In 2010, The Nord Family Foundation provided support for the Ohio Grantmakers Forum’s (OGF) education initiative making this the third year for such support. Trustees were provided a detailed report on the role The Nord Family Foundation played in participating in the state-wide stakeholders meetings which resulted in the 2009 publication of, Beyond Tinkering: Creating Real Opportunities for Today’s Learners and for Generations of Ohioans to Come.
In 2010, OGF has taken a very active role in working with the Governor’s office and the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) in order to secure a potential $400 million in Race to the Top (RTT) funding from the Federal Government.
Ohio was not selected in the first round of applicants for the highly competitive Race to the Top competition. When the initial request for proposals (RFP) came out, OGF urged ODE to conduct more outreach and stakeholder involvement and encouraged ODE to make use of the working group teams that had already been assembled for Beyond Tinkering. ODE made a decision to go it alone.
The first-round application process was not transparent. Members of the State Legislature asked to see drafts, but this request was denied. Not surprising, this alienated many in the State Legislature especially from the Republican minority whose endorsement was required by the Feds. ODE found the process overwhelming given the short timeline. Its effort to “manage” the process was disastrous. Ohio went into the competition in Washington in fourth place, based on preliminary criteria. After the March 2010 presentation in DC, Ohio went from 4th to 10th place among 16 competing states. Even a phone call from President Obama’s office to put this important swing state into priority was ignored. It was that bad.
ODE and the Governor’s office justified the lack of transparency claiming they were worried about information leaking out because it was a competitive process. Quite frankly, this is the way they do business at ODE. The legislature, Governor’s office and the ODE had a field day of finger –pointing.
At this point, OGF once again offered assistance to the Governor’s office stating that without its expertise they would not be successful in Round 2. The Cleveland Foundation, Gund Foundation, KnowledgeWorks and Martha Holden Jennings Foundations pooled funds allowing OGF to hire a consultant whose prior experience was with the Tennessee RTT application (Tennessee was one of the states to receive RTT funding in the first round. The Governor demanded that ODE work with the consultant and be more open to stakeholder involvement and input.
OGF’s activities in preparing the application for Round 2 of the Race to the Top application:
1. The first effort was to help the ODE and the Governor’s office manage communication with the legislature and conduct meaningful outreach with the stakeholders who had been involved with the Beyond Tinkering activities. (These included philanthropy, and organizations like the State School Board Association, the Ohio Teachers Union, district superintendents and teachers (novel thought!) and social service agencies.
2. OGF partnered with KIDSOhio and tasked specifically for producing regular and accurate information to the legislators, including House and Senate Republicans for their input to the application.
3. Race to the Top Application Progress Summaries were sent to all stakeholders to keep them informed. Several stakeholder meetings were convened by OGF in service to the Governor’s office.
In August 2010, Ohio was awarded a Race to the Top grant of $400 million to improve education. It is interesting to note the emphasis on including successful charter schools in eligibility for support. Another Nord Family Foundation grantee, the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools (OAPCS) has played a critical role in ensuring the quality of charter school certification and training in the State. Last month, OAPCS sponsored a state-wide event in which State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Deborah Delisle acknowledged the critical importance OAPCS plays in improving the quality of education in Ohio. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised OAPCS for its innovative seminar called The Ohio Alliance Conference on Collaborative Practices focused on shared learning between traditional public and charter schools.
Changing a huge entity like public education is an enormous undertaking requiring focus, discipline and determination.
A relatively small family foundation has to be realistic about the type of impact it can have on achieving what we perceive as excellence in teaching and learning. The politicization of education in the State system in Ohio creates an environment where foundations work at cross-purposes with the State. Many want to support ongoing programs in public schools realizing there can be little sustainable outcome. Others support charter schools and/or faith-based and parochial schools to encourage viable and oftentimes excellent alternatives to failing inner-city schools. All would agree about the importance of education in this country and most would argue that public schools are and will remain a viable institution for years to come. As foundations assist the States in preparing students for the challenges in the next century, confusion and ambiguity surround the term “21st Century Learning.” Given the rapid change in technology, it is almost impossible to define what 21st Century Learning will actually look like even ten years from now. Lacking an interest or incentive or even the space to explore what 21st century learning really holds for the truly imaginative, the language of what one local superintendent calls “The State” devolves into rhetoric wrought with clichés. As a result few have a clue as to its implementation. Pressure to perform leads many educators to focus on the very short-term with an eye on that looming state report card. The rhetorical language in this context is understandable. It reflects the way the State is structured to do its business – i.e. achieving educational equilibrium and maintaining what some authors call, boundary management. It is practically impossible to stimulate innovation in a system when that is the end goal. Foundations can play a pivotal role as provocateur in the same way a good CEO would challenge his company to really “think-outside-the-box.” Based on a really great book I just read, I submit that educational innovation zones are the only way to extract the innovators from the culture of equilibrium we find in most schools and most districts. The best way to do it is to help the State Superintendent tap into her inner cocktail hostess.
