Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Weight loss and testing gains

Walking back from the Government Center on Monday,  I found myself thinking about Weight Watchers.

I had just finished a long talk with Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark about Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' strategic staffing plan.  In a cover article in the latest School Administrator magazine,  Clark pronounces the results "outstanding."  In person,  with the preliminary test results from 2012 in front of us,  we agreed it's a lot more complicated than that.

Four years after Peter Gorman rolled out his plan to entice top principals and teachers into some of the most challenging schools,  none of those schools is anywhere the 90 percent pass rate that was touted as the goal. Devonshire Elementary,  after four years with a strategic staffing team,  is the closest at 71 percent  (CMS hasn't yet released the breakdowns by reading,  math and science).

Most perplexing to me:  The longer schools had been operating under strategic staffing, the worse they did last year.  That's the opposite of what should happen under a long-range strategy to let teams of highly effective educators transform schools.  Yet all of the original seven strategic staffing schools slipped this year,  from a 1.5 percentage point loss at Ranson Middle to 17 points at Sterling Elementary.  Meanwhile,  four schools that just launched strategic staffing last year  (Byers, Billingsville, Hickory Grove and Sedgefield Elementary)  saw their pass rates rise by 10 points or more.

Some of that might be the "pick the low-hanging fruit" phenomenon,  with new leaders fixing the biggest problems first.  But you'd still hope to see steady gains,  even if they're smaller,  in subsequent years.

That's what got me thinking about the Observer's on-site Weight Watchers meetings five years ago.  Lots of us signed up and chronicled our eating and exercise.  We carefully shopped, cooked and measured our portions.  We showed up weekly to weigh in and swap tips.  And it worked!  I got back to my college weight,  and watched colleagues who had more to lose make dramatic changes. It was so exciting I couldn't imagine ever letting middle-age pudge creep back.

Except the recession hit and people got laid off.  For those of us left,  our work got more stressful and our hours less predictable.  We no longer had enough interested people to keep the on-site sessions,  and as much as we thought we had learned it all, it's hard to stay focused as months turn into years.  Let's just say I'm not at my college weight now,  and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only backslider.

Now imagine how much harder it is teaching kids whose families are struggling with survival.  You've got public scrutiny and central-office pressure and a system that tends to pin failing scores on teachers.  After the initial excitement of being the new turnaround team,  you're still in the trenches.  Meanwhile,  you're watching colleagues get laid off.  The budget drives changes like school closings and mergers.  Many principals retire or move on after their three-year commitment is up.

Clark's team and the strategic staffing principals will review this year's results,  and I'm sure they'll come up with something more sophisticated than a comparison to diet fatigue.  My point is that any real school change is long,  hard work that continues long after the excitement of a rollout.

Clark's article indicates CMS is poised to phase out strategic staffing  "as a result of having an effective principal leading every school."  I could have predicted that based on the change in superintendents.  Heath Morrison is bound to launch his own programs  (the same School Administrator package describes the  "Hiring For Attitude" program he created in Reno).  Strategic staffing may not be the golden ticket to student success,  but it does seem to have provided valuable lessons.  Let's hope Morrison and  Clark work with front-line educators to craft strategies with staying power  --  and that those strategies help the students who continue to struggle.

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ann, loved the metaphor. We've all been there even in good times, and now is like nothing we've ever seen in our livetime.

Thanks for commenting on the fact that the principals move on as soon as their bonus requirements are met, and teachers and kids are left behind in the war zone with the teachers getting the lion's share of the blame for failures.

Let's hope that Dr M's plan is not just another fad diet that will peter out with time and fatigue.

Bill Stevens said...

Just keep putting the expectation and the blame on the public school system and we will keep throwing good money after bad refusing to admit what the real solution is. And those that should be focus of dismissing this mindset are allowed to push on with no consequences and allowed to shirk their responsibility.

Wiley Coyote said...

Bill pretty much summed it up.

It's way past time to get serious about education.

Morrison wants to have a "conversation about race". The conversation isn't about race, it's about the honest, cold hard facts of the matter which is those who want to succeed and those who don't, no matter their skin color.

It's about accountability from the system and parents who truly qualify and need the extra resources.

It's about cutting loose the rest who don't and moving on.

Anonymous said...

Another "fad diet" or moving the deck chairs around and calling it a different name. The results are the same with a black hole of lost taxpayer money. Principals receive a bonus and the Super is left with a million dollar pension package. All the while the progress is going BACKWARDS as shown by the data.Do somethig different you morons.

