This week, $88 million dollars were awarded in the first round of the Governor’s Straight-A Fund to twenty-four schools across Ohio, out of a pool of 569 applications submitted. This one-of-a kind initiative is intended to incentivize innovations in teaching and learning across the state, to save money to the district, and to prove replicable in order to benefit other districts. The awards ranged from $14 million to $205,000.
I and four other colleagues from the philanthropic sector were among the educators, administrators, and business and venture capitalists invited to sit on the Grant Advisory Committee. One clear message to the committee was that the Straight-A Fund is attempting to create a set of demonstration projects across the state. The Fund holds the promise to truly change the way the public typically thinks of education in Ohio.
The process is creating a portfolio of projects that, if successful, will deliver the public a robust System of Schools with a portfolio of creative learning environments, rather than a one-size-fits-all School System. The grants have been awarded, and that is a good start. For the program to truly succeed, however, the follow-up will be the Governing Board’s greatest challenge. If done well, the Fund will serve as a national model.
For those of us in the philanthropic sector, the selection process was unlike anything we had ever seen. To ensure anonymity and impartiality, the state employed the expertise of statisticians from Ohio State University to assist. The committee was introduced to sophisticated algorithms and briefed on how to make use of “logit” scores to determine cut-off points, which then determined which grants the Governing Board could select from. The model is a wonderful example of how a “big-data” model played an invaluable role in producing an unbiased consensus agenda for the Advisory Committee and Governing Board.
It was curious that only one element, called “Item 9” on each grant application, posed a challenge to a relatively flawless system. I will address that below. In the end, I would argue that the Advisory Committee found the selection process highly efficient in meeting the requirements of the legislation. For overseeing a smooth and timely grant review process, we offer our kudos to the civil servants who were involved. How effective this process will be remains an open question and a concern.
The Governing Board must realize that their greatest challenge begins now. In philanthropy, we know from experience that the most successful grant making occurs when foundations establish partnerships with nonprofits and become partners to ensure success. That effort includes focus, attention, and reliable models for benchmarking success. Our colleagues from the business sector know that turning ideas into actual breakthrough products, services, and process improvements requires discipline. “Ideating is energizing and glamorous but by contrast, execution seems like humdrum, behind-the-scenes dirty work. But without execution, Big Ideas go nowhere.”
Each of the grants—regardless of size, duration, or purpose—is in essence an experiment. Unless there is an intentional and disciplined system to gather, evaluate, and act on and learn from these investees and the challenges they face in replicating their successes, the Straight-A Fund will wind up looking like too many of the well-intentioned efforts to reform schools.
The current law contains two reporting requirements for the Fund: First, “the board shall issue an annual report to the Governor, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President of the Senate, and the chairpersons of the House and Senate committees that primarily deal with education regarding the types of grants awarded, the grant recipients, and the effectiveness of the grant program.” Second, “a grant advisory committee for the Straight-A Program is hereby established….The committee shall annually renew the Straight-A Program and provide strategic advice to the governing board and the Director of the Governor’s Office of 21st Century Education.”
The reporting requirements are broad and beg for a disciplined evaluation process. A few questions one might ask are as follows:
(1) Who will capture the material that will be provided in the annual report to the Board, as required in the legislation? (2) Is there a designated leader who will direct this effort? (3) Does the system allow for failure and, more importantly, track the lessons learned from the failure? (4) Is there a method to help foster the replication of successful models? Our experience in philanthropy shows that there are many cases of innovative teaching and learning already taking place in schools throughout the state. Often these successes are not because of but in spite of school leadership. (5) Is there a way to capture these ideas and blend them with the successes we may or may not see among the twenty-four grantees? (6) How open is the Governing Board and the Director of the Governor’s Office of Twenty-First-Century Education to the advice from the advisory committee? And, most importantly, (7) How risk-tolerant are the legislators tasked with making the radical changes that might be necessary to have the impact the law intended?
Fredrick Hess’s new book, Cage-Busting Leadership, points to the complexity of incentivizing innovation, because the State System is culturally risk adverse. To this point he writes,
[T]hink about school and district leaders . . . as living in a cage. That cage restricts what they can do and how they can do it. Lost in the K-12 leadership equation [is]—the cage-busting half that makes it easier for successful and professional cultures to thrive.
More specifically to the challenge facing the Governing Board, Hess writes,
One way to free leaders is by removing the bars that cage them in. District contracts and procurement processes, rules and regulations, state statutes and board policies hinder leaders in all kinds of ways, making it harder to repair a fence, hired talented staff or schedule grade-level team meetings. [These] policies present real problems, but smart leaders can frequently find ways to bust them—with enough persistence, knowledge, and ingenuity.
I encourage these grant recipients to explore the barriers to their success. They must not be afraid to articulate how these policy elements help or hinder success and list the precise legislative elements that will be required to change them.
Earlier, I mentioned the puzzling “Item 9” on the grant application. Item 9 asked, “Are realistic barriers to the work identified and are reasonable solutions to the barriers being proposed?” This question about barriers caused confusion for both the applicants and the scorers. The variance in the answers caused “noise” in the algorithm. To eliminate that “noise,” the statisticians may eliminate the question for the next application round.
Our reaction is quite the opposite. Don’t eliminate it, but perhaps rethink it. The barriers question is perhaps the most important one for applicants to answer. It is no surprise to those in philanthropy that this question threw off the data sets. Answering this question is very difficult for school leaders, because (to quote Hess) “the problem is, [leaders] don’t know they can bust challenges. Or don’t know how to get started. Or are too nervous to try, or have never been taught they are supposed to push.”
It has been a privilege and honor to serve as a member of Advisory Committee. As the real work begins, I encourage the policymakers to make use of the philanthropic and business communities to help realize the potential the Fund holds for education.
Note: John Mullaney is the executive director for the Nord Family Foundation, an Ohio-based charitable trust. John served on the Grant Advisory Committee for the Straight-A Fund. Aaron Churchill of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute also served on the Advisory Committee.
Hope for the Impossible to Achieve the Extraordinary
Those were the words Cleveland Orchestra director Franz Welser-Most used at the City Club to describe his vision of Cleveland as the “Music City of America.”One week later in the same venue, Mayor Jackson said he wanted the Cleveland Schools to be on par with the Cleveland Clinic and the Cleveland Orchestra.Few cities have the remarkable concentration of music resources than Cleveland. The Mayor and the Maestro recognize this as Cleveland’s niche above other cities.“Cleveland cannot compete with the masses of India, China and Japan…where you can compete is you have to find niches and you have to be the best in that niche.”The challenge for the school board and superintendent is to harness that niche and bring it to scale so all children can “Make Music!” Done properly, Cleveland schools could be extraordinary and unlike any district in the country.
One promising example is a foundation supported pilot between the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the New York-based Education Through Music.ETM has a simple mission: “forming long-term partnerships with inner-city schools to help principals establish and sustain school-wide music education programs that reach every student.”Our trustees support this goal because we can no longer understand how any school cannot include music as a core curricular discipline.Our challenge to the Cleveland leadership is to create a school system where every school has a trained music education professional on staff and that music is valued for the fundamental contribution it makes to student learning.
Ray Kurzweil’s book How to Create a Mind – The Secret of Human Thought Revealed explains that the human brain has developed a unique capacity to recognize patterns and recall sequences of patterns, “…however, we are not born with a neocortex filled with any of these patterns. Our neocortex is virgin territory when our brain is created.It has the capacity of learning and therefore of creating connections between the pattern recognizers, but it gains those connections from experience.This learning process begins even before we are born, occurring simultaneously within the biological process of actually growing a brain.” By the third trimester “…the fetus is having experiences, and the neocortex is learning.She can hear sounds, especially her mother’s heartbeat, which is one likely reason that the rhythmic qualities of music are universal to human culture.Every human civilization ever discovered has had music as part of its culture which is not the case with other art forms, such as pictorial art. “
Nationally, schools have embraced STEM and virtually all the K-12 STEM curriculum have as their core the ability for students to “recognize and analyze patterns and trends, and to sequence events.” In large measure, those same schools have eliminated music as a core curriculum and effectively, “outsourced” music training to institutions like the Orchestra and the Rock Hall, as well as many excellent nonprofits that succeed often by finding the one teacher in the one building who will invite their programming into the schools. Philanthropy has enabled this travesty by supporting the programs –which though excellent, are considered by the schools an “add-on.”With a human phenomenon so fundamental to human brain activity why on earth would schools not include music as a core curricular standard thereby ensuring access and exposure for every child?
The Mayor and the Maestro have set the bar high.Perhaps now is the time to reach for what may be considered impossible and to leverage the excellence in human capital coupled with unparalleled technology used at many of our music institutions and bring to scale the efforts that ETM and Oberlin have piloted to ensure that each school will have paid full-time staff to teach music to every child.In that kind of district, visits to the Orchestra, the Rock Hall or any other musical event will magnify a child’s experience of life.Aristotle said of teachers, “Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.”
Living in a city where that happens would indeed be Extraordinary.
In October 2011, I attended a session at the Annual Meeting of Philanthropy Roundtable with the title: Four Models for Addressing Chronic Unemployment and Homelessness. Four Models for Addressing Chronic Unemployment and Homelessness
Homelessness, hunger, and unemployment cry out for solutions. The most sustainable solutions, however, often depend on the homeless, hungry, and unemployed building self-reliance and in turn reclaiming their lives and restoring their positions in their families and their communities. Training programs can help people to accomplish this for themselves in a variety of ways. On this panel, representatives of four exemplary social service organizations will outline the best ways for private charity to help people to help themselves—from faith-based approaches and getting people off the streets to providing permanent housing and re-purposing unused food for job training.
Barbara Elliott, president and founder, Center for Renewal and board member, Work Faith Connection
Sister Mary Scullion, executive director and president, Project Home
Jennifer Vigran, chief executive officer, Second Helpings
Matt Minkevitch, executive director, The Road Home
Betsy Bikoff, vice president and chief grant making officer,Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation (Moderator)
Each of the panelists described programs they developed to assist the homeless as they identify a path to self-sufficiency. It was evident that the number of homeless people is increasing in each of the geographic areas represented by the panel. “Overwhelming” was a word used to describe the pressures the increased numbers place on their organizations. Every one of these programs is able to describe success for a large number of the clients they served; but at the same time, they admitted to seeing an increasing number of people for whom the simplest steps to recovery and “self-help” remains a challenge.