Race to the Top funding has all the potential to address this challenge to the educational system. Lacking a clear framework however, the Federal Government initiated it’s typical Request for Proposals (RFP’s) with its requisite short time-line to submit proposals. This approach set the States in a double frenzy a. to demonstrate numerical achievement on State standards and b. to spin wildly in its efforts to qualify for the Race to the Top monies. As an observer, the process distorts the purpose of a State system to manage and promote excellence in learning and preparing students for the so-called 21Century learning. It also is a harbinger of colossal waste of Race to the Top Funding, especially in Ohio and some foundations will contribute to the problem.
When the Race to the Top competition was announced, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) invited a group of foundations to provide input as they planned to shape the application. Foundations have amassed considerable wisdom on the topic by nature of their investments in education over many years. The State obliged the Ohio Grantmakers Forum with an hour-long session with the foundations to provide input. The deputies from the ODE were only vaguely aware of the OGF report entitled Beyond Tinkering: Creating Real Opportunities for Today’s Learners and for Generations of Ohioans to Come. The opportunity for public input devolved into a lecture by a stressed and overworked State bureaucrat whose job was to get this application done! There was little room for discussion and little tolerance on the part of the person from the State for questions from the foundation representatives on the call. Several interesting points were brought up and the bureaucrat in question promised to follow-up with phone calls. None of those follow-up calls were made.
Despite the call two large operating foundations in the State with access to the Governor’s educational inner circle have managed to insert themselves in to the Race to the Top proposal with lucrative benefit including allocations of $10,000 a day for consulting for five to ten days a year. Based on their own template for assisting public schools you can be sure the monies will be used to produce a farrago of sounding sessions from teachers across the state who, for the most part, have little exposure to innovation in teaching and, according to teachers I interviewed last week, are fearful of taking risks that might derail kids from current assessment systems.
The governor’s task force’s demonstrated a mistrust of outside advice and assistance can be attributed presumably to pressure to produce a document in such a short period of time. Wary of outside advice the ODE has again resorted to developing a proposal by “insiders” i.e. career state educational operatives whose very ability to work their way up “the system” will tend to put them in the equilibrium camp and suspicious out new ideas coming from “the edge.” This is the very system that, within leading companies has stifled innovation with predictable demise. I say this not to excoriate people, but to put it in a context to understand why the system can’t work as it now stands. A new structure – such as the innovation zones – hold some potential as to how federal dollars to the States might be better utilized. These innovation zones would be charged with explore new opportunities to (a) enhance teaching and learning, and (b) with appropriate use of technology, leverage cost savings to the system itself. Rather than spreading the Race to the Top dollars among a smattering of qualified Learning Education Authority, the focus on innovation zones would provide an opportunity for those in the districts to bring innovation to scale, which is what the Race to the Top monies hope to achieve.
The video below is a conversation with the State Superintendent of Schools, Deborah Delisle Listen carefully to her conversation. I have great respect for Ms. Delisle, but the poor woman’s aspiration is bogged down by the divergent political interests that pull every which way on the system she is charged with managing. Her goals for the Race to the Top funds comes across as a mash-up of clichés and betray an anxiety about trying to manage than to think introduce innovation into a school system. Ms. Delisle is a consummate manager having come to the position as a Superintendent in a Cleveland area school district. From my experience, she is also a very bright woman and capable of real visionary leadership, however the current political environment thwarts her from finding really creative solutions to the problems that plague Ohio public schools, especially the under-performing districts. In the absence of a gubernatorial or legislative vision, Ms. Delisle has little choice by to resort to what authors Richard K. Lester and Michael J. Piore in their book, Innovation – The Missing Dimension call boundary management.
