Category Archives: Multi User Virtual Environments

From invention to innovation

Innovation is not simply invention; it is inventiveness put to use. Invention without innovation is a pastime.

– Harold Evans – former editor of the London Sunday Times

Innovation has become quite the bantered word in philanthropy. The Stanford Social Innovation Review has featured several articles on social innovation. Grantmakers for Effective Organizations has dedicated a series of conferences to the challenge of scaling what works.

In too many cases, foundations fund creative programs initiated by nonprofit organizations which prove effective by many measures, but for reasons unknown to many, fail to be replicated in other communities. These are cases where inventiveness is not put to use. Knowing these efforts are more than mere pastimes, many in the philanthropic and nonprofit communities are beginning to ponder these issues.

The Innovator’s Way – Essential Practices for Successful Innovation by Peter J. Denning and Robert Dunham is prominent in the business section at most book stores. Geared primarily to the business sector, the book is completely relevant to the nonprofit and foundation sector as well. The writers insist that an innovator can determine success when three factors converge:

Domain expertise – is your skill in the community of practice you aim to change.

Social interaction practices – is your skill at influencing others and mobilizing action around your ideas.

Opportunities – acknowledging that you cannot control your environment, but you can control how you engage with it. Successful innovators have a high sensitivity to people’s concerns and breakdowns, an ability that might be called “reading the world.”

I would argue that most foundations have – by their nature – all three elements for successful innovation. Their interaction with grantees sheds light on domain experience; successful staff members sense opportunities to read the world and convey that to trustees; and finally, the ability to convene people from sectors outside the ambit of the nonprofit world provides singular social interaction practices that can indeed bring “inventions” in the nonprofit world to scale.

The Nord Family Foundation has made several grants to support technological inventions that demonstrate improvements in the ways children and adults learn, as in the case of past support of CAST – The Center for Applied Special Technologies. Early support for this pilot program in Lorain County schools resulted in two highly successful products, the Thinking Reader™ and Science Writer™, which are software tools that embrace CAST’s highly successful Universal Design for Learning (UDL) pedagogy.

The foundation’s support to the Bellefaire Monarch School enabled computer programmers at Monarch’s commercial site (Monarch Teaching Technologies, Inc.) to pilot and refine the interactive software program Vizzle™ that is now being offered for an IPO. In March, Vizzle’s inventor wrote to us to let us know that Vizzle was now being implemented in twenty-eight schools across the Los Angeles Unified School District to help children with autism. Research shows that children with autism pay more attention and retain more of what they learn when lessons are presented interactively utilizing technology. Similarly, The Manila Times announced a significant Vizzle pilot program backed by the Philippines’ Department of Education. This news was reported in at least four Filipino daily papers.  Just last month, Vizzle was featured in Crain’s Cleveland Business.

Recognizing the potential Vizzle had to enhance the ability of special education teachers in public schools to improve their ability to work with the increasing number of autistic children in schools, the Nord Family Foundation trustees approved a grant to the Joshua School in Denver. Joshua School focuses entirely on autistic children and, like the Monarch School in Cleveland, is a personalized but very expensive program. Families without the ability to pay the $20,000 tuition ($60,000 at Monarch) are left to fend on their own. Joshua School, in collaboration with Monarch, provides the program and training for public school teachers. In Denver, public school special education teachers from around the state come to Joshua to learn Vizzle.

This is just one example of how the foundation took an invention in Cleveland and helped bring it to scale nationwide and seed it internationally. That is the essence of inventiveness – a legacy for which this family is both familiar and proud.

What can Foundations do to support Online Learning – The Case of Ohio

One of the most intelligent people in philanthropy is Terry Ryan at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Dayton, Ohio . Terry has been a leader in our professional meetings challenging the State to address the proliferation of online learning and its impact, not only in Ohio but across the country. I find myself agreeing with Terry on many of these issues and it my hope that more people in philanthropy will engage in this important question with us.

An increasing number of education and business experts are documenting that the second-wave of computer technology along with adaptations of social software will transform the way “schooling” and “teaching” take place. Online learning, e-learning, e-schools, virtual schools, and cyber-schools are all terms that refer to the phenomena of using online approaches to educate children. Over the past decade, there has been an explosive growth in the use of online learning opportunities across the country and across Ohio. States have seen the growth of stand-alone online schools as well as online programs connected to traditional schools and school support groups like state departments of education and county educational service centers.

As of the fall of 2008:

• 17 states offer significant supplemental and full-time online options for students;

• 23 states offer significant supplemental opportunities, but not full- time opportunities;

• 4 states offer significant full-time opportunities, but not supplemental;

• 34 states offer state-led programs or initiatives to work with school districts to supplement course offerings; and

• 21 states have full-time online schools (often charters, but also district-operated schools that operate statewide).ii

The Florida Virtual School, for example, is an online school built and operated by the Florida Department of Education that has seen course enrollment grow dramatically, from 77 at its 1997 inception to 113,900 course enrollments in the 2007-08 school year. In Ohio, more than 24,000 students attend online schools, based online rather than in school buildings. Thousands of others take some of their courses online while at their traditional schools.

Indeed, this is the fastest growing segment of the new schools’ sector in Ohio and many other states.  Ohio now has it’s own Ohio Virtual Academy for K-12 and the State is uncertain how to respond.   It is clear that the power of information and communication technologies and online learning to improve and customize learning for children is accelerating. If this sector is encouraged in coming years, it will lead to powerful educational innovations, including exciting partnerships between classroom-based instruction and online learning, and increased 24/7 learning opportunities for Ohio’s children. The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that “50 percent of all courses in grades 9-12 will be taken online by 2019.”

Online learning opportunities are expanding rapidly because they offer much promise. Full-time online learning opportunities provide an outlet to traditional classroom-based instruction for parents seeking greater customization of learning opportunities for their children. It can also facilitate a parent’s involvement in their child’s education. These programs, done well, offer new learning opportunities for children and a place for parents to turn if they and/or their children are unhappy with the education provided by their traditional school. These programs can also be important supplements for what traditional schools do and provide significant support to classroom teachers. An additional promise of online learning is its potential to help students access rigorous courses and highly qualified teachers despite their location (e.g., rural areas, hard to staff urban schools, or home-bound children). Internet-based learning models remove geographic, physical, and time barriers to learning allowing successful models to expand rapidly.

My colleagues at the KnowledgeWorks Foundation have put together and very impressive video that challenges every educational administrator and teacher serving in the today’s educational sector.  The question to any educational professional viewing this presentation is  to gauge your immediate reaction to the video – Does it scare you? or Does it present exciting challenges to you in how you and those who follow you will continue in the “profession” of teaching?

As with any disruptive organizational change efforts to align online learning to the traditional system are not without controversy.  For example, there is wide variation in the quality of K-12 full-time online learning schools, and some are poorly designed and deliver un-challenging lessons. Others offer little personal attention to children who need it.   Look at the successful marketing frenzy of RosettaStone™ and its move to online language learning.  Some cash-strapped districts such as those in New Jersey and Virginia, are eliminating their high school language departments and replace it with this product in the naive attempt to get on-boad the technology boom.

Despite the growth in online learning there is little research available that measures program quality and rigorous research has yet to be released that informs us what types, and under what conditions, online programs work best. Promising practices have been identified, but more is unknown than is known.

At the same time, legislators have introduced a bill to create a new “distance learning pilot program.” It would offer AP courses via teleconferencing equipment to every Ohio high school, thereby providing access to classes that students wouldn’t otherwise have because those classes are too costly for their schools to provide. Given the state’s potential for terminating a large chunk of Ohio’s extant online learning community while at the same time promoting online learning via other measures, the time is at hand to identify promising initiatives that can be supported, replicated, and scaled up.

Another video, produced by teachers in the system presents us with additional challenges related to the urgency online learning presents to anyone in the educational sector.

One of the teachers presents the following challenge

One of the things I think we have to ask ourselves as school leaders is ‘What’s our moral imperative to prepare kids for a digital, global age?’ Right now we’re sort of ignoring that requirement. . . . I think you would take a look at much of what we do in our current schooling system and just toss it and essentially start over. So the question for school leaders and for policymakers is ‘How brave are you and how visionary are you going to be?’ And you don’t even have to be that visionary. Just look around right now and see the trends that already are happening and just project those out and see that it’s going to be a very different world.

This is the urgency I would like to see propelling the Educational Innovation Zones I spoke about in the previous post. The problem with this video is that it talks about innovation in learning but it continues to take place within a public school “system” as we know it. My read indicates that they are talking about new ways of learning but pouring new wine into the proverbial old skins. The video still pans on aging schools and kids doing their computer work in some type of lab but in reality, even the spaces in which learning take place, will change the way we construct schools. I refer to the example of the architectural innovation in the Seattle Public Library.

Philanthropy has a role to push this challenge to the established educational bureaucracy in this country to help change the system. Specifically, Philanthropy can provide a unique role in working with teachers to help them reshape their role in this new and changing environment. There are many examples of that and I will offer them up in the next post.

Ohio's Zones for Innovation in Education

Yesterday I was asked to complete a survey in anticipation of a conference sponsored by Grantmakers for Education.  The topic is “Designing for Innovation in American Education.”   The highly competent staff at GFE ask,

Despite the increasing attention being given to “innovation” in education, innovation remains a loosely defined concept. How can grantmakers envision a truly innovative future for American education-and use that understanding to ensure our education systems meet the needs of learners today? How can human-centered design drive education innovation, particularly as we strive to engage diverse learners? What new capacities must education philanthropists develop to effect trans-formative change? Join colleagues from across the country as we answer these key questions.

This request arrive the very same day that the following article appeared in the New York Times.  The subject addresses innovation and its demise in one of the world’s largest companies.

Microsoft’s Creative Destruction

Published: February 4, 2010

Microsoft’s huge profits — $6.7 billion for the past quarter — come almost entirely from Windows and Office programs first developed decades ago. Like G.M. with its trucks and S.U.V.’s, Microsoft can’t count on these venerable products to sustain it forever. Perhaps worst of all, Microsoft is no longer considered the cool or cutting-edge place to work. There has been a steady exit of its best and brightest.

What happened? Unlike other companies, Microsoft never developed a true system for innovation. Some of my former colleagues argue that it actually developed a system to thwart innovation. Despite having one of the largest and best corporate laboratories in the world, and the luxury of not one but three chief technology officers, the company routinely manages to frustrate the efforts of its visionary thinkers.

Internal competition is common at great companies. It can be wisely encouraged to force ideas to compete. The problem comes when the competition becomes uncontrolled and destructive. At Microsoft, it has created a dysfunctional corporate culture in which the big established groups are allowed to prey upon emerging teams, belittle their efforts, compete unfairly against them for resources, and over time hector them out of existence. It’s not an accident that almost all the executives in charge of Microsoft’s music, e-books, phone, online, search and tablet efforts over the past decade have left.

As a result, while the company has had a truly amazing past and an enviably prosperous present, unless it regains its creative spark, it’s an open question whether it has much of a future.

Innovation and its demise within a large business serves as a lesson to the public school system which, by its nature, thwarts an innovative spirit.  Disruptive technologies can be very threatening to school administrators who feel tremendous pressure from “The STATE” to have their schools perform well on the report cards.   In that sense, schools and school officials spend a lot of time talking about “school improvement” which presupposes that the thing they are trying to improve is inherently good.   Disruption, as in disruptive technologies discussed most notably by Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn, threatens the very core of what a dutiful school superintendent is trying to achieve which is a kind of  educational “equilibrium.”  How many teachers across the country work with Superintendents whose managerial style mimics those described by the former Microsoft employee.  How many principals, and superintendents have, “created a dysfunctional corporate (educational) culture in which the big established groups are allowed to prey upon emerging teams, belittle their efforts, compete unfairly against them for resources, and over time hector them out of existence.”  To paraphrase Mr. Bass’ article, it is no wonder greatest and most talented younger people wind up leaving the teaching profession after only a few years.  No wonder why schools have a hard time recruiting new teachers.  What young person, raised and nurtured in a system that encourages creativity and thinking wants to work in such a system?

