Category Archives: nonprofit

Traumatic Brain Injury and Homeless Populations – a role for Philanthropy?

In October 2011, I attended a session at the Annual Meeting of Philanthropy Roundtable with the title: Four Models for Addressing Chronic Unemployment and Homelessness.  Four Models for Addressing Chronic Unemployment and Homelessness

Homelessness, hunger, and unemployment cry out for solutions. The most sustainable solutions, however, often depend on the homeless, hungry, and unemployed building self-reliance and in turn reclaiming their lives and restoring their positions in their families and their communities. Training programs can help people to accomplish this for themselves in a variety of ways. On this panel, representatives of four exemplary social service organizations will outline the best ways for private charity to help people to help themselves—from faith-based approaches and getting people off the streets to providing permanent housing and re-purposing unused food for job training.

Barbara Elliott, president and founder, Center for Renewal and board member, Work Faith Connection
Sister Mary Scullion, executive director and president, Project Home
Jennifer Vigran, chief executive officer, Second Helpings
Matt Minkevitch, executive director, The Road Home
Betsy Bikoff, vice president and chief grant making officer,Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation (Moderator)

Each of the panelists described programs they developed to assist the homeless as they identify a path to self-sufficiency.  It was evident that the number of homeless people is increasing in each of the geographic areas represented by the panel.  “Overwhelming” was a word used to describe the pressures the increased numbers place on their organizations.     Every one of these programs is able to describe success for a large number of the clients they served; but at the same time, they admitted to seeing an increasing number of people for whom the simplest steps to recovery and “self-help” remains a challenge.

Those studying the homeless populations now make distinctions among the people they serve: (1) those who are homeless due to sudden changes in economic situation or temporary set-back and (2) the “chronically homeless” who appear to be mentally and/or emotionally ill and/or with substance dependency.   Typically this group faces a longer time horizon to stabilization and the rates of recidivism are very high.  Some never reach stabilization.      During the question and answer period, I referenced an article from the December 24, 2010 New York Times called, “The Street Level Solution.” The article cites studies that find a significant number of chronically homelessness people having a history of Traumatic Brain Injury (TMI). The author David Bornstein writes that it is important for providers to distinguish the chronically homeless in order to better understand the true problem.  His research brought him to Dr. James O’Connell,“…a doctor who has been treating the most vulnerable homeless people on the streets of Boston for 25 years, (he) estimates that 40 percent of the long-term homeless people he’s met had such a brain injury. ‘For many it was a head injury prior to the time they became homeless,’ he said. ‘They became erratic. They’d have mood swings, bouts of explosive behavior. They couldn’t hold onto their jobs. Drinking made them feel better. They’d end up on the streets.’ ”     I asked the panelists if they were aware of this and related research and; if so, were they seeing it?  Every one of the panelists shook their heads in agreement and suggested that there was little understanding among those in the public sector about the gravity of this problem.  Matt Minkevitch said he is certain that many clients at The Road Home have had a history of past brain injury.

In his opinion, the crisis is rooted in the fact that clients often present symptoms that look more like those that need to treated by an assortment prescribed psychotropic drugs usually through mental health departments.  He described one client in particular who had been in and out of the mental health system treated as a schizophrenic and sedated.  He never responded to the pharmacopeia of psychotropic medications which puzzled the many physicians and mental health providers. The client who was well-known to all at the Road Home discussed his suffering on many occasions.  He killed himself after a particularly violent episode.  His case was of enough interest that an autopsy was performed.  The autopsy report showed that the man was not schizophrenic at all, but had been experiencing brain seizures related directly to a traumatic brain injury.

Clearly the chronically homeless will remain a challenge for many in the years to come.   Most disturbing to us and the providers is the increasing number of veterans who are appearing at homeless shelters across the country.  This phenomenon parallels the stories of men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – a subset of whom have experienced brain trauma.

As a foundation that hopes to address the root causes of poverty, I think this apparent link between homelessness and TBI is worth exploring. I would suggest that other foundations that support programs dealing with homeless populations do the same. Since January 1, 2002, The Nord Family Foundation trustees approved 70 grants totaling $1,460,300 that provided support in some form or another to homeless populations.   This number includes grants across both the Health and Human Services &Civic Affairs program areas, and includes supportive programs such as Children’s Garden that provides child care for homeless families and the Lorain County Furniture Bank that provided furniture to families transitioning out of homelessness.   Other foundation grants by geographic areas (excluding matching grants) include:

Lorain County: 

Family Promise of Lorain County
Catholic Charities Family Center and St. Joe’s Shelter

Cuyahoga County:

Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cleveland
West Side Catholic Center


Damen Project
The Delores Project
The Gathering Place
St. Francis Center
Urban Peak
Warren Village
Step 13


Family Shelter
Salvation Army Midlands
Women’s Shelter

The Nord Family Foundation’s concern for the homeless can be traced to the early 1940’s when Walter Nord became invested in creating the Nord Center due to the large number of returning war veterans who suffered from “shell shock” and who had little support.   How many of those men had experienced some form of TBI in their service?  Then, as now, the more severe manifestations of TBI were referred to the mental health system.  Advances in biotechnology have improved the understanding of the brain and its functions.  Doctors are now discovering what many front-line providers have sensed for a long time; that is. the cognitive and physical manifestations in the homeless that people attribute to mental illness, mental retardation and or drug use have deeper idiopathic explanations.  Consequently the way to really help these people is advocating for expanded primary health care access to those suffering from homelessness. Forging partnerships between mental health providers and primary health care workers who can better diagnose TBI will help to relieve the crush on the overtaxed mental health systems and at the same time better address the root causes of homelessness.

In September 2011, I was introduced to the Craig Hospital in Denver Colorado.   Craig is dedicated exclusively to Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  In follow-up to my visit, I asked several staff members if they too were looking at this topic.  I made connection with Kristi Staniszewski, RPT Clinical Specialist from the Research Department.  Kristi let me know the link between TBI and homeless populations is recognized as underreported and an important policy item for the Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado.   Kristi asked she thought there might be value in the Nord Family Foundation helping the alliance convene a meeting of clinicians, and providers who are seeking support to advance the recommendations of the Executive Order on Traumatic Brain Injury – Final Report which was presented to Governor Bill Ritter, Jr. in December 2009.     With minimal investment of funding, the foundation is in a position to convene a discussion on the subject to include providers and appropriate medical practitioners to gather more information on TBI and its impact on the social service sector.  My research revealed that in one conference on the topic took place in 2010 in Maine.  I included an opening talk by one of the presenters.   Please notice that she starts her talk saying that few conference on the topic of homlessness every address the link with TBI.  We can serve as a catalyst and hopefully bring this topic to NE Ohio, Columbia, SC; and perhaps Boston.

