Tag Archives: Philanthropy

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.”

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.

Philanthropic Support for Faith-Based Schools – A case study

I have often said that when trustees of private foundations gather for their meetings, the exercise is akin to what happens in the halls of the U.S. Congress. Representatives from a variety of communities gather to make decisions about distributing funds to support nonprofits often lead by “community organizers” (a term recently ridiculed at the 2008 Republican convention more than once!). The trustees come to the meetings prepared with a board book, prepared by staff that includes written information on each grantee as well as web-based links to the organizations in question. They come to the meeting from their own perspectives and experiences which created an atmosphere charged with intellectual curiosity and a strong desire to be the best citizens with the funds the government allows them to steward.

Not too long ago, the trustees had a lengthy discussion about funding faith-based schools. It began with a question about the overt christo-centric language of one of the schools applying for a grant. As the discussion ensued, questions were raised as to whether the Foundation or (any other private foundation for that matter) should provide support to faith-based schools. The conversation then led to questions as to whether the foundation should fund any faith-based organization. The primary concern was whether these faith-based institutions force youngsters to adopt the religious faith of the teachers and/or administration. The trustees feared that requiring students to adopt the religion of the institutions takes away the freedom of a young person to question religion and ultimately to takes away their freedom to dissent. The questions are legitimate and clearly mirror conversations that take place nationally on some level. News reports from forced religious compliance in the Muslim world and narratives about the abuse of the Taliban in countries contributed to what all agreed was a legitimate intellectual concern.

This debate was critically import for in that any decision on the matter could not only affect decisions on grant requests from faith-based schools on the docket, but could potentially affect allocations of foundation dollars in other program areas. There was strong diversity of opinion on the matter, based primarily on the personal religious (or agnostic) experiences of the individuals on the board. I have found that issues of religion have the greatest potential of alienating some trustees from others because the positions are so deep. Any misstep had the potential to result in some trustees forfeiting their future involvement with the foundation.

Despite the dangers, one of the great opportunities for a foundation is that it really is a place for members to engage in these intellectual challenges. It is a place where informed discussion can lead to shared learning from each other and, in the end, a more focused sense of mission for the foundation itself. As executive director, I feel it part of my job to provide them with the best sources of information to make sure the conversations is based in solid research and good data on the subject. I wrote the following thought piece in an effort to deepen the discussion and make sure that all members felt an opportunity to express their own thoughts. I share this as a lesson to other foundations and even legislators who may want added insight into the subject. These are my opinions and I therefore welcome public scrutiny, rebuttal or debate on the topic from those who may have different information.

With regard to the first question about whether a foundation can/or should give to any religious organization, I would like to suggest several books on the history of philanthropy in the United States. The first is Charity, Philanthropy and Civility in American History, published by Cambridge University Press in 2003. This is an excellent overview on the subject. The book points out the ambiguous nature of private philanthropy funding religiously based organizations.

It traces American philanthropy to its colonial origins stating that its roots are grounded in the British sense of philanthropy as “charity.” Throughout American history, charities were conducted by organizations of one religious organization or another. Some of the leading U.S. universities were established as religious institutions.

One chapter of the book traces the evolution of Roman Catholic schools in the United States. Late in the 19th century there was a dramatic increase in the number of parochial (parish-based) schools which were established to meet the crushing needs of the poor and working class immigrants. Communities of religious sisters were recruited to teach in these schools which marked a significant shift from what had been their primary focus – The Charity Hospitals. (Many of the leading hospitals in the United States were founded by orders of religious women). Today, an impressive number of foundations were established when the hospitals were sold to private health care companies, e.g. Sisters of Charity Foundation, St. Ann Foundation, St. Luke’s Foundation and many others across the U.S.  The religious women’s vocation in hospitals and schools was grounded in Vatican Encyclicals issued throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The encyclicals were strong denunciations against the abuses of human labor under early industrialized capitalism. These encyclicals called for a “preferential options for the poor” described as:

“Coming from Catholic social teaching, this concept expresses a special concern in distributive justice for poor and vulnerable persons. The “poor” includes but is not limited to those who are economically deprived. The principle is rooted in the biblical notion of justice, where God calls us to be advocates for the voiceless and the powerless among us (e.g., “the widows and the orphans”), and where right relationships are restored. Regardless of the reasons, those who are in any way deprived or who are particularly vulnerable have a special moral claim on the community (including its institutions and organizations, but particularly Catholic health care institutions, see Ethical and Religious Directives, n. 3). As a matter of both justice and charity, structures and systems must be in place to address and meet their special needs, so that they might participate more fully in the common good and thereby flourish more fully as human persons.”