Within the State Educational system, far to many boundaries exist. Boundaries between and among departments, boundaries among districts, boundaries among teachers and administrators, between special programs, boundaries between high-performing and under-performing districts and of courses boundaries between charter and traditional public schools.
Innovations in some of the more simple technologies such as on-line learning present new boundaries whose potential presents terrifying challenges in a system already wrought with boundaries listed above. Part of her job is to attain an equilibrium among those entities to keep the ship moving forward. As the waters become more turbulent with pressures from new technologies that threaten the very structure of this ship, the reaction to hunker down is understandable.
Messers. Lester and Piore write:
In recent years, management theorists have devised a storehouse full of tools for managing across boundaries. These include flat, decentralized structures, network organizations, matrix management practices, multifunctional teams, team leadership skills, and a wide array of techniques for listening to the voice of the customer. But among the practicing managers with whom we spoke, these models and maxims often seemed to be mere placeholders. Lacking the content to be operable in the real world, they quickly degenerated into clichés. When prompted, the managers in our cases could usually spout the rhetoric of integration. But in the real world of new product development, most of them were much more comfortable talking about policing boundaries than about breaking them down.
Unfortunately for Ms. Delisle and for the State of Ohio, this is precisely the situation the State Superintendent finds herself. Foundations would do well to help the State break this management conundrum within the system by encouraging both the governor and legislatures to create centers for innovation that will encourage boundary free zones where true cross-disciplinary collaboration can take place. Given the political interests, this would take enormous courage and singular leadership.
It is not an understatement to say, The State of Ohio is at a critical juncture in history. Pressures from rapid development in technology coupled with increasing “customer” dissatisfaction with the schools as well as a insecure revenue stream, bears the same hallmark as huge companies that are facing unanticipated pressures from outside the company. In these circumstances, there is an urgency to encourage change and innovation while at the same time trying to manage the company and its responsibility to its shareholders. The two use case studies to drive their point through the book. The most pertinent case study is that of AT&T and the synergy between the corporate management structure and its innovation center Bell Labs which, among many other innovations, patented the technology that would become the cell phone.
The initial development of cell phone technology took place at Bell Labs, a sheltered enclave within AT&T that enjoyed the research ethos of an academic laboratory. Bell Labs was insulated from commercial pressures and hospitable to collaboration among different scientific and engineering disciplines.
…The companies that pioneered cellular typically came from either the radio or telephone side of the business. At&T was a telephone company. Motorola and Matisushita were radio companies. Each faces the major challenge of finding a partner to create the new product. Not an easy task. The cultural differences between radio and telephone engineering were deep-rooted…..there were difficulties merging these two industries…
Once it was established as a new and innovative means of enhancing communication, the cell phone section was moved from Bell Labs.
.. into a separate business unit that was subject to the conventional AT&T bureaucratic practices and hierarchy. None of the other companies ever had a sheltered environment like Bell Labs in which to start development of cellular. Most of them began by assembling groups of engineers into newly created but poorly defined organizational entities, where they worked in teams with and ambiguous division of labor and sometimes confused lines of authority. Like AT&T however, they all ended up adopting more formal, systematic decision making processes and creating better defined organizational structures in which to house the cellular business.
They compare creating innovation within businesses to that of a person hosting a cocktail party. Innovation is spawned by structuring intentional conversations
Cell phones emerged out of a conversation between members of the radio and telephone industries…the manager’s role was to remove the organizational barriers that would have prevented these conversations from taking place.
Here is where the book becomes fun. Reading this section Deborah Delisle manager blends with Deb Delisle, educational cocktail hostess. Educational Innovation in Ohio could hinge on her ability to party,
How does a manager initiate these interpretive conversations and keep them going in the face of pressure to solve problems and bring them to closure? Here the metaphor of the manager as hostess at a cocktail party provides a useful guide. At most cocktail parties the guests are relative strangers. They are invited because they might have something interesting to say to one another, but only the hostess really knows that that is, and even she is not always sure. To make sure the party a success, she will often invite enough people so that it does not really matter if any one pair of them fails to hit it off.
