Panel 4 Speaker: David Prasse, Ph.D. – Loyola University Chicago (IL)
RTI Leadership Forum
December 8, 2010
As the day has progressed I’ve found myself making adjustments to the kinds of things that I wanted to emphasize and react to around the subject of this particular panel, so that I think is kind of a good thing but it may make this a little more scattered than I had planned. I do think that Ed has captured the key elements in his paper around what’s important to implementation and sustainability. And I would encourage you besides having looked at the PowerPoint to go online to the RTI Network and read that paper. As you heard him say, he’s focused on leadership, partnership, and the knowledge or capacity component. I think those are the key elements as we look down the road for ultimate comprehensive implementation.
One of the good things, and you heard him reflect a little bit or share a little bit with us today, is that the paper itself has some nice anecdotal if you will in the trenches explanations to make points. That’s good writing I think for the subject matter. I endorse it. Let me put a little plug in. Not for me, but for Ed. I recently had the, we’ll put the word opportunity in quotes to read an unedited manuscript of a forthcoming book of which Ed is one of the editors. The title of that book is Models for Implementing Response to Intervention: Tools, Outcomes and Implications. There’ll be a Guildford publication so when it comes out I would encourage you to get it because much of the reality of the challenges around these three things are well detailed in that book.
I want to go back to Ed’s actual paper and pull out under the three areas that he addresses--leadership, partnership and capacity--three quotes from his paper because I think they really are salient and important to what we have to attend to. Leadership first. “Commitments to both the philosophical and practical aspects of RTI are needed. Central district administrators must fully understand the conceptual framework of the RTI model, place the process as central to the district’s operating principles, and provide the needed support in time and resources for implementing the implementation to building level administrators.” Big capital YES to that quote with some exclamation points behind it. He’s exactly right and it’s a nice succinct way of capturing the challenge. Harken back to John’s comments, John from Vail, Arizona, earlier today regarding the superintendent of his district after getting the not so good test scores for the performance of the district, and the superintendent looked if not literally, figuratively out at the entire staff of the district and said, How does it feel—I’m paraphrasing here—how does it feel to work for a district that’s among the lowest performers in the state? That’s leadership. That’s leadership. And that’s what’s needed to advance these things.
Partnership. Ed’s quote: A true partnership requires the ability for groups of individuals representing different perspectives to come together in a true give and take of ideas and operational implementation. Precisely. George said it well this morning describing both the good and the bad of the district and the school etc. in which his wife works. Okay? A common vision, a common language and common routines. That’s the partnership. You don’t get those things without that partnership.
Fundamental changes to our delivery systems and the methods that are approaching us regarding assessing teacher effectiveness will not be successful in this nation without full and substantive involvement of teachers. You’re crazy as a district administrator to go down that road and not start out that way. I’m from Chicago. There isn’t a major player in the educational stage that at one time or another hasn’t passed through my sandbox, all right? So that’s a necessity.
Capacity of knowledge and practice. The last part of Ed’s paper. Quoting: Although in-service professional development is considered a requirement for sustainability, a large and unattended concern for professional development is evident on the pre-service side of training. Unless university faculty are provided with a mechanism to bring new knowledge in systems of instructional process, such as RTI, into their existing courses, the requirements for teaching new staff how to work within a system delivering RTI will lie entirely within the in-service model. Boy, is he correct. And I will add that will doom our efforts for our nation is not sufficiently resourced for systemic change by in-service professional development. It will never happen. It will never happen unless we hold higher education, initial teacher preparation, and principal preparations’ feet to the fire. Thank you.
So, let me focus on a few things as a reaction beyond his paper. We have a lot of work to do and the challenges that we face are substantial. Two elephants in our living room. I want to talk about structure of the educational system in the United States of America. There are approximately 15,800 school districts in the United States, 850 of those are in Illinois alone. Each of those is governed by a school board, elected a variety of ways, members of the local community. Then we have 50 state education departments and we have one Department of Education nationally. I don’t think you could dream up a worse structure when you start talking about things like scaling up practices that work. I just can’t imagine creating a worse structure. I do not sit in front of you here today with a solution to that, but I will tell you if we don’t understand and think about the challenges that structure faces we’re not going to sustain much of anything. I would also hypothesize that very structure has created a vacuum in our nation around leadership and productivity in education and into that vacuum is stepping everything and anything. Everything and anything.
Now let’s talk about my sandbox. I’m a dean of a school of education. It’s an exciting time to be a dean of a school of education. There’s hardly anybody out there that I can find that thinks we’re doing a good job. (laughter) That’s okay. We are intractable. Absolutely no doubt about it. The educational institution is the oldest institution in this country outside of the church and in the beginning they were one and the same. We need to embed in our initial teacher preparation programs the knowledge base and skill sets so that every teacher moving into the ranks of teaching are prepared to work and know how to work in an RTI service delivery system. They must have that knowledge base and skill sets. That must happen, otherwise sustainability is moot.
We have to work…in working with our colleagues in Florida, a center in my school, we’ve surveyed several thousand teachers. I’m going to share some kind of depressing data but it will inform our direction. Surveyed several thousand teachers regarding both their beliefs and their perceptions around RTI skills. We asked, the teachers were one to four years of experience. We asked the teachers “Do you strongly agree or disagree all students can learn?” 40% of the teachers surveyed disagree with that statement. All students can learn. 40% disagreed. I’m struck by that finding relative to Mendy’s comment earlier regarding her son and an experience she had in the former district before she got to Vail. We asked the teachers, “Regarding students with high incidence disabilities are they capable of achieving academic benchmarks?” 42% of our respondents said No. We asked the teachers if they could use data to determine the effectiveness of interventions so that, in a way that would be better than teacher judgment. 45% of the teachers said No, teacher judgment is better than data. We have some work to do. That’s the bottom line.
I could go on with that data. We’ll have other venues to share more of it, we’re working on pushing it out even further. Let me end by saying that there are some of us that are working on this now. We have some initiatives underway in terms of trying to prepare some written material that teacher preparation programs can use to guide initial teacher preparation. We’re working with national organizations to give standing to that document when it’s done. We’re working with the great support of the RTI Network and Kathy Whitmire, with AACTE. We’ve met with NEA, we’ve met with AFT. We’re moving in the direction that I think we need to move to help make this happen, but rest assured everyone in this room that’s involved with an LEA or an SEA, the message you need to send to my colleagues in higher education is we don’t want your graduates if they can’t do these things. You have the greatest leverage of moving the immovable beast than anyone else, so I ask your assistance in doing that. Thank you. (applause)
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