The preferential option for the poor does not discriminate for or against an individual’s religious belief, but instead address the philosophical all embracing concept of “humanity.” These documents were the founding documents for the labor movement in the early to mid 20th Century as well as United Nations Charter.

The authors trace the demographic shift in Catholic populations from the mid and late 20th century. As Catholics became wealthy and moved from the inner cities, more parochial schools were started in suburbs and religious orders of sisters were expected to continue providing their services for free. Starting in the mid-century more and more sisters questioned why they were expected to educate the children of wealthy Catholics in suburban communities and not opt to return to inner-city parishes where the preferential option for the poor could and should be practiced. In the late 20th century vocations to women’s religious communities dropped dramatically and the number of Catholic children in parochial schools diminished,

“Now, with rising costs and declining parish memberships, inner-city schools – in much higher proportions than suburban parish schools – had to close their doors. Ironically, in this period, applications for admission to inner-city schools from minority populations (most of them non-catholic) expanded greatly. Minority enrollments in parochial schools averaged about 20 percent nationally in 1984, but urban schools were reporting far higher proportions for example, 74 percent in Newark, 65 percent in Los Angeles, 58 percent in Detroit and 55 percent in New York.”

Much like formerly catholic charity hospitals, the schools our foundation has funded follow a similar evolution in staffing. Most of the schools we support have a religiously diverse teaching corps as well as a religiously diverse student body. Just as catholic charity hospitals do not admit patients based on religious preference, so too these inner-city faith schools do not admit students based on religious preference. The Roman-Catholic and Episcopal linked institutions state emphatically they are not in the business of converting people but instead, are focused on healing – one with physical, and the other in terms of the more complex issues of societal ills that poverty carries with it.

Undoubtedly, the Cristo Rey and Nativity modeled schools are grounded in Roman Catholic tradition. This tradition is the “preferential option for the poor” which is distinct from its evangelical mission. My research has shown this to be true of the Cristo Rey schools (Arrupe Prep, St. Martin de Porres, Nativity School, and Don Bosco) and the Epiphany School which is rooted in the Episcopal tradition. Each school not only respects the faith of the families that attend the school but invites students to explore the faiths of other religions even among students who attend the schools. (All the schools invite leaders of the Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and other faiths to the schools as part of the curriculum). My interviews with the school heads and the teachers indicate their philosophy is less an exercise in forming faith than it is to introduce students to diversity of thinking and the cultural reality religion plays in the civic life of this United States. In short, these schools are Catholic in mission only, and that mission is the preferential option for the poor

Other faith-based schools in the foundation’s portfolio include the National Association of Street Schools and these are aligned with a fundamentalist tradition of evangelical Christians. NASS has a mission to work with the most challenged young people in society. Their students include former drug dealers, gang members, prostitutes, and youngsters that have been crushed by all dire poverty has dealt them. Their schools transform lives. The evidence is their in the increasing number of successful alumni. Their work has been validated with recognition from the White House and subsequent support from the likes of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. NASS has a more overtly religious curriculum than do the schools from more other traditions. A grant we made to support their accreditation process revealed a section requiring teaches to sign a pact whereby they agree to espouse the precepts of Jesus as one true savior. Without question these schools have a more focused message of “salvation” through a religious framework. Adopting Jesus as your personal savior is a key component to reforming a young person’s life. In some cases, the requirements for prayer are explicit but not found in the other schools discussed. As trustees discussed the grant request to NASS and one of its affiliated schools – the Denver Street School, they made the grant understanding that these schools provided hope to individuals and families which in turn, gave them incentive to pursue academics and strive for a better life. In the cloying economic and social oppression these people live, hope is a critical element for survival. It provides a horizon to the future that otherwise is not there. .

Staff has recommend support for all the schools I described with the understanding that they met the three core goals of the Nord Family Foundation’s mission – to build community – to support projects that bring opportunity to the disadvantaged – strengthen the bond of families – and improve the qualities of people’s lives. After lengthy debate that covered issues of hope, economic despair, and a genuine attempt at putting themselves in the mindset of those the funds were meant to support, the trustees approved the grants in question.

