I spotted this television advertisement for GM the other evening. It occurred to me that watching the demise of the American Auto Industry, is tragically analogous to what is happening in public education.
The blog post Daily Finance’s writer Peter Cohan cites five reasons why GM failed. Read and draw analogies to public schools in the United States.
1. Bad financial policies. You might be surprised to learn that GM has been bankrupt since 2006 and has avoided a filing for years thanks to the graces of the banks and bondholders. But for years it has used cars as razors to sell consumers a monthly package of razor blades — in the form of highly profitable car loans.
And the two Harvard MBAs who drove GM to bankruptcy — Rick Wagoner and Fritz Henderson — both rose up from GM’s finance division, rather than its vehicle design operation. (Read more about GM’s bad financial policies here.)
2. Uncompetitive vehicles. Compared to its toughest competitors — like Toyota Motor Co. (TM) — GM’s cars were poorly designed and built, took too long to manufacture at costs that were too high, and as a result, fewer people bought them, leaving GM with excess production capacity. (Read more about GM’s uncompetitive vehicles here.)
3. Ignoring competition. GM has been ignoring competition — with a brief interruption (Saturn in the 1980s) — for about 50 years. At its peak, in 1954, GM controlled 54 percent of the North American vehicle market. Last year, that figure had tumbled to 19 percent. Toyota and its peers took over that market share. (Read more about GM ignoring the competition here.)
4. Failure to innovate. Since GM was focused on profiting from finance, it did not really care that much about building better vehicles. GM’s management failed to adapt GM to changes in customer needs, upstart competitors, and new technologies. (Read more about GM’s failure to innovate here.)
5. Managing in the bubble. GM managers got promoted by toeing the CEO’s line and ignoring external changes. What looked stupid from the perspective of customer and competitors was smart for those bucking for promotions. (Read more about GM’s managing in the bubble here.)
GM has now produced this mea culpa, promising a new organization with new products and a new attitude. The answer is to reinvent itself.
It is not hard to draw analogies to public schools. Poor financing and financial management. Management (administrative bubbles), inflated salaries for administrators, ignoring the competition…..the list goes on. The list does not mention the tortuous negotiations and battles with organized labor – but that analogy fits as well.
Interesting that the public sector (federal government) has to be in the unbelievable position of having to bail out this failing industry. The act has people from the private sector incredulous. Even the President himself seems uncomfortable with the fact that the government has had to take this unprecedented action.
Public Schools in too many urban districts are a failing industry. Too many administrators, public officials and even some private philanthropists ignore the competition (i.e. charter schools, successful faith-based schools and even advances made in independent schools). These entities are seen not as competition, but as the enemy. In an effort to preserve themselves and guarantee job security, those in the bunker form the bubble.
Too many are afraid of adapting to new technologies that are likely to guarantee, smarter, leaner administrative budgets and more likely than not to improve students learning outcomes. Good administrators will report up to the “management” that revises standards and tests to juke the stats and have the public believe their inferior product is actually working.
Far too many individual school “districts” makes no sense anymore. I live in a county of 280,000 but there are 14 individual school districts each with high-paid administrators including superintendents, principals, curriculum directors. The cost to the public every year exceeds $4 million dollars. Much of that work can be done online through more effective use of management technologies.
Too many public dollars are wasted paying for textbooks. Innovations in online texts are occurring every day, yet too many school administrators are slow to adapt them. Many philanthropists have funded organizations that provide solutions to this unnecessary expense. cK-12 is a private non-profit foundation that is just one example. Another is Currwiki. Schools and school districts – not to mention the multimillion dollar textbook industry has an interest in keeping these innovations out of schools. Too many foundation officers and school administrators – fearful of change, block innovation with the appeal to waiting for results from “evidence-based practice” before they do anything. Where are the “practices” taking place and who is collecting the “evidence?” I know than many foundations have a lot of evidence of what is working, especially in charter, faith-based and indepdendent schools, but this evidence is ignored unless it has imprimatur from “the academy.”
