Tag Archives: Education

Foundation Support for Independent Schools – new opportunities for public school education

The publicity about the Obama’s choice of the Sidwell Friends School shed light on the apparent contradiction of those who support public schools but elect to send their children to private schools.  I am sure this fact makes the Obama’s and others like them feel a bit defensive when attending parties.  In Oberlin, Ohio where I live, people who send their children to the independent school are literally shunned by those who keep their children in the public system.

One of the great challenges facing Independent schools, and the foundations that support them is how to make the excellent quality of education available to those outside the walls of these relatively small institutions.  The winter 2006 edition of Independent School, published by the National Association of Independent Schools gave voice to a growing number of members who struggle with perception that independent schools are institutions only for the elite. In an environment where the gap between wealthy families and poorer families grows, fewer middle class families are able to afford private school education. The quality of Independent School education, such as the institution I send my children (Lake Ridge Academy) can not be disputed. In fact trustees of  foundations tpically send their children to independent schools places like:   Noble and Greenough School, Heathwood Hall, Buckinham, Browne and Nicols and others of pedigree based on a history of quality education. Read the mission statments of any of them and compare that aspiration to those of public schools.  This reality presents an unease because these same trustees approve grants that try to improve the quality of public school education.  We all know that undertaking can have pockets of success but due to the enormity of the task of reform  rewards are elusive.

Faith-based schools such as Epiphany School, Nativity Prep, Arrupe Prep as well as non-denominational charter  KIPP schools. supported by the foundation I serve, offer the quality education that rivals the atmosphere, academic dicipline and values of  higher priced independent schools.  However these schools are expensive to maintain and require constant funding from private sources.  The State simply will not fund these entities.  In the case of KIPP and Charter Schools, the national discussion is typically met with a vitrol accompanied by public policies that keep State funding to a minimum.  Tacitly, the policy carries a hope  that charters will fail and, like apostates, will someday realize the waywardness of their action and return to the public school system as we know it.    That system of course is failing millions of children in the U.S. daily, but there remains no strategy to address that reality.

How can one make the quality of Independent School education available to families of the middle class and even children of low-income families has remained elusive.  D. Scott Looney, Head of Hawken School in Cleveland  suggested, “The benefits of having the broadest possible exposure to students with other backgrounds, races, ideas, and experience must be part of that education, and must include children from families in the bottom 50 percent of the socioeconomic tier.”

How can an independent schools do that when the availability of scholarship monies is limited? Technology provides answers.

Independent Schools can make better use of web-based technology to break down the walls of their institutions and make their curriculum available to a larger number of students.

The Harvard Crimson reported an innovative adaptation of SecondLife™ at Harvard University in 2006 whereby students at the Harvard Law School will co-learn with students at the Harvard Extension School – linking a divergent student body in a cooperative learning process.  Independent Schools can and should do the same thing with outreach to public schools.  Foundations can support these activites.

SecondLife offers very tremendously exciting  opportunities to explore how the quality of independent school education may be open to others who cannot afford a typical four-year education.  What can that look like? Check out the site that explains how Secondlife works for educators.

Independent schools can and should explore the possiblity of creating their schools in Secondlife and inviting their professors and other educators to work with selected students in a virtual envorinment.  This is particularly true of the children in the lower 50% of the economic tier Mr. Lowney mentions.

Phillips Exeter Academy is known for the Harkness Table.  This seminar-styled approach to high school education was developed in 1931 and invites young people to share thought together in a collaborative learning experience.  Why not re-create a Harnkess Table in Secondlife whereby children from schools across the country could benefit from this educational style and interact with students who typically will not have access to these inistitutions of privilidge.

The Burton D. Morgan Foundation in Hudson, Ohio funded one of the first business/entrepreneurship programs at the high school level to Lakeridge Academy.  The teachers developed a very fine curriculum which serves the 20 or so students in that program.  I can imagine a very interesting project where, for example students from the business/entrepreneurship at Lakeridge Academy participated in SecondLife with students from the E-City program and the related Entrpreneurship Academy or E-Prep in Cleveland. (E-Prep received a start-up grant from The Nord Family Foundation and continues to receive yearly operating support s0 I disclose my interest and passion for this great school). A project of this type would expand the number of people who share in the curriculum and widen the perspectives on what entrepreneurship means in the suburbs and what it means on “corners” in Cleveland.

Foundation should consider funding these types of projects as a means of opening quality education they can (and often do) provide their own children and to talented and able children attending failing public schools.

I have had the priviledge to get to know some of the people at The Center for Institutional Technology and Academic Computing (ITAC) .  This institution is currently supporing several innovative uses of Secondlife in the educational settings including pioneering work in the high school curriculum.

Although SecondLife has been tremendously successful in higher education, the potential for its use in high school settings has been thwarted because SecondLife restricts its users to a minimum age of 18.  Students under that age are pointed The Teen Grid.  It is the hope of many educators that someday soon, SecondLife and its creators at Linden Lab will  allow for less restrictive use by high school teachers.

Another very interesting organization to watch for application for Independent schools is the work of the remarkable Aaron Walsh at MediaGrid at Boston College.  This organizations provides high quality virtual environments that rival those of expensive interactive games.

Foundations that restrict themselves only to supporting projects in public education are selling themselves short by not opening themselves to exploring these new ways to blend independent school and public school education.  It is my experience that most independent school faculty would welcome this innovation to expand their educational mission to those outside their walls.

It is time the philanthropic sector open itself to this important discussion with colleagues from Independent and Public Schools.  For those unsure about all this, may I suggest reading a report published by the MacArthur Foundation’s and the Digial Youth Resesarch at U.Cal. Berkeley.  Great reading!

Collective Intelligence and the Zoo – a challenge for educators and philanthropy

I have posted previously on the foundation’s support for non-formal science and art education programs and their role in education.  Today I had the priviledge of visiting the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo buided by one of its most impressive Directors, Liz Fowler.  Liz is one of those rare and inspirational directors whose love for the organization is infectious.   The Nord Family Foundation provided a grant several years ago to support a Distance Education program when distance education was still on dial-up networks.  I was really pleased and stunned to see how far this museum has come in developing quality broadcast of its distance education programming.  While I was there today, I learned about the plans for the Zoo to expand its space but also its education programs for the Elephants.  There is a cool video about the Plans for Elephants.  As I toured the facility I had the opportunity to meet the staff at the Zoo’s Hospital and their office with links to the Ohio State School of Veterinary Medicine.  Dr. Lewandoski provided me with a tour of the surgery unit for animals.  The zoo provides window in the surgery units that allow any child an opportunity to view the procedure.  An interpreter provides and explanation of what is happening during the operation.  Interestingly, the zoo staff rigged a webcam to one of the overhead lights allowing a webcam to broadcast the event as the Vet see it.  At this time, the broadcast takes place internally.