Vocational Schools

Wiley Coyote said...

By the way, Ann? Speaking of qualifying....

Haven't heard over the past several years whether CMS is faithfully conducting the 3% sample audits of FRL applicants.

Any info on that as to whether CMS is even doing the audits and if so what the percentages are for non-qualfiers?

Last one I know of, 60% of respondents did not qualify based on their responses.

Christine Mast said...

WC, maybe they can piggyback an FRL audit when the BOCC tells them to calculate how much they spend on educating illegal aliens...

Christine Mast said...

When are we going to stop settling for top-down CMS-management, and turn it around to being the schools who dictate what they need?

Anonymous said...

Ann Clark is so full of bull - CMS is far from having an effective administrator in every school.

I love the metphor, though. You are so right, it takes sooo much effort to truly change the character and it takes a principal who is there for the long haul - unlike many of the SS's who are padding their retirement or climbing the ladder.

Anonymous said...

CMS would do well to rid themselves of Strategic Staffing and while they are at it, cancel the New Leaders Program as well because both are/were not effective. Ms. Helms, I will tell you why there was not many measurable difference....the principals that were put in place may have been effective at their previous schools because their previous schools did NOT have the challenges of the strategically staffed school. An example of this is the following, Denise Watts was the principal of Mint Hill Middle School one of the highest performing middle schools in CMS. Parents in this school were involved and students came to school prepared to learn. In other words, these students would have been successful REGARDLESS of her leadership or even the teachers! She is then strategically placed at Bishop Spaugh where the majority of the students were below grade level coupled by lack of parental involvement etc. If you look at the data, she really didn't make a heck of a lot of a difference not to mention Gorman moved her in less than 6 months to a central office position, she did not even finish out the year with the staff nor students at this school. Therefore, if any gains were made, the credit should be given to the staff who remained after her departure! Then, in the next 3 months, Bishop Spaugh was closed forever. The minimal data does NOT support hat was done. Now, you mentioned Ranson Middle School has slipped backward, this is an example of a "New Leaders" principal placement. The research has shown again and again that a good leader must not only have the credentials but must have the knowledge and experiences to refer to when confronting adverse situations or decision making. The principal that was placed there Ms. Harrison, has neither. Shadowing a principal for a year does NOT give one the experience needed to run an effective school. Dr. Gorman really would have done better by strategically staffing these positions with the assistant principals who have already been doing the job. I am really hoping that Dr.Morrison will have the opportunity to meet with all of his principals and area directors and area superintendents. I am hoping he will speak with them and really find out how they got their positions and most of all, how prepared they have been in terms of executing their jobs. What he may find out might be totally shocking.

Anonymous said...

Yoyo dieting...quick fix, look good for a time, find it is unsustainable and back slide into the same situation or much worse.

Strategic staffing....quick fix, look good for a time, find it is unsustainable and back slide in the same situation or much worse.

Coincidence? Hmm...

Changing your lifestyle and exercising, removing processed foods = sustainability and true change.

Changing a culture, allowing teachers to teach and kids to fail = sustainability and true change.

Won't happen here...

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we should be asking what groups have been demanding quick fixes for years (and insisting that lack of progress was caused either by teachers or facilities or racism, etc.--whatever the flavor du jour was), yet have steadfastly denied that culture could have anything to do with the achievement gap. And then perhaps we should ask what groups seem to get the most publicity and "face" time with the media.

Shamash said...

Ann,

Good analogy.

Another thing to consider is that in many cases, just paying attention to kids and change in general, can result in performance improvements.

It's similar to the placebo effect that occurs in medicine all the time.

Just having someone listen to your aches and pains can make you feel better for a while.

And people who are highly motivated to believe a treatment will work often improve slightly for a while before reality kicks in and drags them back to normal.

That could be what we're seeing.

Anonymous said...

Morrison will be gone in 5 years (or less). New leader with new terminology for old programs that equals same results. The true definition of insanity.

Losers = Taxpayers

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have a solution that actually works??? Maybe hospitals can create classes for young mothers on child rearing. Pay now or pay later.

Jesus Parada said...


Everything from time to time need a review, because when time goes by projects need an impulse to go further with new objectives an improvements.

Life is a cycle and we need to stay focused to get the most out of the highest points in our route and set the foundation of a new boost when we are in the lowest to achieve again the summit.

