USDOE Proposes Overhaul of School Improvement Grant Program

The good news in 2010 was that the U.S. Department of Education was going to put a major new investment of federal funding on the table for school improvement. Under No Child Left Behind, schools that had been identified as needing to improve did not have access to funds to support their improvement efforts. The School Improvement Grant (SIG) program was born. The lowest performing 5% of schools (Priority School) and the lowest performing 15% of schools (Focus School) were eligible based upon state assessment data.

The bad news in this was the use of the funds came with significant restrictions on how they could be used. For a school to be eligible, they had to agree to adopt one of four improvement models identified by the U.S. Department of Education. These are:

· Closure: Close the school and move impacted students to nearby higher performing schools

· Restart: Close the school and reopen it under the management of a charter school provider

· Turnaround: replace the principal and screen and rehire no more than half of existing teachers

· Transformation: Replace the principal, alter the instructional program and evaluate teachers in part on the basis of student performance.

In addition, grants are limited to three years, including one year for planning and professional development. This significantly limited the amount of time for program improvements to be implemented to demonstrate measurable results, or to provide sufficient time for program changes to be fully implemented.

These restrictions made it difficult for districts to apply for badly needed funds if they did not intend to close the school, or convert it to a charter, or to replace up to half of their staff. Oregon districts have developed good proposals, but it is also clear that broadening the way these funds could be used would be helpful.

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Education has begun that process of adding more flexibility to the use of these funds. A proposed set of new regulations for SIG grants has been posted in the Federal Register and are open for public comment and input until October 8th. This is a very good opportunity for anyone interested in improving the SIG program to learn more about the proposed changes and to provide feedback and comments to USDOE.

Here are some of the major proposed changes:

  • · Allowing five-year SIG awards;
  • · Adding improvement models identified by the State;
  • · Adding evidence-based, whole –school reform strategies;
  • · Allowing rural districts to modify one SIG intervention model element;
  • · Expanding SIG targets to include educational outcomes in preschool and early grades;
  • · Inclusion of family and community engagement throughout the grant period;
  • · Adding support for local district monitoring and supporting the implementation;
  • · Requiring the local district to review performance of any external providers and to hold them accountable for performance;
  • · Eliminate the “rule of nine” which currently restricts districts with more than nine eligible schools from using the transformation model in more than half of them;
  • · Aligning the teacher and administrator evaluation criteria in SIG to that which is being used by the state in the current ESEA flexibility requirements. This simplifies the application process and criteria for districts.

The intent of these changes is to make SIG funding more flexible, less restrictive and, most importantly, more realistic in its timelines for developing, implementing and monitoring implementation of meaningful school reform strategies.

You can get complete information and submit a formal comment on the proposed changes and submit a statement if you wish at the link below:

Information on SIG grants in Oregon is available at:

Pat Burk, Ph.D.

Department of Educational Leadership and Policy

The Real Crisis in Public Education

Dr. Ramin Farahmandpur is a Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Portland State University in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy.  Dr. Farahmandpur appeared as a Guest Columnist in the Opinion Section of The Oregonian on September 14, 2014.  His comments are reprinted here with his permission. 


The Real Crisis in Public Education: Guest Opinion

By Ramin Farahmandpur;

The Oregonian; September 14, 2014

With all eyes on the governor’s race this fall, incumbent John Kitzhaber is touting his record in reforming public education.  The good doctor has misdiagnosed the patient. Oregon’s education system suffers not from a poverty of policy, but from a poverty of investment.

Years of budget cuts in K-12 education have given Oregon one of the shortest school years in the country.  Disinvestment has caused the explosion of class sizes—also one of the nation’s highest.  Inadequate investment has led to layoffs of teachers, librarians, custodians, counselors, administrators and other school personnel.

Oregon’s higher education system fares no better. Its restructuring by the governor’s misnamed Oregon Education Investment Board has failed to resolve the many challenges students, faculty and administrators confront. Soaring college tuition; growing student debt (now estimated at $1.2 trillion nationally); the overuse of adjunct and part-time faculty; and cutbacks of student services, especially for first-generation and low-income students, are a few of the many issues higher education faces.

It is hard to imagine how we will be able to reach the aspirational goals of the governor’s 2011 education reform policy. Dubbed “40-40-20,” this reform calls for an unrealistic 100 percent high school graduation rate and 80 percent post-secondary degree attainment by the year 2025. Because this goal does not include more funding, it must be said: We cannot wish our way to excellence.