W. Brian Arthur’s book, The Nature of Technology discusses the question raised by my colleagues at the Grantmakers for Education.  This professor and visiting researcher at the Palo Alto Research Center says in his most recent book, “…we have no agreement on what the word ‘technology’ means, no overall theory of how technologies come into being, no deep understanding of what ‘innovation’ consists of … missing is a set of overall principles that would  give the subject a logical structure, the sort of structure that would help fill these gaps.”

Without a common understanding of what innovation can mean, it should be no surprise that school officials react negatively when the concept is introduced.  Unfortunately, these same officials and their teachers do not embrace the urgency that is needed to explore the ways in which technology can and is challenging the way students learn and achieve.  The lack of any state sanctioned Innovation Zones results in too many classrooms across the states tinkering with technology and learning.  This parody, done by students at University of Denver, show the less than optimal results.

My vision for Ohio would be to legislate the establishment of Educational Innovations Zones.  More specifically  the legislation would support the establishment of five Innovation Zones throughout the State.  This concept starts out being consistent with the Ohio School Improvement Program which, is aspirational at best, but which, in my opinion, flounders in implementation.

Ohio’s School Improvement Program

…Rather than focusing on making improvement through a “school-by-school” approach, Ohio’s
concept of scale up redefines how people operate by creating a set of expectations that, when
consistently applied statewide by all districts and regional providers, will lead to better results for
all children. OLAC’s recommendations are supported by recent meta-analytical studies on the
impact of district and school leadership on student achievement, and provide strong support for
the creation of district and school-level/building leadership team structures to clarify shared
leadership roles/responsibilities at the district and school level, and validate leadership team
structures needed to implement quality planning, implementation, and ongoing monitoring on a
system-wide basis.

The two concepts diverge however when I suggest that these “zones” include some of the best teachers from varying districts within the region.  An ideal zone would include teachers from public, charter and private schools as well as home-schools, who can demonstrate a creative approach to education.  The zones would be given a five-year time period to meet regularly and demonstrative clear and effective methods to improve teaching and learning.  More importantly, these zones would be encouraged to demonstrate effective assessment tools to measure success using these new approaches.  Also within these zones, school administrators and teachers would be charged with coming up with tools that will demonstrate clear cost-savings to the business of educating.  For example,  can a ‘zone’ be managed in new ways that would allow the State to reduce the number of high-paid superintendents and curricular officers.  These zones could and should be given levels of autonomy.  Rather than the current Office of Innovation    These offices could report to the Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement which by its description is simply another management office to tinker with what is already in place.  It is certainly NOT a way to stimulate the real innovation that needs to take place on the peripheries.  The zones can be virtual places such as SecondLife where people across long physical distances can meet regularly.

These innovation zones would be managed by local boards, consisting of educators from K-12, educators from higher education, business leaders, education technologists and accountants who will help oversee the evolving budgetary implications of innovation.  These board would report out to a State and/or National official on a quarterly basis.  Real innovation would be posted similar to the way that the Lucas Foundation’s site Edutopia reports out on innovative uses of technology by individual teachers and schools across the country.

In an ideal world, these zones would be the targets of Federal Race to The Top funding.  It is not inconceivable that other states could legislate innovation zones and a national competition be underway to demonstrate real innovation in teaching and assessment for learning.  To appease the teachers unions which will likely fight this every step of the way, the legislation should be firm (urgency should prevail), but allow for the entire concept of innovation zones to be scraped if no significant cost-savings or significant gains in learning take place.  We can go back to the way things were.

It is important to realize that real innovation will be a process.  A process similar to medical research in which making mistakes is allowed.  Failures should be published and shared.  Medical researchers can learn as much from failure as they seek to create new and effective protocols for treating disease.  Similarly, risk taking can be encouraged with the understanding that all will learn from success as well as failure.

Referring again to Dr. Arthur’s book one can understand why these innovation zones need not be concentrated in one particular school building or “district” as we have come to know them bound by geographic lines drawn over a century and a half ago.  The zones need to be centers of knowledge as well as ways of thinking.  This thinking by its nature will conflict with the aspiration to equilibrium too many school administrators crave.

…when new bodies of technology – railroads, electrification, mass production, information technology – spread through an economy, old structures fall apart and new ones take their place.  Industries that were once TAKEN for GRANTED become obsolete, and new ones come into being.

Real advanced technology – on-the-edge sophisticated technology – issues not fro knowledge but from something I will call deep craft. Deep craft is more than knowledge.  It is a set of knowings.  Knowing what is likely to work and what not to work.  Knowing what methods to use, what principles are likely to succeed, what parameter values to use in a given technique.  Knowing whom to talk to down the corridor to get things working, how to fix things that go wrong, what to ignore, what theories to look to.  This sort of craft-knowing takes science for granted and mere knowledge for granted.  And it derives collectively from a shared culture of beliefs, an unspoken culture of experience.”

The urgency remains.   Too many good teachers who are indeed professionals are not meeting their potential due to a system that has lost its ability to mange.   Philanthropy can play a role by working with the State to fund these centers of innovation.  President Obama is working with the MacArthur Foundation to stimulate innovation in education with a $2 million competition.  Other foundations across the country could pick up the challenge but I believe that better coordination with the States who ultimately run education would be a better approach.  More on this later.

Larry King and Sarah Palin talk about the civic fabric

Dear Reader,

I thought the letter would intrigue you, please read on…

When I was in seventh grade, Sister Michael Mary emphasized that, “…to be anything in life, you must always re-read anything you write out loud and to yourself. The task was reemphasized later in high school with my teacher, Sister Kevin Marie. I found myself channeling my inner nun with my high-school aged sons urging them to do the same with each of their essays. Everyone in my family has tried a variety of text-to-voice tools but they never really worked well. My wife is a teacher of languages at Oberlin College and runs a blog called Language Lab Unleashed. She showed me a very interesting tool that teachers are exploring in classrooms. It is called Xtranormal, and could have applications in classrooms. Just to play with it, I decided to use a “Letter to the Editor” which the Cleveland Plain Dealer Published on January 3, 2010. The original letter which comments on a ruling by the Ohio High School Athletic Association with regard to a soccer tournament at a private school in Cleveland.  The result would make Sisters Kevin Marie and Michael Mary happy.

January 03, 2010, 4:07AM

The story of the forfeiture of the Hathaway Brown soccer team’s state title should anger every parent of a child engaged in sports at any high school in the state. The Ohio High School Athletic Association rules were developed to address the inane acts of a few misguided adults and coaches who, instead of serving as role models of good sportsmanship, will stack teams in an effort to win at all costs.Having coached recreational youth soccer over the years, I was amazed at the number of parents who thought they had permission to verbally assault coaches and referees. More shocking was the number of coaches who would try to find “ringers” to win a game. These few adults are the ones to blame for this hideously stupid set of rules developed by OHSAA.

I know of several young people at independent schools who, through no fault of their own, transferred to new schools and were prohibited from participating on the new schools’ teams. Past actions of self-serving adults created a situation that now punishes young people across the state.

Adults need to learn that cheating to meet their own unfulfilled fantasies has an effect on the entire civic fabric. The OHSAA needs to be less punitive, re-examine its rules and consider a policy that will allow the student, his or her parents and the school’s coach and principal to develop a policy on a case-by-case basis rather than submit to a rule like this that creates cynicism and resentment.
John Mullaney, Oberlin

I realize that few people take the time to read letters to the editor, especially on a Sunday.  To enhance the impact of my comments, I decided to turn my letter to the editor into an discussion topic featuring Larry King and Sarah Palin.  I took the time to add additional comments.  The outcome is, if nothing else, mildly entertaining.

So I also did a similar adaptation of a paragraph from the a June 14 2009 post on this blog. Here is how it turned out.

I am not sure yet how these tools can apply to foundations, philanthropy and the nonprofit world. I thought perhaps an entire board book in this format could provide an added dimension to the dreadful anticipation of “the Board Book.” Any viable suggestions would be welcome. One are where there might be some interest is in the area of autism where children seem to relate well to computer games.

Innovation Zones in Education and Government

In previous blog postings, I lament the fact that governments are slow to pick up on implementing Innovation Zones.  On reflection, I realize –as is often the case – the problem perhaps related in our groups inability to provide a more precise vision of what  an Innovation Zone could look like.

Compounding the problem is the fact that Innovation by its nature implies risk-taking.  Government entities (and some philanthropic institutions) tend to be risk averse.

I have struggled with the question how can philanthropy play a role in galvanizing the community around the idea of implementing zones where we can do something about the many glaring inefficiencies we see in our local governments.  I continue to be intrigued by Innovation Zones.  Some municipalities have introduced Innovation Zones but these are typically involve tax incentives between public and private entities to attract new businesses into towns.  The Innovation Zone I propose of are not to attract new business, but change the ineffective ‘business as usual approach to public management.  These Innovation Zones  engage the public, private, university and nonprofit sector in a zone (virtual and real) to demonstrate new collaborations that will result in cost savings and produce greater efficiencies in service delivery.  I hope that soon philanthropy will help to develop just one as a demonstration site that can be replicated in many other communities across the country.

I am going to attempt to answer for myself the following questions.  Anyone reading this blog is welcome to comment and perhaps provide answer I cannot see at this point.

  • What is an innovation zone mean?
  • How does one create and foster innovation zones?
  • What is the goal of an innovation Zone?

Continue reading

Innovation Districts – An Exciting Initiative to Transform Education in the State of Ohio

I was a member of the education task force for the Ohio Grantmakers Forum which produced a set of recommendations for changing education in the State of Ohio for the Governor and legislature.  Beyond Tinkering was the report and I have written about the effort in previous posts.  The full document can be found at.

One of the most satisfying results of the effort was gathering information from colleagues from other foundations to push the idea of innovation districts.  We used legislation out of Colorado as the inspiration.  The call for creating innovation districts in Ohio is the first recommendation in the report.  When the report was published, I did not think the Governor or the legislature would seriously consider the idea of innovation districts. It had certainly hoped it would and my colleagues can attest to the fact that I pushed for it every meeting we had.   It appears however that both the Ohio House and Senate are intrigued by the idea and have written it into the education budget.  It has to go to conference and perhaps will actually become a reality.  Should that happen, the state has opened up an exciting opportunity for transforming education and establishing national models.

Among the many excellent recommendations in the report, several have particular relevance to legislators who are genuinely interested in transforming education in the state. The idea of creating innovation districts has all the potential  to develop budget-neutral programs that could serve as models for all districts in the state. In a time of budgetary constraint, it is my guess that if they are developed carefully, and with strong leadership from the top offices in the state, innovation districts could result in cost-savings over time.

I underscore the call to create innovation districts rather than schools.  There are many school-based programs spearheaded by exceptionally creative teachers.  Unfortunately, these programs are restricted too often to one classroom.  In some cases, we see school buildings implementing innovative use of technology to support learning, but it is once again,  more often-than-not these innovations lack any alignment with the other buildings in the same district. In my travels I have heard disturbing news that successful schools are often scorned by peers in their districts.  I had the great pleasure to explore the  Macomb Academy in Michigan.  The leadership there has implemented a highly successful approach to learning with emphasis on Sciences based on the approaches advocated by the Natural Learning Institute. Despite the demonsrable success, Macomb teachers and leaders are resented by peers in their district because they have developed their own method of teaching and assessment that diverges from the norm.