Those studying the homeless populations now make distinctions among the people they serve: (1) those who are homeless due to sudden changes in economic situation or temporary set-back and (2) the “chronically homeless” who appear to be mentally and/or emotionally ill and/or with substance dependency. Typically this group faces a longer time horizon to stabilization and the rates of recidivism are very high. Some never reach stabilization. During the question and answer period, I referenced an article from the December 24, 2010 New York Times called, “The Street Level Solution.” The article cites studies that find a significant number of chronically homelessness people having a history of Traumatic Brain Injury (TMI). The author David Bornstein writes that it is important for providers to distinguish the chronically homeless in order to better understand the true problem. His research brought him to Dr. James O’Connell,“…a doctor who has been treating the most vulnerable homeless people on the streets of Boston for 25 years, (he) estimates that 40 percent of the long-term homeless people he’s met had such a brain injury. ‘For many it was a head injury prior to the time they became homeless,’ he said. ‘They became erratic. They’d have mood swings, bouts of explosive behavior. They couldn’t hold onto their jobs. Drinking made them feel better. They’d end up on the streets.’ ” I asked the panelists if they were aware of this and related research and; if so, were they seeing it? Every one of the panelists shook their heads in agreement and suggested that there was little understanding among those in the public sector about the gravity of this problem. Matt Minkevitch said he is certain that many clients at The Road Home have had a history of past brain injury.
In his opinion, the crisis is rooted in the fact that clients often present symptoms that look more like those that need to treated by an assortment prescribed psychotropic drugs usually through mental health departments. He described one client in particular who had been in and out of the mental health system treated as a schizophrenic and sedated. He never responded to the pharmacopeia of psychotropic medications which puzzled the many physicians and mental health providers. The client who was well-known to all at the Road Home discussed his suffering on many occasions. He killed himself after a particularly violent episode. His case was of enough interest that an autopsy was performed. The autopsy report showed that the man was not schizophrenic at all, but had been experiencing brain seizures related directly to a traumatic brain injury.
Clearly the chronically homeless will remain a challenge for many in the years to come. Most disturbing to us and the providers is the increasing number of veterans who are appearing at homeless shelters across the country. This phenomenon parallels the stories of men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – a subset of whom have experienced brain trauma.
As a foundation that hopes to address the root causes of poverty, I think this apparent link between homelessness and TBI is worth exploring. I would suggest that other foundations that support programs dealing with homeless populations do the same. Since January 1, 2002, The Nord Family Foundation trustees approved 70 grants totaling $1,460,300 that provided support in some form or another to homeless populations. This number includes grants across both the Health and Human Services &Civic Affairs program areas, and includes supportive programs such as Children’s Garden that provides child care for homeless families and the Lorain County Furniture Bank that provided furniture to families transitioning out of homelessness. Other foundation grants by geographic areas (excluding matching grants) include:
Salvation Army Midlands
The Nord Family Foundation’s concern for the homeless can be traced to the early 1940’s when Walter Nord became invested in creating the Nord Center due to the large number of returning war veterans who suffered from “shell shock” and who had little support. How many of those men had experienced some form of TBI in their service? Then, as now, the more severe manifestations of TBI were referred to the mental health system. Advances in biotechnology have improved the understanding of the brain and its functions. Doctors are now discovering what many front-line providers have sensed for a long time; that is. the cognitive and physical manifestations in the homeless that people attribute to mental illness, mental retardation and or drug use have deeper idiopathic explanations. Consequently the way to really help these people is advocating for expanded primary health care access to those suffering from homelessness. Forging partnerships between mental health providers and primary health care workers who can better diagnose TBI will help to relieve the crush on the overtaxed mental health systems and at the same time better address the root causes of homelessness.
In September 2011, I was introduced to the Craig Hospital in Denver Colorado. Craig is dedicated exclusively to Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). In follow-up to my visit, I asked several staff members if they too were looking at this topic. I made connection with Kristi Staniszewski, RPT Clinical Specialist from the Research Department. Kristi let me know the link between TBI and homeless populations is recognized as underreported and an important policy item for the Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado. Kristi asked she thought there might be value in the Nord Family Foundation helping the alliance convene a meeting of clinicians, and providers who are seeking support to advance the recommendations of the Executive Order on Traumatic Brain Injury – Final Report which was presented to Governor Bill Ritter, Jr. in December 2009. With minimal investment of funding, the foundation is in a position to convene a discussion on the subject to include providers and appropriate medical practitioners to gather more information on TBI and its impact on the social service sector. My research revealed that in one conference on the topic took place in 2010 in Maine. I included an opening talk by one of the presenters. Please notice that she starts her talk saying that few conference on the topic of homlessness every address the link with TBI. We can serve as a catalyst and hopefully bring this topic to NE Ohio, Columbia, SC; and perhaps Boston.
I welcome any comments from foundation representatives or service providers.
In too many cases, foundations fund creative programs initiated by nonprofit organizations which prove effective by many measures, but for reasons unknown to many, fail to be replicated in other communities. These are cases where inventiveness is not put to use. Knowing these efforts are more than mere pastimes, many in the philanthropic and nonprofit communities are beginning to ponder these issues.
The Innovator’s Way – Essential Practices for Successful Innovationby Peter J. Denning and Robert Dunham is prominent in the business section at most book stores. Geared primarily to the business sector, the book is completely relevant to the nonprofit and foundation sector as well. The writers insist that an innovator can determine success when three factors converge:
Domain expertise – is your skill in the community of practice you aim to change.
Social interaction practices – is your skill at influencing others and mobilizing action around your ideas.
Opportunities – acknowledging that you cannot control your environment, but you can control how you engage with it. Successful innovators have a high sensitivity to people’s concerns and breakdowns, an ability that might be called “reading the world.”
I would argue that most foundations have – by their nature – all three elements for successful innovation. Their interaction with grantees sheds light on domain experience; successful staff members sense opportunities to read the world and convey that to trustees; and finally, the ability to convene people from sectors outside the ambit of the nonprofit world provides singular social interaction practices that can indeed bring “inventions” in the nonprofit world to scale.
The Nord Family Foundation has made several grants to support technological inventions that demonstrate improvements in the ways children and adults learn, as in the case of past support of CAST – The Center for Applied Special Technologies. Early support for this pilot program in Lorain County schools resulted in two highly successful products, the Thinking Reader™ and Science Writer™, which are software tools that embrace CAST’s highly successful Universal Design for Learning (UDL) pedagogy.
The foundation’s support to the Bellefaire Monarch School enabled computer programmers at Monarch’s commercial site (Monarch Teaching Technologies, Inc.) to pilot and refine the interactive software program Vizzle™ that is now being offered for an IPO. In March, Vizzle’s inventor wrote to us to let us know that Vizzle was now being implemented in twenty-eight schools across the Los Angeles Unified School District to help children with autism. Research shows that children with autism pay more attention and retain more of what they learn when lessons are presented interactively utilizing technology. Similarly, The Manila Times announced a significant Vizzle pilot program backed by the Philippines’ Department of Education. This news was reported in at least four Filipino daily papers. Just last month, Vizzle was featured in Crain’s Cleveland Business.
Recognizing the potential Vizzle had to enhance the ability of special education teachers in public schools to improve their ability to work with the increasing number of autistic children in schools, the Nord Family Foundation trustees approved a grant to the Joshua School in Denver. Joshua School focuses entirely on autistic children and, like the Monarch School in Cleveland, is a personalized but very expensive program. Families without the ability to pay the $20,000 tuition ($60,000 at Monarch) are left to fend on their own. Joshua School, in collaboration with Monarch, provides the program and training for public school teachers. In Denver, public school special education teachers from around the state come to Joshua to learn Vizzle.
This is just one example of how the foundation took an invention in Cleveland and helped bring it to scale nationwide and seed it internationally. That is the essence of inventiveness – a legacy for which this family is both familiar and proud.
There are many books and articles that instruct foundation chairs and CEO’s on how to conduct a successful board meeting. No one has written a book on what happens between board meetings and yet that is where some of the most productive time can take place. The challenge for our foundation is: “how to engage trustees and members in the activities of the foundation especially when board meetings are limited to just a few hours three times a year.?”
We realized that by asking this rhetorical question of ourselves we established one of the most fundamental issues when anyone considers navigating they way into the “social media” market which is flooded just too many choices. One must discern between applications that are simply fads and which can have serious applications to the field of philanthropy. So two of the most fundamental question for us to ask is, a. “What is something we would like to do, but can’t.” and b. “What media tools are available that can help us get to where we want to go?”
For the Nord Family Foundation, our challenges were – how to enhance communication among the board that lives in many geographic areas and has limited time to spend at meetings? How can we enhance knowledge-sharing among board members, and the larger community? How can all this be done on a reasonable budget?, and finally who will take control of the data management in input when our staff is so small?
We were in process of redoing our website, and I knew that ours could be a website that was more than an electronic version of what is readily available in paper. We also knew that we did not need to spend the typical $30,000 fee to pay for a web design. – which when you want to add features typically costs thousands of additional dollars. We made use of an open-source tool called Drupal which is a shell that supports and amazing array of two-way communication packages. We also know there is an active “drupal community” that are willing to help organizations construct websites and add applications tools at relatively low cost. With very little training, almost any approved person (staff and/or trustee) can add information to the website. The site supports not only text, but an ability to embed video, audio as well hyperlinks to related websites.
In short, our website contains both a public and a private component. The public side includes our website as well as an online application form. This form links to our in-house grants administration system Gifts for Windows. We include the contact information and links to websites for each of our grantees. The community can use a key-word search to find information about grantees who might be engaged in similar work. The community is encouraged to leave comments which are open to the public. We make use of this blogging tool to solicit ideas and input from the larger community. On the member’s side, which is private, all information relevant to the foundation is contained on the website. This includes all policy-related documents, members and trustee contact information. Each trustee and member has an assigned blog and can write about issues of interest to them that might related to the work of the foundation. Other members can leave comments on those blogs thereby creating a “conversation” about topics. Most interesting for us, is our board book is online. All grant requests for the docket are placed online. Trustees can read, and comment on each requests prior to the meeting. Other members are able to see those comments ahead of time. The board book includes an on-line voting tool that allows the trustee to register their vote on the staff recommendation as “approve” “disapprove” and “for discussion.” As each individual vote is cast, it is aggregated into a program that will allow the Board Chair to see ahead of time which g rants have unanimous approval, which need discussion and which are disapproved. Comments posted ahead of time will help inform discussion around the table. These votes are pre-voting. It is interesting to see how decisions made prior to the meeting can possibly change when the grant is discussed by the full board.