Once the party is under way, her job is to keep the conversation flowing. A skilled hostess will introduce new people into groups where conversation seems to be flagging, or she will intervene to introduce a new topic when two people do not seem to be able to discover what they have in common on their own. She may break up groups that do not seem to be working or are headed for an unpleasant argument and steer the guests to other groups.
The lessons of the cocktail party can be summarized in a series of distinct but closely related roles for the manager:
Step One: choose the guests
Step Two: initiate the conversation
Step Three: keep the conversation going
Step Four: refresh the conversation with new ideas
The governor’s office and the Ohio legislature can create one of the most exciting models to realize a vision for introduce innovation in so called 21st century teaching and learning. Create five places where these allegorical cocktail parties can take place on a regular basis. The superintendent will encourage conversations among some of the best people from the field of education, academia,business, technology, neuroscience, as well as teachers, students and union representatives. Conversations will take place simultaneously and within the context of working school zones. Ambiguity is welcome, encouraged and processed to contribute to creative solutions to problems. The State will not dictate the parameters of the discussion but be a party to the discussions and seek to find ways to adopt the findings to its way of doing business throughout the rest of the State.
The conversations are too large, and too critical to be diffused among districts throughout the state. Everyone has to want to be at the party.
The legislature would need to mandate the zones through the State budget. The zones would be akin to the Bell Labs. The zones would be distributed throughout the State. They would have the appropriate technological support and communication networks to make it happen. (See my blog post of June 8, 2009)
Teaming Up to Crack Innovation Enterprise Integration is written for the business growth with focus on CEO’s, Chief Information Officers (CIO’s) and IT organizations. The model easily adapts to a State education bureaucracy and includes two elements that would be critical to the success of the Innovation districts. Their thesis is relatively straightforward. Here is how they summarize the concept:
IT has long been a catalyst of business innovation and essential to cross-functional integration efforts, but few large companies have systematically leveraged technology for these purposes.
Close study of 24 U.S. and European businesses reveals a model for systematically doing that that through the formation of two IT-intensive groups for coordinating these two processes that are critical to organic growth
A distributive innovation group (DIG) combines a company’s own innovative efforts with the best of external technology to create new business variations. The enterprise innovation group (EIG) folds yesterday’s new variations into the operating model of the enterprise.
The two groups help better identity, coordinate, and prioritize the most-promising projects and spread technology tools, and best practices.
Their charge would be to create boundary-free zones where participating teachers and administrators realize their task is to encourage change and innovation by encouraging collaboration and inter-disciplinary approaches to problems.
Schools buildings participating in the Innovation zones would bridge what is all too common chasm in today’s schools, i.e. the teachers are different from the “tech-support” offices. These two entities would work hand-in-hand to observe students, monitor progress, look for obstacles and challenges and find solutions that will solve those problems. In many cases those solutions can be resolved with appropriate technological supports. Technology will NEVER replace human interaction which is critical to successful education. Technology can however serve to make good teachers great if it is used to help them become the true professionals they are.
The innovation zones would have an initial life expectancy of five years. In that time the districts will be challenged to come up with unique solutions that will address the challenges facing schools in Ohio. Challenges will not be limited to advances in teaching, learning and assessment, but also to demonstrate administrative costs savings to the State by more appropriate use of technologies to create administrative efficiencies. Advances in these innovations zones will be shared with colleagues in other districts outside the innovation zones.
The task of the Superintendent will be to foster conversations among people with varieties of experiences. Foundations can partner with the States by focusing their grantmaking to programs within the innovation zones that have promise to meet these goals.
I submit that using Race to the Top funds to establish this type of culture for innovation would be far superior to what is currently in the application.
I spotted this television advertisement for GM the other evening. It occurred to me that watching the demise of the American Auto Industry, is tragically analogous to what is happening in public education.
The blog post Daily Finance’s writer Peter Cohan cites five reasons why GM failed. Read and draw analogies to public schools in the United States.
1. Bad financial policies. You might be surprised to learn that GM has been bankrupt since 2006 and has avoided a filing for years thanks to the graces of the banks and bondholders. But for years it has used cars as razors to sell consumers a monthly package of razor blades — in the form of highly profitable car loans.