It just seems to me that the time is ripe for foundations across the country to sponsor one or a series of local symposia that will bring together leaders from the field of educational technology, business, K-12 systems, and higher edcuation to re-imagine doing schools. These symposia should be public – coordinated with local newspapers, and newsmedia. Public television stations typically have local afficilates that could foster regularly scheduled converesations about re-inventing school and invite public policy officials to be part of the conversation. Together, these entities can help to reinvent public schools just as the auto industries are about to embark on reinventing themselves.
I was a member of the education task force for the Ohio Grantmakers Forum which produced a set of recommendations for changing education in the State of Ohio for the Governor and legislature. Beyond Tinkering was the report and I have written about the effort in previous posts. The full document can be found at. www.ohiograntmakers.org
One of the most satisfying results of the effort was gathering information from colleagues from other foundations to push the idea of innovation districts. We used legislation out of Colorado as the inspiration. The call for creating innovation districts in Ohio is the first recommendation in the report. When the report was published, I did not think the Governor or the legislature would seriously consider the idea of innovation districts. It had certainly hoped it would and my colleagues can attest to the fact that I pushed for it every meeting we had. It appears however that both the Ohio House and Senate are intrigued by the idea and have written it into the education budget. It has to go to conference and perhaps will actually become a reality. Should that happen, the state has opened up an exciting opportunity for transforming education and establishing national models.
Among the many excellent recommendations in the report, several have particular relevance to legislators who are genuinely interested in transforming education in the state. The idea of creating innovation districts has all the potential to develop budget-neutral programs that could serve as models for all districts in the state. In a time of budgetary constraint, it is my guess that if they are developed carefully, and with strong leadership from the top offices in the state, innovation districts could result in cost-savings over time.
I underscore the call to create innovation districts rather than schools. There are many school-based programs spearheaded by exceptionally creative teachers. Unfortunately, these programs are restricted too often to one classroom. In some cases, we see school buildings implementing innovative use of technology to support learning, but it is once again, more often-than-not these innovations lack any alignment with the other buildings in the same district. In my travels I have heard disturbing news that successful schools are often scorned by peers in their districts. I had the great pleasure to explore the Macomb Academy in Michigan. The leadership there has implemented a highly successful approach to learning with emphasis on Sciences based on the approaches advocated by the Natural Learning Institute. Despite the demonsrable success, Macomb teachers and leaders are resented by peers in their district because they have developed their own method of teaching and assessment that diverges from the norm.
I bring up this case because a. it is not the first time I have heard cases of professional jealousy of this type crippling innovation in schools and b. because I think it illustrates a reason why we need to stop creating innovation schools as isolated entities within districts that may or may not be on board. The emphasis must be on the district as a whole. An innovation district would focus efforts on an entire community, and put benchmarks in place that could measure success. Foundations could be called upon to help support these districts and direct funding to the support positive outcomes to the benchmarks put into place.
An innovation district would focus efforts on an entire community, and put benchmarks in place that could measure success. Foundations could be called upon to help support these districts and direct funding to the support positive outcomes to the benchmarks put into place.
The language in the OGF Byond Tinkering report is very clear. It calls for, “A bold plan for accelerating the pace of innovation – for restructuring the traditional industrial model of teaching and learning and for addressing the lowest-performing schools in our state.” That includes a recommendation to create innovation districts.I purposely put emphasis on districts and not innovation schools. Further in the report, is the call to “Develop a statewide P-16 education technology plan.” “Which includes improving teacher capacity in using technology.” What better way to set this off than a district whose mission and focus would be to develop a plan that will train teachers on appropriate use of technology to meet the student learning objectives.
These recommendations are the primary ingredients for developing districts which – if properly carried out – could serve as a model for public schools across the country.The leadership would have to have the political will to take on the political battles which will be waged by interest groups. It would prove the political leadership is finally willing to move Beyond Tinkering and transform learning opportunities. Set the bar high and challenge these districts to carry out the plans in a budget-neutral environment and it is my guess most administrators and teachers would meet that challenge. Ideally there would be five or more districts set up and given a five to ten-year exoneration from current collective bargaining and technological rules that could thwart the overall effort.For example, teachers in the district would not be able to “opt out” of professional development programs that would be essential to creating the districts. If teachers do not want to participate fully in the learning opportunity they can be ushered to other districts or find employment elsewhere. That is where extreme leadership is required from multiple stakeholders in the state including union leadership, superintendents the ODE, the Oho Federation of Teachers and the Ohio School Board. Getting them to agree means providing a coherent vision and establishing certain benchmarks to measure quality improvement.