Not only does our online solution enhance the meeting, but it enhances the quality and quantity of communication among trustees between meetings.
One of the most intelligent people in philanthropy is Terry Ryan at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Dayton, Ohio . Terry has been a leader in our professional meetings challenging the State to address the proliferation of online learning and its impact, not only in Ohio but across the country. I find myself agreeing with Terry on many of these issues and it my hope that more people in philanthropy will engage in this important question with us.
An increasing number of education and business experts are documenting that the second-wave of computer technology along with adaptations of social software will transform the way “schooling” and “teaching” take place. Online learning, e-learning, e-schools, virtual schools, and cyber-schools are all terms that refer to the phenomena of using online approaches to educate children. Over the past decade, there has been an explosive growth in the use of online learning opportunities across the country and across Ohio. States have seen the growth of stand-alone online schools as well as online programs connected to traditional schools and school support groups like state departments of education and county educational service centers.
As of the fall of 2008:
• 17 states offer significant supplemental and full-time online options for students;
• 23 states offer significant supplemental opportunities, but not full- time opportunities;
• 4 states offer significant full-time opportunities, but not supplemental;
• 34 states offer state-led programs or initiatives to work with school districts to supplement course offerings; and
• 21 states have full-time online schools (often charters, but also district-operated schools that operate statewide).ii
The Florida Virtual School, for example, is an online school built and operated by the Florida Department of Education that has seen course enrollment grow dramatically, from 77 at its 1997 inception to 113,900 course enrollments in the 2007-08 school year. In Ohio, more than 24,000 students attend online schools, based online rather than in school buildings. Thousands of others take some of their courses online while at their traditional schools.
Indeed, this is the fastest growing segment of the new schools’ sector in Ohio and many other states. Ohio now has it’s own Ohio Virtual Academy for K-12 and the State is uncertain how to respond. It is clear that the power of information and communication technologies and online learning to improve and customize learning for children is accelerating. If this sector is encouraged in coming years, it will lead to powerful educational innovations, including exciting partnerships between classroom-based instruction and online learning, and increased 24/7 learning opportunities for Ohio’s children. The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that “50 percent of all courses in grades 9-12 will be taken online by 2019.”
Online learning opportunities are expanding rapidly because they offer much promise. Full-time online learning opportunities provide an outlet to traditional classroom-based instruction for parents seeking greater customization of learning opportunities for their children. It can also facilitate a parent’s involvement in their child’s education. These programs, done well, offer new learning opportunities for children and a place for parents to turn if they and/or their children are unhappy with the education provided by their traditional school. These programs can also be important supplements for what traditional schools do and provide significant support to classroom teachers. An additional promise of online learning is its potential to help students access rigorous courses and highly qualified teachers despite their location (e.g., rural areas, hard to staff urban schools, or home-bound children). Internet-based learning models remove geographic, physical, and time barriers to learning allowing successful models to expand rapidly.
My colleagues at the KnowledgeWorks Foundation have put together and very impressive video that challenges every educational administrator and teacher serving in the today’s educational sector. The question to any educational professional viewing this presentation is to gauge your immediate reaction to the video – Does it scare you? or Does it present exciting challenges to you in how you and those who follow you will continue in the “profession” of teaching?
As with any disruptive organizational change efforts to align online learning to the traditional system are not without controversy. For example, there is wide variation in the quality of K-12 full-time online learning schools, and some are poorly designed and deliver un-challenging lessons. Others offer little personal attention to children who need it. Look at the successful marketing frenzy of RosettaStone™ and its move to online language learning. Some cash-strapped districts such as those in New Jersey and Virginia, are eliminating their high school language departments and replace it with this product in the naive attempt to get on-boad the technology boom.
Despite the growth in online learning there is little research available that measures program quality and rigorous research has yet to be released that informs us what types, and under what conditions, online programs work best. Promising practices have been identified, but more is unknown than is known.
At the same time, legislators have introduced a bill to create a new “distance learning pilot program.” It would offer AP courses via teleconferencing equipment to every Ohio high school, thereby providing access to classes that students wouldn’t otherwise have because those classes are too costly for their schools to provide. Given the state’s potential for terminating a large chunk of Ohio’s extant online learning community while at the same time promoting online learning via other measures, the time is at hand to identify promising initiatives that can be supported, replicated, and scaled up.
Another video, produced by teachers in the system presents us with additional challenges related to the urgency online learning presents to anyone in the educational sector.
One of the teachers presents the following challenge
One of the things I think we have to ask ourselves as school leaders is ‘What’s our moral imperative to prepare kids for a digital, global age?’ Right now we’re sort of ignoring that requirement. . . . I think you would take a look at much of what we do in our current schooling system and just toss it and essentially start over. So the question for school leaders and for policymakers is ‘How brave are you and how visionary are you going to be?’ And you don’t even have to be that visionary. Just look around right now and see the trends that already are happening and just project those out and see that it’s going to be a very different world.
This is the urgency I would like to see propelling the Educational Innovation Zones I spoke about in the previous post. The problem with this video is that it talks about innovation in learning but it continues to take place within a public school “system” as we know it. My read indicates that they are talking about new ways of learning but pouring new wine into the proverbial old skins. The video still pans on aging schools and kids doing their computer work in some type of lab but in reality, even the spaces in which learning take place, will change the way we construct schools. I refer to the example of the architectural innovation in the Seattle Public Library.
Philanthropy has a role to push this challenge to the established educational bureaucracy in this country to help change the system. Specifically, Philanthropy can provide a unique role in working with teachers to help them reshape their role in this new and changing environment. There are many examples of that and I will offer them up in the next post.
Last week, I met with my colleagues from the Ohio Grantmakers Forum (OGF) Education Task Force. The purpose of the meeting was to get an update on how the report recommendation Beyond Tinkering influenced Governor Strickland education budget. The publication purports to help guide policy to “Create Real Opportunities for Today’s Learners and for Generations of Ohioans to Come.” The budget in its current form does little to meet that reality.
The Governor ignored the number one recommendation placed forward by the philanthropic sector which is to create several education “Innovation Zones” throughout the State. He also ignored another compelling recommendation which was to establish a Statewide P-16 Education Technology Plan. Instead his staff appropriated $200,000 in the budget to establish a Creativity and Innovation Center within the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). I suggested the Governor would do well to reallocate that line item to another area because such a center ultimately serves as another top-down management tool for a system that needs another organizational system.
The education reform – dictated by budge constraints promises to be an expensive Tinkering Project informed by political agendas. It is discouraging as a funder to see incredibly innovative approaches to teaching and learning at places like Case and Oberlin College ignored by the pubic school sector. It is energizing to meet the vast number of teachers and people across the country who are pushing innovation in schools in informal networks. It is most disheartening to see how little foundation people, business leaders and school bureaucrats understand the potential technology has to support innovative approaches to learning and understanding. Foundations in particular seem to be risk averse when it comes to seeking out true innovation. Too many of us resist appealing to the god of “Evidence-based practices” which seem only to gain credibilty if funded through expensive consultants from graduate schools of education. To me, that term is becoming argot or those who fear real change to public schools as we know them.
As I watch this budget develop, I find it tragic that those who advise the governor seem to lack any understanding of the power and impact that new learning technologies can have not only in schools but in the market as well. The new technologies and approaches come with massive disruptive change in school management and teaching. Perhaps a concept far too big for policy makers to embrace.
One of the most formidable challenges for this Governor is changing i educational management in communities where the economic downturn continues to erode civic virtue. The following article appeared in the Elyria Chronicle, the newspaper for a mid-west city where the loss of manufacturing jobs has resulted in decreased population and concentration of poverty in the city core. Elyria was once a center of commerce in this part of NE Ohio. Fifty years ago, a working-class family could afford a nice home, have a yard, worship at the church or temple of their choice, join clubs and graduate from schools. The good life attracted families in the post-war boom years. The school district has struggled with low-performing outcomes on State Standardized tests coupled with increases in social ills associated with poverty. On the same day, the paper reported incidents about a shooting of a teen in one neighborhood, the resignation of the county law director who was jailed for drunk driving, a severe beating of one school wrestler with another at a garage party where beer and marijuana was present and a story about the former director of the Community Development Corporation (South Elyria CDC) who is a fugitive from the law – accused of stealing more than $50,000 from the agency.
Many in the next generation of those baby boom families have left the region resulting in population decrease and with that diminished need for the various school buildings. Last week The Elyria Chronicle paper announced the board decided to close two neighborhood schools. As a result, students will be bussed to another building which will now serve as a consolidated school. Note the report on how administration will address the teaching staff. If you are a new teacher, your abilities mean nothing. Union rules make it that no matter what the skill level seniority trumps ability.
In addition to the closings, the district — which also has a projected deficit for 2013 — will lay off 23 teachers — eight at the elementary level, 13 secondary and two special education teachers.
(The), district director of human resources, said the 23 teachers will be notified this week of the reduction plan. At the April 8 board meeting, board members will vote to approve the contract termination of each.
He does not anticipate that enough veteran teachers will decide to leave the district before that time, saving some of the younger teachers from losing their jobs.
So far, only three retirements have officially been announced. There are no plans to offer any sort of retirement incentive, he said.
The teachers slated to be lost have one to three years of experience with the district.
Combined, the cost-cutting measures will save the district $2.25 million annually and erase the projected 2012 deficit while decreasing the 2013 deficit to $700,000, (The)Superintendent said.
As I read the article, I drew parallels to what has happened in the manufacturing sector in many towns in this Great Lakes region. Factories are closing across the county. We see the empty and furloughed factories of the car manufacturers who are now in danger of bankruptcy due to obsolete management and product design that make their cars irrelevant to the American buying public. Other businesses have moved abroad or to the South because they cannot meet union demands. I spoke with one businessman who told me he had a hard time finding workers who could pass random drug tests. These are the realities contributing to the economic malaise in NE Ohio. The malaise is transferred to some of the public schools as well. Teachers stick to obsolete curriculum and assessment tools. Morale is low because they are not treated as professionals and the State pushes them to produce test results in the way a factory pushed workers to produce widgets. In this envorinment, where teaching can be the last hold-out profession for families, I can understand how fear and protection can govern local policy decisions. Change is long overdue, but the community does not seem prepared to even ask the right questions to find a way out.
