Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Peer Assistance and Review Nitty Gritty

"Iowa should be a system of schools, not isolated islands of curriculum."

I'm not certain why that statement resonates with me, but as I think of the #iaedfuture blueprint, I'm absolutely certain that we need to take a look at this plan and redesign, not just K-12, but K-AEA.   Here's why.

Peer Assistance/Review

First of all, full disclosure:  I love the idea of 4 levels of teaching in the Blueprint, and I am an ISEA member.  It's spot-on at addressing the concerns about attracting quality teachers into the profession, and it addressed the issues of unjustified tenure and automatic step-lane matrix.  

Still, that nagging question remained:  How could we make this happen in Iowa, and do it right?  There is no doubt about it...it will cost money to remove some of our current teachers from the classroom, and help shape them into coaches or mentors.  Perhaps we need an analogous system for administrators that is more structured than current practice.

All that I read about peer review uses districts in Ohio and California that are much larger than the average district in Iowa. These programs have district sizes of 13000 to 35000 students.   Iowa districts are much smaller than government examples of peer review and assistance, too.

A look at the Condition of Education# report and the DE shows some numbers*:
  • smallest Iowa districts....around 100 students*
  • largest Iowa district...30000 students*
  • 40% of the districts in Iowa have less than 600 kids#
  • smallest AEA...9800 students#
  • largest AEA...132000 students#
  • including public/nonpublic students:  508000 students#
  • # of teachers in Iowa...37000 #
  • 15-20% of Iowa workforce...7400 teachers (the number indicated by the BP to be mentor or coach teachers)
  • teacher:student ratio....small district  (one teacher for 10 kids)#
  • teacher:student ratio...district of 7500+ (one teacher for 15 kids)#
  • total # principals...1164 --240 in the largest 10 districts, 9 in the smallest 10 districts
  • total # superintendent...314--10 in the largest 10 districts, 5 full-time in the smallest 10 districts

There is a disparity of resources between large and small.   No surprise there.
  1. National programs have larger districts to achieve a critical mass.   To do this, we need larger structures, like the AEAs, to organize and train our coaches and mentors. This is critical and builds Iowa as a system of schools!
  2. We may have to pull in the experiences of teachers who taught in 1988 onward to remember Phase III (an earlier Branstad initiative) and the nepotism that sometimes resulted.  In some Districts, teachers were paid to attend ball games and 'surveys' were used to determine 'teacher quality'   Favoritism happened, and I'm afraid to go back.
  3. If we have a school that is small (let's say 10-13 teachers), we have 2 or 3 mentors/coaches in a district; comparably, a district that is large, such as Des Moines, (around 2000 teachers), will have 400 masters/coaches in its District.   Immediately, I can the advantages of a large district that can group its learning teams by subject area and grade level;  I want that flexibility for ALL kids in Iowa, not just large districts.


I want to be able to get peer coaching that maximizes:

  1. Good pedagogy.  So many teachers have the right disposition for being teachers, love kids, but need additional formation in best-practices. An AEA-centered structure help facilitates that.  NOTE:  I am not dissing teacher preparation programs; I just believe in constant improvement.
  2. Extensive content knowledge.   In a school that has at most 3 masters/coaches, I cannot imagine that we will have all levels or all content areas represented.   Sometimes, that confidence in content knowledge needs a partner with which to bounce ideas.  And I do believe a masters in your content area is worthwhile for this purpose.
  3. Low burnout for those on the upper two tiers.   Being a mentor/coach/leader in a district can make you a lightning rod for criticism if there is not a support system.   Moving the model to the AEA gives you a larger pool of expertise, fidelity of training, and others with whom I can communicate.

#1   Different buildings have different DNA.   This is true.   But some buildings are having success and others are not.   An AEA team approach would allow us to group in multiple ways, and send coaches with different strengths to develop the individual district
#2  Are we giving up local control?  Well, in a sense we are.   We moved to common core, we moved to CTE state proficiencies, we have the Iowa Core outcomes as models for professional development, community interactions, and we are accountable as a state.   But ultimately, don't we want what is best for OUR kids, OUR communities?   Are we so insular that we can't look to the advice of others, or are we willing to shape our building outlook and ideas by using some of the most creative minds out there?
#3  What will all the administrators do with their 'spare time'?   We know that administrators have different skill sets necessary for the jobs they do.  That being said, I imagine that there are some administrators out there that would love to move back to being a coach. 


To determine how this will look, I decided to look at California, where peer assistance is being implemented.   My question was simple--should administrators be doing this already, or do we need those top two tiers?   Here's a look at the numbers:

  • As a whole, Iowa has 37000 teachers, and 508K students.   That's a ratio of 1:14.    
  • We have 1164 principals who administrator the same 508K students, for a ratio of 1:346 (California =1:700).  
  • Schools in Iowa have a ratio of about 1:1600 for a superintentdent/student ratio (California =1:2400) 
While I suppose we could have principals coaching in addition to their current duties, that will not give us the added diversity of teachers in an AEA consortium.  And it does not appear that it would free up enough teachers to make it worthwhile. It would probably be more productive to decide if we have the 'right' ratio of administrators to students and how we compare with other states on that factor.


If we're going to adopt peer review and assistance, let's do it right.   Let's get ALL teachers the help they need, not just teachers in large Districts.   Let's get fidelity in the training process, so best-practices are self-evident.   Let's maximize the value of our AEAs by providing a community of districts, rather than silos of excellence.

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