As I moved I watched zoo education staff provide animated lessons about animal science to classes of children from some of Cleveland’s inner city schools.  The children were completely engaged with the lectures that were accompanied with hands-on experiences.  As I watched I wondered what would happen after the students returned to their classrooms.  Was there anyway to follow-up to keep the student’s engagement with the teacher and/or subject matter alive?  Did the students have portfolios or an opportunity to write about what they saw, to use blogs?   I met staff who are profoundly knowledgable in their subject area and they exude excitment about science and animals. Did the zoo use blogs to allow these people to keep touch with any of the students through a blog?  As I watched these experts, I looked at the teachers who sat at the back of the room who were also enjoying the subject matter.   Did the zoo open it’s curriculum to these teachers so the teachers could use a wiki to shape their own science programming and allow these “expert” to become co-teachers on the child’s learning process.  The answer was no.  The zoo simply does not have these tools.  The majority of teachers do not know how to use them.

What a waste of resources.  At a time when the schools are pushing for innovation, the resources are lying all around us.  The State school system lacks a coherent strategy for linking the many tools that are available right now, to the many many resources and expertise of institutions such as the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, The Great Lakes Science Center, The Lake Erie Nature and Science Center and many others like it just in the Cleveland area.  How many other institutions of this type across the country are underutilzed simply because the State’s do not know how to adequatly train teachers on use of something as relatively simple as the suite of services available through Google for Educators. How much philanthropic funding supports these programs year-after-year without providing the tools to bring these resources into the core of learning in public schools.

A place like the Cleveland Zoo is a place where K-12 educators, as well as Colleges and Universities focus on science and can introduce young people to biology, animal sciences, chemisty and math….all in one place.  The educators I have met at these institutions are more than willing to join in developing curriculum through an effort of collective knowledge.  I am particularly excited about this concept having listened in part to a conference called Program for the Future One of the most compelling presentations was by Thomas Malone from MIT’s Sloan School of Management.  This slide show on Collective Intelligence points the way for people who are trying to figure out what P-16 councils can really mean for igniting educational achievement in their communities.

Tom Malone – Program for the Future Dec. 8

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own.
I think it is incumbent upon foundations to find ways to work among themselves to foster conversations across sectors that will tap into the collective conscience.  In this time of economic crisis (the State of Ohio has a projected budget deficit of almost a billion dollars), we need to make more effective use of the resources we have.  There will be resistance because this type of knowledge sharing is a trenemdous threat to those who have interest in guarding “knowledge” as they see it, (read, state education bureaucracies, Departments of Education, many School Boards, and Teachers Unions).  It will take conversations that phanthropists can convene, push and bring to the state and national agenda.  No one else will.

Politicians and Teachers Unions – thoughts for philanthropy

I live in Oberlin Ohio and due to my wife’s position as Director of the Cooper International Learning Center at Oberlin College we are active members in the life of the College and the town of Oberlin, Ohio. Located in corn fields about 27 miles west of Cleveland, Oberlin is a town that is rich in history and home to a college with a legacy of excellence in education.  It has a reputation for being liberal – sometimes on the fringe.  After and expensive “branding” campaign, the school adopted the term “FEARLESS” as its defining slogan.   Despite being ranked as one of the top 20 liberal arts colleges in the country, Oberlin College is located in a town with a public school system that has for many years struggled with low performance scores on state standardized tests.   In fact, it was ranked among the lowest performing in the State a few years ago.

The reasons are complex and rooted to some extent in a stratified economic and class system, which may seem odd for a town of only 4,000 permanent residents.  I referenced the social stratifications in my previous blog posting called “Philanthropy, Education and Class ‘what are we thinking, ”  With one of the best colleges in the country one would think that the public school system would excel.  Well, it has not.  Two years into his job, the visionary superintendent has had his challenges with a population that has taken him to task on his attempt to introduce a one-laptop per child into the schools as part of a larger goal to move the school to innovation in learning and technology.  That attempt was voted down in a school levy in 2006.  Most recently, the Superintendent has introduced the International Baccaulaureate Program into this district with approximately 1,200 students as a means of introducing rigor into the academic environment.  Starting with the lower grades, teachers have been trained on IB programs and eventually IB will be incorporated into the entire K-12 curriculum.  The townspeople have not been unanimous in their support.  The foundation I work with provided support to an organization that began a community voice project called, “Community Diaries” We started it around the laptop issue and with word-of-mouth marketing, we saw more than 500 posts in one month!.  When the levy failed, the discussions continued with some more strident voices nudging others out.  Today, there continues to be a lot of voices against IB, espeically from people who I surmise are from the miniority community.  ( The blog allows citizens to post anonymously). Even in this small town of 8,000 college students and permanent residents, running a school district is not an easy task.

As part of the 175th Year Celebration, Oberlin College has held a number of colloquia with speakers from around the country.  Tonight, Oberlin College was awarded the Harry S. Truman Foundation‘s 2008 Foundation Honor Institution.    Oberlin Alumnus Adrian M. Fenty class of 1992 was the featured speaker tonight.  Mr. Fenty is Mayor of Washington, D.C.  Mr. Fenty gave an impressive talk about his”…excitement about being back at Oberlin, his excitement for Ohio, his excitement for the District of Columbia and his excitement for the Nation for the hope he sense for the District and the Nation, especially with the President elect Obama.”  He was excited that Ohio was a “difference-maker in the national election.”  He was impressed with the Oberlin students who, in this past election led a county-wide effort to assist non-registered citizens any way they can to register for vote.  He was excited for the nation which has expressed its intolerance for the ways elections used to be done.  Voters realized that Obama kept a consistent message even early on and did not change his speeches or platforms to play to a base.  Fenty said, “If you campaign to your base, people realize you will govern to your base.”  People are at a point and realize that politics should be based on Performance and not Patronage.  He mentioned other leaders like the remarkable Cory Booker, in Newark (who I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing at a conference with Philanthropy Roundtable in October) ; Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York, Gavin Newsom in San Francisco; and Byron Brown of Buffalo, New York and recently elected Governor of Maryland and former Mayor of Baltimore  Martin O’Malley, as examples of strong leaders who are focused and represent principled leaders who are determined to focus on performance and not patronage.