I bring up this case because  a. it is not the first time I have heard cases of professional jealousy of this type crippling innovation in schools and b. because I think it illustrates a reason why we need to stop creating innovation schools as isolated entities within districts that may or may not be on board.  The emphasis must be on the district as a whole.  An innovation district would focus efforts on an entire community, and put benchmarks in place that could measure success.  Foundations could be called upon to help support these districts and direct funding to the support positive outcomes to the benchmarks put into place.

An innovation district would focus efforts on an entire community, and put benchmarks in place that could measure success.  Foundations could be called upon to help support these districts and direct funding to the support positive outcomes to the benchmarks put into place.

The language in the OGF Byond Tinkering report is very clear.  It calls for, “A bold plan for accelerating the pace of innovation – for restructuring the traditional industrial model of teaching and learning and for addressing the lowest-performing schools in our state.”  That includes a recommendation to create innovation districts. I purposely put emphasis on districts and not innovation schools.  Further in the report, is the call to “Develop a statewide P-16 education technology plan.” “Which includes improving teacher capacity in using technology.”  What better way to set this off than a district whose mission and focus would be to develop a plan that will train teachers on appropriate use of technology to meet the student learning objectives.

These recommendations are the primary ingredients for developing districts which – if properly carried out – could serve as a model for public schools across the country. The leadership would have to have the political will to take on the political battles which will be waged by interest groups.  It would prove the political leadership is finally willing to move Beyond Tinkering and transform learning opportunities.  Set the bar high and challenge these districts to carry out the plans in a budget-neutral environment and it is my guess most administrators and teachers would meet that challenge.   Ideally there would be five or more districts set up and given a five to ten-year exoneration from current collective bargaining and technological rules that could thwart the overall effort. For example, teachers in the district would not be able to “opt out” of professional development programs that would be essential to creating the districts.  If teachers do not want to participate fully in the learning opportunity they can be ushered to other districts or find employment elsewhere. That is where extreme leadership is required from multiple stakeholders in the state including union leadership, superintendents the ODE, the Oho Federation of Teachers and the Ohio School Board.  Getting them to agree means providing a coherent vision and establishing certain benchmarks to measure quality improvement.

The objective would be to create districts focused on excellence in learning. We are speaking of a new understanding of learning from pre-conceived ideas.  That means educating the stakeholders to the remarkable opportunities that new technology provides.  I had the privilege of attending a presentation by Helen Parke, Director of the Cisco Learning Institute.  During the Sunday evening keynote, Ms. Park presented a vision of education technology to a group of K-6 math teachers from across the state of Ohio.  This was a vision of Web 3.0 solutions to problems.  The conference continued for two days with the task of finding solutions to the challenge of improving the quality of math teaching in schools across the country.  Teachers were treated to presentation from education “experts” from universities across the country. As the weekeind went on however, teachers were challenged with coming up with solutions to the problem – To improve Math scores in schools across the state.  Unfortunately, the so-called solutions called for more funding to provide “math coaches” in buildings across the districts.  It was as if the presentaion from Ciso never happened.  Teachers were unable to make the connection between 3.0 software and its potential to solve their problems.  In short, we had 1.0 solutions to problems in a world where 3.0 can provide easy answers.  The experience convinced me that a better job needs to be done to invite teachers to experience and understand the technology.  Short of that, they will never understand the potential these technologies hold.  Professional development needs a complete 360 evaluation and (I would guess) a complete overhaul.

In such these innovation districts, a district adults would learn as well as  the students.. Teachers would be respected as the professionals they are, and encouraged to work with administrators and technologists to find ways in which technology can be used to find solutions to issues like student-centered learining, new ways of assessment and rethinking the way we establish standards.  Teachers would be encouraged th think of new ways to help children understand the content.

In these districts, goal would be to use technology to support student engagement and understanding of the content. Technology cannot and should not be expected to replace  learning that takes place between and among human beings.  It is not to create innovation for the sake of innovation, but to establish a culture of learning that will likely change the current model of one-teacher in a room in front of twenty students each of whom is expected to pass a testing pattern based on a pre-established set of standards.  Technology presents students and teachers with new ways to gather, assemble and demonstrate knowledge that exposes the shortcomings in the current system of assessment.  A challenge for the district would be to allow teachers in shared learning communities, to develop meaningful systems of assessment that make use of the tools available.  The result could be an incarnation of the “student-centered” learning module that has gotten a lot of lip service with few demonstrable models.

A major challenge to the district leadership would be to demonstrate reasonable cost savings as a resulting from use of social software. (For example why would five districts each need a “curriculum director” when one could possibly suffice. Could each of these districts demonstrate effective use of open-source tools to reduce the cost to the district (approximately $800 per student for textbooks used only one-year).

A district-wide initiative across the state would require an entities that supports the multi-district application.  I suggest that a good model can be found in a November 2008 article in the Harvard Business Review by authors James Cash, Jr., Michael J. Earl, and Robert Morrison.  Teaming Up to Crack Innovation Enterprise Integration is written for the business growth with focus on CEO’s, Chief Information Officers (CIO’s) and IT organizations.  The model easily adapts to a State education bureaucracy and includes two elements that would be critical to the success of the Innovation districts.  Their thesis is relatively straightforward.  Here is how they summarize the concept:

  • IT has long been a catalyst of business innovation and essential to cross-functional integration efforts, but few large companies have systematically leveraged technology for these purposes.
  • Close study of 24 U.S. and European businesses reveals a model for systematically doing that that through the formation of two IT-intensive groups for coordinating these two processes that are critical to organic growth
  • A distributive innovation group (DIG) combines a company’s own innovative efforts with the best of external technology to create new business variations.  The enterprise innovation group (EIG) folds yesterday’s new variations into the operating model of the enterprise.
  • The two groups help better identity, coordinate, and prioritize the most-promising projects and spread technology tools, and best practices.

An effective DIG and EIG could be set up within an office within the Ohio Department of Education but that is likely to be too insular and protective.  My suggestion is that  an outside agency such as the Cisco Learning Initiative or the OneCommunity in Cleveland could be a better locus for the activity.  I say that only because a good innovation district would want to gather ideas from both public and non-public schools.  Foundations could provide a service by funding the costs of the DIG and EIG officers for the course of the five-year period.   Paying salary and benefits for a year is well within ambit of  funding levels tolerated by foundations, even in this challenging economic environment.  Additionally, outside funding could guarantee that the data gathered is open to all who may want to benefit from it.    So, if we imaging these two offices set up to serve the five-districts their scope of work could be defined pretty much by what is presented by the HBS authors.   This is what they would recommend including my insertions between parentheses:

A distributed innovation group (DIG) … doesn’t “do” innovation but rather fosters and challenges  it.  Innovation is an inherently distributed activity, encompassing innovators across and outside the corporation ( ‘districts’).  The DIG serves as the center of expertise for innovation techniques, scouts for new developments outside the company ( ‘district’) and provides experst for internal innovation initiatives.  And it deploys technologies and methods that facilitated collaboration and innovation.

An enterprise integration group (EIG) is dedicated to the horizontal integration of the corporation (‘districts)’ and among the buildings w/in the district).  It picks from among competing integration projects and provides resources that enable them to succeed.  It develops the architecture and management practices that make business (educational) integration easier over time..  It may also manage of portfolio of integration activities and initiatives;  serve as the corporation’s ( ‘district‘) center of expertise in process improvement,  large project management,  and program and portfolio (curricular) management; and provide staff and possibly leaders for mager business (school) integration initiatives.

The money for this undertaking could be secured from private  sources but in the longer term, funds are likely to be found with more efficient use of funds that currently feed the Educational Service Centers across the state.  Another foundation or group of foundations can and/or should coordinate with the ODE and hire a group like the RAND Education corporation to conduct a complete evaluation of the efficacy of professional development in the state and the role of the Education Service Centers in light of this new initiative.   I would imagine their is opportunity for a vast overhaul of the administrative function of the ESC'(s) across the state.

Technology should not be focused only on the curricular components of the project.  Innovative approaches to addressing the social service supports need to be integrated into the process.  Social services as well as primary health and mental health programs must be brought to the schools in new ways.  Achieving this goals will require new ways of working the the multiple state and nonprofit agencies that provide support to families in some of the more impoverished districts.  Why can’t mental health and primary health screening programs be place right in school buildings.  School buildings can be a logical catchment for families who will bring their children to schools.  It is essential that innovation districts consider new ways in which social support services can be ushered into the schools. It is common knowledge that too many teachers are expected to teach children who do not have access to essential primary health care or mental health services. A local physician our foundation has supported conducted a study in a Lorain City elementary school and found that more than 25% of the children suffered from chronic asthma which accounted for about 40% of the absences from school. Children that suffer from undiagnosed chronic illness cannot be expected to learn. If a child is not feeling well, no increase in mentoring, after-school programs or mandatory extended days will enhance learning. Currently State programs for help these youngsters are funneled through a variety of public entities and/or nonprofit organizations but few of these entities (if any) have a presence in the school buildings. State regulations and sometimes collective bargaining rules keep these services from being performed in the building.

I would propose that a Ohio Innovation district(s) would lift all restrictions that keep essential social services out of schools thereby creating a place where schools can be a center for families rather than just students. The Harlem Childrens Zone serves as an interesting model. Getting there would be a process – probably six-months to a year, where health officials (public and private providers), school board members, teacher and administrators would form a task force to articulate a plan of how these services would be made available for each school. The plans would be posted on an open site and other districts could have input. The plans would be compared and funneled to the DIG. A goal for each plan would be to demonstrate where the plan could result in cost savings to the entire community served by this new Innovation district.

A third and final goal would be to create a place where leaders from higher education meet regularly with leaders and teachers from K-12 to ensure that the two areas are seamless. Almost every educator I speak with agrees that in the United States, there is virtually no formal communication between K-12 and “higher-Ed.” The technology available to citizens of this country is making that disjuncture a serious threat to the goal we have to create and educational system that will set the stage for young people to succeed in college and beyond.

Take a look at two Youtube video’s by Dr. Richard Miller from Rutgers University. He provides a vision for what university/college teaching will look like in the not too distant future. Although geared to an audience in higher education, his vision casts shadows on the K-12 environment.  He talks about transforming pedagogy and even learning spaces. If this vision is even remotely true, the question facing K-12 teachers across Ohio are preparing children for this future?

It is time for some state or group of state to introduce the idea of innovation districts to create  a space where innovation can combine with tried and true best practices and create new approaches to learning that can be brought to scale and save money.

Can P-16 Compacts usher Innovation Districts for Education?

Last week, I met with my colleagues from the Ohio Grantmakers Forum (OGF) Education Task Force.  The purpose of the meeting was to get an update on how the report recommendation Beyond Tinkering influenced Governor Strickland education budget.  The publication purports to  help guide policy to “Create Real Opportunities for Today’s Learners and for Generations of Ohioans to Come.”  The budget in its current form does little to meet that reality.

The Governor ignored the number one recommendation placed forward by the philanthropic sector which is to create several education  “Innovation Zones” throughout the State.   He also ignored another compelling recommendation which was to establish a Statewide P-16 Education Technology Plan. Instead his staff appropriated $200,000 in the budget to establish a Creativity and Innovation Center within the Ohio Department of Education (ODE).   I suggested the Governor would do well to reallocate that line item to another area because such a center  ultimately serves as another top-down management tool for a system that needs another organizational system.