I welcome any comments from foundation representatives or service providers.

Use of Web-based Board Book

There are many books and articles that instruct foundation chairs and CEO’s on how to conduct a successful board meeting.  No one has written a book on what happens between board meetings and yet that is where some of the most productive time can take place.  The challenge for our foundation is: “how to engage trustees and members in the activities of the foundation especially when board meetings are limited to just a few hours three times a year.?”

We realized that by asking this rhetorical question of ourselves we established one of the most fundamental issues when anyone considers navigating they way into the “social media” market which is flooded just too many choices.  One must discern between applications that are simply fads and which can have serious applications to the field of philanthropy.  So two of the most fundamental question for us to ask  is, a.  “What is something we would like to do, but can’t.” and b. “What media tools are available that can help us get to where we want to go?”

For the Nord Family Foundation, our challenges were – how to enhance communication among the board that lives in many geographic areas and has limited time to spend at meetings?  How can we enhance knowledge-sharing among board members, and the larger community?  How can all this be done on a reasonable budget?, and finally who will take control of the data management in input when our staff is so small?

We were in process of redoing our website, and I knew that ours could be a website that was more than an electronic version of what is readily available in paper.  We also knew that we did not need to spend the typical $30,000 fee to pay for a web design. – which when you want to add features typically costs thousands of additional dollars.  We made use of an open-source tool called Drupal which is a shell that supports and amazing array of  two-way communication packages.  We also know there is an active “drupal community” that are willing to help organizations construct websites and add applications tools at relatively low cost.  With very little training, almost any approved person (staff and/or trustee) can add information to the website.  The site supports not only text, but an ability to embed video, audio as well hyperlinks to related websites.

In short, our website contains both a public and a private component.  The public side includes our website as well as an online application form.  This form links to our in-house grants administration system Gifts for Windows. We include the contact information and links to websites for each of our grantees.   The community can use a key-word search to find information about grantees who might be engaged in similar work.  The community is encouraged to leave comments which are open to the public.  We make use of this blogging tool to solicit ideas and input from the larger community.  On the member’s side, which is private, all information relevant to the foundation is contained on the website.  This includes all policy-related documents, members and trustee contact information.  Each trustee and member has an assigned blog and can write about issues of interest to them that might related to the work of the foundation.  Other members can leave comments on those blogs thereby creating a “conversation” about topics. Most interesting for us, is our board book is online.  All grant requests for the docket are placed online.  Trustees can read, and comment on each requests prior to the meeting.  Other members are able to see those comments ahead of time.  The board book includes an on-line voting tool that allows the trustee to register their vote on the staff recommendation as “approve” “disapprove” and “for discussion.”  As each individual vote is cast, it is aggregated into a program that will allow the Board Chair to see ahead of time which g rants have unanimous approval, which need discussion and which are disapproved.  Comments posted ahead of time will help inform discussion around the table.  These votes are pre-voting.  It is interesting to see how decisions made prior to the meeting can possibly change when the grant is discussed by the full board.

Not only does our online solution enhance the meeting, but it enhances the quality and quantity of communication among trustees between meetings.

Philanthropy and Educational Change – Where is the outrage?

As members, trustees and staff of a The Nord Family Foundation, we have the incredible opportunity to travel to conferences and hear some of the world’s civic leader’s talk about their work. More often than not, I return to Lorain County, inspired by what I have heard and ready for action. Few people in the nonprofit and social sector have the budget or time that allows them to hear these great speakers. I think it is very important for foundations to fund programs that bring challenging speakers to their communities. In the schooling sector, few teachers have the time or money or incentive to travel to hear great thinkers in education. We are trying to change that.

In October, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Howard Fuller address a luncheon crowd on the subject of real educational opportunity especially for children in economically stagnant communities. Dr. Fuller is currently the Director for the Institute for the Transformation of  Learning at Marquette University in Milwaukee Wisconsin. Prior to that position, Dr. Fuller served as Superintendent of Milwaukee Schools from 1991-1995. Dr. Fuller describes the school system he stepped into.. “First the high schools were a mess. I wanted to restore discipline and safety in high schools. I also wanted to decentralize authority and funds. I wanted to revamp the curriculum. I also wanted to give parents options for their kids’ education.” During his four-year tenure, Fuller put a rigorous curriculum in place, developed school-to-work programs, decentralized budgetary authority, and made schools responsible for their own students’ achievements. Fuller’s programs led to increasing attendance rates and elevated reading and standardized test scores. Fuller also became a vocal proponent of charter schools and voucher programs. As Fuller explained to School Reform News, “What we’re trying to do is create a situation where there can be some advantage for those parents who most need an advantage: the parents whose children now are forced to stay in schools that simply are not working for them.” He called this issue of quality education the last great Civil Rights challenge facing this country. The audience response to his talk was a five-minute round of applause.

I shared the luncheon table with Dr. Fuller and his wife who is former Superintendent of Detroit Schools. I asked if he would be interested in speaking with teachers and students in Lorain County. He said he would love to.

With discretionary dollars and financial help from both Oberlin College and the Community Foundation of Greater Lorain County, we are able to bring Dr. Fuller to Lorain. He was the keynote speaker at the Annual Meeting luncheon for the Lorain County Urban League and the next day addressed a group of teachers, school superintendents from Lorain County and Cleveland School Districts. He later spoke with students at the Oberlin Public Schools.

He spoke with passion and inspiration at both sessions. He states very openly that the current system for educating inner-city children does not work. “We need to think of a system to educate the public and break out of the mindset that we call the public education system which by with its bureaucracy and teachers unions is choking the life of young people and their families in cities across America. “

He challenged school leaders to embrace the rapid and unprecedented changes in learning that technology is providing students. Mobile phone applications, virtual games and the exploding number of online schools will force the old system to change. Educational leaders must realize that unless they are willing to change, the systems will be unable to support them.

Dr. Fuller’s comments were met with high enthusiasm. The luncheon crowd at the Urban League brought people to their feet with another five-minute applause. Dr. Marcia Ballinger, Vice President of the Lorain County Community College declared that in the history of the Spitzer Conference Center there has never been a more inspirational speaker. Many people have written and/or phoned me to thank the Foundation again for making his visit possible.

A week after Dr. Fuller’s visit, the front page of the Lorain Morning Journal announced that more than 200 positions will be eliminated due to the district’s $9 million deficit. Cleveland Public Schools face laying off more than 650 union workers. Meanwhile, the fact is that 69% of Cleveland residents are functionally illiterate (reading at between 4-6 grade levels) and some of its most blighted neighborhoods this statistic climbs as high as 95% according to the Center for Urban Poverty and Social Change.