The Fund for Our Economic Future is a unique collaboration of the philanthropic sector which pooled funds to support organizations by providing early-stage venture capital to innovative individuals with promising businesses. In its first year, the Fund supported a region-wide conversation on the economic challenges called Voices and Choices . This $3 million dollar effort captured community concerns. Number one concern for the citizens of NE Ohio was addressing the poor educational system and the second was jobs. The regions leaders were able to respond quite well to the jobs issue. Working in coordination with the State to leverage Third Frontier Funds into the region the Fund has worked closely with the business and political leadership to create an engine of economic activity for new and emerging business in the region. The effort has resulted in tens of millions of new dollars coming into the region and the creation of jobs. The Cleveland Foundation has taken a lead role in collaborating with business and the universities directing funds to stimulate innovative businesses in energy and nanotechnology.
Elyria has one of Ohio’s best community colleges, Lorain County Community College with a magnificent new LEED certified building called the Entrepreneurship Innovation Institute (EII) that provides training to people with ideas and shows them how to bring it to scale. The Nord Family Foundation provided support to both the Fund for Our Economic Future and to local efforts with Team Lorain County and EII. At the same time, Elyria, it is a tale of two cities. On one end, stands this center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation with a vision of moving this economically desperate community to the future. On the other end the school district is depressed and managing a response straight out of 1960’s. There is little hope for true innovation because the bureaucracies will not allow change to happen if it means changing the way things have always been done. It will not change as long as those in power will protect their jobs to the detriment of the greater good.
This focused region-wide effort to reinvigorate and innovate in the manufacturing sector in NE Ohio has been seriously lacking in the education sector. There is no focus for discussion and no horizion with a vision of what can be. Despite remarkable resources in centers like Case Western Reserve University’s Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education, One Community, Cleveland State (to name only a few) the public school system is stagnating with a system that resists any invitation for innovation. Few in the public education system in the region even know these resources exist much less how to make use of their innovations. The public school system appears to be experiencing a random approach to innovation, and seems more concerned with addressing job retention within the system. There are exceptions. The success of the MC2STEM school initiatives show promise, but these schools are in the minority. Rather than stimulating innovation, the Governor’s draft budget hinder it because it includes language that will cut support to some of the most innovative charter schools in the State.
I cannot understand why a Governor so tuned to the need to stimulate innovation in industry, is so opposed to doing the same in education. Why not create an innovation and entrepreneur district in this town of Elyria? (other cities like Cleveland could be candidates as well) Why not tap into the potential a P-16 compact could have in pushing that agenda. If the car manufacturers and other industries are changing to meet the needs of the next 25 years, why can’t the bureaucracies that strangle innovation in education do the same? To do that requires training and work, which many older teachers are – quite honestly – reluctant to do.
As a funder I hear stories from many people as to how the system does not serve the needs of students. These confessional moments (as I call them) are not mere griping, but passion-felt laments over how “the system” is broken. Most complaints however are whispered for fear of retribution of colleagues and superiors. Recently once colleague shared the following thought with me. He wanted to post it on a blog but was afraid of the consequences.
Title: Ranting, Nightmares and Interactive Whiteboards
I’ve been struggling to write blog posts lately.
My lack of posting isn’t for a lack of things to say. Nor is it for a lack of enthusiasm for my work with children or other educators.
I’ve been quite simply because I don’t want to lose my job for questioning the administration on the WWW. Nor do I want to anger colleagues, dedicated teachers who are indeed working very hard in their classrooms. I also don’t want to sound like a ranting lunatic or a nitpicking critic. I am not a classroom teacher – I’m a technology teacher – so who am I to critique classroom practices and the instructional designs of my colleagues? Although, I hardly call a 10-page purple packet filled with teacher-generated questions and lines on which to write answers a designed project for student learning.
But…I’m having nightmares. I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold, panicked sweat. I wonder when they’re coming to get me. Which grant funder will expose me as a fraud? In my latest nightmare I was being charged as an accomplice to “Crimes Against Children.”
Crimes Against Children? No, I’m not a pervert. I’m not skimming money off the budget. Nor am I purchasing materials for personal gain with district funds.
What am I?
I am a silent witness to lessons, projects and activities that either are not engaging, serve only the middle, do not provide opportunities for student choice, or only make use of technology to skill and drill students in hasty preparation for standardized tests. The longer I stay in public education, the more schooled I become. And I’m not using schooled in a complimentary fashion. As each day passes, I’m living out my own version of the situations described by the main character in Ted Sizer’s Horace’s Compromise.
Here’s my latest dilemma: My district spent over $250,000 – that’s a quarter of a million dollars of tax payer money – to place an interactive whiteboard in every single classroom in the school’s building projects. A quarter of a million dollars. We also offered numerous in-house courses for graduate credit where teachers could learn how to use the interactive software – the hallmark of the boards is the interactivity of the software. The company provides a marvelous website with free access to downloadable materials created by teachers, free tutorials, discussion forums, video highlights of teachers using the products in their classrooms, courses for nominal fees; we have our own user group; the company reps have been out to troubleshoot, train, provide 1:1 instruction – sky’s the limit! We have access to the whole nine when it comes to getting our teachers trained on the boards and the software.
Do you know what most of our teachers are doing w/ their interactive whiteboards? Guess. Please.
Using them as nothing more than display devices to complete worksheets. Yup. Giant, expensive overhead projectors.
If I were the curriculum director, the tech director, heck! the treasurer of that district – if I were in an administrative role in this district – I’d want to see one – just one – one example per month from each building of an interactive lesson – something that STUDENTS do at the board – an activity created by the teacher, that takes advantage of the interactivity of the board and a sample of what the kids did AT THE BOARD! If I were an administrator I’d want access to a board so I could try out this interactive lesson – see how it feels to learn at the board – try my hand with the magic wand that makes things move on the board – demonstrate my understanding with an innovate piece of equipment.
But…I’m not in charge. I’m not even in a position where I could safely express this observation without being ousted by my colleagues or reprimanded for suggesting that the administration doesn’t know what a technology-rich classroom looks like.
My fear is that my next nightmare will involve a tar and feathering for my unpopular opinions about classroom technology use.
Under normal circumstances, this lament could be considered a complaint by a disgruntled professional. However, by serendipity or destiny, the article below was shared with me by my colleagues from Ohio Grantmakers Forum on the same day I received the e-mail above. This article by Mike Lafferty at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Ohio is a summary of a national report on the successful implementation (or not) of technology in classrooms.
Ohio earns a D-plus in use of technology in schools
Ohio, birthplace of the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, and Neil Armstrong has received a D-plus in the use of technology in education (see here), according to an Education Week survey.
Oddly, though, the state received a B-minus in the capacity to use technology, so we seem to have it but we don’t know what to do with it.
However, some Ohio education experts say the survey is misleading in that it misuses the term “technology” by implying only computer-related technologies and that it distorts the issue of “technology standards.” Technology includes aerospace, agriculture, manufacturing, materials, environment, energy, and other issues, they said.
In the survey of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Ohio was ranked 47th in the use of technology. Ohio tied Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington (all with D-plus scores). The District of Columbia was last with the lone F.
Education Week evaluated the use of education technology in four categories: Do state standards for students include technology? Does the state test students on the use of technology? Has the state established a virtual school? And, does the state offer computer-based assessments? Ohio met the standard only for having state achievement standards that includes the use of technology.
At the top were Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia. They all had scores of 100.
If Ohio needs a model, Colorado provides just that. This month, the legislature has approved Bill which allows for innovative districts.
Innovation is the key to education reform
By Dwight Jones
Posted: 04/13/2009 12:30:00 AM MDT
Updated: 04/13/2009 10:19:11 AM MDT
Everywhere we turn, we hear about the need for innovation in education. Four months ago, a Denver Post editorial proclaimed that “tinkering around the edges of reform” is insufficient to produce sustained improvements in public education. I could not agree more.
Education reform is easy to talk about but hard to do. At its core, reform is doing things a better way. With regard to education reform, however, we not only must do things better, we must get better results. Innovation is key.
As highlighted in a recent Post article, Colorado could soon receive several million dollars in federal stimulus money for public education. In addition to a fair share for programs that serve underprivileged students and those with disabilities, there is the prospect of additional funds earmarked for innovation. Known as “Race to the Top” funds, these funds will go to “a handful of states that devise the most innovative ways of improving education” — to the potential tune of $500 million per state.
The article concluded that Colorado has every reason to be optimistic. After all, with initiatives on longitudinal growth, charter school development, updated standards and performance-pay programs, Colorado has been in the forefront with regard to innovation and school reform.
Innovation is more than just a good idea, it’s about putting that good idea into practice. The Colorado Department of Education is presently pursuing a wide variety of innovative education models, including new approaches to teacher preparation, leadership development, school choice and the way in which education is funded. We are organizing strategies and directing resources in ways to innovate intentionally, and, in so doing, increase capacity to take to scale what improves education for Colorado’s students.
At the same time, the department is creating a statewide system of support for districts, built upon internationally competitive standards and greater expectations for ourselves and our students. This system will monitor, measure and foster what matters most — increased student achievement.
The department’s pursuit of innovation began in earnest in September 2007 when the State Board of Education called upon the department to modernize the Colorado Model Content Standards. The spirit of innovation was further kindled last year when Senate Bill 130, commonly referred to as the Innovative Schools Act and led by Peter Groff, president of the Colorado Senate, was enacted into legislation. This bill has allowed Manual High School and Montview Elementary School in Denver to implement new programs outside the constraints of traditional school policy.
This year, through the leadership of state Sens. Evie Hudak and Keith King, Senate Bill 163 promises to streamline accountability and to devote great support to struggling schools and districts. It also promises to shutter those schools that persistently fail. This legislation, if passed, will play a key role in the promotion of intentional innovation by providing a framework for us to fund what works and stop throwing money at what doesn’t. Innovation without accountability is not in our students’ best interests.
Working collaboratively with the Colorado Association of School Executives, the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Education Association, the governor’s office and our 178 school districts, it is increasingly clear that we all have a role to play in obtaining “Race to the Top” funds.