The objective would be to create districts focused on excellence in learning. We are speaking of a new understanding of learning from pre-conceived ideas. That means educating the stakeholders to the remarkable opportunities that new technology provides. I had the privilege of attending a presentation by Helen Parke, Director of the Cisco Learning Institute. During the Sunday evening keynote, Ms. Park presented a vision of education technology to a group of K-6 math teachers from across the state of Ohio. This was a vision of Web 3.0 solutions to problems. The conference continued for two days with the task of finding solutions to the challenge of improving the quality of math teaching in schools across the country. Teachers were treated to presentation from education “experts” from universities across the country. As the weekeind went on however, teachers were challenged with coming up with solutions to the problem – To improve Math scores in schools across the state. Unfortunately, the so-called solutions called for more funding to provide “math coaches” in buildings across the districts. It was as if the presentaion from Ciso never happened. Teachers were unable to make the connection between 3.0 software and its potential to solve their problems. In short, we had 1.0 solutions to problems in a world where 3.0 can provide easy answers. The experience convinced me that a better job needs to be done to invite teachers to experience and understand the technology. Short of that, they will never understand the potential these technologies hold. Professional development needs a complete 360 evaluation and (I would guess) a complete overhaul.
In such these innovation districts, a district adults would learn as well as the students.. Teachers would be respected as the professionals they are, and encouraged to work with administrators and technologists to find ways in which technology can be used to find solutions to issues like student-centered learining, new ways of assessment and rethinking the way we establish standards. Teachers would be encouraged th think of new ways to help children understand the content.
In these districts, goal would be to use technology to support student engagement and understanding of the content. Technology cannot and should not be expected to replace learning that takes place between and among human beings. It is not to create innovation for the sake of innovation, but to establish a culture of learning that will likely change the current model of one-teacher in a room in front of twenty students each of whom is expected to pass a testing pattern based on a pre-established set of standards. Technology presents students and teachers with new ways to gather, assemble and demonstrate knowledge that exposes the shortcomings in the current system of assessment. A challenge for the district would be to allow teachers in shared learning communities, to develop meaningful systems of assessment that make use of the tools available. The result could be an incarnation of the “student-centered” learning module that has gotten a lot of lip service with few demonstrable models.
A major challenge to the district leadership would be to demonstrate reasonable cost savings as a resulting from use of social software.(For example why would five districts each need a “curriculum director” when one could possibly suffice.Could each of these districts demonstrate effective use of open-source tools to reduce the cost to the district (approximately $800 per student for textbooks used only one-year).
A district-wide initiative across the state would require an entities that supports the multi-district application. I suggest that a good model can be found in a November 2008 article in the Harvard Business Review by authors James Cash, Jr., Michael J. Earl, and Robert Morrison. Teaming Up to Crack Innovation Enterprise Integration is written for the business growth with focus on CEO’s, Chief Information Officers (CIO’s) and IT organizations. The model easily adapts to a State education bureaucracy and includes two elements that would be critical to the success of the Innovation districts. Their thesis is relatively straightforward. Here is how they summarize the concept:
IT has long been a catalyst of business innovation and essential to cross-functional integration efforts, but few large companies have systematically leveraged technology for these purposes.
Close study of 24 U.S. and European businesses reveals a model for systematically doing that that through the formation of two IT-intensive groups for coordinating these two processes that are critical to organic growth
A distributive innovation group (DIG) combines a company’s own innovative efforts with the best of external technology to create new business variations. The enterprise innovation group (EIG) folds yesterday’s new variations into the operating model of the enterprise.
The two groups help better identity, coordinate, and prioritize the most-promising projects and spread technology tools, and best practices.