The discussion lead to the larger issue as to whether this foundation should follow the Constitutional separation of church and state when making grants to nonprofit organizations. Staff was put in the position of arguing that foundations were created to be a conduit of a different form of public monies to ensure that faith-based along with a variety of other organizations would be able to thrive with public support.

Federal and State laws governing foundations have never made that requirement of private foundations or charities. The founding documents of The Nord Family Foundation dated 1997 stated that the foundation dollars would not go to support churches. There was no mention of a prohibition against funding faith-based organizations.

A great book on this issue (and my second recommendation) is called,

Governing Nonprofit Organizations – Federal and State Law Regulation

By Marion R. Friemont-Smith

Belknap Press – Harvard University Press Cambridge, MA 2004

“Philanthropy in the United States has been claimed by one writer to be ‘our freest enterprise,’ and this phrase does emphasize what the dominant policy of the federal government and individual states toward charitable activities has been since colonial times.  With the exception of the restrictive legislation regarding charitable trusts that has been described, the enactment of legislation in a few states designed to protect heirs against complete or unreasoned disinheritance in favor of charity, and minor restrictions on the holdings of charitable corporations, the great body of legislation and court decisions has been directed toward the removal of restrictions on charitable funds and toward the grant of almost complete freedom of action to the managers and directors of these funds.”

In a recent interview in Philanthropy Magazine, Carl Schramm, President of the Ewing Marion Kauffmann Foundation in St. Louis and a respected leader in the field of philanthropy provided his thoughts on the role of foundations in a fee society. The following comment, is of particular relevance to the discussion any board might undertake relative to funding faith-based entities,” Because of its financial structure, and because it is above and apart from politics, it (a foundation) can go to places that aren’t necessarily popular. The record is very clear about what has been achieved historically. Foundations can explore the new frontiers and take risks that government can’t and private industry won’t.

With regard to use of deferred tax dollars, Schramm comments, “It is deceptively easy to think of “wealth reconstitution” and “institutional entrepreneurship” as strictly economic concepts. But democratic capitalism is a social, political, cultural and economic system – we can’t speak of “civil society” as something apart from this system.”

After more than four hours of debate and discussion, the trustees agreed to support the faith-based schools.  They also agreed that it made sense to continue support of faith-based entities but that staff should be mindful of any nonprofit that would coerce children or the vulnerable into belief in order to received assistance from a nonprofit.  So agencies were funded, people were served and the trustees adjourned leaving for their homes a little more enlightened having gone through the exericse.

As lawmakers in state and federal houses continue debate how much influence they feel need to legislate on private charities, it is my hope they make the time to sit in board meetings of any private foundation and watch the incredible exercise on civic debate that takes place. I would argue they have much to learn about the stewardship or public trust. Trustees who are often uncompensated for their service contribute valuable service to this country. That privilege should not be truncated or taken away.

Philanthropy's role in Educational Standards and Assessment

I have had the enormous privilege to interact with highly talented and profound thinkers. That spectrum of people includes classroom teachers, after-school program directors, college professors and yes, even program officers at foundations. One of my most delightful professional affiliations has been with the Ohio Grantmakers Forum (OGF) which is a regional association of Grantmakers from across the State of Ohio. Over the past year, my colleagues have taken on the challenge of improving the quality of public schools in the State of Ohio. Governor Ted Strickland began his tenure with a pledge to develop a new vision and program to improve education in the State and has appointed several civic committees to gather, provide their insights and filter that information to his offices. Presumably that information will be used to roll out a final plan that will transform Ohio schools to prepare all students with “21st Century Skills.” OGF assembled its membership to gather their collective knowledge and provide insight. Taking on a task that will gather information from across the state is an enormous task and OGF is doing a heroic job. Two years into the effort, a document was produced that captured the first phase of the undertaking and included voices from across the State. The Cleveland Plain Dealer review of the document claimed it contained nothing new. Undeterred by tepid reviews, OGF has agreed to take on a second round. I agreed to serve on two of three committees focused on Standards and Assessment and Evaluation of Grantmaking.

