Resources for School Policy-Making

Published in SEDL Letter Volume X, Number 2, December 1997, New Policies for Southwestern Schools

School policy is not born in a vacuum. Research results available from the regional education laboratories and other education research organizations can inform school practice and decision-making. Here are some recent and significant research resources related to key school policy matters, from changes in Title I to Internet connectivity.

The following products were available in October 1997. Since supplies may be limited, SEDL suggests you contact the product developer before ordering to determine availability, pricing, and shipping costs.

Guide to Changes in Title I Highlights Schoolwide Programs

Changes to Title I, the legislation aimed at improving education for children in poverty, have shifted its focus away from compensatory, remedial instruction in the "basics" to schoolwide improvements that upgrade educational programs for all students.

A resource binder from WestEd examines the new Title I schoolwide program, highlighting three key features: whole school reform strategies in place of "add-on" services, flexibility in how schools can spend Title I funds, and the option of combining Title I with other federal programs.

Schoolwide Reform: A New Outlook explains how and why whole-school reform works to better educate Title I students and offers educators suggestions and resources for reorganizing their school and developing a schoolwide program.

The binder includes:

  • Rationale and purpose of the Title I schoolwide programs, citing the research supporting them
  • Requirements and components of the Title I legislation, to help schools meet eligibility requirements for the new schoolwide option
  • Planning framework, including tools and activities to help schools develop a schoolwide program tailored to local needs
  • Challenges and ideas to consider, focusing on fundamental issues such as restructuring time

Profiles of schools that have implemented innovative programs and resource listings to support a school's planning efforts close the volume. The guide also contains a video that profiles three successful schoolwide program schools.

Schoolwide Reform: A New Outlook is available from WestEd, 730 Harrison St., San Francisco, CA 94107; 415/565-3044 (cite order no. TAC-96-01, 250 pages, $30 prepaid).

Defining Purpose Is the First of Many Steps Toward Creating
Effective Assessment Systems

Clearly defining the purpose, or purposes, of an assessment is the first, crucial decision states face when implementing assessment programs. But it is just one of five major challenges on which the success of the endeavor rests, says author Linda A. Bond in a report by the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.

Setting the assessment system's goals requires deciding whether it will serve as a measuring tool of student performance or an instrument of curricular reform, and determining what students will be tested on, Bond explains. Other challenges states must meet include the following:

  • Technical requirements. The reliability, validity, and legal defensibility of assessments are essential, as is their ability to be implemented with the resources available.
  • Capacity issues. Educators will need technical assistance and professional development in order to administer the tests and interpret and respond to the results. States should also help the public understand the limitations of the tests.
  • Impact on management and governance. The possibility exists that state-level assessment programs can limit (intentionally or not) teachers' flexibility in the classroom and shift some control over education policy from the local to the state level.
  • Difficulties associated with creating innovative assessments. Designing new testing technologies, such as essay-based tests or performance assessments, carries its own set of challenges because agreement about quality control criteria is not well established, and it can be difficult to design, explain, and defend such tests.

"Challenges in the Development of State Assessment Programs That Support Educational Reform" is available from the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1900 Spring Rd., Suite 300, Oak Brook, IL 60521-1480; 800/356-2735 (cite order no. RPIC-CD-95, 14 pages, $5.95 prepaid).

Design Evaluations to Encourage Teacher Growth and Measure Competence

Summative teacher evaluations - performance reviews that measure teacher competence - are valuable to administrators for accountability purposes. Yet administrators may want to look beyond this single method and also adopt a formative evaluation system that encourages improvement and professional growth, particularly among teachers who have proven their competence.

Seldom can one evaluation system serve both purposes of teacher accountability and improvement, leading many states to adopt dual-purpose systems, write Wendy McColskey and Paula Egelson, researchers at the SouthEastern Regional Vision for Education (SERVE). The researchers address the "what, why, and how" of formative evaluations that support professional growth.

Formative evaluations consider teachers as professionals whose personal improvement goals will most likely align with or complement school or district goals. Used in conjunction with summative evaluations, formative evaluations can offer beginning teachers a way to receive help without it being used against them. Coaching and mentoring programs are good examples.

Formative evaluations encourage teachers to reflect on their teaching practices and prompt self-evaluation, the researchers note. They also help teachers pursue individual professional growth opportunities by providing them with nonjudgmental, observational feedback from peers, students, parents, and experts.

The researchers recount their efforts in helping three districts design formative systems. They explain why and how the districts chose to develop a new system, share questions that arose during the planning stages, and describe implementation problems and reactions from staff.

"Designing Teacher Evaluation Systems That Support Professional Growth" is available from the SouthEastern Regional Vision for Education, 345 S. Magnolia Dr., #D-23, Tallahassee, FL 32301; 800/352-6001 (cite order no. RDTES, 34 pages, $8 prepaid).

Revamping Teacher Education, Professional Development Leads to Real Education Reform

Competent teachers who know their subjects, care about their students, and understand how to motivate them to learn are the most important ingredient in successful student learning. From that premise, the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future launches its recommendations for remodeling the teaching profession. The report argues that most teachers are given neither the tools nor the support they need to achieve this kind of teaching.

The commission proposes a three-pronged approach to improve the teaching profession: required accreditation of teacher education institutions, initial licensing of new teachers, and advanced board certification for experienced teachers. It suggests offering salary increases, peer recognition, and other rewards as teachers progress through their careers so that more highly qualified teachers remain in the classroom.