An effective DIG and EIG could be set up within an office within the Ohio Department of Education but that is likely to be too insular and protective. My suggestion is that an outside agency such as the Cisco Learning Initiative or the OneCommunity in Cleveland could be a better locus for the activity. I say that only because a good innovation district would want to gather ideas from both public and non-public schools. Foundations could provide a service by funding the costs of the DIG and EIG officers for the course of the five-year period. Paying salary and benefits for a year is well within ambit of funding levels tolerated by foundations, even in this challenging economic environment. Additionally, outside funding could guarantee that the data gathered is open to all who may want to benefit from it. So, if we imaging these two offices set up to serve the five-districts their scope of work could be defined pretty much by what is presented by the HBS authors. This is what they would recommend including my insertions between parentheses:
A distributed innovation group (DIG) … doesn’t “do” innovation but rather fosters and challenges it. Innovation is an inherently distributed activity, encompassing innovators across and outside the corporation ( ‘districts’). The DIG serves as the center of expertise for innovation techniques, scouts for new developments outside the company ( ‘district’) and provides experst for internal innovation initiatives. And it deploys technologies and methods that facilitated collaboration and innovation.
An enterprise integration group (EIG) is dedicated to the horizontal integration of the corporation (‘districts)’ and among the buildings w/in the district). It picks from among competing integration projects and provides resources that enable them to succeed. It develops the architecture and management practices that make business (educational) integration easier over time.. It may also manage of portfolio of integration activities and initiatives; serve as the corporation’s ( ‘district‘) center of expertise in process improvement, large project management, and program and portfolio (curricular) management; and provide staff and possibly leaders for mager business (school) integration initiatives.
The money for this undertaking could be secured from private sources but in the longer term, funds are likely to be found with more efficient use of funds that currently feed the Educational Service Centers across the state. Another foundation or group of foundations can and/or should coordinate with the ODE and hire a group like the RAND Education corporation to conduct a complete evaluation of the efficacy of professional development in the state and the role of the Education Service Centers in light of this new initiative. I would imagine their is opportunity for a vast overhaul of the administrative function of the ESC'(s) across the state.
Technology should not be focused only on the curricular components of the project. Innovative approaches to addressing the social service supports need to be integrated into the process. Social services as well as primary health and mental health programs must be brought to the schools in new ways. Achieving this goals will require new ways of working the the multiple state and nonprofit agencies that provide support to families in some of the more impoverished districts. Why can’t mental health and primary health screening programs be place right in school buildings. School buildings can be a logical catchment for families who will bring their children to schools. It is essential that innovation districts consider new ways in which social support services can be ushered into the schools.It is common knowledge that too many teachers are expected to teach children who do not have access to essential primary health care or mental health services.A local physician our foundation has supported conducted a study in a Lorain City elementary school and found that more than 25% of the children suffered from chronic asthma which accounted for about 40% of the absences from school.Children that suffer from undiagnosed chronic illness cannot be expected to learn.If a child is not feeling well, no increase in mentoring, after-school programs or mandatory extended days will enhance learning.Currently State programs for help these youngsters are funneled through a variety of public entities and/or nonprofit organizations but few of these entities (if any) have a presence in the school buildings.State regulations and sometimes collective bargaining rules keep these services from being performed in the building.
I would propose that a Ohio Innovation district(s) would lift all restrictions that keep essential social services out of schools thereby creating a place where schools can be a center for families rather than just students.The Harlem Childrens Zone serves as an interesting model.Getting there would be a process – probably six-months to a year, where health officials (public and private providers), school board members, teacher and administrators would form a task force to articulate a plan of how these services would be made available for each school.The plans would be posted on an open site and other districts could have input.The plans would be compared and funneled to the DIG.A goal for each plan would be to demonstrate where the plan could result in cost savings to the entire community served by this new Innovation district.
A third and final goal would be to create a place where leaders from higher education meet regularly with leaders and teachers from K-12 to ensure that the two areas are seamless.Almost every educator I speak with agrees that in the United States, there is virtually no formal communication between K-12 and “higher-Ed.”The technology available to citizens of this country is making that disjuncture a serious threat to the goal we have to create and educational system that will set the stage for young people to succeed in college and beyond.