As mentioned in The Post, “Colorado is positioned well to win innovation money.” Winning the money, however, cannot be the goal, lest we win the race and miss the top. Instead, we must remain focused on supporting initiatives that transform the delivery of education and improve student achievement.Now that’s a race worth running.
Dwight D. Jones is Colorado’s commissioner of education.
I am skeptical that anything like the Colorado approach could happen in Ohio. I say this because of the meeting last week. Those that participated in writing the Beyond Tinkering Report, included representatives from the Ohio Education Association. To the astonishment of the entire group the OEA representatives complained that the Tinkering report that recommended changes in teacher tenure and hiring/firing rules misrepresented their position. These OEA representatives participated in the working group for at least one-year and were at every session where the details of the issues were worked out. I witnessed the representatives endorsement of the final edit. When the publication came out, others in the membership rebelled and urged the same representatives to let the Governor know the OGF report misrepresented their opinion. When our group asked the representatives to help us understand how it was they endorsed the final edit with us but renounced the document publicly the response was a marvel at political doubletalk and disingenuous representation of fact. This reaction helped my understand why the Governor and his staff are genuinely afraid of this powerful constituency that can twist fact to meet a political agenda and appease and seething membership. After the meeting, a colleague of mine was shaking his head saying, “If a liberal democrat like me can leave here disgusted with union behavior, they – as a group are in serious trouble.” It also helped me understand why a Gubernatorial candidate with an eye to another election has disregard innovative recommendations because they will clearly incite t alienate a powerful voting block.
All this being said, allow me to dream for a minute. Suppose the P-16 compact I described in the earlier post were to stand-up to the legislature, the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers and say, Enough! There is however one glimmer of hope. The same town of and the Community College are host to a newly created P-16 or (P-20) compact. Suppose that P-16 were to take similar approach that took place as the Denver districts and demand change in the system as it has been brought to the Ohio public with little change since 1835?
Here is where a P-16 compact could have an interesting impact by possibly crafting legislative language that like the Colorado law, would allow that body to override state laws and collective bargaining agreements. P-16’s are comprised of leaders from all sectors of the community including business, nonprofits, government and even education. Suppose that group were to try to effect legislation in Columbus that would allow for the creation of an extension of the Innovation Zone on one side of town to include and Innovation District? Would a P-16 have the political courage to suggest that (for example) the Elyria Schools District be declared an Innovation District that would, “…implement new policy outside the constraints of traditional school policy.” just as Manual High School covered on NPR) and Montview School.
Here is what the law says:
The Colorado State Legislature passed the Innovation Schools Act in 2008 (Senate Bill 08-130). The law is intended to improve student outcomes by supporting greater school autonomy and flexibility in academic and operational decision-making.
The law provides a means for schools and districts to gain waivers from state laws and collective bargaining agreements. The law includes procedures and criteria for a school or group of schools within a school district to submit to its local board of education a proposed plan of innovation. A local school board may initiate and collaborate with one or more public schools of the school district to create innovation plans or innovation school zones.
Allows a public school or group of public schools to submit to its school district board of education an innovation plan to allow a school or group of schools to implement innovations within the school or group of schools. The innovations may include but are not limited to innovations in delivery of educational services, personnel administration and decision-making, and budgeting.
Requires the local board to review each submitted plan and approve the school as an innovation school or the group of schools as an innovation school zone or reject the plan.
Allows a local board to initiate creation of a plan in collaboration with one or more schools of the school district. The law specifies the minimum contents of a plan, including the level of support needed from the personnel employed at the affected schools.
Encourages schools, groups of schools, and local boards to consider innovations in specified areas and to seek public and private funding to offset the costs of developing and implementing the plans.
Allows a local board to submit the plan to the commissioner of education and the state board of education and seek designation as a district of innovation (following creation or approval of one or more plans by the local board).
Directs the commissioner and state board to review and comment on the plan, and directs the state board to make the designation unless the plan would likely result in lower academic achievement or would be fiscally unfeasible.
Requires the state board to provide a written explanation if it does not make the designation.
Directs the state board to grant any statutory and regulatory waivers requested in the plan for the district of innovation, however, certain statutes may not be waived by the state board.
I am afraid that the first line of this program would result in a collective paroxysm among members of the OEA and teachers union. But without that type of true leadership, nothing will change. An Innovation District would take the report from the educational technologist and go back to the classroom to find out why teachers are not using smartboards to their potential. An Innovation district would encourage teachers to take risks using new technology to enhance learning. An innovation district would arrange to have a district office to share exciting breakthrough in classroom learning with others and discuss ways in which those practices can be shared. An Innovation District would make use of Universal Design for Learning and find ways in which technology can be used to make implicit understanding of subject matter, explicit and in a form that validates their accomplishments. In an innovation district teachers would be treated as professionals and be rewarded for success. An Innovation Zone and a P-16 district would be successful if they can go beyond tinkering which has been the case for far too long. These ailing districts could use the help of Innovation MAN who talks about Innovation but has to be reminded of the most important step – Implementation.
That implementation will require the school bureaucracies to go outside the silo of Public Education and invite the business community to ask questions about how things are done. If the teachers are no using smartboards to their potential, where and or what is the obstacle preventing that? What is the quality of professional development currently offered by the State Educational Services Centers?
A really interesting challenge for the Governor and his advisers is – set up several Innovation Districts across the State. Initiate a five-year competition to see which one can come up with some of the most cost-effective uses of open-source educational tools and demonstrate cost efficiencies and higher learning outcomes. Financial incentives could be put into place to reward teachers and/or districts that can bring those innovations to scale. I am sure many will take on that challenge.
A serious P-16 would challenge the community to ask the same questions posed by Richard Baramiuk of Rice University’s Connextions project, and make use of technology about one simple issue such as text books and how we use them in schools. Why not pose a challenge to this district to come up with an alternative to text books which currently cost a district approximately $800, per child per year. What about challenging a school to become knowledge ecosystems and work with teachers to figure out how to conduct assessment. A successful innovation district, pushed by a strong P-16 compact could possibly re-engineer schools to respond to the needs of children and reinvigorate hope into too many communities where parents cry in frustration over schools that are outdated, mismanaged and leaving too many children without hope of achieving the skills they will need to usher in the next few decades.
If this happens, foundations will be ready to provide support. This is the type of programming will have high impact. Anything less is just more of the same and, quite frankly not worth an investment of private monies. Foundation funding portfolios demonstrate that there are too many charter, private and faith based as well as promising online courses that are meeting the needs of students far more than what the public system currently offers.
If Ohio is serious about stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship in its obsolete manufacturing system, it must make the same honest effort to do the same for innovation in education. The results are likely to pay off just as well.
P-16 structural realities that concern me about its likelihood of success in an Ohio community
In recent months there has been great fanfare in my area with the launch of a P-16 compact that promises to revitalize education in this fair county of 280,000 people and 14 separate school districts!
The reaction from this funders perspective is a mixture of skepticism and excitement. The skepticism is grounded in a seeming lack of true innovation proposed in anything the P-16 projects propose. The excitement lies in the opportunity that could be for a truly innovative P-16 that links the focus and energy of a region-wide push to create innovation in the business and government with education. The opportunity is great and presents funders with exciting investment potential. Those investments should be made with the same scrutiny and vetting that any new business innovation would undergo with a venture capitalist. In this time of scare economic resources, it is morally imperative for foundations to hold the education sector to the highest demands for quality programming.
For those interested in the P-16 programs, I recommend a publication by Dennis McGrath, PhD for the KnowledgeWorks Foundation called Convergence as a Strategy and as Model, linking P-16 Education Reform to Economic Development, published in 2008. The article is an excellent overview of the various P-16 programs launched in Ohio. It provides a comprehensive overview of elements that are exciting but also raise concern for the alert reader.
The author describes P-16 as a
…little understood but vital trend developing in and throughout Ohio.” The article promises that P-16 will serve the communities by, “promoting entrepreneurship and strengthening the education skills of residents (which are) vital to the economic security and well-being of their communities….and must be coordinated with workforce development and the creation of career pathways.
Coordination gives me pause because we have seen too often in education, that coordination translates in to tighter control and increased standardization of learning assessment.
On further reading, it becomes evident that the P-16 is really a variation on the “workforce development” initiatives launched through the public education network about ten years ago. What is unclear to me is whether P-16 and officials who drive its implementation, envision a workforce that in the 19th century was prepared to take orders in a factory, or will have the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit to collaborate on work-teams and communicate new ideas with colleagues and superiors.
I worry that institutionalized education will respond to the latter rather than the former because those driving the bus are used to one way of doing things. My skepticism is rooted in my experience with Ohio Stakeholders, especially those representing the established educational infrastructure (ODE), (OFT) and to a certain extent the Ohio Board of Regents who despite the larger community’s demand for innovation and reform in education – focus their attention on “tinkering” with a system that is clearly overly standardized and not meeting the “customers” need for diversity in learning, in assessment and even type of knowledge acquisition. In this case the customer is parents, students and colleges and universities.
Two unique aspects of the culture of education are also worth noting as constraints on the flow of entrepreneurial talent into the field – one that affects “outsiders” and one that affects “insiders.” Outsiders face the fact that public education’s hiring patterns favor people who have worked there way up the system in the conventional fashion – namely, by becoming a teacher and then an assistant principal and/or principal, and so on. According to a RAND study, for example, 99 percent of school principals had been teachers means that individuals seeking to break into the education industry from other sectors are working against convention. P.52.
The P-16 claims to be successful because of its ability to produce “convergence” i.e. community conversations that include the business sector, foundations, churches other social service organizations. My fear is that unless the convergence happens on the terms of those invested in the public system, change will not occur. In our county, this Foundation invested more than $4 million in a Center for Leadership in Education which, when established in 1994, had goals similar to those expressed by P-16. The CLE was part of a then, national move, pushed by the Annenberg Challenge of the Annenberg Foundation, to create such centers where private money would be used to establish centers for help reform public schooling. More than 15 years later, the majority of these private institutions struggled due to a lack of full buy-in from the public school systems, and later by competing goals by State established Educational Service Center.
As foundations are approached to fund P-16, they would do well to read all the evaluation reports of the Annenberg and similar foundations that chronicle the difficulty of transforming public schools. Are we simply re-inventing the wheel with P-16? The only change is that the public system is in charge and controlling the agenda.