When the time for questions opened, I asked Mayor Fenty to talk about his number one priority – creating effective schools in the District of Columbia.  In my opinion, Mr. Fenty’s Chancellor of Schools Michelle Rhee is one of the most impressive leaders in American education.  He and Ms. Rhee constitute a team of public officials showing singularly strong and effective leadership by taking charge and changing a struggling public school district.  (I had the pleasure to meet Ms. Rhee when she was with Project REACH and spoke at Philanthropy Roundtable).  I asked Mr. Fenty the following question:

Your partnership with Chancellor Rhee has earned this team national recognition for innovation in transforming districts.  Was there anything you felt unprepared for when you took on this task of the appalling state of the district’s schools.  What did you learn from the experience and what advice would you give to mayors and leaders of smaller cities such as Lorain, Ohio; Elyria, Ohio and Cleveland?

Mr. Fenty answered, ” We learned early on that there was no mechanism in place for anyone to take decisive action.  Someone was accountable (the mayor) and had to take responsiblity for action.  People knew what the right thing to do was, but people in the system were so bogged down in the bureaucracy, they couldn’t act.  Too many people would shirk responsiblity and blame it on someone else or give excuses.  I would recommend to mayors of larger urban areas –  “Get Rid of the School Board.”  Too many people with agendas and interests (patronage?) are left to make decisions, then public hearings make it impossible for anyone to take decisive and critical action!  I (Fenty) passed the changes within 24 hours of being elected.  Decisions to close 23 reduntant and underperforming schools was made quickly and by fiat.

Second, you have to have a STRATEGY that is clear and concise.  Too few leaders have a strategy that has benchmarks for success along the way.  A good leader will roll-out that strategy early on and Chancellor Rhee did that.  Fenty is there to support her and do what it takes to make it happen.

Finally, “Get rid of teachers unions!”  Fenty said he agrees with and supports teachers organizing.  He has learned that teachers unions and especially their leadership are out not for the children but for ways to protect their jobs.  Their desire to protect their jobs has for too long shielded individual teachers from accountablity.  He quoted his Chancellor who says, ‘Adults have to be held accountable for student performance!”  In the union patronage system, too many people blame others or systems or tests ….anything but themselves for poor performance.  If they ask themselves if they might be the problem, then doors open to personal and professional improvement. ”

I was sitting next to the Oberlin Superintendent who, along with the rest of the audience was pretty much dumfounded by what he has to say.  Oberlin is a town that has prided itself in typical democratic platforms of the past and have been, in general supportive of unions.  The school district has had a highy politicized teachers union that some claim have contributed to the schools low performance.  I do not have children in the public system so I am in no position to comment on that fact.  My children(mine attend independent schools – we only have one chance at it and my children have been better served by private education).  Mr. Fenty’s comments left many uncomfortable.

I confess to some jubilation at Mr. Fenty’s comments.  In a future blog I will comment on the last days of the Ohio Grantmakers Forum project on providing the governor with ideas on how to introduce innovation in Ohio Schools and prepare students for the 21st Century.  In a final review of the process which, for the first time brought us the complete report of the other working group called Teacher/Principal Quality there were some concerns raised.  I asked whether a document which will be called

Preparing Students for Success in the Global Economy and Guaranteeing Quality Teaching and Effective School Leadership

and which is charged with providing a vision for innovation in teaching and learning. sould include language with specific langugage for legsilation that would clarify means for hiring and firing teachers.  The proposals also included legislative language eo ensure tenure for teachers.  My question was whether this document which is sponsored by a membership organization of foundations across the state should include language that is clearly an agenda item for the Ohio Teachers Union and their ongoing issues with the Ohio Department of Education.  I suggested that there was wide and varying opinion among foundations about teachers unions and their role in the future of public education.  Given that, I suggested the document which is well written and reflecting a lot of work, might be better suited as a separate piece without requesting sign off from foundations? A rather heated discussion ensued.  The word “anti-union” agenda was thrown out.  That experience helped me realized Mr. Fenty and Chancellor Rhee’s bravery and leadership.

For too long I have heard too many people speak with me in my official capacity “off the record” about the entrenched system of patronage that keeps people in jobs for life in the public school system with little accountability.  Too many leaders have spoken with me in confidence of how difficult and self-serving many teachers unions are.  For too long, I have heard and seen retired teachers pulled back into the system as patronage, to be reinstated at 80% salary and benefits. the Cleveland Plain Dealer had a lead story this week “What Should Schools Do About Bad Teachers?” which describes one district having to pay $200,000 in legal fees to arbitrate a grievance filed by a teacher who was let go.  I have it on fairly reliable evidence that the financially stricken Lorain City School District spent over $700,000 in legal fees one year to address union grievances.  Mr. Booker of Newark urged the audience to read about Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial “Rubber room” where teachers who are deemed unfit for class, but not able to be fired, are relegated to a room where they sit all day and collect taxpayers dollars protected by unions.  It was announced the other day that the Governor of Ohio is facing a $675 million dollar budget deficit.  In the current fiscal situation cities and towns will face economic crisis.  This is a time for all people to examine areas where costs can be contained, where patronage can be dropped for real performance and where citizens will be presented with the real cost ovrerruns and waste in this entity we call public schools.  The economic crisis and a sense of true citizenship demands we do so.

When one offers critique of unions and the way things have been done, one is readily shot down.  I have found that the experience of retort is not pleasant, filled with passion and bordering on unreasonable.   Just read letters to the editor when the press critiques unions.  It is deemed as having an “anti-union” agenda.  These are buzz words that the new political leadership in both the Democratic and Republican parties are beginning to see through and address.   I admire people like Mr. Fenty and Chancellor Rhee who have taken such leadership. I think more people in the foundation and philanthropic sectors need to follow the lead and see through old systems of patronage and hold teachers accountable for performance.  We can be excited about the emergence of new and forward thinking leaders like Mr. Fenty.   Mr Fenty lives up to Oberlin College’s slogan…….FEARLESS!  Philanthropy should too!

Philanthropy Social Software and Multi-User Virtual Environments

The National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) held an annual conference in mid-November.  There was a gathering of some of the most innovative thinkers in figuring out ways to make use of technology to enhance education and nonprofits, but more importantly to introduce ways in which these technologies can make curriculum  and everyday computer use accessible to people who are blind, deaf or even cognatively challenged. It was tremendously exciting to be with people who are not only passiontate but practical in making the lives of the “dis-abled” easier.