The education reform – dictated by budge constraints promises to be an expensive Tinkering Project informed by political agendas. It is discouraging as a funder to see incredibly innovative approaches to teaching and learning at places like Case and Oberlin College ignored by the pubic school sector.   It is energizing to meet the vast number of teachers and people across the country who are pushing innovation in schools in informal networks.  It is most disheartening to see how little foundation people, business leaders and school bureaucrats  understand the potential technology has to support innovative approaches to learning and understanding.  Foundations in particular seem to be risk averse when it comes to seeking out true innovation.  Too many of us resist appealing to the god of “Evidence-based practices” which seem only to gain credibilty if funded through expensive consultants from graduate schools of education.  To me, that term is becoming argot or those who fear real change to public schools as we know them.

As I watch this budget develop, I find it tragic that those who advise the governor seem to lack any understanding of the power and impact that new learning technologies can have not only in schools but in the market as well.  The new technologies and approaches come with massive disruptive change in school management and teaching.  Perhaps a concept far too big for policy makers to embrace.

One of the most formidable challenges for this Governor is changing i educational management in communities where the economic downturn continues to erode civic virtue.   The following article appeared in the Elyria Chronicle, the newspaper for a mid-west city where the loss of manufacturing jobs has resulted in decreased population and concentration of poverty in the city core.  Elyria was once a center of commerce in this part of NE Ohio.  Fifty years ago, a working-class family could afford a nice home, have a yard, worship at the church or temple of their choice, join clubs and graduate from schools.  The good life attracted families in the post-war boom years.  The school district has struggled with low-performing outcomes on State Standardized tests coupled with increases in social ills associated with poverty.  On the same day, the paper reported incidents about a shooting of a teen in one neighborhood, the resignation of the county law director who was jailed for drunk driving, a severe beating of one school wrestler with another at a garage party where beer and marijuana was present and a story about the former director of the Community Development Corporation (South Elyria CDC) who is a fugitive from the law – accused of stealing more than $50,000 from the agency.

Many in the next generation of those baby boom families have left the region resulting in population decrease and with that diminished need for the various school buildings.   Last week The Elyria Chronicle  paper announced the board decided to close two neighborhood schools. As a result, students will be bussed to another building which will now serve as a consolidated school.  Note the report on how administration will address the teaching staff.  If you are a new teacher, your abilities mean nothing.  Union rules make it that no matter what the skill level seniority trumps ability.

In addition to the closings, the district — which also has a projected deficit for 2013 — will lay off 23 teachers — eight at the elementary level, 13 secondary and two special education teachers.

(The), district director of human resources, said the 23 teachers will be notified this week of the reduction plan. At the April 8 board meeting, board members will vote to approve the contract termination of each.

He does not anticipate that enough veteran teachers will decide to leave the district before that time, saving some of the younger teachers from losing their jobs.

So far, only three retirements have officially been announced. There are no plans to offer any sort of retirement incentive, he said.

The teachers slated to be lost have one to three years of experience with the district.

Combined, the cost-cutting measures will save the district $2.25 million annually and erase the projected 2012 deficit while decreasing the 2013 deficit to $700,000, (The)Superintendent said.

As I read the article, I drew parallels to what has happened in the manufacturing sector in many towns in this Great Lakes region.  Factories are closing across the county.  We see the empty and furloughed factories of the car manufacturers  who are now in danger of bankruptcy due to obsolete management and product design that make their cars irrelevant to the American buying public. Other businesses have moved abroad or to the South because they cannot meet union demands.  I spoke with one businessman who told me he had a hard time finding workers who could pass random drug tests.  These are the realities contributing to the economic malaise in NE Ohio.  The malaise is transferred to some of the public schools as well. Teachers stick to obsolete curriculum and assessment tools.  Morale is low because they are not treated as professionals and the State pushes them to produce test results in the way a factory pushed workers to produce widgets.  In this envorinment, where teaching can be the last hold-out profession for families, I can understand how fear and protection can govern local policy decisions.  Change is long overdue, but the community does not seem prepared to even ask the right questions to find a way out.

The Fund for Our Economic Future is a unique collaboration of the philanthropic sector which  pooled funds  to support organizations by providing early-stage venture capital to innovative individuals with promising businesses.  In its first year, the Fund supported a region-wide conversation on the economic challenges called Voices and Choices .  This $3 million dollar effort captured community concerns.  Number one concern for the citizens of NE Ohio was addressing the poor educational system and the second was jobs.  The regions leaders were able to respond quite well to the jobs issue.  Working in coordination with the State to leverage   Third Frontier Funds into the region the Fund has worked closely with the business and political leadership to create an engine of economic activity for new and emerging business in the region.  The effort has resulted in tens of millions of new dollars coming into the region and the creation of  jobs.  The Cleveland Foundation has taken a lead role in collaborating with business and the universities directing funds to stimulate innovative businesses in energy and nanotechnology.

Elyria has one of Ohio’s best community colleges, Lorain County Community College with a magnificent new LEED certified building called the Entrepreneurship  Innovation Institute (EII) that provides training to people with ideas and shows them how to bring it to scale.  The Nord Family Foundation provided support to both the Fund for Our Economic Future and to local efforts with Team Lorain County and EII.  At the same time, Elyria, it is a tale of two cities.   On one end, stands this  center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation with a vision of moving this economically desperate community to the future.   On the other end  the school district is depressed and managing a response straight out of 1960’s.   There is little hope for true innovation because the bureaucracies will not allow change to happen if it means changing the way things have always been done.  It will not change as long as those in power will protect their jobs  to the detriment of the greater good.

This focused region-wide effort to reinvigorate and innovate in the manufacturing sector in NE Ohio has been seriously lacking in the education sector. There is no focus for discussion and no horizion with a vision of what can be.   Despite remarkable resources in centers like Case Western Reserve University’s Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education, One Community, Cleveland State (to name only a few) the public school system is stagnating with a system that resists any invitation for  innovation.  Few in the public education system in the region even know these resources exist much less how to make use of their innovations.  The public school system appears to be experiencing a random approach to innovation, and seems more concerned with addressing job retention within the system.  There are exceptions.  The success of the MC2STEM school initiatives show promise, but these schools are in the minority.  Rather than stimulating innovation, the  Governor’s draft budget hinder it because it includes language that will cut support to some of the most innovative charter schools in the State.

I cannot understand why a Governor so tuned to the need to stimulate innovation in industry, is so opposed to doing the same in education.  Why not create an innovation  and entrepreneur district in this town of Elyria? (other cities like Cleveland could be candidates as well)   Why not tap into the potential a P-16 compact could have in pushing that agenda.  If the car manufacturers and other industries are changing to meet the needs of the next 25 years, why can’t the bureaucracies that strangle innovation in education do the same?  To do that requires training and work, which many older teachers are – quite honestly – reluctant to do.

As a funder I hear stories from many people as to how the system does not serve the needs of students.  These confessional moments (as I call them) are not mere griping, but passion-felt laments over how “the system” is broken.  Most complaints however are whispered for fear of retribution of colleagues and superiors.  Recently once colleague shared the following thought with me.  He wanted to post it on a blog but was afraid of the consequences.

Title: Ranting, Nightmares and Interactive Whiteboards

I’ve been struggling to write blog posts lately.

My lack of posting isn’t for a lack of things to say. Nor is it for a lack of enthusiasm for my work with children or other educators.

I’ve been quite simply because I don’t want to lose my job for questioning the administration on the WWW. Nor do I want to anger colleagues, dedicated teachers who are indeed working very hard in their classrooms. I also don’t want to sound like a ranting lunatic or a nitpicking critic. I am not a classroom teacher – I’m a technology teacher – so who am I to critique classroom practices and the instructional designs of my colleagues? Although, I hardly call a 10-page purple packet filled with teacher-generated questions and lines on which to write answers a designed project for student learning.

But…I’m having nightmares. I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold, panicked sweat. I wonder when they’re coming to get me. Which grant funder will expose me as a fraud? In my latest nightmare I was being charged as an accomplice to “Crimes Against Children.”

Crimes Against Children? No, I’m not a pervert. I’m not skimming money off the budget. Nor am I purchasing materials for personal gain with district funds.

What am I?

I am a silent witness to lessons, projects and activities that either are not engaging, serve only the middle, do not provide opportunities for student choice, or only make use of technology to skill and drill students in hasty preparation for standardized tests. The longer I stay in public education, the more schooled I become. And I’m not using schooled in a complimentary fashion. As each day passes, I’m living out my own version of the situations described by the main character in Ted Sizer’s Horace’s Compromise.

Here’s my latest dilemma: My district spent over $250,000 – that’s a quarter of a million dollars of tax payer money – to place an interactive whiteboard in every single classroom in the school’s building projects. A quarter of a million dollars. We also offered numerous in-house courses for graduate credit where teachers could learn how to use the interactive software – the hallmark of the boards is the interactivity of the software. The company provides a marvelous website with free access to downloadable materials created by teachers, free tutorials, discussion forums, video highlights of teachers using the products in their classrooms, courses for nominal fees; we have our own user group; the company reps have been out to troubleshoot, train, provide 1:1 instruction – sky’s the limit! We have access to the whole nine when it comes to getting our teachers trained on the boards and the software.

Do you know what most of our teachers are doing w/ their interactive whiteboards? Guess. Please.

Using them as nothing more than display devices to complete worksheets. Yup. Giant, expensive overhead projectors.

If I were the curriculum director, the tech director, heck! the treasurer of that district – if I were in an administrative role in this district  – I’d want to see one – just one – one example per month from each building of an interactive lesson – something that STUDENTS do at the board –  an activity created by the teacher, that takes advantage of the interactivity of the board and a sample of what the kids did AT THE BOARD! If I were an administrator I’d want access to a board so I could try out this interactive lesson – see how it feels to learn at the board – try my hand with the magic wand that makes things move on the board – demonstrate my understanding with an innovate piece of equipment.

But…I’m not in charge. I’m not even in a position where I could safely express this observation without being ousted by my colleagues or reprimanded for suggesting that the administration doesn’t know what a technology-rich classroom looks like.

My fear is that my next nightmare will involve a tar and feathering for my unpopular opinions about classroom technology use.

Under normal circumstances, this lament could be considered a complaint by a disgruntled professional.  However, by serendipity or destiny, the article below was shared with me by my colleagues from Ohio Grantmakers Forum on the same day I received the e-mail above.   This article by Mike Lafferty at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Ohio  is a summary of a national report on the successful implementation (or not) of technology in classrooms.


Ohio earns a D-plus in use of technology in schools

Ohio, birthplace of the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, and Neil Armstrong has received a D-plus in the use of technology in education (see here), according to an Education Week survey.

Oddly, though, the state received a B-minus in the capacity to use technology, so we seem to have it but we don’t know what to do with it.

However, some Ohio education experts say the survey is misleading in that it misuses the term “technology” by implying only computer-related technologies and that it distorts the issue of “technology standards.” Technology includes aerospace, agriculture, manufacturing, materials, environment, energy, and other issues, they said.

In the survey of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Ohio was ranked 47th in the use of technology. Ohio tied Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington (all with D-plus scores). The District of Columbia was last with the lone F.

Education Week evaluated the use of education technology in four categories: Do state standards for students include technology? Does the state test students on the use of technology? Has the state established a virtual school? And, does the state offer computer-based assessments? Ohio met the standard only for having state achievement standards that includes the use of technology.

At the top were Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia. They all had scores of 100.

If Ohio needs a model, Colorado provides just that.  This month, the  legislature has approved Bill which allows for innovative districts.

Innovation is the key to education reform

By Dwight Jones

Updated: 04/13/2009 10:19:11 AM MDT

Everywhere we turn, we hear about the need for innovation in education. Four months ago, a Denver Post editorial proclaimed that “tinkering around the edges of reform” is insufficient to produce sustained improvements in public education. I could not agree more.

Education reform is easy to talk about but hard to do. At its core, reform is doing things a better way. With regard to education reform, however, we not only must do things better, we must get better results. Innovation is key.