I am not overly optimistic about P-16 producing an breakthrough in innovative thinking on education and learning. I remember taking part in a community-wide discussion with teachers, superintendents and community leaders. The question on the table was “what does it take to create an adequate school system. I was rather vocal in expressing my concern that the question was not “what does it take to create an excellent school system.” I was told we had to work with what we had.
I will never forget that community session. In the business world or in the medical world what company leader or head of a hospital would tolerate a discussion about creating an “adequate” company or health care institution, yet we allow that to take place in education.
The hope for P-16 in a economically struggling community
I have expressed my concerns, but I need to shift to what I think are exciting possibilities for a P-16.
To start, the P-16 program has been spearheaded by Dr. Roy Church who is a remarkably successful leader in that he has created one of the most robust community colleges in the country. The Lorain County Community College has an impressive variety of educational options for young and adult learners and has a broad menu of career path and training options for residents of this county. LCCC has been the site of the successful early-college program which, in collaboration with the Gates Initiative and the KnowledgeWorks Foundation. (The Governor of Ohio has threatened to cut funding for this successful program in favor of supporting traditional P-12 programs.)
The LCCC has emerged as one of the engines of economic development in this former “rust-belt” community by creating two centers to promote and stimulate business entrepreneurship. The Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE) and the Entrepreneurship Innovation Institute (EII) are arguable two of the most impressive incubators for business development in the region. Note the two words Innovation applies to creating new businesses to respond to economic crisis. I have not seen the word Innovation used as the community responds to the educational crisis.
In my mind, a successful P-16 compact would move beyond the palaver about convergence and community sounding sessions. Given its structure for administration and community input, the effort has all the potential of being nothing more than a solipsistic exercise. I would see a P-16 that not only focuses on public schooling as we know it, but embraces serious examination of the many new innovations in education that combine different use of technology and teacher time. Programs that encourage student focused learning. Also, the current public system cannot abide honest and frank discussion with charter schools. Furthermore, there appears to be little tolerance for discussion about how to integrate the elements of successful private and/or faith based schools such as Cristo Rey Schools, the Nativity Schools as well as schools such as the E-prep Academy in Cleveland. Finally Lorain County has one of the best independent schools in the region – Lakeridge Academy. This school is one of several independent schools in NE Ohio that are known for academic excellence and producing students of high caliber and integrity. For the Press, and community leaders, conversation takes place as if these institutions did not exist. I have even heard some people suggest the country would be better if these institutions shut down.
This foundation has provided support to many of the schools mentioned above. Careful scrutiny of their programs, site visits to the schools and solid outcome data demonstrate to us, these schools are successful, especially in urban areas, transforming lives of entire families by providing quality education. Why can a community not ask why these schools are able to remediate children from failing public schools in less than a year. Why do these same schools boast 90% college acceptance and more importantly – college completion rates!
Why can’t these schools as well as emerging online programs be invited into the process of innovation in public education. Instead of condemning charter schools why not look at them in the same way a leader in business will look at innovation to improve the company’s product or develop an entirely new line. I would argue that the nature of the public school system does not allow teachers to engage in meaningful discussions with principals and superintendents to even ask the right questions about where education is going. Instead the focus is on grades and reports and data. Teachers no longer feel challenges to practice and art of teaching but instead to conform to some rigid standard to produce pro-scribed results.
Northeast Ohio has been lauded by the likes of The Wall Street Journal for the truly collaborative accomplishments of philanthropy with the business sector. The Fund for Our Economic Future is a three-year project that resulted in philanthropy coming together to work with companies to form and support early-stage capital investment in new and exciting businesses in energy, biotechnology and manufacturing. The Fund has proven success in spawing several non-profits such as Jumpstart, Bioenterprise and Nortech which, in turn have fostered development of several promising businesses. Lorain county has pushed this region-wide effort through Team Lorain County whose leverage of State and Federal economic revitalization dollars have resulted in the IIE and GLIDE.
Suppose the P-16 Compact in this region were to harness the that same innovative spirit and apply it to education. The economic reality has shown this region that the old way of doing business has changed forever and will not return. In response the community has adapted brilliantly. The education reality in the county, especially the urban areas also has proven that the old way of doing education is not working and needs to be rethought and injected with a spirit of innovation.
A really exciting P-16 would take inventory of what the market is doing anyway, and demand that tax dollars, earmarked for public education be redirected to products and programs that are known to work in other settings. A sincere P-16, linked to two centers for innovation would set up offices to implement programs – proved effective in a non-public school structure, and look to see how this “product” can improve and/or replace the old. Authors, Joseph Keeney and Daniel Pianko pose a question that any credible P-16 in an area truly looking for innovation needs to ask:
…are there concrete models from outside education that could be employed by government or philanthropies to attract and leverage private investment in K-12. Specifically – in order of formality – an a prize (or pay for performance) model that is increasingly being used in philanthropy, and angel capital model like the Department of Defense’s Venture Catalyst Initiative (“DeVenCI”); and a traditional venture-capital co-investment model like the Central Intelligence Agency’s In-Q-Tel.
Suppose a Community College and a Innovation Zone were to demand that the Governor create an Innovation District allowing the schools leverage to implement exciting technologies that are proving effective in learning. (See the work of Constance Steinkulher at U. Wisconsin on the positive impact gaming has on education outcomes for urban youth). That zone (perhaps established at the LCCC) would lift all barriers to school innovation including contracting, labor contracts and technological restrictions to create an open environment for educational programming in Lorain Schools.
The P-16 needs to look at the market and what is catalyzing capital investment in education. Imagine an Educational Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center that housed regional affiliates of programs such as:
Since much of the success in schools depends on the often overlooked area of professional development and teacher training, suppose a center for innovation included programs such as Building Excellent Schools or, New Leaders for New Schools and house these organizations in the same edifice with the Educational Services Center. Put them in the same edifice as one would see at the Entrepreneurship Institute or Jumpstart and see how the culture of professional development changes. State funding for professional development to the ESC is in the area of $900,000 a year. Imagine a situation where, with the buy-in and support from the P-16 those dollars were distributed to organizations like those named above based on performance outcome and innovation. That would be a very different scenario from the one envisioned by the Knowledgeworks publication. It is also one that would meet with incredible resistance from the entrenched powers of the educational bureaucracy that by its nature serves as the primary barrier to innovation in education.
P-16 is a great idea conceptually. To be truly innovative, those that believe in creating schools that will work can only do so by opening the doors to creativity and innovation and borrow from success in the business sector. I fear it cannot be done as long as P-16 is driven by the public education sector. The public education sector – with its drive to standardize a profession which really should be an art has created a system that does not validate the creativity of individual teachers but dumbs them down into cogs that do their job to push out statistics which happen to be yours a my children. More on that in the next blog post.
As far as convening the community to focus on developing so-called 21st century skills once again, I fear the focus on workforce development and standards does not address the larger challenges youngsters will face in the next decades. Not asking the right questions will have terrible results. If you have the time view this amazing lecture by Physician Dr. Patrick Dixon to an audience at the National Association of Independent Schools. After viewing it, ask yourself if you think we are asking the right questions.
I suggest that any foundation – be it community foundation, private foundation or corporate asked to support a P-16 collaborative hold public officials responsible for demanding innovation that goes beyond tinkering we have seen with far too many public school efforts. True innovation will require breaking down barriers that exist which prevent truly innovative thinkers and practitioners from sharing public tax dollars that shore up far too many ineffective school districts and professional development programs. Philanthropy has a responsibility to raise the bar and require the public in general to hold educational leaders responsible for creating an environment that will respond to the needs of divergent learning and quality education for all.
I welcome comments from those in the system and those who are simply interested.
Last year, the trustees of foundation I work for provided a grant of $10,000 to support Ohio Grantmakers Forum (OGF) initiative on education for the state of Ohio. The grant provided funding that convened education leaders from across the State to develop policy recommendations for Governor Ted Strickland. The recommendations were to inform his vision for creating a school system that was ready to teach 21st Century skills.
The process of sharing ideas and knowledge from a variety of perspectives was an intellectual gift. Some of my previous posts address parts of that experience. The result of the year-long process were released last week by the OGF. The day after its release, Governor Ted Strickland announced his long-awaited plan to improve education in the State of the State address on January 29, 2009.
Mr. Strickland’s address has been followed with a budget that is confusing to media pundits who admit they do not understand how many of his proposals will be paid for given the State’s enormous budget deficit. What is clear however is that, two-years into his first tenure, Mr. Strickland ‘s plan is his launch of his campaign for a second term. Curiously, the day after the budget was released, a city councilman from another part of the state announced he would be a candidate to run against Mr. Strickland in 2010.
So the philanthropic collaboration to focus on making profound change in education in Ohio has been tempered by the frustrating realities of politics and negotiation. Our document maps out a series of recommendations with two time horizons. The first is a very short horizon that would address ways to change immediate obstacles to managing a complex organizational structure. The issues in the short term – changes to teacher tenure rules, teacher residency requirements, a change in the tests to determine assessment, and lengthening the school year by 20 days, enable the Governor to garner political attention around an issue which registers high on the interest levels among residents in the state. These changes do absolutely nothing to focus on the longer-range need to disrupt the old way of doing education in the state. Although the governor talks about the need and urgency to change the way education takes place in Ohio if we are to prepare students for the next century, his list of priorities focus on short -term changes that will tinker with the current system as we know it. The longer-term need to introduce technology to innovate and improve student learning is pushed off to what I suspect could be an agenda for a second political term. In the meantime the State will offer no clear and decisive map to guide the disruption that is urgently needed if we are to really transform teaching and learning in Ohio.
The hope that the report engendered related to truly bold programs and initiatives and investigate new approaches to learning and technology were eclipsed by political ballet that will reshuffle state dollars for the funding formula, palaver about firing teachers for just cause and finally changing the Ohio Graduation Test to an ACT test.
In my disappointment I actually saw this image running through my mind as I heard the Governor speak:
I am frustrated that the governor failed to convey the sense of urgency that is needed introduce innovation into education. In my opinion, pushing our recommendations to explore innovation to a back burner, demonstrates a failure of leadership. If I had a chance to have coffee with him, I would suggest that as a leader he can and should focus on finding ways to engage the entire citizenry to understand the role of technology and how it is transforming networks of learning for students and the people who teach them. That means harnessing the media, universities, businesses and teachers in an effort to seek out disruptive technologies that will provide solutions to the complex task of creating new learning environments.