Take a look at two Youtube video’s by Dr. Richard Miller from Rutgers University.He provides a vision for what university/college teaching will look like in the not too distant future. Although geared to an audience in higher education, his vision casts shadows on the K-12 environment. He talks about transforming pedagogy and even learning spaces.If this vision is even remotely true, the question facing K-12 teachers across Ohio are preparing children for this future?
It is time for some state or group of state to introduce the idea of innovation districts to create a space where innovation can combine with tried and true best practices and create new approaches to learning that can be brought to scale and save money.
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.
Many of my previous posts have chronicled my involvement in the Ohio Grantmakers Forum’s efforts to gather input from “multi-stakeholders” who, in some way, influence education in the State of Ohio. The result is a publication for the Governor which I have talked about. Several weeks since the publication the blow-back has begun to be felt. The Governor received input from several other constituency groups but none as diverse as OGF’s. In my opinion, the most promising recommendations from our report were not included, but more on that later. I would like to post a few thoughts on this interesting process. The experience revealed many interesting interactions between politics, philanthropy and school-think.
First, it is now very evident to me that dealing with public school is analogous to dealing with institutional religion. The good comes with the bad. The battles are as intense and based in “belief” systems that, at times defy rational thought – and data. Discussion can be stopped by strong convictions by the faithful who are convinced they have a corner on truth. Such is the case in religion, and so it is -(I find) with devotees of public schooling. People I have met who defend public schools defend their belief with the zeal of converts. And as Shakespeare once said, “An overflow of converts – to bad.” It is my experience that when I or anyone else offers a critique of “the public school system” the comments are tolerated at best but received with a low growl making me feel as if I an uttering heresy against the tenants of “public schooling.” In Lorain County, where I live, my questioning of public schooling was met with the ultimate salvo – “Union-buster!” uttered by a university professor who teaches “education.” Given the permissions that power and control offer, criticism of public schooling as we know it are often met with undertones of threat that can only be launched by those who are certain that what they are defending is true. Such people make it very difficult for political leaders and for foundations to make any real impact on changing education. I often think this is what it must be like for a neutral politician having to introduce political reform with mullahs in Iran. So, I have come to learn that one must take small steps when trying to influence education policy – especially when representing an institution that has a large endowment and which, has the ability to exercise some political influence as well. It is an intricate dance.
It is probably no surprise to discover that foundation personnel can bring their own beliefs about public schooling to the table when providing advice to political leaders. In my opinion foundations should try very hard to base their policies on evidence and knowledge drawn from evaluation of projects they have funded. That is the only authority by which they can contribute to political discourse.
In the field of philanthropy, there is no consensus as to how to support public schooling in the United States. There are people and organizations that can tend to attract people of similar mind-set and experience. Grantmakers for Education is a great organization that supports foundations that support a variety of projects. GFE tends to attract foundations that are sincerely interested in reforming public education as we know it. There have few sessions addressing the future of education and influence in alternative ways of learning – although that is changing. Philanthropy Roundtable is a fantastic organization that attracts a more conservative group of funders. Roundtable hosts regional programs and site visits to innovative schools that tend to be charter and sometime voucher schools. It would be fair to say that the Roundtable members would be more likely to support alternative educational business models that demonstrate success in learning.
In many ways, philanthropy and those who work in it, reflect the diversity of opinion held by the general public. Personal belief can influence objectivity when philanthropy begins to take on policy as an organized front. There, we need to exercise supreme caution. As alluded to above, I have come to the realization that offering critique of public education is as dangerous as critiquing a person or group’s religious beliefs. There is a strong cultural aesthetic that if pushed too far, could have negative repercussions for the sector. So again, caution is offered and here’s why.