As highlighted in a recent Post article, Colorado could soon receive several million dollars in federal stimulus money for public education. In addition to a fair share for programs that serve underprivileged students and those with disabilities, there is the prospect of additional funds earmarked for innovation. Known as “Race to the Top” funds, these funds will go to “a handful of states that devise the most innovative ways of improving education” — to the potential tune of $500 million per state.

The article concluded that Colorado has every reason to be optimistic. After all, with initiatives on longitudinal growth, charter school development, updated standards and performance-pay programs, Colorado has been in the forefront with regard to innovation and school reform.

Innovation is more than just a good idea, it’s about putting that good idea into practice. The Colorado Department of Education is presently pursuing a wide variety of innovative education models, including new approaches to teacher preparation, leadership development, school choice and the way in which education is funded. We are organizing strategies and directing resources in ways to innovate intentionally, and, in so doing, increase capacity to take to scale what improves education for Colorado’s students.

At the same time, the department is creating a statewide system of support for districts, built upon internationally competitive standards and greater expectations for ourselves and our students. This system will monitor, measure and foster what matters most — increased student achievement.

The department’s pursuit of innovation began in earnest in September 2007 when the State Board of Education called upon the department to modernize the Colorado Model Content Standards. The spirit of innovation was further kindled last year when Senate Bill 130, commonly referred to as the Innovative Schools Act and led by Peter Groff, president of the Colorado Senate, was enacted into legislation. This bill has allowed Manual High School and Montview Elementary School in Denver to implement new programs outside the constraints of traditional school policy.

This year, through the leadership of state Sens. Evie Hudak and Keith King, Senate Bill 163 promises to streamline accountability and to devote great support to struggling schools and districts. It also promises to shutter those schools that persistently fail. This legislation, if passed, will play a key role in the promotion of intentional innovation by providing a framework for us to fund what works and stop throwing money at what doesn’t. Innovation without accountability is not in our students’ best interests.

Working collaboratively with the Colorado Association of School Executives, the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Education Association, the governor’s office and our 178 school districts, it is increasingly clear that we all have a role to play in obtaining “Race to the Top” funds.

As mentioned in The Post, “Colorado is positioned well to win innovation money.” Winning the money, however, cannot be the goal, lest we win the race and miss the top. Instead, we must remain focused on supporting initiatives that transform the delivery of education and improve student achievement.Now that’s a race worth running.

Dwight D. Jones is Colorado’s commissioner of education.

I am skeptical that anything like the Colorado approach could happen in Ohio. I say this because of  the meeting last week.  Those that participated in writing the Beyond Tinkering Report, included representatives from the Ohio Education Association. To the astonishment of the entire group the OEA representatives complained that the Tinkering report that recommended changes in teacher tenure and hiring/firing rules misrepresented their position.  These OEA representatives participated in the working group for at least one-year and were at every session where the details of the issues were worked out.  I witnessed the representatives endorsement of the final edit. When the publication came out, others in the membership rebelled and urged the same representatives to let the Governor know the OGF report misrepresented their opinion. When our group asked the representatives to help us understand how it was they endorsed the final edit with us but renounced the document publicly the response was a marvel at political doubletalk and disingenuous representation of fact. This reaction helped my understand why the Governor and his staff are genuinely afraid of this powerful constituency that can twist fact to meet a political agenda and appease and seething membership. After the meeting, a colleague of mine was shaking his head saying, “If a liberal democrat like me can leave here disgusted with union behavior, they – as a group are in serious trouble.”  It also helped me understand why a Gubernatorial candidate with an eye to another election has disregard innovative recommendations because they will clearly incite t alienate a powerful voting block.

All this being said, allow me to dream for a minute.  Suppose the P-16 compact I described in the earlier post were to stand-up to the legislature, the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers and say, Enough!  There is however one glimmer of hope.  The same town of and the Community College are host to a newly created P-16 or (P-20) compact.   Suppose that P-16 were to take similar approach that took place as the Denver districts and demand change in the system as it has been brought to the Ohio public with little change since 1835?

Here is where a P-16 compact could have an interesting impact by possibly crafting legislative language that like the Colorado law,  would allow that body to override state laws and collective bargaining agreements.  P-16’s are comprised of leaders from all sectors of the community including business, nonprofits, government and even education.  Suppose that group were to try to effect legislation in Columbus that would allow for the creation of an extension of the Innovation Zone on one side of town to include and Innovation District?  Would a P-16 have the political courage to suggest that (for example) the Elyria Schools District be declared an Innovation District that would, “…implement new policy outside the constraints of traditional school policy.”  just as Manual High School covered on NPR) and Montview School.

Here is what the  law says:

The Colorado State Legislature passed the Innovation Schools Act in 2008 (Senate Bill 08-130). The law is intended to improve student outcomes by supporting greater school autonomy and flexibility in academic and operational decision-making.

The law provides a means for schools and districts to gain waivers from state laws and collective bargaining agreements. The law includes procedures and criteria for a school or group of schools within a school district to submit to its local board of education a proposed plan of innovation. A local school board may initiate and collaborate with one or more public schools of the school district to create innovation plans or innovation school zones.

The law:

  • Allows a public school or group of public schools to submit to its school district board of education an innovation plan to allow a school or group of schools to implement innovations within the school or group of schools. The innovations may include but are not limited to innovations in delivery of educational services, personnel administration and decision-making, and budgeting.
  • Requires the local board to review each submitted plan and approve the school as an innovation school or the group of schools as an innovation school zone or reject the plan.
  • Allows a local board to initiate creation of a plan in collaboration with one or more schools of the school district. The law specifies the minimum contents of a plan, including the level of support needed from the personnel employed at the affected schools.
  • Encourages schools, groups of schools, and local boards to consider innovations in specified areas and to seek public and private funding to offset the costs of developing and implementing the plans.
  • Allows a local board to submit the plan to the commissioner of education and the state board of education and seek designation as a district of innovation (following creation or approval of one or more plans by the local board).
  • Directs the commissioner and state board to review and comment on the plan, and directs the state board to make the designation unless the plan would likely result in lower academic achievement or would be fiscally unfeasible.
  • Requires the state board to provide a written explanation if it does not make the designation.
  • Directs the state board to grant any statutory and regulatory waivers requested in the plan for the district of innovation, however, certain statutes may not be waived by the state board.

I am afraid that the first line of this program would result in a collective paroxysm among members of the OEA and teachers union.  But without that type of true leadership, nothing will change.  An Innovation District would take the report from the educational technologist and go back to the classroom to find out why teachers are not using smartboards to their potential.  An Innovation district would encourage teachers to take risks using new technology to enhance learning.  An innovation district would arrange to have a district office to share exciting breakthrough in classroom learning with others and discuss ways in which those practices can be shared.  An Innovation District would make use of  Universal Design for Learning and find ways in which technology can be used to make  implicit understanding of subject matter, explicit and in a form that validates their accomplishments.  In an innovation district teachers would be treated as professionals and be rewarded for success.  An Innovation Zone and a  P-16 district would  be successful if they can go beyond tinkering which has been the case for far too long.  These ailing districts could use the help of Innovation MAN who talks about Innovation but has to be reminded of the most important step – Implementation.

That implementation will require the school bureaucracies to go outside the silo of Public Education and invite the business community to ask questions about how things are done. If the teachers are no using smartboards to their potential, where and or what is the obstacle preventing that? What is the quality of professional development currently offered by the State Educational Services Centers?

A really interesting challenge for the Governor and his advisers is – set up several Innovation Districts across the State.  Initiate a five-year competition to see which one can come up with some of the most cost-effective uses of open-source educational tools and demonstrate cost efficiencies and higher learning outcomes.  Financial incentives could be put into place to reward teachers and/or districts that can bring those innovations to scale.  I am sure many will take on that challenge.

A serious P-16 would challenge the community to ask the same questions posed by Richard Baramiuk of Rice University’s Connextions project, and make use of  technology about one simple issue such as text books and how we use them in schools.  Why not pose a challenge to this district to come up with an alternative to text books which currently cost a district approximately $800, per child per year.  What about challenging a school to become knowledge ecosystems and work with teachers to figure out how to conduct assessment.  A successful innovation district, pushed by a strong P-16 compact could possibly  re-engineer schools to respond to the needs of children and reinvigorate hope into too many communities where parents cry in frustration over schools that are outdated, mismanaged and leaving too many children without hope of achieving the skills they will need to usher in the next few decades.

If this happens, foundations will be ready to provide support.  This is the type of programming will have high impact.  Anything less is just more of the same and, quite frankly not worth an investment of private monies.  Foundation funding portfolios demonstrate that there are too many charter, private and faith based as well as promising online  courses that are meeting the needs of students far more than what the public system currently offers.

If Ohio is serious about stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship in its obsolete manufacturing system, it must make the same honest effort to do the same for innovation in education.  The results are likely to pay off just as well.

Philanthropy, Politics and the "Religion" of Public Schools

Many of my previous posts have chronicled my involvement in the Ohio Grantmakers Forum’s efforts to gather input from “multi-stakeholders” who,  in some way, influence education in the State of Ohio.  The result is a publication for the Governor which I have talked about.  Several weeks since the publication the blow-back has begun to be felt.  The Governor received input from several other constituency groups but none as diverse as OGF’s.   In my opinion, the most promising recommendations from our report were not included, but more on that later. I would like to post a few thoughts on this interesting process.  The experience revealed many interesting interactions between politics, philanthropy and school-think.

First, it is now very evident to me that dealing with public school is analogous to dealing with institutional religion.  The good comes with the bad.  The battles are as intense and based in “belief” systems that, at times defy rational thought – and data.  Discussion can be stopped by strong convictions by the faithful who are convinced they have a corner on truth.  Such is the case in religion, and so it is -(I find) with devotees of public schooling.    People I have met who defend public schools defend their belief with the zeal of converts.  And as Shakespeare once said, “An overflow of converts – to bad.”    It is my experience that when I or anyone else offers a critique of “the public school system” the comments are tolerated at best but received with a low growl making me feel as if I an uttering heresy against the tenants of “public schooling.”  In Lorain County, where I live, my questioning of public schooling was met with the ultimate salvo – “Union-buster!” uttered by a university professor who teaches “education.”     Given the permissions that power and control offer, criticism of public schooling as we know it are often met with undertones of threat that can only be launched by those who are certain that what they are defending is true.  Such people make it very difficult for political leaders and for foundations to make any real impact on changing education.  I often think this is what it must be like for a neutral politician having to introduce political reform with mullahs in Iran.  So, I have come to learn that one must take small steps when trying to influence education policy – especially when representing an institution that has a large endowment and which, has the ability to exercise some political influence as well.  It is an intricate dance.

It is probably no surprise to discover that foundation personnel can bring their own beliefs about public schooling to the table when providing advice to political leaders.   In my opinion foundations should try very hard to base their policies on evidence and knowledge drawn from evaluation of projects they have funded.  That is the only authority by which they can contribute to political discourse.

In the field of philanthropy, there is no consensus as to how to support public schooling in the United States.  There are people and organizations that can tend to attract people of similar mind-set and experience.  Grantmakers for Education is a great organization that supports foundations that support a variety of projects.  GFE tends to attract foundations that are sincerely interested in reforming public education as we know it.  There have few  sessions addressing the future of education and influence in alternative ways of learning – although that is changing.  Philanthropy Roundtable is a fantastic organization that attracts a more conservative group of funders.  Roundtable hosts regional programs and site visits to innovative schools that tend to be charter and sometime voucher schools.  It would be fair to say that the Roundtable members would be more likely to support alternative educational business models that demonstrate success in learning.