My participation in the drafting the OGF document gave me a new appreciation for the daunting complexity of this thing we call public education. All would admit there is a profoundly urgent need to articulate a clear plan to create a technology infrastructure that will support the promise that things like cloud computing can and will have on curriculum development. I am disappointed with the governor’s adoption of our recommendations because the speech reveals a tacit admission of not having a clue about innovation in learning that is already underway and ready to bring to scale. Any hope of innovation (which typically occurs with a free exchange of ideas) has been relegated to a department within the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). It would be a miracle if anything truly innovative came out of that department unless they were willing to take the bold step of opening collaboration to people outside the ODE who not only know but practice innovation. One can only hope that the directors of that department embrace some of the philosophy of collaboration described by authors Phil Evans and Bob Wolf in the July – August 2005 edition of Harvard Business Review in an article entitled Collaboration Rules.
Extraordinary group efforts don’t have to be miraculous or accidental. An environment designed to produce cheap, plentiful transactions unleashes collaborations that break through organizational barriers.
The authors point to the open-source tool Linux to serve as the example of how to structure collaborative rules.
Corporate (and political) leaders seeking growth, learning and innovation may find the answer in a surprising place: the open-source software community. Unknowingly, perhaps, the folks who brought you Linux are virtuoso practitioners of new work principals that produce energized teams and lower costs. Nor are they alone.”
I find it curious that the Governor’s speech occurred on the same day in which, fifty-years earlier Pope John XXIII announced to the world his intention to convene a Vatican Council. He used the term aggiornamiento which was a call to open the windows and bring the church up to date. As a lapsed catholic with a nostalgic streak, I had placed some expectation that the governors speech might be an exciting call for an educational aggiornamiento or opening of the windows in which the ODE’s tradition as a closed, conservative, controlling and hierarchical structure serving the state might take place. The ODE is not a place to expect miracles!
Restructure the traditional model of teaching and learning.
Refine the state’s academic standards.
Create an assessment system that allows students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in different ways.
Ensure that we have the best teachers and principals working in all of our schools.
Ohio Grantmakers Forum and its partners are saying that we can no longer defend or tolerate an industrial-age school model that is out of step with the demands of the 21st century in which jobs, careers and workplaces are learning-intensive and where people often have many jobs over their lifetimes.
The recommendations reflect these realities …
164 Ohio young people drop out of school every day.
Just 24% of Ohio high school students take a rigorous course of study, which is the best predicator of success in college.
Ohio colleges and universities report that more than 40% of first year students need remedial courses in mathematics and/or English.
And Ohio’s higher education attainment rates are among the lowest in the nation.-We’re 38th out of 50 states.
The findings are not intended meant to suggest that Ohio has ignored its education challenges. But it underscores the reality that incremental changes are not getting the job done. It challenges the Governor and policy makers to take Bolder steps and to accelerate the pace of improvement are required.
Here are some of the bold steps OGF and its partners have urged Ohio’s leaders to take:
Accelerate the pace of innovation by restructuring the traditional, industrial model of teaching and learning.
Create Ohio Innovation Zones and fund promising school and instructional models.
Develop a statewide plan for transforming the state’s lowest performing schools.
Develop a statewide strategy for making better use of technology and its applications.
Ensure that the state’s expectations for what all students should know and be able to do are aligned with college- and career-ready expectations.
Benchmark them against international standards and make sure they include 21st century skills.
Create a balanced assessment system that allows students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in different ways, informs teaching strategies and improves learning, and provides a complete picture of how schools are doing against a consistent set of expectations.
Refine Ohio’s academic standards and restructure the state’s assessment system
Ensure that Ohio has the best teachers and principals working in all of its classrooms and schools.
Strengthen standards and evaluation for teachers and principals, and create model hiring and evaluation protocols based on the standards.
Provide financial incentives for schools and districts to improve teaching and learning environments.
Strengthen the awarding of tenure.
Develop new compensation models that improve the connections among teaching excellence, student achievement and compensation.
These are tough times … and they call for tough choices.
The extreme fiscal challenges facing the state of Ohio today provide a great opportunity, if not a mandate, to look at how Ohio invests its current education resources.
Many of these recommended actions do not require new funding. Yet, some may necessitate a re-allocation of existing resources, while still others may demand new investments. Re-allocating existing resources is a political hot-potato but one that is desperately needed. (More on that in a future blog-post).
As a member of the community I sought reaction from teachers on the Governor’s speech. The more than one of the teachers I spoke with had two immediate reactions: 1. “Well, if they extend the school year by 20 days, he’d better pay me.” and 2. Thank god they are using the ACT rather than the OGT. That is hardly the vision I would have wanted were I in a position of taking bold moves to change education across the state.
As far a non-teachers, their concern is that they do not understand the changes in the school funding formula. Clearly this is an important topic since the issues has been a plague on the Ohio educational system since the famous DeRolf decision declared it unconstitutional. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer,
Strickland’s primary pledge was that the state would eliminate a phenomenon dubbed “phantom revenue”– a ghost in the state’s funding machine that assumes school districts receive local education dollars they never actually see…Strickland said his plan would eventually result in the state picking up 59 percent of the tab for education — a level he said would make Ohio’s school-funding system meet the “thorough and efficient” constitutional standard that the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled four times the state has not achieved.
At the end of the day few people really think this formula will change much of anything in terms of quality of teaching and learning in schools. Today’s Plain Dealer reports,
Of the 97 districts in Northeast Ohio, 48 would see no change in the amount they get from the state next year, and 49 would see an increase (no more than 15 percent.)
The second year, 52 would see a decrease (no more than 2 percent) and 45 would see some increase.
The second major issue addresses how to deal with the union stranglehold on employment in the State. The governor did adopt the OGF policy which would allow principals and superintendents to fire under-performing teachers for “just cause.” The governor did assume enormous political risk by standing up to union leadership saying,
Right now, it’s harder to dismiss a teacher than any other public employee. Under my plan, we will give administrators the power to dismiss teachers for good cause, the same standard applied to other public employees,” Strickland said to applause from Republican lawmakers as Democrats held back.
This is an important issue for any Governor to take on. Earlier in January, the Cleveland Plain Dealer did a lengthy report on the fact that looming budget cuts surely meant that some of the most innovative and successful schools in Cleveland would have to lay-off teachers. Most at risk were the promising charter-like academies and magnet schools because firings would go on the old union patronage system of last hired first, fired. Here is how the story reported it,
High School, one of Cleveland's 10 new niche schools. Classes are at the Great Lakes Science Center until a permanent home at GE's Nela Park campus in East Cleveland is renovated.
Just as Cleveland’s new niche schools show signs of leading the district to reform, layoffs may sweep some of their handpicked teachers out the door.
Schools chief Eugene Sanders says the district will have to lay off hundreds of workers if the financially strapped state slashes deeply into aid that accounts for 60 percent of the Cleveland schools’ budget. Big buzz centers on how that would affect 10 single-gender and other specialty schools that have turned in good test scores and won over parents during the last three years.
With union consent, the so-called “schools of choice” select their own teachers, reaching outside the system in some cases. But cuts would follow the contract: Last hired, first fired.
Sanders said he will ask the teachers union to help limit layoffs at the niche schools. But union President David Quolke does not expect to scrap the seniority policy. “All that would do for a union is pit member against member,” Quolke said. “To agree to something that says one member is more important than another member is not something I’d be willing to do.
I suppose this effort by philanthropy to partner with stakeholders to inform a governor can be considered a success. I only wish he had not cherry-picked the policies with the short time horizon to do his plan. Given the mess of dealing with teachers unions, budgetary shortfalls and an assessment system that is strangling students and discouraging teachers to be creative, I suppose he did what he needed to do in the short-term. Despite my personal disappointment, the success can me marked by the fact that it was the first time the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Federation of Teachers sat at the same table at length – ever! They worked out issues jointly and even agreed on several recommendations. I believe that only philanthropy could have made that happen and kept them coming to the table.
It is by now quite evident that I harbor frustration at the seeming inability of the state government to do what is necessary to stimulate and sustain true innovation in learning by encouraging innovation in schools. My assessment is the governor may have stepped only a small length “beyond tinkering,” but I am learning that a politician can only go so far with bold moves, especially in education. If I had my way, I would have wanted the Governor introduce the first recommendation in the report – the creation of innovation districts throughout the state. These schools would be center for innovation in teaching and learning, freed from constraints of labor negotiations and the constraints imposed by the “tech guys” who block more access to the internet in the name of “protecting” children. These would be places where social media experts, educational researchers, higher ed teachers , creators of Multi-user virtual environments and the likes of the New Media Consortium would collaborate with students and teachers to test new media with curriculum. This is a distinct where each student would have an electronic portfolio that would serve as a platform for him or her to demonstrate their learning and understanding of the standards. This district would foster a cadre of teachers who would be able to develop means of assessing that learning into meaningful feedback.
On the first day of class, I would call an assembly and invite Scott Anthony, co-author of “The Innovator’s Guide to Growth” be the convocation speaker and introduce the concept of “disruptive innovation” to establish the framework for the collaborative teams effort to move forward.
I am not a politician and I am not an education bureaucrat. I admit that I do not always appreciate the difficult balancing act these people need to do to survive. I respect and admire their ability to navigate the turbulent waters of managing many people. To accomplish the longer-range goals of transforming education to better serve the needs of individual students – no matter how old they are, philanthropy will need to make investments to support institutional psycho-therapy to help the educational infrastructure overcome its get over Fear 2.0 which is crippling it from really serving students. The soothing words of Dr. Clayton Christensen might be a good start – light a candle, pour a glass of wine and listen carefully.
Listen carefully to the podcast with Clayton Christensen on his book, Disrupting Class….
Hopefully one day we will get there and I think foundations will continue to play a key role in holding out that vision to policymakers who, at the end of the day probably want to see it happen too. Maybe someone will make a video of it so someone 60 years from now might embed it in his or her own blog!
I spoke about the foundation’s response to economic downturn in a previous post. My colleagues from other foundations have been talking about the fact that the economic downturn and scarce resources will create an urgency for nonprofits to “figure out ways” to merge and collaborate better. On January 13th Cleveland’s WCPN public radio show called, The Sound of Ideas held great conversation on a topic called When Charities Can’t Afford to be Charitable.