It has always been my conviction that philanthropy has an important role to play in public policy. It has a great power in convening people from public (government), private and nonprofit sectors to explore areas of common interest. Foundations not only have the power that comes with money, but they have a vast knowledge resource from evaluations of nonprofit organizations they have funded. Done properly, the foundation will have a relationship with the nonprofit and gather evidence of success and impact by way of site visits and evaluation reports. Unfortunately, too many evaluation reports go unread. I am finding that program officers with power and knowledge, can sometimes go with their personal agendas and be timorous about seeking out innovative things that might happening “outside the box” in the social sector. This is most eviden, i think, When it comes to public education. it is my observation that too many program officers find change to the public system threatening. In watching the coreography, their anxiety reverts people to entrench in what they believe to and resist the absolute need to think critically. I have heard the phenomenon referred to as those who sit in pews of the religion of public schooling. I am not convinced that my colleagues are indoctrinated, but a notion of belief in the ideal of American public schools is a strong because the model worked well for many years. Unfortunately, as too many inner city schools now attest, the model has flaws.

An important task for philanthropy is to find programs that are slightly outside the box. There are ample texts from business schools that describe how innovation in business takes place. One of the best is Clayton Christensen’s book The Innovator’s Dilemma which describes how so-called disruptive technologies can be both a threat and a potenial for businesses. More ofen than not, it occurs on the fringes or outside the companies which gives managers some trepidation, especially if it poses new challenges. Think of IBM and managements resistance to accepting personalized computers as something people would need. The challenge for new manaters is to create envionments that stimulate new thought and out of the box thinking but one that can easily meet new demands from the public.

The same can be said for philanthropy. One important task is to find social innovation that with private money can be tested and, if successful, brought to scale. This is no truer than in education. I just finished reading, Relentless Pursuit – A Year in the Trenches Teach of America. This successful program began with determined, organized and focused Wendy Kopp. Her program was the result of her thesis at the Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School entitled, “A Plan and Arguement for the Creation of a National Teacher Corps.” With the assistance of a development officer at Princeton Ms. Kopp got her start with a $26,000 seed grant from Mobile and donated office space from Morgan Stanley. Later, Doris and Donald Fisher founders of GAP provided the financial support to truely launch this sophisticated non-profit. Two companies and a family foundation took a risk but the result has become a national program that, in the words of Pursuit’s author Donna Foote, “…an operation to accomplish what no government program has yet managed – to overcome one of the most basic and vexing of social inequities, a problem we can no longer afford to ignore.”

Teach for America has been slammed by the “establishment” most notably by Stanford University School of Education professor, Linda Darling Hammond at Stanford School of Education. Dr. Hammond’s who skoffed that TFA is argument against teach for America is that it smacked of “missionary program,” calling it a quick fix, “that was harmful to students most in need of qualified teachers.” Dr. Darling Hammond called TFA a revolving door trip into and out of teaching where it was an elitist “pit-stop” on the road to students “real” jobs in law, medicine and business. Dr. Darling Hammond’s suggested the answer to the problem was improving the quality of teacher training, whereas, Mr. Kopp blieives the answer is to be foind in improving the quality of the teacher. In my experience, I have found that Ohio Department of Education dollars used for teacher training is an appalling mess and accounts for unspeakable waste of public dollars.

Similarly, the highly successful KIPP schools were launched with private funding, once again with significant input from the Fishers. The Nord Family Foundation provides support to the KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy in Denver which sits literally between a pubic elementary and public high school. KIPP schools reports on student success shame the performances of the two public schools. So what is the secret to their success?

These institutions which are having positive impact on schools could not have easily happened within the government bureaucracy of the public school system. As I mentioned in an earlier post, any public school teacher I have met introduces an innovative idea despite the system, not because of it. The high-stakes testing standards are just too high for a principle of superintendent to tolerate risk.

Now, when we gathered foundations from across Ohio, it is clear that within philanthropy, there is a divide about the role philanthropy can and should take when assuming the role of advising a Governor as to how to improve the quality of education. On one side is the eternal belief that the public schools can be fixed and other side believes that the system should be scrapped and begun anew using schools like KIPP, teach of America and another highly successful faith-based model known as the Cristo Rey network.

When it comes to addressing standard and assessment, there is equal division. Our task with OGF is to advise the Governor on what role the standards should take on in the future. We have assembled a group of people who have read material provided to us much of which is published by the American Federation of Teachers Union. The theme is how the standards help focus the teachers. Most disconcerting to me is the utter lack of understanding of how technology and sophisticated computing is likely to render the way students learn and teachers teach utterly useless. I highly recommend a book by, David Weinberger, fellow at the Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for the Internet & Society. His book, Everything is Miscellaneous – the Power of the New Digital Disorder provides a glimpse into how computer technology has revolutionized the way we do categorization and assemble knowledge. The book is so popular, he has his own blog inviting comments on this thoughts.

