Category Archives: Education

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.

Education and Technology: A role for philanthropy

The more I visit schools and hear about the challenges for teaching, the more I am convinced that educators must move VERY quickly to make better use of the phenomenal technologies that are available to them. I have met teachers who understand how it works and are transforming the engagement of students in their schools. One sharp high schooler made reference to a teacher that integrated blogging and open-source voice-over IP into the language curriculum. ‘By making these tools available to us, she changed us from students into scholars!”

I remember Eric Nord, entrepreneur and philanthropist extraordinaire, once cautioned our trustees saying that people in the foundation world tended to be risk averse. I find this to be true with far too many of my colleagues from foundations who tend to be surprisingly hesitant about pushing the technology and learning agenda in schools. There are exceptions of course. The work of people at the Hewlett Foundation and the George Lucas Foundations are leaders in seeking innovative solutions to the challenges facing teaching and learning in our nation’s public schools. Edutopia, published by the Lucas Foundation provides examples of how technology serves to usher in new ways that students can learn.

I think that high-stakes testing in schools and even the way States try to fix “the standards” are thwarting creativity in the classroom. Worse, is the system of so-called “assessment” which is emerging as a orgy of testing that focuses on a fixed moment of time in a child’s development. Rather than seeing learning as a process, current assessment tools serve the needs of statisticians but not teachers. Therein lies one of the huge rifts in our systems. There is a bureaucracy in the Departments of Education that appear to fetish-ize data collection and assessments and then there is the teacher in the classroom who feels pressured by the “officials” to give the tests and report back. The current system is an abomination, yet we in the philanthropic field, for the most part feel the need to tinker with the current system rather than seek out and then support systems that promote real learning.

We cannot ignore the power of social software an its impact on the future of education of young people in our schools. Appropriate use of technology can and will result in budgetary savings. One area alone is the textbook frenzy. In Ohio schools, the yearly budget for one students text book is $900 per student. One of my favorite websites is TED. Check the following website that talks about how technology can change the way a school system deals with textbooks in schools. Check out the
I also suggest you visit the Federation of American Scientists site and browse their research on education technology.
Reference related studies by the Federation of American Scientists

Most of my colleagues use their computer in the following ways: 1. an expensive electric typewriter, 2. The thing on which you get and read your e-mail. 3. The thing on which you can occasionally shop. 4. A resource to read information that are typically brochure-like websites.

In addition to philanthropy program officers, too many teachers are comfortable with very antiquated forms of communication such as e-mail and do not understand the new technologies and impact they are having on teaching and learning. They really need to be challenged by visionary superintendents and principles to explore how the tools can enhance learning. More importantly, teachers and education leaders need to understand the way to assess learning with these tools is almost impossible given current assessment tools. Learning with and through technology (especially with the use of e-portfolios) allows teachers to view learning as a process rather than a static moment in time, which is what the current system uses. It is like the difference between viewing a students process on carefully edited video presentation, opposed to a series of photos.

In my opinion, Philanthropy can play an important role by providing teachers and school building leaders with opportunities for focused professional development in these areas. Concentrated programs bringing teachers and software program developers on a regular basis would serve the enhance education tremendously.

We in the philanthropy field do ourselves a great disservice (not to mention our grantees) by NOT engaging in conversations about these important technological tools that are changing the very lives our young people experience…..except in public schools! We cannot allow ourselves to become complacent in this area. I welcome comments.

Schools and the Public Health Challenge

Last year, I attended the Council on Foundations conference in Seattle, Washington. Although I oversee the education programming at my office, I followed the Public Health track to discover new learning opportunities.  I quickly realized that the discussions my colleagues in the philanthropic sector were having on reforming education in the State of Ohio was too narrowly focused and, if I dare say, not terribly innovative. In Seattle, I had the pleasure to meet with the director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Dr. Julie Gerberding who happens to have Ohio links (Case Med School grad). In her brilliant talk, she discussed the need to have whole communities involved in the public health of the population, especially schools which means, addressing obesity, violence, childhood obesity, tobacco and other drug use, diabetes and the varieties of mental illness that plague are issues in any school in this country. The CDC produced a report suggesting ways in which communities can create healthy schools.

I think that many of our teachers deal with children who either they or their families struggle with any of the public health issues listed above. How many of our children come from homes where violence is commonplace? How many of our children are addicted to tobacco promising a life of illness and compromised health? How many of our children are obese and have no access to sports or any kind of physical activity. If you are not well, you can’t perform well in class. Are we missing something in our recommendations?
Dr. Gerberding stated that she envisions a community that would one day hold the mayor and city council as accountable for the public health of the community. It would be interesting if we could hold the governor as accountable on this issue as the mayors.
Another illuminating part of the panel discussion focused on how the public health system in the United States was organized more than fifty years ago around an organizational response to infectious disease. Fifty-years later, the medical/health sector addresses infectious disease for the most part, whereas the public health system is straining to respond to chronic disease. I was reminded of previous conversations about the antiquated model for public schools in this country. Based on an agrarian model that includes three months off in summer for the harvest, this system does not seem to serve our young people well. It is my hope that these conversations will give rise to new ways of thinking about merging the public health systems (including departments of mental health, Drug and alcohol, tobacco and firearms?) to link be more proactive and supportive of public school teachers and administrators who are not equipped to deal with the issues they confront in the classroom each day. If we were to think of schools as the logical catchments area for families to address chronic public health issues, what would those schools look like?
PLEASE post your thoughts and comments.

