Leaders Focus on Each Student: Superintendents Promote Equity and Public Education

By DeNisco, Alison | District Administration, January 2016 | Go to article overview

Leaders Focus on Each Student: Superintendents Promote Equity and Public Education


DeNisco, Alison, District Administration


The new year may send familiar education challenges in new directions as administrators grapple with an uncertain testing landscape, staff shortages, the increased push for equity and constantly increasing charter competition.

Experts expect education budgets in most states to remain flat in 2016. The pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act should uphold the current Title I formula (aiding two-thirds of U.S. states) but reduce competitive grants.

The availability of standards-aligned test results and the national pushback on over-testing will drive teachers and administrators to work together to better tailor instruction to individual students this year, predicts S. Dallas Dance, superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools.

"We will be looking to see if the insertion of new standards leads to results that mirror the more rigorous work students are doing in classrooms," Dance says. "Districts will have to figure out how well we've implemented these new standards, and to what fidelity."

Many of the administrative demands of the past few years will carry over, says David Chapin, assistant professor in the Michigan State University Department of Educational Administration, and former superintendent of East Lansing Public Schools. He predicts superintendents and principals will focus more on directing instruction and using formative assessment data to drive class work.

"There is a lot of pressure about high-stakes testing, teacher evaluations, teacher effectiveness, the Common Core and funding issues," Chapin says. "As leaders we need to find some balance in those conversations to make them about what's best for students and schools given the local conditions."

Testing cutbacks

President Barack Obama in October called for districts to cap assessments so that no student spends more than 2 percent of classroom annual instruction time taking tests. Administrators will continue to reexamine and eliminate tests, while more parents will likely opt their children out of high-stakes assessments, experts say.

The standardized testing landscape remains unsettled in many states. Ohio is on its third different exam in three years. "Many of our state legislatures and departments of education are trying to grapple with the testing issue, and people feel unsettled at the moment," says Mary Ronan, superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools. "Were trying to look at the whole child and say, 'In these unsettled times, here's something we can all focus on besides a test score.'"

Beyond testing, the district will increase social-emotional learning curricula, student advising time, and access to AP courses. Ronan predicts more districts in the new year will focus on building well-rounded students rather than simply training them to pass standardized tests.

Teacher and principal shortage

Districts hit with a wave of teacher shortages and principal vacancies have found few qualified candidates to fill the positions. Education leaders expect the shortages to worsen in 2016.

"There is a perception that teachers are getting beaten up in public education, and people are saying that teachers need to do more," Dance says. "If [prospective teachers] feel they are being demoralized, they won't go into the field."

Dance recommends that administrators, when recruiting, emphasize their support for teachers in their district. Reaching out to college students their junior and senior year and offering them early contracts prior to graduation will likely become more popular, he adds. Administrators may also move up the dates when current teachers are expected to report retirements or resignations so there's more time to fill those positions.

Negative public perception, funding problems and turbulent negotiations with unions discourage people from teaching, Chapin says. "We have to become less reactive to the politics surrounding education and more proactive in improving learning for our students," he adds. …

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