They're more about the school principal as an individual.

I.e., our principals Meg, Lisa, and Kate have slightly different views of what's most important to them, along with common "Match" values that they seek in all teachers. It can be hard to precisely disentangle these "organization" values from the "school leader" values sometimes.

Similarly, Josh Zoia, who founded KIPP Lynn and is now leading KIPP NYC and always seems to wear a vest, is a big J-Factor guy. I wonder: are teachers in those schools now incorporating more of it than, say, they were 2 years ago?

I ended up chatting with KIPP's Caleb Dolan about this. We took the conversation in a different direction. Sometimes coming up with (and smoothly integrating) chants and songs and other joy factor stuff takes time. We arrived at this question:

2. How much time should rookie teachers spend planning for tomorrow in a typical 24-hour period?

Caleb Dolan picks up this issue on his blog. Go click. Worth a read. Also the comments.

3. What are some ways that KIPP schools across the USA vary from one another?

Caleb notes, as an aside:

KIPP MA teachers have an average of 2-3 hours of planning built into their day. This is way more than teachers are allotted at many other KIPP schools. Bless the great funding in MA.

He is saying: at some KIPP schools around the country, they get less money per student than others. Depends on two things. Each state spends a different amount on kids. And each state has a different funding formula for charter schools. On average that's 18% less than district schools, but the delta varies too.

As a result, at a "low-funded KIPP," there are fewer total teachers, for kids with similar needs. Therefore usually each teacher does more "direct work" with kids. Hence less "during the school day" teacher planning time. Caleb realizes his teachers have more time than, say, those in a New Orleans KIPP school.

* * *

4. Bonus Thought

This connects back to my post from last week.

At the macro level, across the USA, spending more on kids over the years has not resulted in smarter kids. Some scholars use that reality to argue: "Money Doesn't Matter. Therefore, use my suggested policy reform instead of spending more."

At the micro level, however -- at the individual school level -- we always seem to be fundraising or trying to get additional resources. So teams like ours say: money does matter. If you give us money, we can get better outcomes for kids.

My idea for some enterprising young scholar:

Examine spending variation WITHIN high-performing charter schools across the nation.

Use NAEP or other clever assessments to measure the gains of kids in well-funded KIPP Schools (like those in MA or NJ, for example) versus the gains of kids in lesser-funded KIPP Schools (like those in California). Does money matter? I can think of at least 3 possibilities.

a. Money matters. Perhaps, other things being equal, money buys academic help and division of labor that helps kids learn more as measured by tests.

b. Alternatively, maybe the money has no link to test scores. But money does buy kids experiences, like trips and extra-curriculars and counseling. And we think those experiences are worthwhile, just hard to quantify.

c. Alternatively, perhaps money doesn't help the kids so directly. Maybe it's indirect. For example, "additional" money could go to higher teacher salaries and teachers with fewer daily responsibilities. This may pay off in happier, less stressed, better-prepared teachers.

Who knows. Worth exploring.