The American public generally believes in the universal access to education espoused by the founders of this Republic. It should – universal education in the U.S. is the reason why the democratic experience has worked for 250 years. Over the years, that concept has been institutionalized in a public schooling system which is as much a part of the American aesthetic experience as churches. The variety of ways in which education is expressed has been the “public school” – typically a brick building with a flag on the front lawn, run by principals who lord over the function of the teachers in classrooms. There is equal diversity about how the actual curriculum should be conducted and assessed. The storm around the barrage of testing NCLB has produced is only one example of what and how assessment can take place. That’s the way it has been for years and that is the way many people would like it to remain. Public schools have a romanticized aesthetic to it that includes yearbooks, proms and most importantly sport’s teams. Films like like Hoosiers, and Television shows like Friday Night Lights celebrate the American aesthetic experience of high school by romanticizing stories of public schools and the role they play in the civic life of the community. This is American public schools as believers see it, much like Bing Crosby’s role as Father O’Malley in The Bells of Saint Mary’s romanticized but served as the iconic representation of the ideal of the Catholic Church in the 1940’s. Hoosiers does not capture the agony of union disputes nor does the Bells of St. Mary’s capture alcohol or sex abuse that ran parallel to the aesthetic. Probably one of the most relevant films on the role of public schools and their place in the community was the recent series by NOVA on the battle over intelligent design. (A must see).
My frustration withGovernor Strickland’s plan to change public schooling in Ohio is that he seems to be bowing to the romanticized notion of what public schools should be. I mentioned that he got advice from many constituencies with huge influence from leaders in the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Federation of Teachers . Let us not forget that these two entities represent strong voting blocks and as such, a group any political leader does not necessarily want to alienate. The problem is the ODE and the OFT are entrenched entities that have an interest in maintaining power and control over the way the educational system is run. Much like the Roman curia or a Houses of Bishops, mullahs or any other gathering of “elders,” this organization will not only justify but its reason to control how public schooling is shaped but it will also fight if need be. Retribution can be fierce and good lawyers can be hired to contest any opposition. Much like a religious hierarchy, the structure needs to maintain strong vertical reporting structures. Control is easily maintained with a unified understanding and approach to the religious teaching. Organizations of this type cannot handle diversity of opinion and clearly have no room for experimentation.
I have found that the ODE, the OFT and even some program officers in philanthropy can thwart innovative programming by making appeals to what I call the god of research. Clearly there is a need to have solid research around quality programming. In fact there is too little research funded by philanthropy as indicated in the last chapter of Clayton Christensen’s book Disrupting Class. The problem I see however is that too much of the education research suffers from what Ellen Gondfliffe Langemann writes in her book An Elusive Science – The Troubling History of Education Research
I believe it would not be inaccurate to say that the most powerful forces to have shaped educational scholarship over the last century have tended to push the field in unfortunate directions – away from close interactions with policy and practice and toward excessive quantification and scientism. p ix.
The Governor had an opportunity to implement some truly innovative programs that could launch education in Ohio into the 21st century appears to have caved to the zealots of public schools who are more comfortable with 19th century schooling because they know it and can control it. His policies to shut down on charter schools, eliminate “early-college” programs and to focus on improved testing looks to me like a reactive attempt by the State to clamp down on opposition and innovation and demand conformity to thought and ultimately this idea of public schools. Much of this is fueled by an important voting block – the Ohio Teacher Union. Some of it supported by program officers who tend to favor quantified educational data before making a move. I think that is an easy out allowing people to hold back support for innovative programs that diverge from the public school norm. In reality hiding behind data can be interpreted as an attempt to appeal to the power brokers like School Superintendents of large metropolitan areas, State Superintendents of Schools and ultimately Governors.
To me, the action from the Governor’s mansion looks like the Vatican and its need to control uniformity of thinking with little tolerance for oppositional thinking. (Women’s ordination, liberation theology,contraception, even teaching faculty at catholic universities are only a few of the issues that have met with little tolerance on the part of the curia). This administration cannot tolerate any innovative change in education that takes place outside the paradigm and control of the State Department of Education and the Board of Regents.
Just as theists accept the proposition that God exists, so too public school devotees posit that public schools (which is different from public schooling), should and must exist for the benefit of the community. How that concept of public schools is expressed is as varied as they way Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Jews, Muslims and all other religions develop aesthetic. Each has an aesthetic and iconography based on their respective interpretations of what the word of god means to them and their followers. The analogy can easily flip to the area of education where there is certainly no unanimity of thought about how learning can and should take place. Just read my previous post called “Philanthropy, Education and Class -what are we thinking?” which discusses the work of. Dr. Kusserow on how class affects parents educational expectations for their childrens education and the people who teach them.