Pamela Grundy said...


Contrary to the claims of 10:14, no one in the inner city has been demanding a "quick fix." The latest "quick fix" offered by CMS -- the decision to suddenly consolidate a group of challenged schools into K-8s -- was met with significant resistance. The subsequent struggles of the new K-8s underscore the wisdom of that opposition. When resources are targeted effectively, and administrators are allowed to continue down a path of steady improvement, kids from all walks of life make a lot of progress. Sadly, that doesn't happen often enough in CMS, or in other systems.

Bill Stevens said...

No one with a little common sense outside of public education thought the K-8 schools were a fix. It was simply a budget move to consolidate many schools into fewer. Some educators and some liberal thinkers tried to sell it as a reform move. Those of us who have been around on the outside of public education for over 30 years know better. Plus we know true reform efforts take many years to really see any benefits.

However though as one could easily conclude from looking back all these decades, these ideas of reform simply have not been effective. Public education simply can not overcome the disadvantages many of these students bring to the schoolhouse. It will require substantial culture shift in this community.

Anonymous said...

I am still tring to understand how Ann Clark could state in the journal article that the result of the Strategic Staffing Initiative was "outstanding."

Based on the statistics you shared Ann, at best Ms. Clark is guilty of exaggerating the outcome. At worst, she lied. Educational leaders around the country read that journal and no doubt believe that CMS is a excellent school system that is on he cutting edge when it comes to eliminating the achievement gap. We who live and work in CMS no differently. I am giving Dr. Morrison the benefit of the doubt, but I am skeptical of the ability of the central office of CMS to effectively lead this school system.

Anonymous said...

Ann, Does CMS pay you for coming up with a litany of excuses for why they can't turn around failed schools? The weight watchers metaphor sounds like original thinking, but I want to be sure.

Anonymous said...

Just look at the example of the young man shot around 1:00 AM this morning. Dr. Murphy tried top point out this issue when he was superintendent and it only lead him to being run out of town by the CO and the urban apologists.

michaell ponting said...

One way to lose weight is to just stop eating. It sounds simple, but in actuality you have to make out what you are doing to get any long term weight loss settlement from fasting. Let's appear at the limitation and strengths of fasting for weight loss.

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Anonymous said...

Blacks want a handout.
Mexicans want a job.
Whites want just half of their tax money spent in their own neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Wake up taxpayers. The black hole on the westside will become the fish that ate the whale these next couple of years.

Anonymous said...

Blacks want you to stop being jealous
Mexicans want you to stop being threatened
Whites want credit for what others work for.


Ann Doss Helms said...

Seriously, 2:40? If the official line is that this has all been a success, why would anyone pay me to elaborate on shortcomings?

Anonymous said...

Please Obama, bring back work for welfare.

Anonymous said...

I read the Ms. Clark's article. Only one paragraph out of dozens discussed results, and there was nothing specific (some schools saw as much as a 20% increase is not precise enough). Of course there was nothing in the article that revealed the negative results that Ann mentions in her blog.

Most of the article is descriptive, which is fine. However, the accolades that Ms. Clark heaps on the Stretaegic Staffing Initiative in the article is either misleading or a bald-faced lie depending on how one interprets the data. She also claims that now, every school has an effective principal at the helm. This is absolutely untrue. She clearly was not looking at the NC teacher survey results. If Dr. Morrison could do one thing to get the public to get behind CMS, he would demand total transparency from his staff. As a parent and a teacher, I need to be able to trust what the central administration is saying. Ms. Clark is not being genuine in that article.

Ann, I would love to find out from Ms. Clark what specific data she used to judge this program as outstanding.

Anonymous said...

Dear 9:19 a.m. and 4:42 p.m.

Can I get an AMEN!

Been saying the same thing for years.

csawyer said...

I’m disappointed that Ann Clark would paint strategic staffing as “outstanding” given the research to the contrary:
http://www.cms.k12.nc.us/cmsdepartments/accountability/cfre/Documents/Stategic%20Staffing%20Evaluation%20Report%20January%202011.pdf

Ann Doss Helms said...

4:42, watch Wednesday's school board meeting (yes, Weds instead of usual Tues night) for some discussion of the strategic staffing results. She's basing it on the fact that all schools are better off than they started, though she acknowledges (to me) that none of the schools are at full turnaround status and some are still struggling.