And the two Harvard MBAs who drove GM to bankruptcy — Rick Wagoner and Fritz Henderson — both rose up from GM’s finance division, rather than its vehicle design operation. (Read more about GM’s bad financial policies here.)
2. Uncompetitive vehicles. Compared to its toughest competitors — like Toyota Motor Co. (TM) — GM’s cars were poorly designed and built, took too long to manufacture at costs that were too high, and as a result, fewer people bought them, leaving GM with excess production capacity. (Read more about GM’s uncompetitive vehicles here.)
3. Ignoring competition. GM has been ignoring competition — with a brief interruption (Saturn in the 1980s) — for about 50 years. At its peak, in 1954, GM controlled 54 percent of the North American vehicle market. Last year, that figure had tumbled to 19 percent. Toyota and its peers took over that market share. (Read more about GM ignoring the competition here.)
4. Failure to innovate. Since GM was focused on profiting from finance, it did not really care that much about building better vehicles. GM’s management failed to adapt GM to changes in customer needs, upstart competitors, and new technologies. (Read more about GM’s failure to innovate here.)
5. Managing in the bubble. GM managers got promoted by toeing the CEO’s line and ignoring external changes. What looked stupid from the perspective of customer and competitors was smart for those bucking for promotions. (Read more about GM’s managing in the bubble here.)
GM has now produced this mea culpa, promising a new organization with new products and a new attitude. The answer is to reinvent itself.
It is not hard to draw analogies to public schools. Poor financing and financial management. Management (administrative bubbles), inflated salaries for administrators, ignoring the competition…..the list goes on. The list does not mention the tortuous negotiations and battles with organized labor – but that analogy fits as well.
Interesting that the public sector (federal government) has to be in the unbelievable position of having to bail out this failing industry. The act has people from the private sector incredulous. Even the President himself seems uncomfortable with the fact that the government has had to take this unprecedented action.
Public Schools in too many urban districts are a failing industry. Too many administrators, public officials and even some private philanthropists ignore the competition (i.e. charter schools, successful faith-based schools and even advances made in independent schools). These entities are seen not as competition, but as the enemy. In an effort to preserve themselves and guarantee job security, those in the bunker form the bubble.
Too many are afraid of adapting to new technologies that are likely to guarantee, smarter, leaner administrative budgets and more likely than not to improve students learning outcomes. Good administrators will report up to the “management” that revises standards and tests to juke the stats and have the public believe their inferior product is actually working.
Far too many individual school “districts” makes no sense anymore. I live in a county of 280,000 but there are 14 individual school districts each with high-paid administrators including superintendents, principals, curriculum directors. The cost to the public every year exceeds $4 million dollars. Much of that work can be done online through more effective use of management technologies.
Too many public dollars are wasted paying for textbooks. Innovations in online texts are occurring every day, yet too many school administrators are slow to adapt them. Many philanthropists have funded organizations that provide solutions to this unnecessary expense. cK-12 is a private non-profit foundation that is just one example. Another is Currwiki. Schools and school districts – not to mention the multimillion dollar textbook industry has an interest in keeping these innovations out of schools. Too many foundation officers and school administrators – fearful of change, block innovation with the appeal to waiting for results from “evidence-based practice” before they do anything. Where are the “practices” taking place and who is collecting the “evidence?” I know than many foundations have a lot of evidence of what is working, especially in charter, faith-based and indepdendent schools, but this evidence is ignored unless it has imprimatur from “the academy.”
It just seems to me that the time is ripe for foundations across the country to sponsor one or a series of local symposia that will bring together leaders from the field of educational technology, business, K-12 systems, and higher edcuation to re-imagine doing schools. These symposia should be public – coordinated with local newspapers, and newsmedia. Public television stations typically have local afficilates that could foster regularly scheduled converesations about re-inventing school and invite public policy officials to be part of the conversation. Together, these entities can help to reinvent public schools just as the auto industries are about to embark on reinventing themselves.