The U.S. Department of Labor, estimates that literacy problems cost U.S. businesses about $225 billion a year in lost productivity. (Ohio Literacy Resource Center.)  There are signs of hope, I suppose but pressure from the Federal Government is important.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 19, 2010 reports,

Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools in Washington, D.C., predicts considerable gains in urban students’ achievement but says the improvement won’t result from options alone. Another key, he said, will be using student achievement data to plan instruction and providing schools with training to execute successful approaches.

Prodded by the Obama administration, districts are pressing for use of data to evaluate, assign, fire and pay teachers, And unions, with jobs in jeopardy because of the economy, are showing signs of acquiescing.

Policy groups, concerned about who goes when the budget ax does fall, have begun to take aim at seniority rights. Casserly said that will be a tougher fight.

Dr. Fuller is particularly hard on the adults who are involved in the school unions.  He asks, “…is this about the children or about adults trying to save jobs.  What other group of professionals would band together to thwart innovation in their areas?  Do lawyers, Doctors, Accountants have unions?  Why do unions which were once progressive institutions that fought for rights of teachers, especially female teachers back in the early 20th century turn to become regressive and insular institutions protecting themselves.”   These were hard questions for the audience to hear but to my surprise, most people thought his questions were completely fair.

The video below is a recording of a talk in Denver which captures much of what he had to say to the leaders in Lorain County.  I just wonder sometimes if  we in philanthropy are guilty of the “….talk, talk, talk,”  Dr. Fuller alludes to.  We have a lot of political will but back off when our advocacy could be too controversial for school union leaders and/or State bureaucracies.  Like Dr. Fuller, I too wonder where is the outrage?  Enjoy the video and I welcome comments.

Some Innovation in Ohio's schools is happening "in spite of" and not "because of" Ohio's Education Bureaucracy

Consider this entry yet another story from the field.   Over the past several months, I have had the honor to work with staff at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Lorain County.  The director and his staff are examples of everyday heroes that work in the horribly mis-named “nonprofit” sector in our communities.  These folks demonstrate unwavering dedication to young people, and their passion to get things done, and their actions make them the real social innovators in our country.  Unfortunately, because they work in this so-called nonprofit sector, our society sees them as second-class citizens and treated as “do-gooders” and not respected for the professionals they are.

Dan Palotta’s recently published book Uncharitable provides our society with one of the most compelling arguments for us to reconsider this entire “nonprofit” sector.

Mr. Palotta’s argument is  important as one contemplates creating innovation districts for teaching and learning environments.   The Ohio education bureaucracy by its nature, isolates itself from the nonprofit organizations, most of which do a superb job at providing quality child-care, quality after-school programming, quality mentoring programs and quality college counseling and psychological supports. Over and over again I hear how public school principals make it extremely difficult to link with these organizations offering services to the schools.  Union rules and regulations are such that these nonprofits cannot serve unless the schools have mentors who, must be paid.  In difficult economic times the nonprofits find it harder and harder to find the private dollars necessary to pay for these added budget items.  The schools do nothing to help.  In fairness, many of them cannot because they too are cash strapped. Meanwhile, the nonprofit workers at the schools earn a fraction of what teachers earn and oftentimes have no health insurance or retirement benefits. The whole system lacks any rationality.  It is done because that’s the way it worked forty and fifty years ago.  So the question to consider, ” is there not a way to reallocate the huge sums of state and federal monies that currently go to bloated administrative educational bureaucracies as outlined in the Brookings report I reference in a previous post?”

As a first step, Ohio must shift more K-12 dollars to classrooms. Ohio ranks 47th in the nation in the share of elementary and secondary education spending that goes to instruction and ninth in the share that goes to administration. More pointedly, Ohio’s share of spending on school district administration (rather than school administration such as principals) is 49 percent higher than the national average. It appears from projections in other states and from actual experience in Ohio that school district consolidation, or at the very least more aggressive shared services agreements between existing districts, could free up money for classrooms.

I think there is and here is where I find inspiration. The  Boys and Girls Clubs of Lorain County opened in city of Oberlin in March of 1999. The Club has provided programming in neighboring Elyria since 2004 beginning at Eastgate Elementary School and later expanded its programming to Wilkes Villa a crime ridden public housing project in Elyria, the Prospect School, and the East Recreation Center.  Elyria is a city that  typifies the economic depression in the “rust belt.”  The crime statistics and more importantly the social and economic strife make this one burgeoning mid-west town a case study of how we need to change the way we have always done things!   This area of Elyria has an unusually high number of children in single-family homes, large number of children with one or both parents incarcerated, one of the highest rates of households where grandparents are taking care of the children.  A study conducted by Dr.  Mark Singer at the Mandel School for Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University for the Nord Family Foundation in 2000 found that,  Elyria is one of three blighted urban cities in NE Ohio that has one of the highest rates of child-on-child (and mainly sibling violence) in NE Ohio due primarily to children in homes where parents are not at home because of work or other issues.

In 2005, the Nordson Corporation donated an old and unused assembly and distribution plant on the south side of town to the Boys and Girls clubs.  The Nordson Community Center  evolved with financial contributions from local foundations, including the Cleveland Cavaliers Foundation, the Community Foundation of Lorain County, the Stocker Foundation and the Nord Family Foundation.  An unused factory has become a thriving center for young people and their families. The Clubs have a simple goal which is  to assist youth members in developing skills and qualities to become responsible citizens and leaders.  The  primary programming focus addresses five (5) core program areas including character and leadership development, education and career development, health and life skills, the arts, and social recreation. A membership fee of just $5 per year allows youth to engage in hundreds of hours of safe, after-school activities.  This is part of what schools used to offer before the madness of testing morphed into the punitive system of assessment it now is.

The Nordson Community Center  is half complete and now offers a venue for classes, dramatic performances, celebrations, community meetings, health fairs, and much more.  The Nordson Center which used to be a dirty and decaying monument to the flight of manufacturing, now looks like this.

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Energized from our community conversations about the medically uninsured (Blog post and the need to create medical homes), I introduced the B&G staff, as well as directors from the Lorain County Urban League to the Harlem Children s Zone model.  This innovative model, introduced by Geoffrey Canada, embraces the work of nonprofit and other social service organizations and incorporates them into the entire education of the child.  Drawing from this idea, our idea was to fill the extra space at the Nordson Community Center with medical check-up rooms.  Staffed with volunteers from the medical professions at the local hospitals rooms at the club could be used to address the physical and mental health issues faced by the youngsters and eventually their families.