Within Salem’s political circles, there are few debates about adequate funding. Drowned out are the voices of teachers, parents, students and community advocates who care about children, a growing number of whom are hungry, homeless and hurting.

If we believe that education is one of the pillars of a healthy democracy, then it is our responsibility to ensure that educational opportunity is extended to all. As education philosopher John Dewey once noted, what the best and wisest parents want for their own children must be what the community wants for all its children.

Oregonians should demand that our civic leaders and politicians wake up. Our prosperity depends on a well-funded public education system, not on a numbers game focused on churning out a threshold quantity of diplomas.  It is only with the cooperation of our citizens, unions and private businesses working together that our system will flourish.

What we do not need are superfluous bureaucratic layers that have taken decision-making power from communities and concentrated it in the hands of the state.

At a time when the rhetoric of education accountability has dominated public debates, should we not expect comparable accountability from our leaders in the Legislature and the governor’s office? After all, they serve the public interest. They, too, must acknowledge the predicament of public education for what it is: a crisis of disinvestment and underfunding.

Ramin Farahmandpur, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy in the Graduate School of Education at Portland State University.


Do Superintendents Matter?

The Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution released a report yesterday on the impact of superintendents on student achievement.

The results are challenging; and, at first look, lead one to conclude that the role of the superintendent is superfluous to improving student achievement.  The results are based on analysis of longitudinal student performance data in North Carolina and Florida.  The statistical impact on student achievement attributed to superintendents is quite low, i.e. explaining only 0.3% of the variance in 4th and 5th grade test scores in the state of North Carolina. Student data from Florida was not used in the student achievement analysis. (See page 5 of the Brown study for details on the data set.)  The data in the study suggests that teachers, classrooms, schools, principals, and the school district as a whole have statistically higher impacts on student achievement than does the superintendent. The study attributes characteristics of the district, such as, civic commitment to schools, school board leadership, press scrutiny, economic development, family social services, and so on, as having an impact on student performance in ways that are independent of the superintendency, i.e., they would happen regardless of who is in the superintendent’s role. However, no specific data analysis of individual superintendent characteristics is provided, and there is no recognition that the superintendent is a substantial contributor to the factors that the authors identify. The primary measure in the report is an examination of student performance data in school districts in the two states following the replacement of one superintendent with another and/or acceleration of student performance growth over the tenure of the superintendent. The study found that superintendents, in general, in these two states had an average of only three to four years in the role.  To oversimplify, they found no difference in student performance when superintendents change. This is a fairly direct challenge to the concept of superintendent leadership and bears careful examination.

It is always a challenge to precisely identify the consequences of leadership behavior. This is true in any complex organization where the direct relationship between a CEO and the performance of the organization’s employees or the accomplishment of its goals is a hard connection to make. The study of leadership behavior has become a lucrative field for authors to present their particular views on how the leadership of the CEO can transform the organization and its culture.  The focus is on identifying behaviors, both motivational and managerial, that contribute to an organization’s accomplishment of its goals.  Authors Chingos, Whitehurst and Lindquist raise a good question: what is the evidence that the superintendent impacts student achievement?

Does a CEO matter to an organization? Is a CEO actually worth the substantial salaries they receive? Answering this question is normally based on some understanding of what a CEO actually does, i.e., what actions, goal setting functions, policies, budget appropriations, personnel practices, management strategies, Board relations, and so on are attributable to the CEO?   The question for analysis is not whether there is a CEO and how long that person has been in place. The question is what actions are taken to support the overall success of the organization? In the case of the Brown Center report the authors do not attempt to identify specific leadership behaviors. Instead, they look only at length of service of the superintendent, glossing over the fact that both elected and appointed superintendents are in the same sample, i.e., politicians vs. professional educators;  and they only looked at 4th and 5th grade student achievement data in one state as their measure of impact on student achievement. No analysis of differences in leadership behavior is provided.

This is methodologically weak in that no attempt is made to identify specific actions of superintendents that did or did not contribute to the positive effects of the teachers, principals, schools and districts that the report highlights. By not asking the right questions, the study draws a conclusion, i.e., superintendents don’t matter, without actually collecting and reporting information on any actions taken by superintendents. The authors looked at superintendents from 67 districts in Florida and 115 districts in North Carolina and the time period of the analysis captured a total of 434 individual superintendents. Student achievement data analysis was restricted to 4th and 5th grade results in North Carolina only. Narrowing effectiveness on student achievement to only 4th and 5th grade data in one state inappropriately narrows the definition of leadership impact.