Teaching standards are "the linchpin for transforming current systems of preparation, licensing, certification, and ongoing development so that they better support student learning. They can bring clarity and focus to a set of activities that are currently poorly connected and often badly organized," the report says.

The report also emphasizes "reinventing" teacher education and professional development and improving teacher recruitment.

What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future is available from the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future, PO Box 5239, Woodbridge, VA 22194-5239; 888/492-1241 (toll free) (151 pages, $18 for full report, $5 for summary report, $15 for video and discussion guide; package discounts available; all orders must be prepaid).

Engaging Products, More Teacher Training May Help Students Use Computers to Potential

The potential of computer technology to enhance students' reading and creative and critical writing has yet to be realized. Two major reasons for this are a lack of suitable software and insufficient training for teachers in maximizing that potential, says a publication by the National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement.

Computers allow students to "build, reflect on, and hone their...understandings of a work," assert researchers Carla Meskill and Karen Swan. Compared to class discussions in which few students participate, computers give each student the opportunity to respond to readings.

The researchers developed and implemented Kid's Space, a comprehensive software program that includes "public" areas where students could post original writing and comment on classmates' or others' writing. Private areas function as an on-line journal where students could reflect on reading assignments and receive teacher comments.

When the software was piloted in four elementary classes where students had used computers for math and language arts instruction, students in only two of the classes used the public space to discuss literature. In other classes students used the space to exchange personal information unrelated to anything they had read, and teachers didn't direct them to use the space more appropriately.

Teachers and students in all classes largely ignored the private space, possibly because they didn't know of its potential. None of the teachers used the software to communicate with students. "It is very likely that, at least in the near future, extensive teacher training will be necessary for this or any similar program to be used to its full potential,..." the researchers conclude.

"Response-Based Multimedia and the Culture of the Classroom: A Pilot Study of Kid's Space in Four Elementary Classrooms" is available from the National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement, University at Albany, SUNY, 1400 Washington Ave., ED-B9, Albany, NY 12222; 518/442-5026 (cite report no. 2.26, 34 pages, $4 prepaid).

West Virginia Leaders Offer Out-of-State Colleagues E-Rate Insight and Guidance

Thanks to the Snowe-Rockefeller-Exon-Kerrey Amendment to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, schools nationwide are poised to receive E-rate discounts on Internet access and other telecommunications costs.

West Virginia state and education officials are ahead of the game. Since 1994 the state has coordinated the efforts of government agencies and business in negotiating discounts for Internet connections and providing all students with Internet access.

Now, to help schools and other states take full advantage of the federal discounts, key players in the West Virginian effort - from amendment sponsor and US Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) to Bell Atlantic executive Ritchie Ireland - share their insights in a policy brief from the Appalachia Educational Laboratory.

State Superintendent of Schools Hank Marockie urges state departments of education and school districts to work with schools to determine their technology needs early and prepare school technology plans for the application process. "Since the discounts are based on a national first-come, first-served basis, it is critical that schools be ready to take advantage of the act," Marockie urges.

Craig Howley of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools reminds rural educators that the federal discounts apply to access only and cannot be used to reduce the cost of computers, software, professional development, or systems operations - items that account for about 80 percent of Internet-related expenses. Schools may need to secure other public and private funding sources to offset these nonreimbursable costs before applying for the discounts.

The policy brief also provides pertinent details about the discounts, including rates, eligibility requirements, and application procedures.

"The Telecommunications Act of 1996: A Guide for Educators" is available from the Appalachia Educational Laboratory, PO Box 1348, Charleston, WV 25325-1348; 304/347-0400 (cite order no. AL-797-xx, 16 pages, $2 prepaid).

States Make Progress in Connecting K-12 Schools to the Internet

Two years after first taking a look at the issue, the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) and the Texas Education Network (TENET) once again investigate the status of state-based networking efforts in K-12 schools nationwide. Their follow-up effort, The State Networking Report,reviews the status of K-12 network development in every state since 1994.

Study after study confirms the positive role that technology, particularly Internet access, can have in better educating children: improving their communication and information-gathering skills, fostering class participation, making distance learning possible, and better preparing them for the new careers and knowledge needed in the emerging information-based society.

Encouragingly, the researchers report, education policymakers and school administrators recognize this and are "wiring" schools at varying rates. These efforts are documented in the report's state-by-state profiles, which include statistical information and overall status updates through June 1996. The researchers also discuss major themes common to the networking efforts underway, based on survey responses from individuals directing state-level technology initiatives.

One noteworthy section examines issues of equity. A 1996 TENET study compared the quality of Internet connectivity in one rural and one urban school district in each state and found that rural schools lagged far behind in terms of network capacity. Recent state and federal policies, such as the Telecommunications Act of 1996, are emerging to address these concerns, the researchers note.

Another section focuses on funding issues, identified in SEDL's 1994 report as "the most daunting barrier" to K-12 network development. While many states had diversified funding sources to alleviate the problem, many respondents indicated that state governments still bore most of the burden, and several of those surveyed expected federal funding to decrease in 1997.

The State Networking Report: Progress, Policies, and Partnerships Bring Internet Connectivity to K-12 Schools is available from the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, 211 East Seventh St., Austin, TX 78701-3253; 512/476-6861; 800/476-6861 (167 pages).

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