Elected officials have an ostensible allegiance to the voting constituency who put them in office but politicians must also appeal to general consensus if they want to be reelected. They must also figure out how to raise the general public to act out of virtue and pursue what which is wise. Just like people in philanthropy, elected officials are stewards of that form of public money. Often, what is thought to be general consensus, especially in highly emotional issues such as schooling, might not be grounded in practical wisdom. Too often, irrational belief trumps rational judgement resulting in decisions that might be politically expedient but fundamentally unwise. The challenge for any elected leader is how to manage truly innovative and imaginative education policy dealing with a strong political force that is poised to destroy you if you diverge too far from their own interest.
Unlike politics, foundations do not have to appeal to voters. Their constituency is smaller – i.e. the trustees that serve on the boards and the communities they serve. A community foundation is comprised of members of that community and more often than not, has purview to restrict grants within a geographic area. The board is typically comprised of people who live in the community and experience the rhythm of daily life in places like Cleveland. The director of a community foundation must appeal to current donors who also advise officers on how and where to direct distributions. He or she must also try to find new donors who will be comfortable with making financial contributions that will increase the size of the foundation’s endowment, and thereby increase the amount of funds for charity.
A family and/or private foundation is different from community foundations because it is comprised of members who have ties to those who established the foundation (typically a successful ancestor). Members of these foundations may or may not be living in those communities, and by nature of their election to the board, may be one-step removed from the political pressures a community foundation may have. A family and/or private foundation operates from the endowment established by the ancestor. It does not have to raise new money from the community. As an institution, it does not have to dance as much around the politics that come into play with controversial issues. That being said I must qualify that if a private foundation engages in education funding, that organization has a supreme obligation to conduct research on why education programs succeed. It has a duty to support programs that promise to bring new-thinking to how education is conducted. Free from some of the constraints to think with the rest of the community, the private foundations can seek out and support those who are not afraid to go against the grain and raise our sites to that which is virtuous and right in modeling moral skill. It can and should seek out programs and people that demonstrate wisdom but also brilliance.
A family foundation that fund education must have a high tolerance to permit improvisation and allow itself and organizations to fail occasionally. Its staff and trustees need to be mentored by wise teachers, and the staff must learn how to learn how to respond wisely to brilliant and gifted people in the field. As I will reference below, wisdom without brilliance is not enough.
There is a nuanced but important difference here, and nothing is a better illustration of this than foundation involvement in public school education. Similar to the constituency issue our Governor faces, Community Foundations must be careful not to ruffle the feathers too much of the standard concept of public schools. Community Foundation must also guide the lead the larger community with practical wisdom drawn from experience and research. Most, if not all, succeed in doing that. As I mentioned above, concepts of public schooling are based in what I see as a “religion of public schools” which are grounded in the belief that public school is a good thing. In the ideal, public school levels the playing field for all citizens and is an egalitarian solution to the need to educate all children. Teachers unions are strong voting blocks. In the economically ravaged mid-west, teachers and their unions are a solid source of employment. In challenging times, people are scared so any challenge to the unions and their membership will be perceived as a threat to livelihood. The push-back will be fierce. Community foundations must be sensitive to the political factions in the communities it serves and thereby may be more risk-averse to change in school bureaucracies.
Getting back to practical applications of my theorizing, the philanthropic effort by OGF to involve stakeholders in the effort to advise the governor how to prepare Ohio Schools for the 21st Century had its fallout. The document contains recommendations for significant change to the way teachers can be dismissed, and receive tenure.