The Boys and Girls Clubs staff met with the director and physicians at the nearby Elyria Metropolitan Hosptial (a charity hospital that looses about $8 million a year in uncompensated care because the poor use their emergency room as a portal to the health care system).  They have picked up the idea and already have a number of health care professionals ready to serve in the center.  At this writing the assistant superintendent of the Elyria Schools is endorsing the concept of expanding for-credit educational options to young people who attend the Clubs.  This could include online academic credit.  Additionally, the Lorain City Schools is also exploring the idea of linking physical and mental health programming in its schools as they plan for the construction of a new campus.

As the philanthropic community engages in serious discussion about integrating technology to the educational sector, it must give equal consideration to how the school systems can better integrate the hand-on and interpersonal work of the social and medical sector which are critically important to supporting families in severe economic crisis.  That is a very exciting charge for philanthropy.

The challenge for the educational sector will be how to make more effective use of the “nonprofit” sector which serves to enhance not compete with public education.  I discussed this in a post I wrote in 2008,     To do so, this sector will have to re-think its perception of the “nonprofit” sector as a group of “do-gooders” and more as business partners.  That too is an exciting challenge.

Realizing this dream however will require concerted effort on the State’s legislatures to reconsider they way they allocate federal funds through agencies such as mental health, drug and alcohol, juvenile justice and the like.  This is a major challenge for the State and Federal legislators to consider as philanthropy and nonprofits figure out ways to deliver services more efficiently and at lower cost.  Check out the attached video and listen carefully to Vivek Kundra.

“One of the biggest problems in the federal government is that process has trumped outcome. … the biggest reason is that everyone is focused on compliance and no one is thinking about innovation…”

The goals expressed in this video are already emerging with tremendous impact for nonprofit organizations. Check out ReadWriteWeb and see what the public sector can do with this tool!!

Consolidation in Ohio School Districts – Long overdue but change is happening in some places

As a first step, Ohio must shift more K-12 dollars to classrooms. Ohio ranks 47th in the nation in the share of elementary and secondary education spending that goes to instruction and ninth in the share that goes to administration. More pointedly, Ohio’s share of spending on school district administration (rather than school administration such as principals) is 49 percent higher than the national average. It appears from projections in other states and from actual experience in Ohio that school district consolidation, or at the very least more aggressive shared services agreements between existing districts, could free up money for classrooms.

This statement if part of a set of recommendations made by Brookings in a report entitled, Restoring Prosperity, Transforming Ohio’s Communities for the Next Economy
The report makes specific recommendations urging the state to:

  • Make the costs of school district administration  transparent to Ohioans
  • Push school districts to enter aggressive shared  services agreements
  • Create a BRAC-like commission to mandate best  practices in administration and cut the number of Ohio’s school districts by at least one-third

The state also needs to catalyze local government collaboration. Ohioans live and work amid a proliferation of local governments. The state has 3,800 local government jurisdictions, including 250 cities, 695 villages, and 1,308 townships. Ohioans have the ninth highest local tax burden in the U.S., compared to the 34th highest for state taxes. While the proliferation of local governments and the fragmentation of the state into tiny “little box” jurisdictions may satisfy residents’ desire for accessible government, it also creates a staggering array of costs, such as duplication of infrastructure, staffing, and services, and a race-to-the-bottom competition among multiple municipalities for desirable commercial, industrial, and residential tax base. Perhaps most damaging is the fact that fragmented regions are less competitive than more cohesive metropolitan regions. To encourage collaboration, save costs, and boost competitiveness, the state should:

  • Change state law to make local government tax  sharing explicitly permitted
  • Create a commission to study the costs of local  government and realign state and local funding
  • Catalyze a network of public sector leaders to  promote high performance government
  • Support the creation of regional business plans
  • Reward counties and metros that adopt  innovative governance and service delivery

The top tier of the administrative-heavy Ohio Education bureaucracy will probably take a very very long time to address some of these critical issues.   It is delightful to go out to the field and find places where shared resources ARE taking place, due to the initiatives of teachers and good administrators who are working on the ground.  Just this past month, the foundation I work with provided a grant of $100,000 to initiate a county-wide shared curriculum for the nationally respected science curriculum known as Project Lead the Way.

Lorain County, Ohio is currently in desperate  need of a skilled, knowledgeable workforce that will help attract new industry to Northeast Ohio.  In order to successfully meet the challenges in the years ahead, it is very important that young students are encouraged to pursue careers in science and technology. This is especially critical when one considers the growing gap between the increasing demands in the workforce and the shrinking supply of professionals in science, engineering and technology.


Established in 1971, The Lorain County JVS provides career-technical training for both the high school and adult populations of Lorain County. The JVS is located on a 10-acre campus on the corners of State Route 58 and 20 in Oberlin, Ohio. It is one of the largest career-technical facilities in the state of Ohio and offers some of the most outstanding, nationally accredited career development programs in Northern Ohio.  The JVS serves 13 school districts: Amherst, Avon, Avon Lake, Clearview, Columbia, Elyria, Firelands, Keystone, Midview, North Ridgeville, Oberlin, Sheffield-Sheffield Lake and Wellington.

The high school annually serves over 1,100 students on campus. In addition, the JVS provides satellite programs for an additional 700 students in 13 associate school districts. These satellite programs include Network Communications Technology, Consumer & Family Science, Teacher Education Exploration, Career Connections, Career Based Intervention and GRADS.

At the JVS, high school students can explore over 30 career options through a wide range of exciting career and technical programs available in the following academies: Building Trades, Business & Marketing, Culinary, Manufacturing & Pre-Engineering, Transportation, Service, and College Tech-Prep.

The Adult Career Center was also established in 1971. It annually serves approximately 4,500 adults from all cities in Lorain County. Many adult students prepare for their careers in 17 full-time career development programs. In addition to the career development programs, the Adult Career Center offers a large number of career enhancement and special interest courses which include customized training, job profiling, and assessment services for business and industry. Services are provided on-site or at the JVS. For on-site training, a self-contained mobile training unit can be taken to the worksite to provide machine trades and computer training programs.


Project Lead the Way© (PLTW) provides unique opportunities to use cutting edge technology and software in activity, project, and problem-based learning.  Teachers must attend summer training where they complete each lesson that they will teach during the course of the school year.  PLTW provides teachers with ongoing support as they implement the program. PLTW pre-engineering curriculum is a three-year sequence of courses which, when combined with college preparatory mathematics and science courses in high school, introduces students to the scope, rigor and discipline of engineering and engineering technology prior to entering college.  Not only is it important to attract students to engineering degrees, this is an opportunity to prepare students for the rigors of college.

