By D'Orio, Wayne
District Administration , Vol. 41, No. 4
Every year when I go to the American Association of School Administrators conference it's a great time to hear a state of K-12 education from the people who should know, the ones running the country's school systems. As usual, this year's three days were filled with great speakers and interesting sessions.
At one point during his superb half-day session about how to get accountability right, Douglas Reeves, chairman of the Center for Performance Assessment, stopped and tossed out this gem: If you do one thing different in your district to improve children's performance, teach more non-fiction writing. While most schools overload on fiction writing, Reeves said the skills needed to craft a coherent non-fiction essay help sharpen students' minds as well as boosting their writing and reading ability.
He also said the single-highest class failure rate in high school is ninth-grade Algebra I. (It's also the best predicator, besides pregnancy, of whether a student will drop out.) You may have known that, but you may not know the best indicator of a student's success in that class. It's not eighth-grade math, but eighth-grade English. As Reeves said, "Algebra I tests are reading tests with numbers."
Then them was talk of teacher tenure. Every administrator has bemoaned how difficult it can be to fire teachers with tenure. But Tom Trigg, superintendent of Blue Valley School District in Overland Park, Kan., is doing something about it. Regarding tenure, he says his district is "going from a default yes, to a default no." What this means is simply that instead of giving a teacher tenure unless there's a reason not to, this first-time superintendent is denying tenure unless the teacher in question can make a strong enough case to have earned it. …