What one sees in attending the conference and its Tech-Expo is the spectacular proliferation of new social media and its potential to enhance learning.  It is clear that these technologies have had unimaginable impact on companies in their ability to achieve efficiency and increased market share. Despite amazing advances in social media or “web-2.0” technologies, the global society is only beginning to see the implications of increased computer capacity and interconnectivity. In an impressive presentation by Gregg Downey eSchool News, we were introduced to the shift from the phase of Parallel Computing in which one computer server handles the information input of an organization or company, to the more exciting phase of Cloud Computing in which multiple servers share and sort information with unimaginable speed.

Despite this tremendous innovation pubic schools and the nonprofit sector lag behind pathetically. Philanthropy and program officers have a responsibility to be aware of these tools to seek out opportunities where investments in the application of these tools can, create greater efficiencies in nonprofits.

One of the main obstacles to philanthropy taking the lead here is too many programs officers do not realize the potential because they do not use them and/or have no idea of what is out there. Too many of us use the computer as that thing on which you get e-mail, go to websites, maybe read the paper and occasionally chuckle at funny YouTube videos – not much else when it comes to the tools. Shared learning is the primary attractions of social software to philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. Unfortunately, the sector has not thusfar done a good job of doing that but hopefully things will change soon.

Blogs, wiki’s twitters, and to some extent photo sharing such as Flickr are forms of shared knowledge with transforms into learning. Tagging is a means of coding that enables others to reference your area. If a program officer keeps a written blog on site visits and brings up issues of concern to the community such as “foreclosure” that blog can be tagged and others who have interest in foreclosure will be directed to that blog post and able to comment or share relevant information.  Similarly, if a nonprofit director keeps a blog about challenges to the organization, tagging is a way others can find you and, in an ideal situation, offer advice, help or assistance).   In many cases responses can come from around the world.  The power of these tools however is that, put in the hands of creative people, uses I cannot imagine can emerge. (For an extraordinary discussion on this topic, I recommend David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous).

Truth is however, this is a sector that does not know how to share information well.  Some foundations fund and produce research that is published in remarkably slick folders.  Large foundations such as Ewing Marion Kaufmann, to name one, do a stunning job producing documents on education and innovation.  Unfortunately, few high school teachers or even university professors can access this information easily.   I chose Kaufmann only because I had the pleasure to hear Dennis Cheek, Education Program Director, give a remarkably exciting presentation on use of Games in Education at a conference by Philanthropy Roundtable in November.  There is simply too much great research by foundations that is not getting out there.  The Cleveland Foundation and the Gund Foundation in Cleveland jointly published an important document on schools in Cleveland called, Cleveland Schools That are Making a Difference.   The document covers schools, private and public that are transforming the lives of students.  In my opinoin the document has not had follow-up primarily because what it takes to produce a great school cannot be easily accomplished within traditional public schools.  The tenents of making these schools work, despite having little or no State support is that they have administrative structures that threaten the way school has always been done.  A region-wide or even national conversation is simply too threatening to public entities especially those that have to deal with the political powers that hamper real progress in public schools.  A web-based discussion would be great way to start.  But we have seen in that a public blog on public schools can be too threatening to public school officials and school board members.  One experience was the Oberlin Community Diaries which opened a public blog for the town to discuss a tax levy for laptops.  The site had over 500 contributions in the first month but when conversation became threatening, most school board members shut out the conversation, the superintendent stopped participating.  School officials stated publicly that they would respond only to conversation in a school board meeting (Tuesday nights at 6 pm when many parents are unable to attend).  Later the school created its own blog.  It was readily transparent that conversation there could be controlled much easier and was therefore less threatening.   Control of information is an issue that policy makers and even foundations will have to address in years to come.  Information is power.  Few of us like to loose control of power, especially those who hold the purse strings.  That is another topic for another post, but if you want to jump ahead, Everything is Miscellaneous, The Black Swan by Nassim Nicolas, and Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky are great examples of how the new flow of knowledge is changing many presuppositions about the locus of knowledge control).

The NCTI offered a few great sessions on the Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVE).  Herein lies another area program officers need to understand . These are immersive learning environments that have remarkable application to the health, education and business sectors. Despite the boom in the multi-billion dollar gameing  industry, few people in positions of funding responsibility understand the impact these and other technology tools have on transforming education, health care and the social environments in which we live. New organizations like Serious Games Director Ben Sawyer is a brillant and earnest advocate who merits serious consideration and note.  There is also Games for Change sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundations Journalism Program are informing nonprofits and schools on games such as Peacemaker, Free Rice, Budget Hero (to name only a few) because these environments provide important educational and collaborative tools for learning.  Games for Change  Director, Alex Quinn informed the audience that when former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor realized that more people knew the American Idol judges than the judges on the Supreme Court, she became a participant in the development of a prgram with Georgetown University called Our Courts. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer program is developing exciting uses of games to promote health not only with young people but for retired individuals. RWJ’s Pioneer program does have a blog that invites the world to submit their innovative ideas on improving health care and health care delivery.

A challenge facing the gaming groups is how to help teachers assess these learning tools to be included as part of a students overall learning portfolio. Chris Dede from the Harvard Graduate School of Education introduced the audience to the Harvard River City Project.  This multi-user enviornment includes features that will enable the participant to write, blog and chat.  These are features which put in the hands of creative teachers will be easily and readly assess-able to determine how the user understands the content.  The powers that be simply have to allow teachers to experiment with the tools and trust that with their intelligence and creativity the means to develop assessment tools will emerge.  Unfortunatly, the likihood of this happening in the nation’s public schools is not high at the moment.

In my work with the OGF Education Work group I recommended Clayton Christensen’s book Disrupting Class. I suggest everyone in this sector should take the time to read it. particular interest is Dr. Christensen’s discussion of the role disruptive technologies are having in the way people learn in ways that were unimaginable before innovations in social networking.

The Pew Internet& American Life Project is producing important research on applications these games have in the lives of young people and their teachers.  All teachers, superintendents and administrators should read these reports carefully.  One day maybe public television and radio will dedicate a show or even a program on this topic which is of such profound importance to American education.

Philanthropy can have an important role in working to usher responsible and effective use of these important tools to a sector that if given the opportunity will make highly creative application of them to serve the larger society.

Philanthropy – Evaluation of Education grantmaking

The foundation has considered the importance of strategic grantmaking and the idea of having high impact. What does it mean to have impact when the average grant in education is around $25,000 to $50,000.

What do we know?