Philanthropys Challenge – College Success

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting sponsored by the grantmaking affinity group called Grantmakers for Education. The meeting challenged colleagues from grantmaking institutions to think beyond College Access, i.e. programs that ensure high school students get in to colleges, and focus instead on College Success. College Success considers the number of students who not only get into college, but complete it. The line up of speakers was impressive by any measure bringing together some of the most serious thinkers in the area.

This is a problem in the NE Ohio and in other areas the Nord Family Foundation provides support. Lorain County Community College is one of Northeast Ohio’s treasures. Its University Partnership Program is a gateway to higher education that opens opportunity for students who would otherwise not have either the funding or the time to leave home to get a college degree. Dr. Church and LCCC board are examples of how American “can-do”, tenacity and focus can realize hope in a part of the world that sees economic challenge and hardship increasing every day. The unfortunate news however is that approximately 40% to 60% of the students entering LCCC are not prepared for college work. A good many are students coming from public schools but there is also an increasingly large adult population that is returning to school after time in the workforces.

This problem is not reserved for Lorain County or Northeast Ohio. It is a national problem found at other Community Colleges across the country. Jamie Meristosis of the Lumina Foundation for Education suggests there are two levels at the Community College level that challenges to the remediation issue. First is the challenge of unprepared public school students and secondly, the problem or adults returning to the workforce.

Foundations seem to focus on the first challenge as they try to play their role in improving public schools. My own involvement with the issue leads me to the analysis of public schools in inner cities provided by Christopher Barbic, founder and head of YES Prep Public Schools, “The system is broken. The way we provide public education to inner city kids in this country does then a great disservice.”

One of the featured speakers was Dr. Michael Kirst Professor Emeritus of Education and Business Administration at Stanford University. Check hise blog site. Unprepared high school students is is a focus of his research. pondered by Dr. Michael Kirst. His main topic was the dis-articulation between how learning takes place in high school, and what is expected of students when they begin college.

A GREAT review of the issue of remediation and its definition can be found at Crosstalk. In this article, Dr. Kirst addresses the issue of remediation and college preparedness in public schools saying,

College Success Begins in High School

More than 70% of high school graduates now go on to postsecondary education. Yet, a new study of high school student engagement reveals some major concerns about the level of college preparedness of those students. See Voices of Students on Engagement: A Report on the 2006 Survey of Student Engagement out of Indiana Univeristy School of Education.

Using a national sample of grades 9-12, the survey found that:

· Fewer than half of the students go to high school because of what happens within the classroom environment
· A great majority of students are bored every day, if not in every class
· 43% spend 0-1 hour doing written homework, 83% spend 5 hours or less
· 55% spend 0 or 1 hour per week reading and studying for class, 90% spend 5 hours or fewer
· Students want more active learning such as peer working groups and presentations
· Girls report being more engaged across all dimensions of high school engagement than boys. (Girls were 58% of 4 year college graduates in 2006).

Engagement within a high school context is about a student’s relationship with the school community (adults, peers, curriculum, facilities, etc). More importantly, however, Kirst states, ” I believe that this study should raise concerns that many of these high school students will become at-risk college students who will not experience college success for the very reason that they were not sufficiently engaged in high school.” posted by The College Puzzle at 4/01/2007

Dr. Kirst’s analysis gives pause to any grantmaker attempting to “reform” schools in this country. As more foundations and affinity groups envision schools that will prepare students to succeed academically and intellectually in college.

The challenge for philanthropy is I thin, to find places where true innovation in learning is taking place and challenge the school infrastructure to bring it to scale. We would do well to visit schools and find programs that foster student engagement. In my experience, these schools make innovative use of technology to enhance already good teachers. In many instances, finding such institutions is difficult. Innovations in schools is almost impossible because public schools have become risk-averse institutions. Schools are so focused on performing well on tests, that few teachers will take the time and fewer principles will take the risk of implementing programs that will risk having students not peform well on the tests. Philanthropy will continue to have a role to serve as informed voice against the unintended negative consequences of No Child Left Behind legislation.

Education and the Achievement Gap

Through the foundation’s work with Fund for Our Economic Future, I have had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Randy McShepard who runs the philanthropic department of the RPM company in Akron. Randy and a group of other African American leaders conducted a study to try an understand the roots of the achievement gap among African American men in the Cleveland Schools.
The study was published and last year, Randy spoke with Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Regina Brett on WCPN about the report if his group which is called Policy Bridge. I think the report has importance to our topic, in that it addresses the education gap in our schools, especially with African American boys. It is called “Rap on Culture.”
The report really pushes many of us to address that uncomfortable conversation about race. What role can philanthropy have in supporting the black leadership as they try to confront these issues?
WCPN did a terrific call-in show on the report. Listen to the podcast at

I would really like to know what people think.