Weinberger draws comparisons to the way we used to assemble photos in albums and coded them by weddings, vacations or other special events and put them in boxes to be retrieved at dates. Compare that to the online photo album Flickr and its ability not only to upload photos, but through tagging, assemble them into various cross-referenced platforms and repackaged and/or referenced in ways unimaginable with a box. Similarly, how Itunes revolutionized the way we pick our music, a far cry from the days of albums and even CD’s. The music industry has spent millions to try and get a hold on this randomness. Play lists are now assembled by millions of users and tagged and shared with themes like, “Loneliness,” “NASCAR,” “breast-cancer” and of course “Love” Weinstein points out that these play lists are a means of self expression. They use explicit (a song) and add to it to make evoke and disclose that which is “implicit.” And there is a power in their being shared with others.

One of the most powerful examples of the impact that recent computer technology has had on knowledge is the emergence of Wikipedia. This tool has challenged the Encyclopedia Britannica for its place in determining and categorizing bits of information which is turned into knowledge. How many schools today prohibit youngsters from using Wikipedia based on the fact that it is somehow unreliable?

Britannica enables us to be passive knowers: You merely have to look a topic up to find out about it. But Wikipedia provides the metadata surrounding the article – edits, discussions, warnings, links to other edits by the contributors- because it expects the reader to be actively involved, alert to the signs. This burden comes straight from the miscellaneous itself.”

Weinberger makes only passing reference to schools and their utter lack of understanding of how these tools can improve learning. Wallowing in ignorance, schools and even their supporters try in vain to tinker with ways to improve the way Standards are set and children assessed. His argument for standards and standardized tests is that they capture that which is “explicit” and perhaps merely a snapshot in a child’s knowledge. They cannot by their nature capture the “implicit” which is really the process of learning the child undergoes as they progress. To make the point, Weinberg says,

“Social knowing changes who does the knowing and how, more than it changes the what of knowledge.

Now poke your head into a classroom toward the end of the school year. …you are likely to see students with their heads bowed, using No. 2 pencils to fill in examinations mandated by the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. Fulfilling the mandate of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the MCAS measures how well schools are teaching the standardized curricula the state has formulated and whether students are qualified for high school degrees. …The implicit lesion is unmistakable: Knowing is something done by individuals. It is something that happens inside your brain. The mark of knowing is to be able to fill in a paper with the right answers. Knowledge could not get any less social. In face, in those circumstances when knowledge it social we call it cheating.

Nor could the disconnect get much wider between the official state view of education and how our children are learning. In most American households, the computer on which students do their homework is likely to be connected to the Net. Even if their teachers let them use only approved sources of the Web, the chances are good that any particular student, including your son or daughter, has four of five instant-messaging sessions open as he or she does homework. The have their friends with them as they learn. In between chitchat about the latest alliances and factions among their social set, they are comparing answer, asking for help on tough questions and complaining. Our children are doing their homework socially, even though they’re being graded and tested as if they’re doing their work in isolation booths. But in the digital order, their approach is appropriate. Memorizing facts is often now a skill more relevant to quiz shows than life.”

The point is reinforced by the field research of Dr. Sugata Mitra presented at the TED Conferences. Click on the site to see his findings on how computers help children form communities of learning. “What”, he asks, “is the role of the teacher.”

Mr. Strickland has called for a system that will personalilze learning in public schools. He is on the right track. Teachers I have spoken with at places like KIPP and Cristo Rey would happily bring these new technologies into their schools which would likely further personalize their already successful programs. Unfortunately, these schools get minimal to no government assistance and must continue to rely on foundation support to just keep the doors open. Despite their obvious remarkable success, they cannot secure the funding they need to educate children. There are many public school officials and advocates that would like nothing more than to see these alternative schools go under.

The challenge for philanthropy is to find pockets of innovation where that idea of personalized education is actually taking place in either a public or priavte school. If the technology does not yet exist in a charter setting such as KIPP funds could be directed to test it there. Similarly we would do well to target one or two successful public schoolls and work with teachers to test the technology and bring it to scale.