In addition, unmeasured differences in achievement are attributed in the Brown Center report as “Student” differences without definition.  “Controls” are measured differences, such as, race/ethnicity. In Figure 4 (Page 10) of the Brown Report the authors claim that 90.8% of the variance in 4th and 5th grade math achievement in North Carolina is attributed to student variables (52% “Student” and 38.8% “Control”). The authors describe the “Students” variable, accounting for 52% of the variance in the data, as “all unexplained variance including measurement error.” (Page 10) By calling this “Student” variance and not “unexplained” variance, a reader can inaccurately conclude that the combination of student level variables explains most of the variance. This attempt to define school outcomes as the result of differences in students is inconsistent with the significant amount of research on quality schools and districts that demonstrates the characteristics of high performing schools that successfully address student level variables. The Brown Center data attributes only 4% of the explained variance to teacher differences which is a significant departure from other research.  They attribute only 0.3% of the explained variance in test data to differences in the superintendent. However, the majority of the variance is being attributed to unmeasured variables assuming that the unmeasured variables have nothing to do with the superintendent. Is it not possible that the Brown Center report simply did not ask the right questions?   For example, a superintendent may exert leadership around issues of a race-based achievement gap and you would not, necessarily, see that influence attributed to the superintendent in this type of data collection.  If parents become more engaged, if local community-based organizations become more collaborative partners, if teachers begin to focus on racial disparities in more effective ways, etc., this study would not attribute those differences to the superintendent because it did not ask that question.  Attributing unmeasured variance under a “Student” category is misleading and likely inaccurate. At a minimum it reflects that many questions were left unasked in this analysis.

In contrast, consider the 2006 study by Waters and Marzano of the Mid-Continent Educational Laboratory.[1]  It is interesting to note that this well-known study was not even mentioned in the Brown report.  The Waters and Marzano work is a meta-analysis of 27 studies of superintendent leadership behaviors and their impact on student achievement. The analysis looks at studies that involved 2,817 school districts and the achievement scores of 3.4 million students. Fourteen of the 27 studies had specific student achievement data for analysis of district leadership impact on student data. The study found a .24 positive correlation between district leadership and student achievement (p<.05). This explains as much as a 9.5 percentile point growth in student achievement attributed to leadership characteristics of superintendents. The analysis looks specifically into the types of leadership behaviors that contribute to positive student outcomes and identifies statistically significant predictors.  Waters and Marzano identified five statistically significant factors:

  • The goal setting process (Average r = .24, p<.05)
  • Non-negotiable goals for achievement and instruction (Average r = .33, p<.05)
  • Board alignment with and support of district goals. (Average r = .29, p<.05)
  • Monitoring the goals for achievement and instruction (Average r = .27, p<.05),
  • Use of resources to support the goals for achievement and instruction. (Average r = .26, p<.05)

Particularly relevant to understanding the Brown Center report is a sixth finding in the Waters and Marzano study that found that the degree of autonomy provided to principals to lead their schools within the context of clear district goals, expectations and supports for teachers was positively correlated to student achievement. (r=.28, p<.05)  In other words, there is a positive impact on student achievement when superintendents focus on hiring high quality principals and teachers, when they empower them to focus on the mission of the district at the local school level; when there is support for innovation and provision of district supports for professional development and innovative practices; and where high levels of achievement by all students is a clear, measured, district-wide expectation.  Therefore, the evidence in the Brown Center report showing the positive role of teachers, principals and school level factors may, in fact, also be seen as evidence of district level leadership that has created the conditions for this level of impact to occur, i.e., clear policy, high expectations, personnel practices, budget alignment.  This “tight-loose” management style may be very effective as a district strategy, but the Brown Center report would see these as effects attributed to teachers, principals, and buildings independent of the superintendent.