In many ways, philanthropy and those who work in it, reflect the diversity of opinion held by the general public.   Personal belief can influence objectivity when philanthropy begins to take on policy as an organized front.  There, we need to exercise supreme caution.   As alluded to above, I have come to the realization that offering critique of public education is as dangerous as critiquing  a person or group’s religious beliefs.  There is a strong cultural aesthetic that if pushed too far, could have negative repercussions for the sector.  So again, caution is offered and here’s why.

The American public generally believes  in the universal access to education espoused by the founders of this Republic.  It should – universal education in the U.S. is the reason why the democratic experience has worked for 250 years.  Over the years, that concept has been institutionalized in a public schooling system which is as much a part of the American aesthetic experience as churches.  The variety of ways in which education is expressed has been the “public school” – typically a brick building with a flag on the front lawn, run by principals who lord over the function of the teachers in classrooms.  There is equal diversity about how the actual curriculum should be conducted and assessed.  The storm around the barrage of testing NCLB has produced is only one example of what and how assessment can take place.    That’s the way it has been for years and that is the way many people would like it to remain.  Public schools have a romanticized aesthetic to it that includes yearbooks, proms and most importantly sport’s teams.  Films like  like Hoosiers, and Television shows like Friday Night Lights celebrate the American aesthetic experience of high school by romanticizing stories of public schools and the role they play in the civic life of the community.  This is American public schools as believers see it, much like Bing Crosby’s role as Father O’Malley in  The Bells of Saint Mary’s romanticized but served as the iconic representation of the ideal of the Catholic Church in the 1940’s.  Hoosiers does not capture the agony of union disputes nor does the Bells of St. Mary’s capture alcohol or sex abuse that ran parallel to the aesthetic.  Probably one of the most relevant films on the role of public schools and their place in the community was the recent series by NOVA on the battle over intelligent design. (A must see).

My frustration withGovernor Strickland’s plan to change public schooling in Ohio is that he seems to be bowing to the romanticized notion of what public schools  should be.   I mentioned that he got advice from many constituencies with huge influence from leaders in the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Federation of Teachers .  Let us not forget that these two entities represent strong voting blocks and as such, a group any political leader does not necessarily want to alienate.  The problem is the ODE and the OFT are entrenched entities that have an interest in maintaining power and control over the way the educational system is run.  Much like the Roman curia or a Houses of Bishops, mullahs or any other gathering of “elders,”  this organization will not only justify but its reason to control how public schooling is shaped but it will also fight if need be.  Retribution can be fierce and good lawyers can be hired to contest any opposition.  Much like a religious hierarchy, the structure needs to maintain strong vertical reporting structures.  Control is easily maintained with a unified understanding and approach to the religious teaching.  Organizations of this type cannot handle diversity of opinion and clearly have no room for experimentation.

I have found that the ODE, the OFT and even some program officers in philanthropy can thwart innovative programming by making appeals to what I call  the god of research.  Clearly there is a need to have solid research around quality programming.  In fact there is too little research funded by philanthropy as indicated in the last chapter of Clayton Christensen’s book Disrupting Class.  The problem I see however is that too much of the education research suffers from what Ellen Gondfliffe Langemann writes in her book An Elusive Science – The Troubling History of Education Research

I believe it would not be inaccurate to say that the most powerful forces to have shaped educational scholarship over the last century have tended to push the field in unfortunate directions – away from close interactions with policy and practice and toward excessive quantification and scientism. p ix.

The Governor had an opportunity to implement some truly innovative programs that could launch education in Ohio into the 21st century appears to have caved  to the zealots of public schools who are more comfortable with 19th century schooling because they know it and can control it.   His policies to shut down on charter schools, eliminate “early-college” programs  and to focus on improved testing looks to me like a reactive attempt by the State to clamp down on opposition and innovation and demand conformity to thought and ultimately this idea of public schools.  Much of this is fueled by an important voting block – the Ohio Teacher Union.  Some of it supported by program officers who tend to favor quantified educational data before making a move.   I think that is an easy out allowing people to hold back  support for innovative programs that diverge from the public school norm.  In reality hiding behind data can be interpreted as an attempt to appeal to the power brokers like School Superintendents of large metropolitan areas, State Superintendents of Schools and ultimately Governors.

To me, the action from the Governor’s mansion  looks like the Vatican and its need to control uniformity of thinking with little tolerance for oppositional thinking.  (Women’s ordination, liberation theology, contraception, even teaching faculty at catholic universities are only a few of the issues that have met with little tolerance on the part of the curia).  This administration cannot tolerate any innovative change in education that takes place outside the paradigm and control of the State Department of Education and the Board of Regents.

Just as theists accept the proposition that God exists, so too public school devotees posit that public schools (which is different from public schooling), should and must exist for the benefit of the community.  How that concept of public schools is expressed is as varied as they way Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Jews, Muslims and all other religions develop aesthetic.  Each has an aesthetic and iconography based on their respective interpretations of what the word of god means to them and their followers.  The analogy can easily flip to the area of education where there is certainly no unanimity of thought about how learning can and should take place.  Just read my previous post called “Philanthropy, Education and Class -what are we thinking?” which discusses the work of. Dr. Kusserow on how class affects parents educational expectations for their childrens education and the people who teach them.

Elected officials have an ostensible allegiance to the voting constituency who put them in office but politicians must also appeal to general consensus if they want to be reelected.   They must also figure out how to raise the general public to act out of virtue and pursue what which is wise.  Just like people in philanthropy, elected officials are stewards of that form of public money.  Often, what is thought to be general consensus, especially in highly emotional issues such as schooling, might not be grounded in practical wisdom.  Too often, irrational belief trumps rational  judgement resulting in decisions that might be politically expedient but fundamentally unwise.  The challenge for any elected leader is how to manage truly innovative and imaginative education policy dealing with a strong political force that is poised to destroy you if you diverge too far from their own interest.

Unlike politics, foundations do not have to appeal to voters.  Their constituency is smaller – i.e. the trustees that serve on the boards and the communities they serve.   A community foundation is comprised of members of that community and more often than not, has purview to restrict grants within a geographic area.  The board is typically comprised of people who live in the community and experience the rhythm of daily life in places like Cleveland.   The director of a community foundation must appeal to current donors who also advise officers on how and where to direct distributions.  He or she must also try to find new donors who will be comfortable with making financial contributions that will increase the size of the foundation’s endowment, and thereby increase the amount of funds for charity.

A family and/or private foundation is different from community foundations because it is comprised of members who have ties to those who established the foundation (typically a successful ancestor).  Members of these foundations may or may not be living in those communities, and by nature of their election to the board, may be one-step removed from the political pressures a community foundation may have.  A family and/or private foundation operates from the endowment established by the ancestor.  It does not have to raise new money from the community.  As an institution, it does not have to dance as much around the politics that come into play with controversial issues.  That being said I must qualify that  if a private foundation engages in  education funding, that organization has a supreme obligation to conduct research on why education programs succeed.  It has a duty to support programs that promise to bring new-thinking to how education is conducted.  Free from some of the constraints to think with the rest of the community, the private foundations can seek out and support those who are not afraid to go against the grain and raise our sites to that which is virtuous and right in modeling moral skill.  It  can and should seek out programs and people that demonstrate wisdom but also brilliance.

A family foundation that fund education must have a high tolerance to permit improvisation and allow itself and organizations to fail occasionally.  Its staff and trustees need to be mentored by wise teachers, and the staff must learn how to learn how to respond wisely to  brilliant and gifted people in the field.  As I will reference below, wisdom without brilliance is not enough.

There is a nuanced but important difference here, and nothing is a better illustration of this than foundation involvement in public school education.  Similar to the constituency issue our Governor faces, Community Foundations must be careful not to ruffle the feathers too much of the standard concept of public schools.  Community Foundation must also guide the lead the larger community with practical wisdom drawn from experience and research.  Most, if not all, succeed in doing that.  As I mentioned above, concepts of public schooling are based in what I see as a “religion of public schools” which are grounded in the belief that public school is a good thing.  In the ideal, public school levels the playing field for all citizens and is an egalitarian solution to the need to educate all children. Teachers unions are strong voting blocks.  In the economically ravaged mid-west, teachers and their unions are a solid source of employment.  In challenging times, people are scared so any challenge to the unions and their membership will be perceived as a threat to livelihood.  The push-back will be fierce.  Community foundations must be sensitive to the political factions in the communities it serves and thereby may be more risk-averse to change in school bureaucracies.

Getting back to practical applications of my theorizing, the philanthropic effort by OGF to involve stakeholders in the effort to advise the governor how to prepare Ohio Schools for the 21st Century had its fallout.  The document contains recommendations for significant change to the way teachers can be dismissed, and receive tenure.

In a follow-up meeting with the head of the Ohio Teachers Union, the OGF team was informed by the union head that OGF  had “misrepresented” the views of the Union leadership.   That was a disappointing response.  I was in the meeting when the draft of the final document was being discussed.  There was no confusion about what was to be put into the document.   The representative warned the “multi-stakeholders” this would be a controversial set of recommendations.  When I heard the feedback that the union’s felt the recommendations were “missrepresented” we all wondered what happened.  One can only assume that when the recommendations were made to the membership, they pushed back vigorously and the leader had to find an “out.”   This is a coward’s game, but one that is all part of the cycnical system depicted in the clips I provide in earlier posts from The HBO  series “The Wire.”Therein lies the blowback.  When pushed to the wall, political interests will claim they were maligned, or misrepresented.  It lacks moral will to do the right thing. It lacks virtue.

Governor Strickland and his staff are beginning to take heat for what came out.  The results of thousands of dollars and hours of people’s time, is an education “plan” that reads like a document from the Vatican of the Religion of Public Schools.  The plan reads like a dogmatic dictum that will assert the State power of public schools across the country.  The Governor’s staff calls the plan “Historic Reform” Yet my read is that is incorporates few of the innovative recommendations from the Ohio Grantmakers Forum group.  In fact, it ignores the number one recommendation to create innovation districts in the county modeled on Colorado’s Innovative Schools Act of 2008.  This idea, if passed would lift the typical barriers to innovation in schools and allow teachers to be creative in addressing student learning styles.  Technology would be introduced to support these learning styles and a focused plan for teacher professional development would complement this plan.  Instead, we have a plan that extend the school day (with no allowance for new teaching styles), reformed tests for assessment and – most schocking a clamp down on charter schools and early college programs all of which show early signs of true innovation in learning.   The Dayton Daily News for Sunday March 8, 2009 ran an editorial voicing  a very succinct and clear protest of the Governor’s attempt to take this drastic and unnecessary action.

Foundations can and should continue to fund charter schools as well as initiative such as the early college programs.

I wish all members of the OGF Task Force including the public school bureaucrats could spend time viewing this remarkable talk by Barry Schwartz during the 2009 TED Conference.  Listen especially around miniute 9:30 and on.

In my opinion, philanthropy in general, and family philanthropy in particular should constantly question and challenge the educational system in this country.  In fidelity to the successful businessmen and women who created companies that account for the wealth, family philanthropy should push public schools to adopt strategies that will increase efficiency, honor professionalism but most importantly succeed by adopting practical wisdom to the endeavor.  This role can be played out by funding models that appear to work – like the KIPP Schools, the National Association of Street Schools, the Cristo Rey and Nativity schools, and successful programs such as CAST and Project Lead the Way.  They should support the research that will help bring them to scale in cities and rural areas across the country.   Public schools need not be afraid of these models, and would do well to apply practical wisdom among their leadership.

To repeat the words of Dr. Schwartz, foundations  and especially political leaders (and even the general public) need to reconnect to a sense of virtue and practical wisdom as it shapes an education plan for the next decade.  It must embrace new concepts and technologies and support new and exciting applications of brain research to learning.  In fact we need to revise the very way that educational research has been conducted on the district and state level.  We must move from an empasis on outdated metrics to more entrepreneurial problem solving approaches to education.