Private/faith-based schools have remarkable success with inner city kids. Remediation takes place within the first year; reading seems to be easier to remediate than math and science. In most cases adherence to one particular faith is not mandatory. Most schools welcome families of all faiths. Students thrive in an atmosphere that is safe, and has rules. This seems to be the case across geographic funding areas.

Public Schools pose a more formidable challenge when looking for impact, but the foundation has made significant inroads in shifting the direction of some of these large ships. The work of CAST in schools in Lorain County has generated enthusiasm, contributed to a change in discussion about delivery of curriculum to divergent learners. It has added to conversation in schools about brain function and development and its impact on curriculum. It is exciting to see small pockets emerging where teachers are eager to shift the focus from assessment of learning to a concept of assessment for learning.

There are promising programs in isolated public schools that will address assessment of student performance such as the assessment for learning programs as well as programs that develop co-teaching. We see in these programs an attempt to bring to large public schools methods that have worked well in smaller, private school environments.

Structure of the school day

For inner city schools, a traditional public school day of 8-2:30 is not in place. In the Denver Street School, students are taught in blocks of 90-100 minutes as opposed to the typical 45 min schedule. This, teachers say, allows more time for challenged students to talk and reflect on the matter at hand rather than the typical – here’s the lesson, take it in, and report back to me on a standardized test and we will see how we do.

An environment that incorporates individual attention

In the National Association of Street Schools (NASS), each student has a faculty advocate who watches out for that youngster throughout the year. At Nativity Prep, Epiphany, Arrupe Prep and even the Urban Community School of Cleveland , the school days provide structured environments for students from early morning until the evening. All schools agreed that the after-school hours are when youngsters are most vulnerable.

Each of the schools incorporate into their behavior the reality that educational needs are not divorced from the social needs. For most of these schools the average teacher student ratio is 10/1. In the Cristo Rey model schools, young people who are teachers in training also serve the students by being available for them after the school day is over, for mentoring, coaching. The students live modestly and have little cost impact on the administration.

Respect for individual learning styles and adaptation

We have learned that whether it be in a small nurturing environment that a small private/faith-based school creates, or in larger public school classrooms, teachers know they teach better and students actually learn when the curriculum is adapted to the individual learning styles CAST has been phenomenal in helping teachers understand the link between brain research, and translating that into excited learning.

What we see on the horizon.

Using web-technologies students will develop electronic portfolios for their work which is open to each other (peers) for critique and discussion as well as with teachers. These educational portfolios contain the work that a learner has collected, reflected, selected and presented to show growth and change over time, representing an individual or organization’s human capital. The portfolios are not so much an instructional strategy to be researched, but more of a means to an end: to support reflection that can help students understand their own learning and to provide a richer picture of student work that documents growth over time.”

The Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland has called for something like this in his very impressive set of Conversations on Education which include an appeal to “personalized learning.” People have yet to figure out what that means. As of 2008, there were no plans in place for the State of Ohio to implement electroinc-portfolios that could follow students throughout their careers (and also be used as a solid record should students transfer to another district or out of the State).

Islands of excellence

In a conversation with Mr. Geoff Andrews, Superintendent of the Oberlin City Schools, I talked about the wealth of learning the foundation has gained by funding a diversified portfolio of schools. After listening he said, “Wouldn’t it be great if the foundation could figure out a way to bring all this learning and leverage it in one district somewhere and create an “island of excellence” that could serve as a model. I said, yes it would be great.

Two months later, my esteemed colleague Helen Williams, Education Program Director of The Cleveland Foundation informed me of legislation in the State of Colorado that would create just that. The Innovation Schools Act of 2008

The Innovation Schools Act is intended to improve student outcomes by supporting greater school autonomy and flexibility in academic and operational decision-making. The Act provides a means for schools and districts to gain waivers from state laws and collective bargaining agreements.

The suggestion could not have come at a better time. It is my hope that philanthropy can suggest the Ohio legislature examine this act and seek advice from experts to do the same in Ohio.

Philanthropy, Education and Class (what are we thinking?)

I would like to share a reference to an article I distributed to several Nord Family Foundation trustees a few years ago when it first appeared in the Stanford Social Innovation Review in 2005. The article is by Adrie Kusserow and Professor in the Department of Sociology/Anthropology at St. Michael’s College in Vermont.

It is I suggest a must-read for anyone in philanthropy or private institution that is involved with improving schools. We must be mindful of the values we bring to the table when hoping to improve schools. We must be careful to recognize the sources when our efforts are met with suspicion and even derision.

Professor Kusserow’s research focuses on the role of class in schools. The study is conducted around one simple word, “Individualism.” Members of three very different economic neighborhoods throughout the greater New York City area were asked to define that word in relation to their own identifications with that concept, and how that concept is reflected in how their children should be reared and educated.

Through my fieldwork in Manhattan and Queens, I identified two styles of individuals: a “soft” upper-middle-class individualism, which focuses on the cultivation and expression of unique feelings, thoughts, ideas and preferences and a “hard” working-class individualism which focuses on the cultivation of self-reliance, perseverance, determination, protectiveness and toughness. These two styles of individualism aren’t rigid boxes; people of all social classes can and do fluidly use each style. However the working-class Queens residents in my research learned more toward a hard individualistic style, just as the upper-middle-class Manhattan residents tended more toward soft individualism.

“Class,” she describes,

…penetrate(s) the core of our being, down to the way we hold our forks, tell our stories, console or discipline our children, talk to our neighbors, remember our pasts, or view our futures. Social class is not simply shown and taken off in the manner of a Harvard degree or a gold wristwatch, but lived in the flesh, held in the cells of one’s own self-image and one’s visions of life’s possibilities.

But as Harvard assistant professor of sociology Prudence Carter points out:

School is predicated on the values and practices of the middle class and so lower and working-class kids are automatically at a disadvantage.

Included in the middle-class values and practices of school are those of soft individualism. In a few of the Head Start programs I observed, for example, the clash of working-class hard individualism with the more softly individualistic middle-class educational culture often manifested itself with the lower-working-class children simply being silent, as if mystified by the fairylike teacher who moved around the classroom with a constant glow and smile, showering praise upon them. When these children scuffled with each other, I saw how confused they were when their middle-class teachers took them aside and asked them to explain why they wanted to hit each other and how it made them feel. Coming from families where they were used to being spanked, shamed, or simply ignored for fighting, they seemed bewildered by this new, therapeutic way of dealing with conflicts. Working-class children may also be flummoxed by some of their more softly individualistic academic requirements. “I tell these kids to use their imagination, and they say: ‘What do you mean? I don’t have an imagination,’” says O’Neil. “It’s so strange. I can see some stony old man not having an imagination, but a 12-year-old?”