She also says she was focused more on its success as a recruitment/culture change tool. The SA package really does focus mostly on the staffing strategies, but I think Ann's overview statements present it as a given that these strategies turn around schools.

Christine Mast said...

12:10pm

SPARK Educational Performances has offered a solution:

Create smaller independent school districts (ISDs), with elected Trustees (with only 2 year terms), a Dean of Students and CEO. The parents and taxpayers would have more accessibility and accountability from the newly elected Trustees, as they could vote them out, if proven to be ineffective.

Right now, CMS hass 159 schools over 500 square miles with over 140,000 students and over 18,000 employees. With the current size, any perceived economies of scale have long ago been maxed-out. Now we've entered into the dysfunctional stage... anyone remember $10MM on iPads... I mean $5MM, I mean less that $5MM? The right hand (Central Office) has no idea what the left hand (schools) is doing.

Why do you think Project LIFT exists? Because a specific need for a specific set of students has been identified. Now LIFT has the authority to change to year-round schools, longer days, weekend classes, or whatever else might have an impact.

Imagine if that same concept was applied across new, smaller districts, that would have a better handle on what each new district really needed?

You can check out more specifics on Facebook by looking up "SPARK Educational Performances."

Anonymous said...

Ann:

While you are in the "area" of looking at strategic staffing, it wouldn't hurt to get some more information on the CMS Talent Pool process - what a joke! People who have been in the system with both experience and data-driven results continue to be passed over for New Leader interns. While I have nothing against any program looking to increase the quality of its people, it is unbelieveably frustrating to continue watching "principal interns" be promoted over those who have put in the work and get the results. Transparency and clear communication about this process needs to happen if CMS wants to keep committed staff.

Anonymous said...

As a SS teacher I think the idea was great and it provided the schools with fresh leadership. I do agree that some of the Principals selected did not have backgrounds with the population and although they were able to change the school culture intially the inexperience made it hard to sustain the momentum. Some of the Principals said themselves that
3 yrs was not long enough to maintain the project.

What needs to be looked at is why the teacher talent left the schools and that will be a determining factor as why the schools lost the growth after the 3yrs passed. If the culture changed and the scores were up and the behavior was controlled, then why would the teachers leave?

Anonymous said...

How about the Illegal Aliens being counted article.The loss of tax dollars has caused many teachers to loose their jobs and the ones left having to teach twice as many.Now the leader of the BOE states that it would be against the law to count the illegals.HELLO.It is against the law for them to be in our state.

Bill Stevens said...

4:42 PM, what most people do not realize if that the 20% increase was due to the 2008 test being a "reset" test (new level of difficulty) and most every school in the system that was mostly minority had the same gain, SS or not over the next couple of years.

Anonymous said...

Please dont ever talk about reperations again. Millions sent down a black hole without results.

Anonymous said...

The US is becoming more like Europe everyday.Everyone wants to drink the water and nobody wants to prime the pump.

Anonymous said...


Ann is going to say anything to keep her job. Why are the scores not rising? Why wasting so much money. Just teach the students and quit all of this BS. Give each student a TEACHER and not some Teach for America or Lateral Entry Teacher. These are NOT true teachers. A true Teacher is one who loves to teach and has a passion for his/her students. These teachers went to four year colleges and took all the required courses to be true Teachers. Teach for America and the Lateral Entry teachers took "watered down" courses to get certified. A true Teacher is one that can and should get the job done without all the BS Ann and others try to poke down their throats. TEACH the students. Stop all of this BS and simply teach the children.

Anonymous said...

You cant TEACH the children when the administration has you woking in a sandpit with one hand free.

Anonymous said...

Ann Clark

Full of Lies
Damned Lies
and Statistics

Anonymous said...

The GORMANATOR he lives on. SS is crap CMS should have never used the band aid that it is. Its simply a form of social welfare similar to Project LIFT watch it folks donw the same path.

Anonymous said...

At least something was done. The issue was student performance and those schools had 28% and 38% pass rates. There needed to be something done in order to address those issues. The same with the Project Lift schools. What kind of school district would we have if they did nothing, but sit and look at the continued failures of students.
In the case of Project Lift I am glad that someone cared enough to try and tackle the schools with the amount of issues they have and then go out and find the financial resources to actually handle the issues and recruit teachers who were willing and able to teach students in those neighborhoods. Instead of continuing to take the new teacheres who get ran out every year because they cannot handle the pressure.

Anonymous said...

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