Eight school districts in Lorain County (Avon, Avon Lake, Amherst, Firelands, Clearview, North Ridgeville, Wellington, and Oberlin currently participate in the curriculum;  (Elyria is interested in joining in 2011 once their building project is completed).  Additionally, Lorain County Community College (LCCC), early-college students will have the opportunity to study pre-engineering principles and computer aided design beginning in their sophomore year of high school. PLTW was chosen because of its nationally tested qualities that encourage student success:

  • Receiving necessary extra help and support to meet higher standards
  • Experiencing relevant and engaging learning experiences in academic and career/technical classes.

Avon, Avon Lake and North Ridgeville will provide their own instructors.  The JVS will provide instructors to Clearview, Firelands, Wellington, Oberlin and Amherst.

The PLTW Planning Committee is comprised of eight school districts, community and business partners.  Some of the school districts have teachers ready to attend training this summer. All districts involved have signed a school agreement with Project Lead the Way with the national offices.  In the first year of this collaboration, 200 students will be enrolled in the first course.

Once students have completed the first course at their home school, four PLTW pre-engineering courses will be offered at the South site of the JVS and the North satellite location at Lorain County Community College. Pathway options include an Associate of Science degree, Associate of Applied Science, or a Certificate of Proficiency.  Students can choose an engineering school of their choice. Courses planned at the JVS and LCCC include Principles of Engineering, Digital Electronics, Computer-Integrated Manufacturing, Engineering Design and Development and a capstone course where students partner with a business in Lorain County to solve an open-ended engineering problem.  A plan of action is in place to implement PLTW pre-engineering curriculum in eight districts in 2010 (contingent upon computer equipment) and PLTW biomedical science curriculum in 2011.

Once the site labs at the eight districts are in place, the JVS will use these facilities in year two to initiate the PLTW Biomedical Sciences curriculum following the same collaborative design. To move forward, the JVS needs to purchase the computers that have the capacity to support the engineering software and graphic programs at each host site.

The JVS Project Lead The Way pre-engineering program is in its second year.  Two JVS students completed summer internships at NASA in 2009.  Senior Katie Fallon spoke at the Ohio PLTW luncheon on November 4, 2009 in Dayton, Ohio.  Each school district has 25+ students who want to take the Introduction to Engineer course in fall 2010. The JVS is slated to earn national certification in spring 2010.  The JVS will graduate its first PLTW pre-engineering students in June 2010.  This grant will help expand the program to eight additional school districts in Lorain County.  Lorain County Community College is ready for the 2011 school year when the first class of juniors will arrive at the satellite site.  The first biomedical sciences course will start in 2011 at the district site. Each district has completed a signed agreement with Project Lead the Way at both the national and state levels.  The partnership with Lorain County Community College has been established. This coalition supports implementing the PLTW biomedical science curriculum in 2011.

  • Job Placement/Post Secondary: 2008 Grads — 6 months after graduation
  • 52% were pursuing post-secondary education
  • 54% were employed in careers related to their JVS program
  • General Operating Budget: $25 million (58% local funding/42% state funding)
  • Educational Foundation Scholarships, Incentives and Grants: $69,375

Despite the exciting potential for this program, Project Lead the Way will scramble to have to find the additional $150,000 needed to see it to completion.  The Race to the Top frenzy, disqualifies projects like this because a Joint Vocational Services Center is not considered a Local Educational Authority (LEA).  Even the federal funding system works out of an old district model that works against many of the recommendations set forth by the Brookings report.   Nonetheless, the teachers will continue to try and find the funds from private and corporate sources to make this program work.

I have had the great honor to spend a few hours with  teachers from the PLTW at the JVS.  I was so encouraged by our conversation  I did two things.  I want to share with you some of the quotes from our conversation.  And secondly, I asked the faculty to play with a tool called Voicethread.

In a very informal session, I  asked two teachers and one administrator from the Lorain County Joint Vocational Services to share their thoughts on what contributes to successful teaching and learning in a world where technology is changing the very foundations of how students learn.

Dr. Cathy Pugh:  Education has changed dramatically since I began teaching some 30 years ago.  We still have a hard time getting over the “factory model” for educating young people.  Getting kids through an assembly line of courses in order to graduate is a model that no longer works.  Other teachers and I are excited about encouraging youngsters to focus on learning rather than just getting a grade.  A new approach to teaching, supported by technology allows us as science teachers to encourage them to take risks.  Our approach is to help them to understand it is o.k. to fail as long as you learn from mistakes.

Jim Pavlick:  We are trying to reintroduce the concept of “play” into learning, especially in the sciences.  Kids come up with some crazy ideas, but a wise teacher knows this is where really good teaching opportunities arise.  My theory is, ‘if you throw it out, you have to be ready to catch it, so it is ok to respond to new ideas with ‘I don’t know, so let’s find out.’ A lot of kids want to have the answers ready for them.  The exciting educational moment is to help them take responsibility for their learning by explaining to their peers, as well as their teachers the process they used to prove or disprove why their idea can or cannot work.

Mike Bennett:  I worked as an engineer for 25 years before moving to teaching. When I first started in business a young engineer could work in isolation.  Technology has changed that paradigm.  Today, companies encourage collaboration.  These are changes I try to impart in my teaching high school students.   Working in teams, encouraging people to come up with creative solutions to problems is the way to go. Communication  – being able to speak and write well are critical to science, math and engineering skills today. Computer technology such as 3D programs used for engineering and drafting has changed the way teachers and students learn in that discipline.  Thirty-years ago, a student had to memorize theorems and later apply it to drawing.  Today, the 3D programs allow students to readily apply the theory with practice.  Even more exciting is the fact that engineering becomes art with its unique and language.  These are very exciting times to be a teacher.  I love my job.

These teachers are an inspiration to the profession.  It is my sincere hope that the education bureaucracy will see to it that projects like this will get the federal and state support they need to serve the young people of our country.

If you want to listen to the teachers talking about the program, you will probably have to sign up for a voicethread account.  It is worth it!

Update on a Foundation's Role to Address the Medically Uninsured

The economic depression continues to decimate families in communities throughout the area served by The Nord Family Foundation.   The President was in town last week and spoke about jobs.  The legislative quagmire over addressing health-care has thwarted meaningful conversation about this important topic.  Hope for a resolution to the challenge of the rapidly growing number of medically uninsured people is dissipated.  As politicians focus more on gaining political points for partisan camps, community members of this part of the rust belt still try to find solutions to this massive problem.