When I read this article two years ago, I was part of a community discussion on the topic of improving the quality of the public schools in the City of Oberlin, Ohio where I live. A brief word on the town would help. Although it is a City by charter, Oberlin is a small town of about 8,000 people almost of half of whom are students at the famous Oberlin College. The town divides into three broad-stroke classes – there is the professional class mainly professors and college administrators, health care professionals, lawyers and a small gathering of business people. There is a large rural/farming and trades community, and there is an interesting community of poorer families many of whom are housed in public housing projects built in the 1960’s primarily for the African-American population at the time. The African-American community in Oberlin is by no means heterogeneous, although in the schools, reference to African-American children is (mistakenly) understood to mean, “poor”.

The catalyst for the topic was a proposed tax levy to introduce laptop computers to the public schools which, for years has struggled with low outcomes on the State Achievement Tests. The blog post called “Community Diaries” allowed people to post with real names or anonymously. Most, from what I read, chose anonymity claiming that if you used your real name, “What” you post would be tainted or less important than “Who” posted.

As I watched the conversation emerge, it was clear to me that there were distinct groups of interest reflecting their concepts of what schools are for, and how children should be taught. Laptops were clearly not appealing to those from lower economic classes. These people felt there was too little discipline in the schools and children needed to be more obedient. These were primarily from people who I would assume struggle from one pay-check to the next. Their seemed to be support for the laptop initiative from the professional educated community who felt this initiative would push the community forward to much higher quality education. There was one person whose posts reflected an eagerness to find out as much as possible and she later revealed that she was running for the school board. This woman self-identified as a person from “the townships” which are located outside the city in the farmlands.

The entries validate the study that Dr. Kusserow conducted but curiously, study was conducted in three neighborhoods in New York City which is a real City! Oberlin represents the collision of several conceptual approaches to education that are shaped and determined by class and which can account for radical differences we see in schools across the country. When schools are run by school boards comprised of local community members, the more homogeneous the community, the more likely it will reflect the cultural values and biases of its members. I share it with you for your information. It leads me to believe that trying to conduct a legislative fix to create schools that will prepare students for 21st Century skills; we may be at a point where local control of schools might be a thing of the past. The role of the web and social software will add increased pressures to communities that when threatened with change, will make efforts to shut it down.

I continue to refer to Clayton Christensen’s book, “Disrupting Class” He states at the outset of his book, “

“Further, we say disrupting class with some intent. For some, class will mean social class…for too long and in far too many ways, our system of schooling has best served those who hail from homes where parents were themselves well-schooled and who support their children with adequate resources and experiences. Class is also the venue in which most of our attempts at education take place. In many ways, what goes on in these classes profoundly affects social class for good or for ill. Our nation has embarked on a commitment to education every child. No nation has ever sought to do that. The societal stakes in improving our schools are high” p. v-vi Acknowledgments.

I think there is evidence in pockets of educational innovation that appropriate use of technology to support curriculum will possibly address how class is currently influencing the way learning and understanding is conducted in classrooms in towns across the country where local control can mean more than just governance.

Philanthropy and Assessment Tools for State Standards

My work with the Ohio Grantmakers Education Task Force continues and I am privileged to be part of this interesting process. The anticipated outcome will be a list of specific policy recommendations to the Governor of the State of Ohio on how to structure Ohio schools so they will prepare students for the Global Economy and 21st Century Skills. I have posted reflections from those efforts previously.

There seems to be growing interest in how to incorporate technology into curriculum much of which has been stimulated by Clayton Christensen’s book. I think people realize that they way learning takes place is about to change very soon and that the Standards and Assessment tools must be structured to meet those new challenges.

In our discussions some of the expert educators brought up the very important issue of research on assessment of instructional technology in classrooms. I found this site which is interesting. It is the work of people at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. http://escholarship.bc.edu/jtla/

The early research confirms Clayton Christensen’s thesis in Disrupting Class, i.e. you can’t drop computers in classrooms without addressing how teachers might make best use of those technologies; otherwise, you have an electronic version of paper and pencil.

More interesting to some is the research on Universal Design for Learning (UDL)which was developed at the Center for Applied Special Technologies in Wakefield MA. The Nord Family Foundation as well as Martha Holden Jennings has supported UDL in many Ohio school districts. Speaking from this foundation’s experience, UDL and accompanying training supports the student-centered learning that the Governor calls for. I recall Dr. Suzan Tave Zelman then Ohio State Superintendent of Schools praising CAST and UDL in Ohio Schools and in a burst of enthusiasm suggesting it be mandated in every school in Ohio. This call was made on the occasion of a UDL Summit co-sponsored by both The Nord Family Foundation and the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation. Several superintendents spoke very highly of UDL and the transformational impact it was having on many teachers in schools.

The Nord Family Foundation provided support to test CAST’s ScienceWriter project in Lorain Schools. Our purpose in support for that project was to address the fact that,

…middle and high school students have the increasing expectation that they not only access information by reading grade-level materials, but that they demonstrate their knowledge of complex content in academic courses such as science through writing. The primary focus of the content specialist in the middle schools and high schools is the subject area (science, social studies, health, history, etc.) rather than literacy instruction. Most schools are not able to devote the necessary time, resources and staff development to ensure that literacy instruction takes place within the content areas. This issue is particularly urgent because many high stakes assessments of achievement now measure students’ competency in writing and via writing.”

CAST writes,

“To ensure that students success in the current climate of standards-based education and high-stakes testing, we need new instructional techniques that enable them to demonstrate their content-area knowledge through written language. Tchnology-supported writing can extend the reach of teachers facing minimal time and resources helping struggling learners to overcome the barriers to content-area success. The inherent flexibility offered by digital media, individualizing the learning experience becomes more easily attained. The provide more plentiful opportunities for practice and personalized feedback – crucial elements to successful reading or writing strategy instruction. With tools that can help them individualize instruction, teachers can provide learning experiences that are appropriate for their students’ diversity.”

One immediate recommendation for the Governor would be to find funding through the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Board of Regents to fund one or more centers for instructional research as it relates to K-12 curriculum. Kent State has a very fine program in Instructional Technology, and could be one option, and perhaps Ohio State. This type of funding would take the UDL pilots, supported by philanthropy and help bring it to scale. This recommendation would provide a unique voice to standards and assessment debate. Attached is a copy of CAST’s David Rose’s speech to the Aspen Institute but it is relevant to our discussion.