In his book The Future of Educational Entrepreneurship, Frederick Hess writes,

The public dollars that comprise more than 90 percent of all k-12 spending rarely support entrepreneurial problem-solving.  This meand that philanthropic giving, which accounts for a fraction of 1 percent of educational spending, has played an outsized role in the launch of new ventures like the KIPP Academies, Aspire Public Schools, New Leaders for New Schools and Teach for America.  Because k-12 education is nominated by government spending and because this money is consumed in salaries and operations, precious little is invested in research and development of new ventures.  Outside of the limited funding for charter school facilities and start-up costs, almost none of it support entrepreneurial activity.

In the private sector, the torrent of venture capital is accompanied by an ecosystem of institutions and actors that provide quality control, support new ventures and selectively target resources.  In education, especially when it comes to directing philanthropic dollars, such infrastructure is sparse.  The venture-capital communities that have sprung up in corridors like Silcon Valley and Route 128 in Boston are not plugged into K-12 education and equivalents do not exist in the world of schooling.

History has shown that Religion abhors scientific discovery.  Until the national community is willing to break out of its religious belief in a public school model that no longer represents the needs for 21st century learning skills, we will continue to be dominated by the dictums of those who control the religions of public school.  Practical wisdom will prevail and foundations have a role by giving voice to those who espouse it in education.

Philanthropy's influence on State Education Policy – Bold Ideas or More Tinkering: The Case of Ohio

Last year, the trustees of  foundation I work for provided a grant of $10,000 to support Ohio Grantmakers Forum (OGF) initiative on education for the state of Ohio.  The grant provided funding that convened   education leaders from across the State to develop policy recommendations  for Governor Ted Strickland.  The recommendations were to inform his vision for creating a school system that was ready to teach 21st Century skills.

The process of sharing ideas and knowledge from a variety of perspectives was an intellectual gift.   Some of my previous posts address parts of that experience.    The result of the year-long process were released last week by the OGF.  The day after its release, Governor Ted Strickland announced his long-awaited plan to improve education in the State of the State address on January 29, 2009.

Mr. Strickland’s address has been followed with a budget that is confusing to media pundits who admit they  do not  understand how many of his proposals will be paid for given the State’s enormous budget deficit.    What is clear however is that, two-years into his first tenure, Mr. Strickland ‘s plan is his launch of his campaign for a second term.  Curiously, the day after the budget was released, a city councilman from another part of the state  announced he would be a candidate to run against Mr. Strickland in 2010.

So the philanthropic collaboration to focus on making profound change in education in Ohio has been tempered by the frustrating realities of politics and negotiation.  Our document maps out a series of recommendations with two time horizons.  The first is a very short horizon that would address  ways to change immediate obstacles to managing  a complex organizational structure.  The issues in the short term –  changes to teacher tenure rules, teacher residency requirements, a change in the tests to determine assessment, and lengthening the school year by 20 days, enable the Governor to  garner political attention around an issue which registers high on the interest levels among residents in the state.  These changes do absolutely nothing to focus on the longer-range  need to disrupt the old way of doing education in the state.  Although the governor talks about the need and urgency to change the way education takes place in Ohio if we are to prepare students for the next century, his list of priorities focus on short -term changes that will tinker with the current system as we know it.  The longer-term need to introduce technology to innovate and improve student learning is pushed off to what I suspect could be an agenda for a second political term.  In the meantime the State will offer no clear and decisive map to guide the disruption that is urgently needed if we are to really transform teaching and learning in Ohio.

The hope that the report engendered related to truly bold programs and initiatives and investigate new approaches to learning and technology were eclipsed by political ballet that will reshuffle state dollars for the funding formula, palaver about firing teachers for just cause and finally changing the Ohio Graduation Test to an ACT test.

In my disappointment I actually saw this image running through my mind as I heard the Governor speak:

I am frustrated that the governor failed to convey the sense of urgency that is needed introduce innovation into education.  In my opinion,   pushing our recommendations to explore innovation to a back burner, demonstrates a failure of leadership.  If I had a chance to have coffee with him, I would suggest that as a leader he can and should focus on finding ways to engage the entire citizenry to understand the role of  technology and how it is transforming networks of  learning for students and the people who teach them. That means harnessing the media, universities, businesses and teachers in an effort to seek out disruptive technologies that will provide solutions to the complex task of creating new learning environments.

My participation in the drafting the OGF document gave me a new appreciation for the daunting complexity of this thing we call public education.  All would admit there is a profoundly urgent need  to  articulate a clear plan to create a technology infrastructure that will support the promise that things like cloud computing can and will have on curriculum development.  I am disappointed with the governor’s adoption of our recommendations because the speech reveals a tacit admission of not  having a clue about innovation in learning that is already underway and ready to bring to scale.   Any hope of innovation (which typically occurs with a free exchange of ideas) has been relegated to a department within the Ohio Department of Education (ODE).  It would be a miracle if anything truly innovative came out of that department unless they were willing to take the bold step of opening collaboration to people outside the ODE  who not only know but practice innovation.  One can only hope that the directors of that department embrace some of the philosophy of collaboration described by authors Phil Evans and Bob Wolf in the July – August 2005 edition of Harvard Business  Review in an article entitled Collaboration Rules.

Extraordinary group efforts don’t have to be miraculous or accidental.  An environment designed to produce cheap, plentiful transactions unleashes collaborations that break through organizational barriers.

The authors point to the open-source tool Linux to serve as the example of how to structure collaborative rules.

Corporate (and political) leaders seeking growth, learning and innovation may find the answer in a surprising place: the open-source software community.  Unknowingly, perhaps, the folks who brought you Linux are virtuoso practitioners of new work principals that produce energized teams and lower costs.  Nor are they alone.”

I find it curious that the Governor’s speech occurred on the same day in which, fifty-years earlier Pope John XXIII announced to the world his intention to convene a Vatican Council.  He used the term aggiornamiento which was a call to open the windows and bring the church up to date.  As a lapsed catholic with a nostalgic streak, I had placed some expectation that the governors speech might be an exciting call for an educational aggiornamiento or opening of the windows in which the ODE’s tradition as a closed, conservative, controlling and hierarchical structure serving the state might take place.   The ODE is not a place to expect miracles!

The list of recommendations in the report … Beyond Tinkering: Creating Real Opportunities for Today’s Learners and for Generations of Ohioans to Come urges Ohio’s leaders to …

  • Restructure the traditional model of teaching and learning.
  • Refine the state’s academic standards.
  • Create an assessment system that allows students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in different ways.
  • Ensure that we have the best teachers and principals working in all of our schools.
  • Ohio Grantmakers Forum and its partners are saying that we can no longer defend or tolerate an industrial-age school model that is out of step with the demands of the 21st century in which jobs, careers and workplaces are learning-intensive and where people often have many jobs over their lifetimes.

The recommendations reflect these realities …

  • 164 Ohio young people drop out of school every day.
  • Just 24% of Ohio high school students take a rigorous course of study, which is the best predicator of success in college.
  • Ohio colleges and universities report that more than 40% of first year students need remedial courses in mathematics and/or English.
  • And Ohio’s higher education attainment rates are among the lowest in the nation.-We’re 38th out of 50 states.

The findings are not intended meant to suggest that Ohio has ignored its education challenges. But it underscores the reality that incremental changes are not getting the job done. It challenges the Governor and policy makers to take Bolder steps and to accelerate the pace of improvement are required.

Here are some of the bold steps OGF and its partners have urged Ohio’s leaders to take:

  • Accelerate the pace of innovation by restructuring the traditional, industrial model of teaching and learning.
  • Create Ohio Innovation Zones and fund promising school and instructional models.
  • Develop a statewide plan for transforming the state’s lowest performing schools.
  • Develop a statewide strategy for making better use of technology and its applications.
  • Ensure that the state’s expectations for what all students should know and be able to do are aligned with college- and career-ready expectations.
  • Benchmark them against international standards and make sure they include 21st century skills.
  • Create a balanced assessment system that allows students to demonstrate their  knowledge and skills in different ways, informs teaching strategies and improves learning, and provides a complete picture of how schools are doing against a consistent set of expectations.
  • Refine Ohio’s academic standards and restructure the state’s assessment system
  • Ensure that Ohio has the best teachers and principals working in all of its classrooms and schools.
  • Strengthen standards and evaluation for teachers and principals, and create model hiring and evaluation protocols based on the standards.
  • Provide financial incentives for schools and districts to improve teaching and learning environments.
  • Strengthen the awarding of tenure.
  • Develop new compensation models that improve the connections among teaching excellence, student achievement and compensation.
  • These are tough times … and they call for tough choices.
  • The extreme fiscal challenges facing the state of Ohio today provide a great opportunity, if not a mandate, to look at how Ohio invests its current education resources.

Many of these recommended actions do not require new funding. Yet, some may necessitate a re-allocation of existing resources, while still others may demand new investments.  Re-allocating existing resources is a political hot-potato but one that is desperately needed.  (More on that in a future blog-post).

As a member of the community I sought reaction from teachers on the Governor’s speech.  The more than one of the teachers I spoke with had two immediate reactions: 1.  “Well, if they extend the school year by 20 days, he’d better pay me.” and 2.  Thank god they are using the ACT rather than the OGT.   That is hardly the vision I would have wanted were I in a position of taking bold moves to change education across the state.

As far a non-teachers, their concern is that they do not understand the changes in the school funding formula.  Clearly this is an important topic since the issues has been a plague on the Ohio educational system since the famous DeRolf decision declared it unconstitutional. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer,

Strickland’s primary pledge was that the state would eliminate a phenomenon dubbed “phantom revenue”– a ghost in the state’s funding machine that assumes school districts receive local education dollars they never actually see…Strickland said his plan would eventually result in the state picking up 59 percent of the tab for education — a level he said would make Ohio’s school-funding system meet the “thorough and efficient” constitutional standard that the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled four times the state has not achieved.

At the end of the day few people really think this formula will change much of anything in terms of quality of teaching and learning in schools.  Today’s Plain Dealer reports,

Of the 97 districts in Northeast Ohio, 48 would see no change in the amount they get from the state next year, and 49 would see an increase (no more than 15 percent.)

The second year, 52 would see a decrease (no more than 2 percent) and 45 would see some increase.

The second major issue addresses how to deal with the union stranglehold on employment in the State.  The governor did adopt the OGF policy which would allow principals and superintendents to fire under-performing teachers for “just cause.”  The governor did assume enormous political risk by standing up to union leadership saying,

Right now, it’s harder to dismiss a teacher than any other public employee. Under my plan, we will give administrators the power to dismiss teachers for good cause, the same standard applied to other public employees,” Strickland said to applause from Republican lawmakers as Democrats held back.

This is an important issue for any Governor to take on.  Earlier in January, the Cleveland Plain Dealer did a lengthy report on the fact that looming budget cuts surely meant that  some of the most innovative and successful schools in Cleveland would have to lay-off teachers.  Most at risk were the promising charter-like academies and magnet schools because firings would go on the old union patronage system of last hired first, fired.  Here is how the story reported it,

High School, one of Cleveland's 10 new niche schools. Classes are at the Great Lakes Science Center until a permanent home at GE's Nela Park campus in East Cleveland is renovated.

High School, one of Cleveland's 10 new niche schools. Classes are at the Great Lakes Science Center until a permanent home at GE's Nela Park campus in East Cleveland is renovated.

Just as Cleveland’s new niche schools show signs of leading the district to reform, layoffs may sweep some of their handpicked teachers out the door.