The goal should be to exempt these schools from the current Standards and Assessment models and allow teachers, student and designated mentors use the technology to explore how these tools can best support learning. One concrete example is the use of electronic portfolios or (e-portfolios). One of the more promising applications of e-portfolios is found at Florida State University which is the world leader in electronic portfolio development for demonstrating student achievement.

I believe the only authority by which philanthropy can speak is from its relations with the incredible people who are demonstrating programs and methods that are making a difference in a child’s learning experience. Of course standards are needed but the technology challenges us to thing through how these standards which currently operate as a one-size-fits-all program, can be transformed to refocus on what a child learns not what a child can memorize. New starndardization and assessment tools make it possible to bring to light the implicit learning that takes place with a child and helps to make it more visible, i.e. explicit to teachers who more often than not, recognize the bright child who, “just doesn’t test well.” These innovations can and will occur. Robert Stephenson from the Global Education & Learning Community has focused reasearch on in this area, focusing on the need to have bottom-up solutions rather than top-down solutions to personalize education. Philanthropy can provide funding to allow teachers to figure this out. We need to moved beyond the hubris that straddles Encylopidia Britannica that assembles the keepers of knowledge. We can and should be looking at a wikipedia type model that will invite teachers from public schools and private schools, from universities and from businesses – people from inside and outside the box – to become communities of learners who, together will make best use of these tools to make students into life-long learners.

Non-formal Education Institutions – A New Model for Educational Programming for Cleveland 2008

This week, residents of Northeast Ohio were made aware of the fact that the Cleveland schools have slipped back a notch in the Ohio Department of Education’s ratings from Effective to Academic Watch. The supposed good news is that graduation rates have improved slightly over last year’s rank, which was third worst in the nation among large cities in the United States.

What a painful indictment to Cleveland’s alleged creative class; an indictment made more poignant by the fact that the greater Cleveland area boasts one of the richest concentrations of world-class arts and science museums and institutions in the country, if not the world. Each of these institutions – The Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Museum of Natural History, and the Great Lakes Science Center, to name only a few – have well developed educational outreach programs. Each hires staff of impressive academic background and expertise in their respective fields. Although they are not formal schools they are by any measure educational institutions that, though underutilized, have the potential to revolutionize the way learning can take place in the “formal” setting of public schools. There is an increasing body of research that confirms the most effective teachers are those who have degrees in the disciplines they teach. Too many teachers, especially those in the natural sciences, do not have the appropriate academic preparation to teach their classes. Across town, however, most of the “non-formal” educational institutions have staff with advanced degrees in the appropriate subject areas. These superbly trained personnel develop sophisticated and up-to-date curriculum that complements the science or art exhibits in their institutions. These educators have made sure that this curriculum also complements the Ohio State Standards and grade-level tests. Despite these tremendous curricular programs, these educators experience deep frustration due to their inability to create sustainable curricular linkages that are fully integrated with the public schools. Despite significant funds from foundations, non-formal educators rely on the one teacher or the one school building that bothers to make the effort to figure out how to make the best use of the resource in the classroom. A better use of technology – much of which is open source and therefore quite affordable – can break this cycle of educational inertia. Educational technology has created a shift from the old “teacher-centric” system to one that must be re focused on learning. Policymakers must embrace this change.

Barbara Ganley, an educator formerly at Middlebury College, writes:

The world has changed: the classroom has not. Our students, as native inhabitants of cyberspace, take for granted what teachers may yet have to learn: the astounding possibilities for creative and collaborative endeavors facilitated by the Web. We even ignore research suggesting that learning is essentially a social activity. […] The traditional classroom paradigm is also being challenged, not so much by the faculty who have by and large optimized their teaching effort and their time commitments to a lecture format, but by students. Member of today’s digital generation of students have spent their early lives immersed in robust, visual, electronic media- home computers, video games, cyberspace networks and virtually reality. They expect-indeed demand-interaction, approaching learning as a ‘plug-and-play’ experience. They are unaccustomed and unwilling to learn sequentially- to read the manual- and instead are plunging in and learning through participation and experimentation. […] In a very real sense, they build their own learning environments that enable interactive, collaborative learning whether we recognize and accommodate this or not.