I had the opportunity to attend a meeting sponsored by KidsOhio lead by a true champion for children in Ohio – Mark Real. KidsOhio and the Columbus Foundation invited education “stakeholders” to hear the results of a RAND evaluation of Charter Schools in eight states across the country. The stakeholders included foundations, State elected officials, Columbus School Board members, representatives of the Ohio Department of Education, the Ohio Federation of Teachers as well as the State Board of Education. Ron Zimmer, Co-Author lead the discussion. Two panelists responding to the findings included Jennifer Smith Richards, Education Enterprise Reporter with the Columbus Dispatch and Scott Stephens, former Education Writer for The Cleveland Plain Dealer and currently Senior Writer for Catalyst-Ohio. Mr. is also a former education for theCleveland Plain Dealer and covered charter schools when they were first authorized in Ohio. The meeting was well attended and I sensed genuine interest on the part of all who attended.
There are four main findings to the report:
1. Charter schools are not skimming the highest-achieving students from traditional public schools, nor are they creating racial stratification.
2. On average, across varying communities and policy environments, charter middle and high schools produce achievement gains that are about the same as those in traditional public schools.
3. Charter schools do not appear to help or harm student achievement in nearby public schools.
4. Students who are attending charter high schools were more likely to graduate and go on to college.
Mr. Zimmer was quick to qualify the data saying that this is an average of the data collected across eight States. Each State has its own legislative restrictions to authorize charter schools, and each has different funding allocations as well. These differences will affect the quality of charters. There is a very broad spectrum of quality among charters schools, much of which is attributed to authorizing rules.
The research finds that, for the most part, all charter schools take children who have some of the lowest performance scores anywhere. The truly impressive outcome of the meeting was to hear from the RAND researchers and from the panelists themselves that there are several charter schools in Cleveland that are “extraordinary” and reporting remarkably successful results. These include the E-Prep Charter School and Success Prep. They found that these schools succeed because they make the investment in training the principals and teachers. Marshall Emerson, the outstanding director of the E-Prep trained for one-year at the Boston-based Building Excellent Schools. This organizations was funded initially from the Walton Family Foundation and has produced some of the finest leaders of charter schools across the country. Building In Excellent Schools has demonstrated tremendous success in many States across the country. In my opinion, the State of Ohio – including the ODE, the legislature and the Governor would do well to allocate funds to send a core group of promising school leaders to attend this one year program to support charter schools in the State. After five-years foundations could support an evaluation of the outcome of these schools compared with their public school peers and measure the outcome. Such a project could be a great opportunity to learn from investments in education.
The audience was respectful. I felt as though I was in a room with people who were confused with the findings. Ms. Smith-Richards commented that she has been covering the charter school movement since its inception. Initially there was overt hostility toward charters on the part of the education community, but it is her sense that people are now more open and interested in the results of charter schools. Mr. Stevens admitted that laxity on the part of the authorizing bodies resulted in a proliferation of charters schools in Ohio. As he stated, “Some began with well-meaning people who wanted to respond to the education but realized two-years into it that quality schooling is harder than one might initially think!” Clearly one has to know what they are doing.
Interesting to the discussion however is the recent opinion on charter schools from Ohio Federation of Teachers Director, Sue Taylor. Ms. Taylor did not attend the meeting but representatives from her department did. Her May 2009 letter to President Obama excoriates charters schools claiming they have by an large, failed in the State of Ohio. You can read the excerpt from the letter at the OFT website. As a funder, it is disheartening to see how far this organization will go to deliberately mis-represent facts to move a political agenda. It is equally disturbing to me to see how much power organizations like this have to thwart truly innovative programs in education.
I would love to see her do a public debate on the findings, not to mention address the enthusiasm of Cleveland Browns player Jason Wright.
The report indicated that there is an increase in the amount of virtual or e-schools in Ohio which is having an influence on both charter and Public Schools. The speakers encouraged those in the audience to read carefully Clayton Christensen’s book Disrupting Class. Clearly people in the room do not know what to make of this disruption and few really understand electronic curriculum and schools.
The most important statistic for anyone interested in education is finding number 4. Why is it that charters across the board have greater success in having students not only complete high-school but complete college! Complete is the operative word here because as we know young people get into college but too many find they are not prepared for the work and wind up dropping out.
RAND wants to explore the reasons why charter schools appear to produce better results for students to stay in school. I think foundations would do well to continue to fund these types of studies.
For a State that is focused on increasing the number of College graduates, this fact warrents investments in schools that show promise to deliver on those goals.