By not asking the question of specific leadership behavior, the Brown Center report concludes:

In the end, it is the system that promotes or hinders student achievement.  Superintendents are largely indistinguishable creatures of that system. (Page 14)

This is a misleading and inaccurate representation of the role of district leadership in creating conditions for success. The issue is not whether the superintendent is treated as an independent variable from teacher, principal and school effects.  On the contrary, the issue is how the superintendent influences, supports and contributes to the effectiveness of these variables.  If teachers are effective, what leadership behavior supports that effectiveness?  If principals are effective leaders, what steps did the superintendent take to support those administrators?  If the Board is demonstrating effective leadership, what steps did the superintendent take to foster and collaborate with that vision?  If the system has invested in effective strategies and practices, what budgetary practices were used to support those elements?  The Brown Center report does a disservice to understanding the impact of district leadership by not looking at specific leadership behavior in the successful districts they identified.

Pat Burk, Ph.D.

Department of Educational Leadership and Policy


[1] Waters, J. T., & Marzano, R. J. (2006). School district leadership that works: The effect of superintendent leadership on student achievement. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning. – See more at:

ODE Takes Advantage of New Federal Flexibility

As discussed in this space on Friday, US Department of Education Secretary Arnie Duncan announced an option of a one-year delay for states in implementing the requirement that student performance on state assessments be one of the components of teacher and administrator evaluations in states that had waivers of certain provision of the No Child Left Behind Act. Oregon is one of the waiver states. We indicated last week that this might be an opportunity for Oregon to continue to develop its implementation of the Oregon Matrix Model, the new statewide teacher and administrator system, and provide additional time for local districts to develop procedures for incorporating student assessment data as one of the multiple measures used in the evaluation process. Here is more information on the Oregon Matrix Model:

The Oregon Department of Education, taking advantage of the new federal flexibility, announced this morning that local districts “do not need to use statewide summative assessment results in educator evaluations this school year.” Here is a link to the announcement from ODE.

A copy of the announcement is attached below.

Districts in Oregon will be asked to focus on alternate local assessments, either locally developed or using commercially prepared assessments, to determine student growth as a component of employee evaluations. These are known as “Category 2 assessments” in the Oregon Matrix Model. This provides additional time, which many districts had been seeking, to refine how state student performance data is incorporated into the new Oregon model. Districts can benefit from this extra time to work with their employee organizations and administrators in developing their local procedures.

Patrick Burk, Ph.D.
Department of Educational Leadership and Policy

ODE Announcement Aug 25 Evaluation Data.docx

Duncan Announces One-Year Delay in New Evaluation Expectations

Secretary Duncan made a significant announcement yesterday regarding a delay in new teacher and administrator evaluation procedures during a visit to Jefferson Middle School in Washington, DC.

Duncan’s announcement responds to a significant amount of criticism regarding the timing of implementation of new requirements for using indicator(s) of student progress and proficiency as a component of teacher and administrator evaluations. States that had applied for waivers of certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act were required as part of their waiver request to implement an evaluation system that included evidence of student proficiency by the 2014-15 school year or have their waiver revoked.  This is exactly what happened in the state of Washington earlier this year.

In Oregon, the new evaluation system, the Oregon Matrix Model, has been in a development, field testing and professional development cycle for the past two years, and was scheduled to be implemented statewide this year. No official statement from ODE has come out so far on this change of position by USDOE. While a lot of training opportunities have been provided by the Oregon Department of Education and school districts have been working with their employees on these new models; there have also been concerns expressed that the system was still very new, and additional time for training and refinement of data measures would be beneficial.  Secretary Duncan’s statement appears to open a door for states like Oregon that have waivers in place to seek that extra time.

The Oregon Matrix model has the benefit of not focusing exclusively on state-level standardized tests, although such data is expected to be one of the multiple measures identified for teachers of those subject areas in local districts’ plans.  Unlike value added models that seek to control for the effects of school and student variables and then examine the amount of remaining variance explained by the individual teacher, the Oregon Matrix Model looks at the context of the environment in which the teacher is located and focuses on student improvement within that context.

A focus on growth and improvement within the context of the school is the goal.  However, the mechanism for identifying all appropriate data indicators, collection procedures, incorporation into classroom observation and administrator evaluation cycles, and experience with how the new criteria work will all require time and experience before people feel confident in a new system.  The extra time being offered by Secretary Duncan is a step in that direction.


