Tacoma Public Schools – Josh Garcia and Shaun Taylor

19 June 2015

tacoma public schools

 Josh Garcia – Deputy Superintendent,Tacoma Public Schools (winner of 2013 Outstanding Young Educator ASCD).
  Shaun Taylor – CIO Tacoma Public Schools


Josh is an incredibly passionate educator who has transformed Tacoma Public School from a system that was derided for its low standards to one which has significantly improved measures of performance.

His work for Tacoma has involved working with the School Board, district leadership and school staff to focus attention and resources on:

  • improving the academic achievement of students.
  • creating a system to track student performance data that allows early intervention when students fall behind.
  • establishing a series of detailed public benchmarks to track the district’s performance on its strategic goals in academic achievement, safety, early learning and partnerships.
  • giving students more ways to gain credits toward graduation.

He is keen on flexible learning approaches and has no problem with standards and Common Core (WA’s standards mapped onto CC about 80% anyway), as long as they aren’t seen as the only measure of performance.

Josh has changed the policy around student enrolment by making the default situation that students are enrolled in the highest standard course of which they are capable, and the families have to actively opt out rather than opt in.
Over a couple of years Josh has raised one metric (graduation rate) significantly:
  • 2010 – every high school in the District was in difficulty, with ~55% graduation rates and a community activist group calling for charter schools (and raising money)
  • 2012 – Josh’s administration publicly sought community agreement on what actually counts as educational achievement
  • 2014 – District has 78% graduation rate. The activist fundraising group is now almost unnecessary, as the situation is now so different and the purpose is unclear.
The District profile is fairly needy. About 65%  qualify for free lunch, and there is about 30% mobility. development of urban hubs has effectively pushed less affluent families out of  the larger cities to the fringes.
Consultation and agreement was undertaken in a (very) public process where accountability was paramount. This ensured that every partner had a clear role and an undisputable measure of success. The measures of a whole child were developed via an accordion process that went back and forward between stakeholders, eventually resulting in a set of metrics.
His work has broken down barriers, made some practices more open, and opened up the door to a wider range of teachers
They are now looking at sharing data between agencies – eg this student has these social services, so we should know that and include it in our dataset.
Shaun explained the data warehouse project and the way in which assessment data was imported into the District’s systems. Importantly teacher assessments (ie every teacher markbook) is online and the data uploaded – it’s not just summative data from reports, it’s close to real time and is visible to parents.
Shaun’s team worked with Microsoft education specialists to devise ways for recording data on all the measures agreed upon as measures of the whole child. The data systems also now track verification for students into their next institution. Agreements between universities on what was actually required for entry resulted in a guarantee that any student who met them would be admitted.
See https://customers.microsoft.com/Pages/CustomerStory.aspx?recid=20703 for more on this.
Thanks are extended to Josh and Shaun for their willingness to share their experience and expertise. A very engaging and powerful session.

Key learnings:

  • When conversations and agreements are negotiated in a public manner, all parties are driven to abide by them.
  • Wise use of the media and public channels such as newspaper and TV, along with open use of data, can be very powerful.
  • Data is transparent and neutral.
  • Data transparency is a way to build trust and accountability.

Specific considerations for DoE Tasmania

  • Public discussion of student and school achievement data appears to be valuable.
  • At present we gather less data than Tacoma. In particular, we have no systemic way to store teacher markbook level data and neither the system nor even school principals have a way to see these markbooks or analyse them in a meaningful way.
  • If we intend to use data for learning analytics, the data has to be in a meaningful and consistent form. That is, a common way of recording it is required. It is impossible to compare a 17, a B-, a Somewhat, 48% and a smiley frog.
  • Better use of the media including social media, radio, newspaper and TV could bring greater transparency and accountability.
  • We need ways to track where our students go. We seem to have a lack of data on where students go on completion of education, and universities seem unaware of the source schools for their current students. We should be able to fill that gap.

Further reading


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