In a follow-up meeting with the head of the Ohio Teachers Union, the OGF team was informed by the union head that OGF had “misrepresented” the views of the Union leadership. That was a disappointing response. I was in the meeting when the draft of the final document was being discussed. There was no confusion about what was to be put into the document. The representative warned the “multi-stakeholders” this would be a controversial set of recommendations. When I heard the feedback that the union’s felt the recommendations were “missrepresented” we all wondered what happened. One can only assume that when the recommendations were made to the membership, they pushed back vigorously and the leader had to find an “out.” This is a coward’s game, but one that is all part of the cycnical system depicted in the clips I provide in earlier posts from The HBO series “The Wire.”Therein lies the blowback. When pushed to the wall, political interests will claim they were maligned, or misrepresented. It lacks moral will to do the right thing. It lacks virtue.
Governor Strickland and his staff are beginning to take heat for what came out. The results of thousands of dollars and hours of people’s time, is an education “plan” that reads like a document from the Vatican of the Religion of Public Schools. The plan reads like a dogmatic dictum that will assert the State power of public schools across the country. The Governor’s staff calls the plan “Historic Reform” Yet my read is that is incorporates few of the innovative recommendations from the Ohio Grantmakers Forum group. In fact, it ignores the number one recommendation to create innovation districts in the county modeled on Colorado’s Innovative Schools Act of 2008. This idea, if passed would lift the typical barriers to innovation in schools and allow teachers to be creative in addressing student learning styles. Technology would be introduced to support these learning styles and a focused plan for teacher professional development would complement this plan. Instead, we have a plan that extend the school day (with no allowance for new teaching styles), reformed tests for assessment and – most schocking a clamp down on charter schools and early college programs all of which show early signs of true innovation in learning. The Dayton Daily News for Sunday March 8, 2009 ran an editorial voicing a very succinct and clear protest of the Governor’s attempt to take this drastic and unnecessary action.
Foundations can and should continue to fund charter schools as well as initiative such as the early college programs.
I wish all members of the OGF Task Force including the public school bureaucrats could spend time viewing this remarkable talk by Barry Schwartz during the 2009 TED Conference. Listen especially around miniute 9:30 and on.
In my opinion, philanthropy in general, and family philanthropy in particular should constantly question and challenge the educational system in this country. In fidelity to the successful businessmen and women who created companies that account for the wealth, family philanthropy should push public schools to adopt strategies that will increase efficiency, honor professionalism but most importantly succeed by adopting practical wisdom to the endeavor. This role can be played out by funding models that appear to work – like the KIPP Schools, the National Association of Street Schools, the Cristo Rey and Nativity schools, and successful programs such as CAST and Project Lead the Way. They should support the research that will help bring them to scale in cities and rural areas across the country. Public schools need not be afraid of these models, and would do well to apply practical wisdom among their leadership.
To repeat the words of Dr. Schwartz, foundations and especially political leaders (and even the general public) need to reconnect to a sense of virtue and practical wisdom as it shapes an education plan for the next decade. It must embrace new concepts and technologies and support new and exciting applications of brain research to learning. In fact we need to revise the very way that educational research has been conducted on the district and state level. We must move from an empasis on outdated metrics to more entrepreneurial problem solving approaches to education.
The public dollars that comprise more than 90 percent of all k-12 spending rarely support entrepreneurial problem-solving. This meand that philanthropic giving, which accounts for a fraction of 1 percent of educational spending, has played an outsized role in the launch of new ventures like the KIPP Academies, Aspire Public Schools, New Leaders for New Schools and Teach for America. Because k-12 education is nominated by government spending and because this money is consumed in salaries and operations, precious little is invested in research and development of new ventures. Outside of the limited funding for charter school facilities and start-up costs, almost none of it support entrepreneurial activity.
In the private sector, the torrent of venture capital is accompanied by an ecosystem of institutions and actors that provide quality control, support new ventures and selectively target resources. In education, especially when it comes to directing philanthropic dollars, such infrastructure is sparse. The venture-capital communities that have sprung up in corridors like Silcon Valley and Route 128 in Boston are not plugged into K-12 education and equivalents do not exist in the world of schooling.
History has shown that Religion abhors scientific discovery. Until the national community is willing to break out of its religious belief in a public school model that no longer represents the needs for 21st century learning skills, we will continue to be dominated by the dictums of those who control the religions of public school. Practical wisdom will prevail and foundations have a role by giving voice to those who espouse it in education.
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!