Schools chief Eugene Sanders says the district will have to lay off hundreds of workers if the financially strapped state slashes deeply into aid that accounts for 60 percent of the Cleveland schools’ budget. Big buzz centers on how that would affect 10 single-gender and other specialty schools that have turned in good test scores and won over parents during the last three years.

With union consent, the so-called “schools of choice” select their own teachers, reaching outside the system in some cases. But cuts would follow the contract: Last hired, first fired.

Sanders said he will ask the teachers union to help limit layoffs at the niche schools. But union President David Quolke does not expect to scrap the seniority policy.  “All that would do for a union is pit member against member,” Quolke said. “To agree to something that says one member is more important than another member is not something I’d be willing to do.

I suppose  this effort by philanthropy to partner with stakeholders to inform a governor can be considered a success.   I only wish he had not cherry-picked the policies with the short time horizon to do his plan. Given the mess of dealing with teachers unions, budgetary shortfalls and an assessment system that is strangling students and discouraging teachers to be creative, I suppose he did what he needed to do in the short-term.  Despite my personal disappointment, the success can me marked by the fact that it was the first time the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Federation of Teachers sat at the same table at length – ever!  They worked out issues jointly and even agreed on several recommendations.  I  believe that only philanthropy could have made that happen and kept them coming to the table.

It is by now quite evident that I harbor  frustration at the seeming inability of the state government to do what is necessary to stimulate and sustain  true innovation in learning by encouraging innovation in schools.  My assessment is the governor may have stepped only a small length “beyond tinkering,” but I am learning that a politician can only go so far with bold moves, especially in education.  If I had my way, I would have wanted the Governor introduce the first recommendation in the report – the creation of innovation districts throughout the state.  These schools would be center for innovation in teaching and learning, freed from constraints of labor negotiations and the constraints imposed by  the “tech guys” who block more access to the internet in the name of “protecting” children.  These would be places where social media experts, educational researchers, higher ed teachers , creators of Multi-user virtual environments and the likes of the  New Media Consortium would collaborate with students and teachers to test new media with curriculum.  This is a distinct where each student would have an electronic portfolio that would serve as  a platform for him or her to demonstrate their learning and understanding of the standards.   This district would foster a cadre of  teachers who would be able to develop means of assessing that learning into meaningful feedback.

On the first day of class, I would call an assembly and invite Scott Anthony, co-author of “The Innovator’s Guide to Growth” be the convocation speaker and introduce the concept of “disruptive innovation” to establish the framework for the collaborative teams effort to  move forward.

I am not a politician and I am not an education bureaucrat. I admit that I do not always appreciate the difficult balancing act these people need to do to survive. I respect and admire their ability to navigate the turbulent waters of managing many people. To accomplish the longer-range goals of transforming education to better serve the needs of individual students – no matter how old they are, philanthropy will need to make investments to support institutional psycho-therapy to help the educational infrastructure overcome its  get over Fear 2.0 which is crippling it from really serving students. The soothing words of Dr. Clayton Christensen might be a good start – light a candle, pour a glass of wine and listen carefully.

Listen carefully to the podcast with Clayton Christensen on his book, Disrupting Class….

Hopefully one day we will get there and I think foundations will continue to play a key role in holding out that vision to policymakers who, at the end of the day probably want to see it happen too.    Maybe someone will make a video of it so someone 60 years from now might embed it in his or her own blog!

Family Philanthropy – How to Respond in the Economic Downturn

Imagine yourself a trustee of a charitable foundation. It is your job to collaborate with 11 other trustees to decide how to distribute charitable funds to organizations that have requested your support. In a typical year you would have $1 million to distribute but the requests this year amount to $2.5 million. All the organizations have proven themselves to be effective in contributing to the social and financial well being of some of the poorest citizens.  Your job is to choose how to distribute those dollars.

Your decisions will be informed by written analysis provided by competent program officers who have conducted all the “due diligence” on the organizations making sure the administration is solid, that the board is contributing to the operational expenses and that the financials are in order.

The meeting begins and you are informed that due to the economic collapse, the money you have to give out is reduced from $1 million this quarter, to a mere $350,000. You know that some of these organizations and the great programs they deliver will receive much less funding from you than in prior years. Other organizations will not likely survive because your past grants gave a credibility to them that enabled them to leverage funds from other foundations and some governments.

Included on the list are: The Second Harvest Food Bank (read their intro page)

Also, there  are several requests to support alternatives to failing public schools like those described in my favorite HBO series The Wire.

Given the crisis in education in public schools and knowing that each year thousands of  young people are lost, do you consider the request from  schools like those of the  Cristo-Rey network that are transforming the lives of children and families in inner city neighborhoods.   These schools like other faith-based receive no State support and will not survive without private individuals and  foundation support.  The total requested from four of these schools is $125,000.

In the Health and Social Services areas, there is  a request from  Providence House that provides a shelter for homeless women and their infants. They need a new roof on the building which costs $150,000.

Then there is the Youth Arts Program for schools.  Without the support of the foundation they will have to cut their artist in residency programs in schools.  Children in seven targeted  public schools will NOT get any exposure to art curriculum unless they get at least $50,000.

There is the Free Clinic, serving the needs of the ever-expanding number of medically uninsured and underinsured.   They have asked for $50,000 to assist with a pharmacy respository that will provide desparately needed medicines to those in need, especially the alarming number of uninsured patients with clinical mental illness.

Their counterpart, the Federally Funded Community Health Center lost out on a $700,000 federal grant they hoped to secure and must now ask for $250,000 to help them get through a cash flow challenge.

There are many other worthy organizations on the list.

So, how do you make your decisions?

Direct all money to the Second Harvest Food Bank that will provide another six months of food to hungry families? What about that great faith-based schools which over the past ten years accepted children from failing public schools and in one year provides remediation that gets them to grade-level reading and math. Ninety-eight percent of their children go to college whereas their friends who remain in the public schools drop out or fail to graduate and never get to college.

Do you direct all money to the free clincs to help the unisured.  What happens next year when they ask again but at increased levels?

Trustees at the foundation I work with will be faced with very similar situations when we meet. This will not be the first time difficult decisions are to be made, but the current economic climate has made it even more difficult.

Family foundations function under a  set of rules established by the Federal government and the Internal Revenue Service.  The States Attorney General has the duty to make sure the charitable institutions are registered and that they are complying with the federal regulations.  The State Attorney General has the power to revoke the charitable status of an organization.  If you are interested in the federal rules and regulations on foundations and nonprofits Marion Freemont-Smith’s book, Governing Nonprofit Organizations: Federal and State Law and Regulation,is by far the most comprehensive.

Briefly, the  government allows families of wealth to establish foundations as charitable entities .  Instead of going to the government as taxes, this money is invested in with managers and typically include a mixed portfolio that inclues equities (stocks) and fixed income (bonds).  Whereas taxes would collect the dollars and direct them to general funds for immediate needs, foundation dollars are invested with the hope that they would earn between 10 and 17% interest on the principal.  Rather than congressional representatives appropriating laws that will spend tax dollars, family foundations are overseen by  citizens who serve as stewards of these funds.  They are charged with allocating those funds, just as congressional representatives approve laws that allocate funds for many projects, including bridges to nowhere 🙂

The IRS is very specific about how these foundation funds must be directed.  For the most part only agencies that IRS determines to be charitable entieis are eligible recipients of foundation dollars.  There are exceptions for individuals but in all cases, the funds must be used for charitable purposed or to benefit the community at large.

As stewards the trustees must abide by the government rule that requires of minimum of 5% of the interest earnings on the endowment must be “paid-out” for the benefit of the community.  So, a family foundation with $100 million dollars must pay out an  minimum of $5 million year on a rolling average of three years.   Ninety-nine and 44/100% of family foundations I know take their job VERY seriously.  Distributing $5 million responsibly to worthy institutions is a complicated endeavor.  Doing it well requires time, research analysis.  There are a few stories of foolish and/or ignorant foundation trustees that misappropriated funds for their own enrichment.  The press loved those stories which resulted in an expensive and public witch hunt against foundations and people of wealth headed by a federal bureaucrat named Dean Zerby serving as  Sancho Panza to the quixotic and self-aggrandizing  Sen. Chuck Grassley.  Fortunately most legislators have realized the value philanthropy plays in this country and the punitive legislative responses by Sen. Grassley have subsided for the moment.

One useful way to understand how philanthropic decisions can be made by trustees of family foundations or by individuals for that matter is the Philanthropy Toolbox which I believe was developed out the Center on Philanthropy at University of Indiana.   The toolbox is really a spectrum of philanthropy that categorizes types of philanthropic giving.  I used the following slide show to demonstrate the types of giving.

Philanthropy Toolbox

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: civicfabric philanthropy)

The categories serve as headers and we “plot” all grant requests under each of the categories to get a sense of where the family is directing its giving.   This exercise allows the trustees to see where they have concentrated their giving over periods of time.  Of the organizations I described above, think of where you would place them among the categories within the toolbox.  The try to determine which request and category on the spectrum would give one organization priority over another.  Now you have entered the world of a family foundation trustee.

All the requests that come to the trustees for consideration are organizations that are doing great work and having positive impact on the lives of people they serve.   Decisions as to where to allocate funds and why can be personal and vary from one individual to another.  What makes foundations exciting places to work is that each person shares his or or reason for making the decisions they do.  the others listen to their points . Some agree and some don’t.  Debate is likely to ensue.  At the end of the meetings decisions are arrived not by secret ballot but by consensus.  On other occasions, I have described board meetings to be similar to deliberations by congressional delegations either federal or state.  Trustees are usually people of varying backgrounds and even level of wealth.  They range on the political spectrum and have deeply held passions.  Representatives from one generation often have points of view and interests that differ from their parents; so in many ways their portraits reflect the diversity of opinion, character and even race that one sees among citizens serving in elected office.  The image of foundation trustees as a homogeneous club of bow-ties and boiled wool is simply not true.  It is a miniature version of any civic organization gathered to enhance the common good.

The economic crisis is placing pressure on State, Federal and local governments budgets that have not been seen since the early 20th Century.  Scarce resources may place pressure on family foundations in the cross-hairs of government and question whether they and their endowments should continue to exist.  This is a challenging question that was discussed recently at a conference at the National Center for Family Philanthropy.  One of the sessions addressed the role of family philanthropy in a democratic society.  It is worth listening to the panel moderated by my colleague Lance Lindblom, Director of the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

If you were to be part of the decisionmaking on the board, you would be reminded that the Federal government requires a minimum payout of 5%.  You and board could make a decision to pay well beyond the 5% minimum to meet the needs of the community in times of economic distress.  Of course one would need to balance generosity with prudence.  Anyone who creates a foundation must be an optimist by nature.  Doing so assumes that a carefully managed endowment will grow and will remain as an asset to draw upon to help those in need and, at times, support innovative and creative programs that challenge the status quo.  The two brothers Eric and Evan Nord who established the Nord Family Foundation were men of profound optimism and faith in the community.  They were known to say on many occasions, when the times are difficult the foundation has a responsibility to make sure it does not cut back on grantmaking, but be extra careful about directing funds that will have the greatest impact on the community.  Most importantly, the funding should challenge the larger community to give what they can – personal giving – that will help their neighbors.  With that in mind, I anticipate some of our grantmaking in the future will be challenge grants that will require others to give of themselves in either money or time.

Your decision to choose one group over the other is neither right nor wrong. Just the fact you bothered to read this far into the blog reflects your own interest in philanthropy and giving. Your thoughts of giving to benefit the lives of others honors not only those you consider, but yourself.  I leave you with a quote by Thomas Jefferson

The good opinion of mankind, like the lever of Archimedes, with the given fulcrum, moves the world.