The Context – According to results from the 2008 Ohio Family Health Survey, there are an estimated 29,326 uninsured adults, age 18 to 64, in Lorain County.  This number represents 15.9% of adults in Lorain County, a statistically significant increase of 4.9% (9,160 persons) over 2004 figures.  Further, there are 2,723 uninsured children, under the age of 18.  This, however, represents 1% fewer uninsured children over 2004 figures.

The improvement in the rate among children is attributable in large part to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) which provided insurance for children in families with incomes up to 250% of the federal poverty level.  In 2008, eligibility was increased from 200% of the federal poverty level.

Some of the characteristics of the adult uninsured population are as follows:

  • Males were more likely to be uninsured than females.
  • Younger adults have higher estimated uninsured rates than older adults.  In Lorain County, 34.1% of adults ages 18 to 24 were uninsured versus 8.4% of adults ages 45 to 64.
  • Married couples have much higher health insurance rates than others.  In Lorain County, 32.4% of unmarried adults ages 18 to 64 were uninsured versus 4.8% of married adults.
  • Adults ages 18 to 64 who are less educated are also less likely to have health insurance.  In Lorain County, those with a four-year college degree had an uninsured rate of 8.1% versus 47.6% for those with less than a high school diploma or equivalent.
  • Differences in employment status are also related to insurance status.  In Lorain County, 7.8% of full-time workers were uninsured, compared to 19.9% of part-time workers and 29.4% of unemployed adults.
  • In Lorain County, adults in households with income of at least twice the federal poverty level (FPL) had an uninsured rate of 8.5%. Those below poverty (less than 100% FPL) had an uninsured rate of 34.6%, and almost half (48.6%) of those with incomes between 101% and 150% FPL were uninsured.

The two primary hospital systems located in Lorain County are Community Health Partners Regional Medical Center and EMH Regional Healthcare System. Both systems do their share to provide care to those without coverage and/or the ability to pay.  In 2007, EMH provided approximately $17 million in charity care.  This was an increase of 15% over 2006, a 54% increase since 2004, and more than double 2001.  The same year, CHP provided $4.8 million in traditional charity care, and an additional $11.7 million in unpaid costs for Medicaid.

The Response – In 2008, The Nord Family Foundation contributed $129,000 to the Community Foundation of Greater Lorain County, to initiate HealthCare Lorain County.  These funds leveraged local grants allowing the group to contract with the Altarum Institute and the Public Services Institute of Lorain County Community College to facilitate a year-long community engagement and planning process aimed at improving access to health care for the uninsured in Lorain County.   The two contractors, guided by Robert Woods Johnson’s Communities in Charge, initiative  diagrammed stakeholders’ perspectives of the current and desired Lorain County health system, completed a local environmental scan, outlined key problems, and mapped provider resources.

Contributions from local funders included

Participants – Approximately forty (40) community leaders, referred to as the Working Group, participated on this initiative at some level and are committed to addressing/improving the health care situation in Lorain County.  This Working Group was comprised of individuals from all aspects of the health care field (hospitals, health departments, mental health board, medical society, etc.), as well as state and local government, law enforcement, social services, local funders, faith-based organizations, and business representatives.   A Steering Committee of ten (10) members acted as a sort of Executive Committee and met when the Working Group did not – vetting data and information and taking suggestions back to the larger Working Group.  Between August 2007 and December 2009, the Working Group and the Steering Committee each met five times, under the guidance/facilitation of the consultants.

Goal – HealthCare Lorain County focused its efforts around providing access to Medical Homes for the uninsured.  In a medical home model, primary care clinicians and allied professionals provide conventional diagnostic and therapeutic services, as well as coordination of care for patients that require services not available in primary care settings. The goal is to provide a patient with a broad spectrum of care, both preventive and curative, over a period of time and to coordinate all of the care the patient receives.  This “Medical Home” decision was reached by the Steering Committee in June 2008 and presented to the Working Group in late July 2008 after much data analysis regarding the statistics of the uninsured in Lorain County, and the current rates/usage stats of the two main hospital systems.   Over the next several months the group reviewed examples of other communities’ successful solutions to the same problem Lorain County is facing and ways in which those communities adopted medical home models or something similar.  December 2009, the Committee recommitted to the long-term goal.


Charity Hospitals

Currently, Community Health Partners has started a very small Medical Home pilot program with the assistance of the Lorain County Free Clinic – both of whom served on the Steering Committee.  The two main hospitals, CHP and EMH, along with the Steering Committee Chair and two of the larger foundations funders, met in November 2009 to discuss how the two hospitals are prepared to commit to/expand on a full Medical Home program for the Lorain County community.  The most viable option for the two appeared to be the Toledo CareNet model which serves a triaging center to make sure the medically uninsured and under-insured have a human being ushering them to an appropriate care.  CareNet’s strength is in providing a continuum of care for the medically indigent requiring chronic care.  At this writing, the hospitals are reluctant to make a financial commitment to what could amount to a $300,000 operating budget for CareNet to function in Lorain County.  The foundations are continuing to meet with the hospital directors to determine why this is the case.

Public Health Departments –

In 2008, The Public Services Institute (PSI) of Lorain County Community College was contracted by the Lorain City public health department to initiate a strategic plan.  The plan was published in July 2008 with little discussion from the Health Care Lorain County group. The plan calls for a need for the three entities to “collaborate,” but fails address Health Care Lorain County’s call to explore consolidation of the three separate health districts into one.  PSI had engaged in low-level negotiations with the health departments to push the idea of merger forward in 2009.   In January 2010, Nord Family Foundation inquired about the PSI’s efforts and received the following response from the Elyria Public Health Director,

We have been unable for many reasons to meet with Lorain City. We have of course had financial reductions in grants and have laid  two positions and eliminated the well child program. We just received an 100,000 cut in the general fund from Elyria — and so are anticipating  other major changes within this year — because so much of our budget depends on grants and those grants are on a fed fiscal year, we have until June to complete whatever we  decided to do about consolidation of some of our remaining programs, etc. This has been — due to our early and constant involvement withH!N! — a very difficult and challenging year. The Board has worked and supported us — but we all know we need to come up with a new business plan that will fit our budget. Unfortunately at a time when our services are really needed on a lot of fronts, we are at risk! But the Board is still interested in some kind of collaboration with Lorain city. There has been no enthusiasm or cordiality on their part re. to invitations — but they are also under stress.

PSI’s message to Nord Family Foundation is,

You will notice the strategic priority regarding collaboration.  Honestly, unless someone funds a neutral convener and facilitator to take these two entities to the next level, I doubt much will happen until either Kathy (Elyria director)  and/or Terry (Lorain director) retire.  Both individuals have to be close to this point so the time is now.