Unemployment Insurance Update, July 2014


This is very interesting data out today from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. Job losses have come back down to pre-recession levels. That is the good news. But hiring in Oregon is still below historical levels seen in past recoveries. More people are entering the job market and many are still unable to find work. Therefore, they are not eligible for benefits, resulting in 2 out of 3 unemployed Oregonians not receiving unemployment benefits. And the “exhaustion rate,” i.e., the number of people who reach the end of their benefits without finding a job, is still very high. The data reflect positive growth, but the effects of the recession linger. We know from other data that this impacts communities of color, individuals without a high school credential, and individuals with limited English proficiency in a disproportionately higher rate. The data highlight the importance of continuing to focus our educational outcomes on college and career ready skills for all students in order to equip them for successful transition into an economy that is still struggling to fully recover.

Pat Burk
Department of Educational Leadership and Policy

Originally posted on Oregon Office of Economic Analysis:

New claims for unemployment insurance at at or near all-time lows in both Oregon and the U.S. This is encouraging in that it shows the level of job loss is currently at very low rates, and effectively as low as during the past expansions. In other words, if you have a job, the probability of losing it is very low today. Of course this does not take into account the continued high levels of the long-term unemployed, or a lower LFPR, which have been detailed previously.


As such, the level of unemployment insurance benefits paid out is back down to pre-Great Recession levels. Unfortunately the exhaustion rate — the share of Oregonians who start receiving benefits and reach the end of program without leaving, i.e. do not find a job — is still high, although it is about half-way back.UIBenfits_0714

With relatively low levels of job loss, low…

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Wisconsin Supreme Court Decision Challenges Collective Bargaining Rights

July 31, 2014

The Wisconsin Supreme Court today issued a major and controversial decision in a case that could have significant consequences for every state with collective bargaining provisions for public employees.

Recall in Wisconsin in 2011 that there was an intense fight between teacher representatives and other public employee unions on one side and the Wisconsin legislature and Governor Scott Walker on the other over the collective bargaining rights of teachers in that state.  The Wisconsin legislature approved Act 10 even in the face of intense public pressure against it and an occupation of the state capital building. The Act bars collective bargaining between municipal employers, including school districts, and labor representatives on everything except base wages; and removes hours, working conditions, and grievance procedures from the collective bargaining process. Wage increases are limited to the Consumer Price Index, and “fair share” arrangements were barred.

A law suit brought by Madison Teachers Inc, the collective bargaining representative for teachers in the Madison Metropolitan School District, challenged the constitutionality of these provisions in Act 10, and today the Wisconsin Supreme Court held in a 5-2 decision in Madison Teachers Inc. v. Walker that “collective bargaining remains a creation of legislative grace and not constitutional obligation,” handing Governor Walker a major victory.  The court’s decision basically maintains that collective bargaining provisions in Wisconsin state law are the creation of the legislature; and, as such, the legislature has the authority to change them. In an earlier and related Federal Appeals Court decision, the federal court rejected a challenge from teachers and others who objected to distinctions in Act 10 between “General Unions,” which include teacher unions, and “Public Safety Unions,” which include law-enforcement and firefighters.  The court rejected the challenge to the distinction in the law even though the Public Safety Unions had supported Governor Walker’s 2010 election and the General Unions had not.

In a dissenting statement today, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley and Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson voiced their concern that the right to organize has been compromised and that benefits could be denied as punishment to members of “disfavored groups.”

See a good discussion on this case at the Education Week School Law blog at:

Madison Teachers Inc, an NEA affiliate, issued a statement on its web site today.

The statement provides detail on the dissenting statement which argued that the state did not present evidence supporting the requirement that the decision be narrowly tailored to meet a compelling state interest.  The dissent also questions the constitutionality of requiring that an individual give up a constitutionally protected right to bargain in order to obtain benefits from the employer.

No announcement has been made, as yet, regarding the intention of Madison Teachers Inc. or the NEA to appeal this decision.  The basic legal issue here is quite significant as to whether state law regarding collective bargaining can be changed in such a manner as to infringe upon First Amendment rights of free association and rights to petition to address grievances, and Fourteenth Amendment protections of due process and equal protection.    At stake here is whether a state’s collective bargaining law can be unilaterally changed by a legislature over the objections and direct participation of represented groups, and in a manner that denies previously held benefits. This is likely not the end of the process in Wisconsin and it will continue to garner the attention of other collective bargaining states and their employee representatives.

Patrick Burk, Ph.D.

Department of Educational Leadership and Policy