On a certain level, the UDL/CAST experience exemplifies the idea of innovation coming from outside the box (in this case UDL started with the disabilities community but very quickly had application to the “mainstream” curriculum.) The Foundations support and testing of UDL in many schools throughout Ohio, and its impact on reform the way students are assessed provides the foundation community and Ohio Grantmakers Forum in particular with a unique voice to the statewide effort at reform.

Stay tuned for more conversation on the matter.

Effective Education Grantmaking

For two years, Ohio Grantmakers Forum has taken on the issue of education in the State of Ohio. In 2006 Education for Ohio’s Future framed the motivation for the undertaking stating,

“As the new century unfolds, Ohio stands at a crossroads. Over the past 20 years, our state and local leaders have worked to improve student, school and system performance. We have seen progress in some areas, but our education system falls far short of preparing all students for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century. Consider how far we still must go.”

Ohio was not alone in addressing the critical issue facing education in the United States. In March 2008, The New York Times Magazine published a conversation with philanthropists from large foundations that have invested heavily in education reform. The article, “How Many Billionaires Does it Take to Fix a School System” captured the reflections of people who, with abundance of money, “can-do,” and (to quote from the article) “armed with controversial ideas about education and some very different approaches to giving their money away.” decided to take on education reform in cities including New York. Their conversations reveal the complexity of such an undertaking and, at times the frustration in trying to reform a system where change can appear elusive and at times obscured. They discussed two camps, the “fix-the-system side” and the “replace the system side.”

Philanthropy can easily be co-opted into funding programs that fit into either of these camps. At the Nord Family Foundation our funding in education is relatively small but our goal is to fund a variety of projects – some in public education, some in private, some faith-based schools and diversity our portfolio in a manner that would reflect our financial investment strategy. Our purpose is to support projects, find out what seems to work and find out why. Our responsibility is to share that information with other Grantmakers and policy makers with a hope that our learning can be brought to scale.

As the Trustees and members try to consider where its funding should be directed in the future one area to consider is what you consider to be effective grantmaking. The shared knowledge is an opportunity to learn what from grantees and benchmark what can be considered areas for successful grantmaking. Research is showing us that the one-size-fits-all model can no longer work to address new knowledge in brain research on learning. Innovation in technology is producing disruptive technologies that are changing the way people learn. Clayton Christensen’s new book Disrupting Class will challenge the huge system called education in ways the current system cannot sustain.

As trustees your job is to share thoughts about where the foundation has been in defining education and perhaps glimpse into the future as to where we as a sector might have a role in shaping an educational system that will truly prepare students to be life-long learners able to meet the challenges we have not even imagined for the 21st Century.

I referenced Clayton Christensen’s book Disrupting Class. I recommended this book to the OGF Working Group which is focused on the issue Preparing Students for a Global Economy. The book has been a huge success and changed the way we are making recommendations to the governor’s task force. Of particular interest is Dr. Christensen’s discussion of the role disruptive technologies are having in the way people learn in ways that were unimaginable before innovations in social networking. It is a challenge for public schools to adopt a bureaucratic flexibility to be able to incorporate these changes into their business. How did IBM adopt (too late) to the laptop computer? Dr. Christensen makes an appeal to philanthropies and foundations in the last chapter.

“Help fund this disruption. Generous people and institutions have wasted enormous resources on innovations that well-tested theories of innovation could predict would have little impact. Computers in conventional classrooms; dominant-intelligence software that assumes that all students learn similarly; pay-for-performance schemes for teachers and descriptive research that correlates the attributes of schools or teachers with their average performance all will do little to improve schools. Similarly, the very raison d’etre for chartered schools is architecturally innovation. If the vision of their founders is to try harder to make conventional curricular architecture succeed, don’t fund it.

Instead fund research that helps us learn how different people learn; how to identify those differences; and how different students can best educate themselves and each other. Such investments will create inestimable and enduring value because this is the only that learning will become intrinsically motivating to all those who need to learn. Prosperity remember is stripping schools of extrinsic motivation that has driven so much of our learning in the past.”

Mental Health in Public Schools

I recently had the opportunity to talk with the Superintendent of an economically distressed and subsequently dysfunctional school district in an urban center in NE Ohio. We were talking about the Report on the State of Mental Health in Public Schools published in 2006 by Dr. Howard Adlemen and Dr.  Linda Taylor from the University of California, Los Angeles’ Department of Psychology

The article certainly resonated with this superintendent, but it addresses the issues I have found in many schools across the country. My conversations with teachers, superintendents and nonprofit leaders all agree that in urban, suburban and rural schools, undiagnosed mental and emotional maladies are not adequately addressed. In the absence of integrated approach to mental – or even family health, the Carnegie Task Force on Education stresses,

“School systems are not responsible for meeting every need of their students. But when the need directly affects learning, the school must meet the challenge.” The writers are careful to make distinctions between external factors and individual disorders.

External factors are things such as neighborhood, family, school and/or peer factors such as extreme deprivation, community disorganization, high levels of mobility, drugs, violence, poor quality or abusive caretaking, poor quality schools, negative encounters with peers, inappropriate peer models, immigration status, etc.”

Individual disorders often are not diagnosed or screened and are attributed to developmental and motivational differences (e.g. medical problems, low birthweight/neurodevelopmental delay, psychophysiological problems, difficult temperament, adjustment problems etc.)”

Too often, discussion about improving the quality of challenged schools addresses the external factors but I think districts might need help with the latter. There needs to be a closer collaboration between the central offices of the departments of education and the public and mental health agencies. Philanthropy can have an important role facilitating those conversations.

A related article by the Children’s Defense Fund titled, “Cradle to Prison Pipeline: an American Crisis.”  addresses the social consequences of public health officials and school leaders lacking creative solutions to the challenge of external and internal health problems in schools.

I encourage everyone in this blog and perhaps the community to read it.

“Suppose that during the next decade, a quarter of all the children born in New York, North Carolina, Texas, Colorado, Ohio, and Pennsylvania were infected by a virulent new strain of polio or tuberculosis sometime during their youth. Clearly, our response to a health crisis affecting that many children would be to mobilize the nation’s vast public health resources. Medical laboratories would operate around the clock to develop new vaccines.