As these conversations continue, the Nord Family Foundation awarded $297,000 in grants to unrelated health-delivery organization in Lorain County between 2008-2009.  The recipient organizations are: Community Health Partners Regional Foundation; Family Planning Services of Lorain County; The Lorain County Free Clinic; The Lorain County General Health District and the Lorain County Health and Dentistry.

Progress is being made in that the foundations continue to engage in conversations with the hospitals, the federally qualified health centers and the free clinic.  An ad hoc committee on the medically uninsured continues to meet regularly with focus on sustaining the Lorain County drug repository.  The Nord Family Foundation hosts those monthly meetings.

After more than a year of meetings, the following challenges remain:

  1. There is a need to continue exploring this very complex issue of providing quality health-care to medically uninsured and underinsured people in the county.
  2. There must be a new technology infrastructure put in place to facilitate data sharing.
  3. There is a desire to provide every citizen a sense of a medical home.  People desire a relationship with a personal health care provider rather than an impersonal institution.
  4. The community needs to explore open-source charts so every patient can have an online chart that will follow him or her to their port to the health care system. The Cleveland Clinic’s remarkable on-line health record called My Chart is a great example of what an electronic health portfolio for medically underinsured and uninsured could look like.
  5. There is a need to examine how health dollars currently flow into the county.  There are tremendous inefficiencies and possible duplication of effort among  three distinct health departments (Elyria, Lorain City and Lorain County Health) which draw most of their funding from federal and state programs.  These departments which were established initially to address infectious disease in the earlier decades of the 20th Century, are not equipped to handle comprehensive chronic care that the majority of the population needs.  Competition from for-profit clinics such as Walgreens Take Care Clinic raises questions about the place of these health departments in a 21st century health care model.
  6. The economic pressure necessitates collaboration between the two charitable hospitals and the Cleveland Clinic.
  7. All eyes are on the negotiations with the impending federal health care legislation in Congress.

Lessons Learned

The challenge for the Nord Family Foundation (or any foundation) deciding to take on a convening effort of this magnitude trustees must determine

  • How visible a role you want the foundation to take
  • have flexibility built into the expectations you have for the outcome
  • know the level of risk you will tolerate (the outcome could result in stakeholders walking away from the table)
  • determine how much staff time and money you are willing to put into the effort
  • look for innovation from players outside the local cohort
  • be willing to stick with it – conversations of this magnitude can take years but n the long run, the Medical Home is likely to result in savings to patients, employers, and health plans.  Increasing the emphasis on primary care could produce large dividends throughout our health care system

Ohio's Institutional Intolerance for Innovation in Education

At a Philanthropy Roundtable conference on Education, Chester “Checker” Finn hosted a panel discussion called Rebooting the Education System with Technology.  Mr. Finn mentioned his conversation with Clayton Christensen about his book Disrupting Class.  Although Mr. Finn praises the book vision, scope and very realistic assessment of where the demands for learning are moving, he considers Mr. Christensen to be remarkably naive to think this vision will be implemented by any State Department of Education.  The bureaucracy is just too ossified.  Mr. Finn’s prediction proved disappointingly true when the Ohio budget – House Bill-1 (that included funding for education) was passed.

The Nord Family Foundation contributed funding to a State-wide effort to inform the Governor and the legislature on the role of philanthropy.   After a year of a multi-constituency task force, including philanthropy and educational leaders from across the state, the final House Bill 1 .virtually ignored the top two recommendations which would have  “Created  Real Opportunities for Today’s Learners and for Generations of Ohioans to Come” were all but ignored by the State officials.  The top two recommendations were:

Create Ohio Innovation Zones and an Incentive Fund

  • Attract and build on promising school and instructional models (STEM, ECHS, charters etc.)
  • Introduce innovations w/ district-wide impact
  • Eliminate operational and regulatory barriers that preclude schools/districts from pursuing innovations
  • There is little to no emphasis in the Bill on removing operational and regulatory barriers, other than the recommendation that districts develop charter schools.

Focus on Transforming Low Performing Schools

  • Develop a statewide plan targeting lowest 10% of schools
  • Focus on research-based best practices
  • Develop rigorous, local restructuring plans w/ state guidance

The first recommendation was based on Innovation Schools Act  legislation in Colorado which established the creation of school innovation districts designed to  strengthen school-based decision-making by letting schools break free of certain district and state education rules.  This legislation allowed schools like the Bruce Randall School in Denver’s inner city to be relieved of the typical State imposed restrictions on access to technology and collective bargaining rules. This act enabled administrators to have significant flexibility over the length of the school year and the use of time during the school day, the hiring of staff, the leadership structure within the schools, and the ability to pay staff above the levels stated in the collective bargaining agreement for certain assignments.

Last month, the Indiana State Board of Education issued a blanket waiver allowing state-accredited public and private schools to use a broad range of multimedia, computer, and internet resources to supplement or replace traditional textbooks.

My work on the Ohio Grantmakers Forum Education Committee has made me come to learn that the political leadership in Ohio acts much like many companies when confronted with the idea of innovation.  An article in the November 2008 Harvard Business Review, authors James Cash, Jr., Michael J. Earl, and Robert Morrison.  Teaming Up to Crack Innovation Enterprise Integration write that, “…business innovation and integration have two things in common – both are still ‘unnatural acts.   …Businesses are better at stifling innovation than at capitalizing on it, better at optimizing local operations than at integrating them for the good of the enterprise and its customers.  The larger and more complex the organizations, the stronger the status quo can be in repelling both innovation and integration.”  This assumption  is reified when one looks at reports from local charter schools our foundation has supported over the years.

“Advocating for charter school funding has been a challenge this year. Governor Strickland’s first budget reduced funding to charters so significantly that E Prep would have had to close its doors if the budget had been adopted. E Prep joined Citizens’ Academy and The Intergenerational School and hired a state lobbyist to help draw attention to both the success of these schools and the devastating effect of the proposed budget. In addition, many, many E Prep supporters were asked to write letters to the state legislators. The budget that was finally passed restored funding to charters, thankfully. We believe we will have to revisit this issue in two years, however.”

Herein marks an interesting parallel to our work with OGF.  Philanthropy as a sector is great at setting up “pockets” of innovative projects and in many cases supporting successful schools that work.  When reporting these successes to the public sector, public school leaders repel those concepts, often fueled with activist organizations like teachers unions to tell people why things like successful charter schools or faith-based enterprises rob the system of monies.  Try introducing innovative technological solutions in schools and many will not participate in the training that is inevitable required unless stipends are provided.  Leaders (including governors and the state and local superintendents and even board members) who do not understand the technology and/or innovations will act similarly to the CEO’s described in the article.  They allow the status quo to repel both innovation and integration.  The best the legislature could do in response to the explosion of innovative technologies and approaches to learning and assessment available was to appropriate $200,000 to establish an Office of Innovation within the Ohio Department of Education to examine best practices.  This is the epitome of command and control economy practices.  Ohio’s intolerance for innovative practice outside the public system is known nationally.

