Huberman to Chicago principals: Do performance management, school improvement will follow

Print More

In his address today to CPS principals, CEO Ron Huberman released a
“School Performance Management Toolkit,” a booklet with details about
how administrators should implement the process at their own schools.
He also reassured them that central office will not demand that they
produce specific test-score gains. In his address today to CPS principals, CEO Ron Huberman released a “School Performance Management Toolkit,” a booklet with details about how administrators should implement the process at their own schools. He also reassured them that central office will not demand that they produce specific test-score gains.

“There is no principal who is going to do poorly… who is committed to the performance management process,” Huberman said. “Where we don’t believe (performance management) is happening, we are going to be very tough. But if it’s occurring, we are much less interested in the outcome.”

Even so, the process he outlined will require teachers to assess students more often, and for schools to shift away from using standardized testing data to gauge performance.

 

Huberman spent much of the speech showing principals how performance management could help them in their daily work. He also announced a hotline for principals to report problems with central office services such as transportation or tech support.

Clarice Berry, head of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, said she was grateful Huberman provided more clarity about his plans.

“I think that my principals left that meeting a little relieved about what’s expected of them,” Berry said. “There is going to be no quota. The only thing I’m still skeptical about is that there is fidelity in the implementation of this toolkit.”

She said that having specifics will allow her to address any issues that come up for principals. “We can have conversations about how the CAO’s (chief area officer’s) vision is matching with what Ron says.”

Mark Jordan, an assistant principal at Gompers Fine Arts School in West Pullman, was pleased with Huberman’s pledge to provide resources, support, and autonomy for principals.

 “It’s not so much about what the test score says, but about whether you are starting to get beyond excuses,” Jordan said. “He’s not going to tell you how to get there… he just wants you to get there.”

Once the process is in place, Huberman said, results will follow, though he acknowledged that his strategy is unproven.

“Performance management, with the structure we are trying to give it, has never been attempted in a large urban school district,” Huberman said.

Still, he made it clear to principals that current results are not good enough. Even at a growth rate of 3 percent a year, he said, it would take several generations for CPS students to catch up academically with students elsewhere in the world.

And, Huberman said, chief area officers must set specific performance goals for the schools in their areas.

“Those meetings are never meant to be antagonistic, but they are at times tough,” Huberman said. “If a CAO is knocking on your door saying, ‘Why has this performance management session not occurred?’ it could be because when they meet with me, if there aren’t good answers to those questions, they are going to possibly have a bad day.”

His toolkit outlines ten steps for a process he described as “the creation of professional learning communities” in schools:

  • Assess the school’s existing performance management practices
  • Build instructional leadership teams and teacher teams that meet every week or two. This is the centerpiece of his strategy, Huberman said. “If this happens, we are going to move kids.”
  • Choose priorities by comparing the school improvement plan to current performance data.
  • Create a calendar outlining which data should be reviewed each week, month, and quarter.
  • Develop a strategy for sharing the new calendar and the process with teachers, parents, a school’s LSC and community members, who all have a stake in school improvement.
  • Assemble timely data that is relevant to a school’s goals
  • Craft questions and agendas for performance management meetings – for instance, “How are concepts being reviewed on a regular basis to ensure students both master and retain skills?”
  • Determine the “root causes” of problems by repeatedly asking why a desired result is not occurring, while avoiding excuses. “‘Johnny comes from a broken family, Johnny comes from a poor neighborhood.’ That is not a good root cause,” Huberman said.
  • Create meaningful action items
  • Implement and monitor changes

Once performance management processes are in place, Huberman said, data can help schools target specific students and teachers for extra support. The district sought principal feedback on draft versions of the toolkit, Huberman said.

For the toolkit to work, Huberman said, principals will need to shift away from using ISAT and PSAE data – and teachers will need to assess students on a day-to-day basis.

“By the time you get that information, and teachers get those results, kids are gone,” he said. Rather, the Scantron Interim Assessment will provide information on student growth four times a year, Huberman said. The district has already spent $20 million increasing the computer-to-student ratio so schools can implement the test.

Down the line, Huberman said, the district will try more performance management strategies, including:

  • New quarterly elementary and high school progress reports. Beginning in March, they will provide principals with faster indicators to gauge their progress. But the district’s yearly school performance ratings, used to determine probation status, as well as a school’s eligibility for closure or turnaround, will not change.
  • Moving performance management conversations to the student and parent level, “where the students articulate their own growth, know their own level of achievement, (and) we get the parent involved.”
  • Developing an on-track metric, similar to the freshman on-track indicator, for every grade.
  • Providing additional training on performance management this summer.
  • Giving teachers access to the district’s data system, known as the “dashboard.” “We should have started with (the dashboard) being a teacher tool,” Huberman said. “We’re now going to fix that.”
  • Implementing per-pupil budgeting and give schools more purchasing autonomy, including the ability to buy professional development by the unit. “No principal should have to spend a dime on professional development they don’t want,” Huberman said.
  • Rating curricula, including the district’s own, on its results, so that principals can more easily analyze benefits and cost.
  • Giving schools more autonomy to choose their own reading and math coaches.

Huberman also gave a taste of what his weekly performance management sessions look like at central office:

  • Technology support companies were rated on their response time and their cost per support ticket.
  • The student expulsion process was put under a microscope, and administrators found that facilitating an expulsion takes an average of 129 days; on average, area offices were sitting on expulsion cases for 18 to 46 days before passing them along to the law office, which spent another 45 days preparing cases for hearing.
  • Emergency school placement data “didn’t look great,” Huberman said. “You’re almost better off staying in the traditional (transfer) system.”
  • The Office of Specialized Services “is up a lot” for performance management meetings, he said. “It’s an area that we know needs to be more responsive,” Huberman said.