Unfortunately, an infection akin to this hypothetical tragedy is actually coursing through African American and Latino communities across the nation. I’m not referring to a virus such as HIV/AIDS or a hazardous bacterium. I’m talking about the criminalization of poor children and children from minority races who enter what the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) identified as America’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline. Together, African Americans and Latinos comprise a segment of the U.S. population equal to that of the six states I mentioned earlier. Like the victims of a crippling or wasting disease, once drawn into the prison pipeline, massive numbers of young people lose their opportunity to live happy, productive lives, not because of festering microbes but because of years spent behind bars.”

I am finding that county and state bureaucracies function like large companies. Their ability to innovate and address new challenges are as formidable as those mentioned discussed by Clayton Christensen in the Innovators Dilemma and more recently in his book co-authored by Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson “Disrupting Class.” Philanthropy must look for pockets of innovation and bring it to scale. One of the best models is The Harlem Children’s Zone spearheaded by the visionary leader Jeffrey Canada. Philanthropy has a critical role in providing dollars to support innovative programs, but it can capitalize on its money, power and social recognition, but convening conversations with leadership that will help citizens not only ask the right questions about problems they face, but nudge state bureaucracies and political leaders to make bold moves to create new environments in schools where the child and his/her family is the focus for health and success. Why not have primary health care offices along with mental health services located directly in poor schools? Families that might be eligible for Medicaid benefits could sign up and, perhaps at some point families will be able to figure out health insurance. At this point, these would be confounding proposals for huge bureaucracies. Be interesting to see Mr. Christensen and Mr. Horn research why state mental and public health institutions are failing to meet the needs of children and families in schools. In my experience, much of the problem can be traced to a lack of innovative thinking in these large bureaucracies. Healthy families and healthy children are likely to help improve successful outcomes in schools.

Public Schools and Innovation

When I first began at the Nord Family Foundation, I agreed to serve as program officer for education.  I had experience teaching high school for a few semesters and teaching at the college level.  Realizing my limitations, decided it was essential for me to learn more about what  teachers go through every day.  The best way to do this, I thought, was to form a book club which I did with the help of colleauges at Center for Leadership in Education which the foundation funded.  Seven school professionals participated and consisted of middle, high school and elemetary teachers as well as a first-year school principal from a rural school district.  Our book was Victory in Our Schools – We CAN Give Our Children Excellent Public Education by Major General John Stanford. Gen. Stanford was elected Superintendent of the Seattle Public Schools in 1995 and initiated a quality reform effort with lasting postive results.  Gen. Stanford died of lukemia in 1998 and was mourned deeply by the Seattle community.

Our book club met faithfully and teachers found it a safe environment to share their experiences of being in classrooms.  They loved the intellectual challenge and everyone kept their assignments faithfully.   What I found was an alarmingly bright gathering of people who felt as though the “system” treated them as children.   The felt as though their creativity as professionals was not really respected by supervisors and they yearned for more communication with supervisors.  I will remember one passage toward the end of the book that resulted in lengthy discussion for two sessions.

General Stanford writes, “As the CEO of this ailing business, I had high aspirations. I wanted to be in the Fortune 500 of educational institutions.  …We’d have to act as if every one of our customers had a choice about whether or not to use us, and we’d have to do everything we could to become every customers first choice.”

This was another philosophical shift in public education.  The schools were accustomed to operating as if they were part of a command economy like the one in the former Soviety Union.  Money and students were alloted by the central administration; the survival of individual schools was guaranteed regardless of customer satisfaction and customers had to accept the prudcut whether they liked it or not.”

This section of the book on page 186 resonated with the teachers.  This was shortly after the reforms of t he No Child Left Behind Act resulted in a frenzy of high-stakes testing in the schools.  The teachers I spoke with lamented the fact that their school principals and superintendents focused now on producing schools that would make the Officials at the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) happy.  Superintendents began competing for report card scores in the same way they compete for football or baseball standings.  The tests were the game and the goal was to win no matter what.  Teachers felt as if a punative system was in place in which the Centeral Offices were now positioned to threaten teaching that did not align with their rapidly developed assessment tools.

Ten years after General Stanford’s death, schools have made efforts to change the philosphy toward better customer service.  That is, I find, a slow process.  In Oberlin where I live I have heard several teachers say that parents are a nuisance and should leave the teachers to do what the do best.  There is little sense of customer service.  In my time visiting schools and talking with teachers throughout Ohio, Colorado and South Carolina few would disagree with General Stanford’s original comment.  Public Schools in this country continue to function as the last bastion of the Soviet style command economy.  Until recently, charter schools and alternative schools were seen as diabolical. Even today, education reporters from The Cleveland Plain dealer write as if charter schools “take” money from the public system.  Few take the time to help the reader understand that Charter Schools ARE Public Schools – they simply have a little more freedom to do what needs to be done to run a school like a business that is locally owned.

The parallels between the old Soviet system are helpful when one tries to understand why it is so difficult to encourage innovation within the system.   At the Centeral Offices, the focus is on a standardized system that fits all. The assesment tools are created in ways that make it easy for a teacher to gather data quickly so that the people at Data Central can churnc that data out.  The assessments are summative – i.e. a snapshot that serve to determine a minimal level of competency for a student.  I found this summative assessment to be embedded in the teachers vocabulary.  I attended a local meeting of teachers and superintendents from Lorain County at the local community college.  The topic of conversations was, “How we can achieve ADEQUATE schools for the children of the county.”  I was depressed and lost patience with the group and challenged them as to why they would not be talking about how to achieve EXCELLENT schools in the county?

The challenge for most states is to determine how schools can have the freedom to develop formative assessment tools that work.  To do this, one needs to change the way we allow students to learn.  Proper use of techonology can facilitate this process.  There are teachers who are using technology in very innovative ways and finding remarkable results.  Too often, this innovation happens outside the system and often without the approval of the principal or superintendent.

For really interesting discussion on this topic listen to archived recordings from the website EdTechTalk – Teacher on Teaching.

I have just finished reading Clayton Christensen’s book called Disrupting Class This book is a must read for every educator and/or education policymaker in this country.  Not only does Dr. Christensen explain how and why innovation can and cannot take place within public schools, but he challenges us to view public education as an old bureucratic system that is being challenged by innovation and activities that are happening with success outside its reach.  In many ways, Mr. Christensen is a Yeltsin to our public school leaders.  Depending on which part of the country you reside, we have local and state leaders who are devout “party” members who are like Gorbechev’s trying desperatly to reform the system from within.  In philanthropy, I think we have a growing number of people who see the writing on the wall and realize we must look for pockets of innovation in education and help bring it to scale.