Despite wonderful efforts in Cleveland (such as academies and magnet schools), the data after one year points to more fundamental flaws in the system. Surely technology will not solve all of Cleveland’s educational problems, but we as a community are not giving ourselves the time and energy to assess the resources available to us right now and harness them in recalibrating the way we approach LEARNING in our schools. OneCommunity in downtown Cleveland is an ambitious project offering high speed internet access to schools across NE Ohio. OneCommunity’s alliance with the Cleveland Clinic’s Real World Connect has rolled out a program incorporating interactive technologies to enhance science learning in schools across NE Ohio. Similarly, the Idea Center, with its unique access to a variety of media, also serves as a center for untapped potential on creative use of web tools. Much of this material costs money, but new platforms are currently available to make current texts and related science material available to teachers for free. Making better use of web-based technology known as social software and blending it with the arts and science curriculum in a variety of rich, non-formal educational institutions is a challenge Governor Strickland should consider seriously as he thinks of innovative ways to usher quality education into Ohio schools. Blogs and wikis are creating robust communities of learners among teachers and students. Virtual reality gaming such as SecondLife™, Eve™ and World of Warcraft™ are being used by colleges throughout the country to teach a variety of subjects, from botany to art appreciation. A famously innovative adaptation of SecondLife™ has enabled students at the Harvard Law School to co-learn with students at the Extension School – linking a divergent student body in a cooperative learning process. At Boston College, the MediaGrid has launched an exciting virutal world of what is now called “Immersive Learning.”

Most adults and, especially policy makers, do not understand that these games actually challenge youngsters in rather sophisticated critical thinking and negotiation skills. Tapped correctly, virtual learning environments can incorporate appropriate learning cues that textbooks were written (on paper) to convey. The problem that schools need to overcome is the apparent separation of the technology from the curriculum. Too many schools and teachers defer the technology to the back office, usually headed by “the tech guys.” Not understanding the tools, teachers, parents and policymakers view the tools as frightening and potentially damaging to young minds. Rather than try to understand its applications, their impulse is to shut it down. An emerging group of educators have dubbed the phenomenon Fear 2.0.

The symptoms of Fear 2.0 are easy to spot. Teachers and especially administrators panic because the new technologies introduce a system of learning that makes the old model of “testing” and “assessment” untenable. The new and emerging learning technologies are an enormous threat to a bureaucracy that has developed one “standard” of assessment which contradicts brain research and new understandings of how young people learn.

The Idea Center’s SMART Consortium have addressed this problem by introducing teacher training programs for an assessment model that focuses away from Assessment of Learning to Assessment for Learning. In short, Assessment for Learning helps teachers to actively engage students in their own academic progress, developing student attitudes toward learning and an internalized, self-guided approach to evaluation that will serve them throughout their lives and careers in a rapidly changing future. The kids are using these technologies already. The adults need to stop fearing these tools, but make aggressive moves to better understand their use in teaching and learning. New ways for assessment can be developed.

Making these desperately needed changes is unlikely to take place within the ossified structure of the way public schooling is delivered to the community. Philanthropy can provide a unique role in pushing this agenda forward. The reasons are many, but the dissonance is rooted in an appalling lack of understanding of the power of these web-based tools and their ability to enhance writing and critical thinking skills. Too many teachers and administrators use the computer as the ‘thing’ on which you get e-mail and look at websites. The emphasis on standardized testing has done more harm to critical thinking among students than any legislated mandate in the history of education. Standards are fine, but the methods to assess learning are outdated, and ignore the powerful developments in social software that can truly enhance learning.

This region needs a community-wide discussion to help parents; teachers and administrators really understand these tools and their potential for truly transforming education in Cleveland and its surrounding area. I believe the non-formal science and arts sector, in collaboration with OneCommunity and the Idea Center can be catalysts in working with the school superintendents and the Governor to push this agenda forward. We can and must make better use of easy-to-use technologies that will make it possible to bring our best trained scientists and artists (physically located at University Circle) “into” schools to link up with teachers and students to form new types of learning communities. Moving beyond fear requires a commitment of time and money. We need to understand the potential that arts, science and cultural entities can truly have on improving learning among our young people. Doing so will take enormous courage to take on a system that will resist this change. It will take financial support from the philanthropic and government sectors. Most important, it will take leadership from academics in both K-12 and higher ed to work together and explore how these tools will create a seamless web for learning that goes from preschool through higher ed. The time is now.