The final report on the bill shows where the legislature, and ultimately the governor took recommendations.  In short, they went for recommendations that dealt with nominal modifications to recommendations about standards, teacher hiring and firing principals and modest changes in granting public school teachers tenure.  The decisions were influenced heavily by partisan politicking on the part of the Governor, his aids and the Head of the Chancellor of the State Board of Regents.   Unfortunately, the policy makers adopted least resistance to anything that would jeopardize relations with the ever powerful Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Teachers Union.  When setting out on this committee, I was not expecting to become so negative about the teachers unions; however. it is evident to me that unless the system is shaken up,  the unions have too much interest in self-preservation  and the status quo than they do in promoting innovation.

The OGF Committee remains committed to continuing conversation about exploring options for Innovation Zones across the State.  In philanthropy, I think trustees of foundations have a moral obligation to state authorities to focus attention on improving educational opportunities for students who are trapped in under performing public schools.  It remains to be seen whether those efforts will result in legislative change in this ossified State School bureaucracy.  To be fair, I think Philanthropy needs to do a better job informing the power stakeholders in defining what innovation is and what innovation in a school district can and should look like.  It is not only related to technology.

Innovation in education technology – evidenced by the rapid proliferation of Online learning, as well as improvements in technologies that will support the burgeoning number of children in public schools in need of special education is happening at rapid pace.  Change is happening and schools must be prepared for how those changes will benefit children and families in poor performing districts. For them, education is their ticket out of poverty.

I do not believe that technology is the answer for all districts, especially districts that are financially challenged.  I do however think that innovation includes new ways of approaching teaching and learning that stand outside the box of the top-down structures of the ODE.  I have posted previously on successful charter and faith-based schools that have little to no technology, but can and do produce students with academic achievement that far outpaces that which is done in neighboring public schools.  I will write more on my ideas on innovation  in my next post.

Public Schools and Private Auto Companies

I spotted this television advertisement for GM the other evening. It occurred to me that watching the demise of the American Auto Industry, is tragically analogous to what is happening in public education.

The blog post Daily Finance’s writer Peter Cohan cites five reasons why GM failed. Read and draw analogies to public schools in the United States.

1. Bad financial policies. You might be surprised to learn that GM has been bankrupt since 2006 and has avoided a filing for years thanks to the graces of the banks and bondholders. But for years it has used cars as razors to sell consumers a monthly package of razor blades — in the form of highly profitable car loans.

And the two Harvard MBAs who drove GM to bankruptcy — Rick Wagoner and Fritz Henderson — both rose up from GM’s finance division, rather than its vehicle design operation. (Read more about GM’s bad financial policies here.)

2. Uncompetitive vehicles. Compared to its toughest competitors — like Toyota Motor Co. (TM) — GM’s cars were poorly designed and built, took too long to manufacture at costs that were too high, and as a result, fewer people bought them, leaving GM with excess production capacity. (Read more about GM’s uncompetitive vehicles here.)

3. Ignoring competition. GM has been ignoring competition — with a brief interruption (Saturn in the 1980s) — for about 50 years. At its peak, in 1954, GM controlled 54 percent of the North American vehicle market. Last year, that figure had tumbled to 19 percent. Toyota and its peers took over that market share. (Read more about GM ignoring the competition here.)

4. Failure to innovate. Since GM was focused on profiting from finance, it did not really care that much about building better vehicles. GM’s management failed to adapt GM to changes in customer needs, upstart competitors, and new technologies. (Read more about GM’s failure to innovate here.)

5. Managing in the bubble. GM managers got promoted by toeing the CEO’s line and ignoring external changes. What looked stupid from the perspective of customer and competitors was smart for those bucking for promotions. (Read more about GM’s managing in the bubble here.)

GM has now produced this mea culpa, promising a new organization with new products and a new attitude.    The answer is to reinvent itself.

It is not hard to draw analogies to public schools.   Poor financing and financial management.  Management (administrative bubbles), inflated salaries for administrators, ignoring the competition…..the list goes on.   The list does not mention the tortuous negotiations and battles with organized labor – but that analogy fits as well.

Interesting that the public sector (federal government) has to be in the unbelievable position of having to bail out this failing industry.    The act has people from the private sector incredulous.  Even the President himself seems uncomfortable with the fact that the government has had to take this unprecedented action.

Public Schools in too many urban districts are a failing industry.  Too many administrators, public officials and even some private philanthropists ignore the competition (i.e. charter schools, successful faith-based schools and even advances made in independent schools).  These entities are seen not as competition, but as the enemy.    In an effort to preserve themselves and guarantee job  security, those in the bunker form the bubble.

Too many are afraid of adapting to new technologies that are likely to guarantee, smarter, leaner administrative budgets and more likely than not to improve students learning outcomes.   Good administrators will report up to the “management” that revises standards and tests to juke the stats and have the public believe their inferior product is actually working.

Far too many individual school “districts” makes no sense anymore. I live in a county of 280,000 but there are 14 individual school districts each with high-paid administrators including superintendents, principals, curriculum directors. The cost to the public every year exceeds $4 million dollars. Much of that work can be done online through more effective use of management technologies.

Too many public dollars are wasted paying for textbooks. Innovations in online texts are occurring every day, yet too many school administrators are slow to adapt them. Many philanthropists have funded organizations that provide solutions to this unnecessary expense. cK-12 is a private non-profit foundation that is just one example.  Another is Currwiki.  Schools and school districts – not to mention the multimillion dollar textbook industry has an interest  in keeping these innovations out of schools.  Too many foundation officers and school administrators – fearful of change, block innovation with the appeal to waiting for results from “evidence-based practice” before they do anything.  Where are the “practices” taking place and who is collecting the “evidence?”  I know than many foundations have a lot of evidence of what is working, especially in charter, faith-based and indepdendent schools, but this evidence is ignored unless it has imprimatur from “the academy.”

It just seems to me that the time is ripe for foundations across the country to sponsor one or a series of local symposia that will bring together leaders from the field of educational  technology, business, K-12 systems, and higher edcuation to re-imagine doing schools.  These symposia should be public – coordinated with local newspapers, and newsmedia.  Public television stations typically have local afficilates that could foster regularly scheduled converesations about re-inventing school and invite public policy officials to be part of the conversation.  Together, these entities can help to reinvent public schools just as the auto industries are about to embark on reinventing themselves.

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.

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.