The concept is great and I support my respected colleagues comments. I once heard it said, “Everyone wants collaboration, but no one wants to be collaborated on.” In my work at this foundation, I have seen redundancy in programs in both nonprofit and public sectors, many of which have received grants from us. I see an awful lot of waste in private and taxpayer dollars, but I must be careful not to appear the perennial town crier. I, like many foundations and their board members, like to consider ourselves social innovators on the lookout to support like-minded social innovators and social entrepreneurs. After all, that’s what the philanthropy industry is supposed to promote. The fall 2008 edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review an article called Rediscovering Social Innovation by James A. Phillis, Jr.; Kriss Deigelmeier, & Dale T. Miller describe what many foundation directors, program officers and their boards hope to be in their service to the community,
The underlying objective of virtually everyone in the fields of social entrepreneurship and social enterprise is to create social value (a term we define later). People have embraced these fields because they are new ways of achieving these larger ends. But they are not the only, and certainly not always the best, ways to achieve these goals. Social entrepreneurs are, of course, important because they see new patterns and possibilities for innovation and are willing to bring these new ways of doing things to fruition even when established organizations are unwilling to try them. And enterprises are important because they deliver innovation. But ultimately, innovation is what creates social value. Innovation can emerge in places and from people outside the scope of social entrepreneurship and social enterprise. In particular, large, established nonprofits, businesses, and even governments are producing social innovations.” p. 89
I can think of one crisis in particular our foundation has taken on and has asking for community leaders to explore innovative ways to better serve the needs of the medically uninsured and under insured in our community. I have discovered that is a huge task and one wrought with landmines.
In 2008 the foundation provided funds to facilitate conversations and strategies to address the growing number of uninsured and under-insured people in the county. The foundation paid a consultant to assemble representatives of “established nonprofits, businesses, and even government” with the purpose of providing an “idea mart” to see if we could come up with innovative solutions to the crisis at-hand. The conversations continue but I observe a decrease in interest and engagement especially when the conversation gets a little too close for comfort.
You see, I think we at foundations do a good job of convening meetings and encouraging people to submit themselves to be collaborated on! It is clear to me however that convening people who represent long-standing institutions often with a history of relative financial stability, go into protective mode very quickly when it becomes clear their entity is being critiqued. Too often, the jobs in public health institutions, federally funded agencies and nonprofit organizations develop around an administrative personality. In these cases, I have found very often that critique of the organization and perhaps a questioning of its relevance is interpreted as a criticism. The individual in charge of that agency becomes defensive; feeling vulnerable to the exposure that peer-to-peer conversation can produce.
I have learned that making collaboration work depends in great measure to sustaining urgency. Urgency is fueled by passion – a passion that derives from visiting places like the Lorain Free Clinic or, emergency rooms at the charity hospitals. It is a passion that derives from knowing people for whom the economic downturn is proving not just a misfortune but a disaster. Any healthy human being to wants to “do-something” when one touches that level of suffering.
A person with a sense of social entrepreneurship and the funding to support innovation, will by nature want to ask, why the system seem to not be working well and how can a constituency be served better. The response means more than just convening the meetings. The convener must have the expertise (in-house or external) to keep the conversation and going and to keep the participants focused on the passion and urgency. Foundations typically hire consultants to take on that task. Although consultants do their jobs very well, it is my experience that “hiring” the consultant removes the foundation one step from the center of the activity. If the foundation convenes the meeting to address and urgent problem, then it is my opinion that the foundation (or collaborative of foundations) should try to maintain a visible role and presence in the conversations. If not, the sense of urgency may dissipate. I believe fully that foundations can serve to keep passion buoyant in rational civic discourse.
Too often, people come to meetings, agree on the urgency of the problem and are sincere in their desire to find solutions. They come willing to contribute and discuss. Few come prepared to really think about giving up they way they have been doing things.
The public health disaster in our county is a good example. The county which is 25 miles west of Cleveland has a population of 280,000. There are three separate public health entities – two city agencies Lorain City Health Department and the Elyria City Health Department as well as the Lorain County Health District. These entities were created in the 19th century when the cities of Elyria and Lorain were rapidly increasing in population due to the need for labor in the steel industry, auto industry, shipbuilding and manufacturing. Immigrant labor poured into the region. Public health agencies were created to address the reality of contagious diseases. The hospitals, (primarily charity hospitals run by orders of Catholic religious women) were created to deal with chronic disease and tertiary care.
Today, the cities are emptying out as the industries that sustained families have left the area. The second and third generation of the immigrant families have left town, or move to subdivisions that were once farms outside the towns. The cities now have families and elderly who live at or below the federal poverty level.
As we explore ways to reinvent health care delivery in the county, one of our questions has been, “In an age of technology and rapid information exchange, are three separate public health offices really necessary and relevant?” We agree, they continue to serve medically indigent populations in very specific state funded programs, but in most cases they deal with people suffering chronic disease – something public health agencies were never really created or equipped to do. Also what is the role of a public health agency when down the street, Walgreens (“America’s Online Pharmacy”) offers patients in-store clinics. If you can come up with enough cash, you can be seen and treated by a health-care affiliate and given a prescription for your illness and pick it up at the in-house pharmacy conveniently located next to the health clinic.
In the case of the health care coalition the foundation convened, the catalyst was the sense of urgency around the news that the Lorain County Health and Dentistry – which provides significant health care to medically uninsured or underinsured – did not recieve a $700,000 operating grant from the Federal Government. The charity hospitals gave compelling evidence of the number of patients flooding their emergency rooms to treat the uninsured. The Nord Mental Health Center, which treat patients with mental and behavioral diseases. reports a steady increase in the number of new patients requireing services, attirbuted in some measure to sresses associated with the economic depression.
The health situation is in crisis but after a year of conversation, it was difficult to get people to really change the way they did business. In particular, it was hard to have the public health agencies roll-up sleeves with the charity hospitals to explore possible innovations in combining services. Perhaps this can be attributed to the realization that such a move would constitute the elimination of the public health service system as it is currently structured. Similarly, the Nord Behavioral Health Center, which is a nonprofit agency with almost 85% of its revenue channeled through the Lorain County Board of Mental Health has undergone convulsive administrative challenges with board members spending tax dollars to sue each other. Conversations to explore how the charitable hospitals could take over many of the emergency services and need for in-patient beds is too threatening for people to contemplate. So, after the initial good-faith effort to talk, the parties go into protective mode. The desire to collaborate is threatening when one realizes one is about to be collaborated on! Meanwhile people that need the services are hampered by services that are difficult to access which is why people still flood the emergency rooms when they need health care.
The Fund for Our Economic Future is a collaboration of virtually all the grantmaking institutions in Northeast Ohio. For more than four years FFEF has gathered regularly to address the need for economic transformation in the Northeast Ohio region. Aside from is main function which is to pool funds to provide early stage venture capital for organizations that promise to create new businesses for the region, the Fund has hosted several meetings of “stakeholders” to provide a strategy for how the region can move out of its economic stasis. The first was the incredibly expensive and nominally productive engagement with AmericaSpeaks which evolved into the highly productive and provocative arm of the Fund called Advance Northeast Ohio. Aside from pushing the public to engage in conversations about how to move the economy forward, Advance Northeast Ohio, the fund, as well as several foundations funded the production of a study demonstrating the cost inefficiencies in doing government in NE Ohio. The document is called, Cost of Government Study for Northeast Ohio. Subsequent feedback from the larger community in NE Ohio shows that citzens want to see more collaboration among government agencies. Few know how to get there. All realized there are too many separately incorporated towns and small cities in the region, each with very expensive infrastructure. These towns developed in the mid 1800’s when transportation and communication infrastructure were primitive and it made good sense to have government pockets serve scattered populations. Today is makes no sense whatsoever to have separate jurisdictions when collaboration and shared services would probably result in costs savings to taxpayers.
Unfortunately, getting public entities to change their administrative structure (which would mean eliminating some jobs) or, to give up power (probably the MOST guarded treasure for elected officials) is practially an impossible task.
As long as tax dollars and State and Federal monies continue to support these organizations, there is little incentive for people to change. The reality is that the economic crisis may result in drastic cutbacks that will force agencies to close and services to be eliminated.
As foundations look to encourage collaboration, they might do well to read a great new book by John Kotter, Professor Emeritus at the Harvard Business School. Dr. Kotter does a great job describing how business loose their sense of urgency. The same applies to public and private entities when they begin an initiative to make change in society.
In addition to Dr. Kotter’s call for groups to understand the role of Urgency in social interaction, a recent article in the December 2008 edition of the Harvard Business Review, called Which Kind of Collaboration is Right for You by Gary P. Pisano and Roberto Verganti. This is a great article best described by as side script that says, The new leaders in innovation will be those who figure out the best way to leverage a network of outsiders.” The authors describe four modes of collaborative innovation which are:
The Elite Circle in which one company selects the participants, defines the problem and chooses the solutions.
The Innovation Mall where one company posts a problem, anyone can propose solutions and the company chooses the solutions it likes best.
The Innovative Community where anybody can propose problems, offer solutions and decide which solutions to use.
The Consortium Which operates like a private club, with participants jointly selecting the problems, deciding how to conduct work and choosing solutions.
Each of these models have correlates in the public sector. I will end this post with a quote from the article in question. Although it is directed to companies, I suggest foundations that urge collaboration read it with an eye to their admonition that non-profits and the public sector figure out ways to merge and collaborate. It is – no doubt – easier said than done.
All to often firms(foundations?) jump into relationships without considering their structure and organizing principles – what we call the collaborative architecture. To help senior managers (read public officials and nonprofit leaders?) make better decisions about the kinds of collaboration their companies adopt, we have developed a relatively simple framework. The product of our 20 years of research and consulting in this area, it focuses on two basic questions. Given your strategy, how open or closed should your firms network of collaborators be? And who should decide which problems the network will takle and which solutions will be adopted?” p.80
I am encouraged by the fact that many people I make reference to in this post continue to come to the table to discuss the issue because they do have the best interest of the community at heart. The fact is this economy is only beginning to reveal the hard choices and sacrifices we face as a community. People are meeting that challenge overcoming a fear of the unknown.