Innovation is not simply invention; it is inventiveness put to use. Invention without innovation is a pastime.
– Harold Evans – the London Sunday Times
Governor Kasich’s Straight A Fund which will allocate $300 for Innovation Grants for Schools is a gift with remarkable potential but few educators realize it. This idea of an innovation fund has been brewing in the philanthropic sector for the past seven years, and now there is an opportunity to turn that idea to reality. In addition to making grants, foundations seek to stimulate cross-sector collaborations and mobilize stakeholders to create shared solutions. Seeing tremendous challenges in Ohio’s education sector, foundations from across the State collaborated through the Ohio Grantmakers Forum (OGF) to consider what real innovation could look like for the State. Basing its analysis on successful projects funded in classrooms from across the country, OGF published documents in 2006, 2009 and in 2013.
In 2006, Education for Ohio’s Future challenged legislators to “Accelerate Innovations and Options throughout the System.” We said, “Schools, new and old, should reflect current research that supports high-quality and relevant curriculum, expanded forms of autonomy, the development of regional schools, the infusion of technology, a longer school day and school year, and accelerated options for combined high school and college coursework.” In 2009, Beyond Tinkering – called for “Creating Ohio Innovation Zones and an Incentive Fund” and to “Seed transformative educational innovation by attracting and building on promising school and instructional models; introduce district-wide innovations that personalize and deepen teaching and learning; and eliminate operational and regulatory barriers.” In the 2011-2012 biennial budget, the Ohio legislature allowed for “Innovation Schools” and “Innovation School Zones” (3302.6 – Designation as an innovation school) that could waive any collective bargaining agreement that would impede implementation of an innovation plan. A caveat was thrown in that would activate the waiver only if 60% of the members of the bargaining unit in each participating school approved the waiver. What a way to kill innovation! Few superintendents took up the challenge due to the cumbersome language and the lack of understanding of what is available on the market and how real innovation can take place within this ossified bureaucracy. For too many, innovation still means a Smartboard™. The recent 2013 OGF report states, “Technology that is overlaid on an antiquated model of schooling only increases the costs – the model must be recreated. “
In the May 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review, Stacey Childress of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation wrote that, …”increasing the quality of K-12 Public education is vital to long-term economic growth. The U.S. educational sector has ignored technological advancements that have brought dramatic productivity gains to almost all other sectors and needs to introduce smart, personalized-learning programs into the curriculum.”
The Innovation Grants Fund is a remarkable step toward transforming teaching and learning. Effective use of these grants has the potential to change our centralized “educational system,” into “system for education” that can be more flexible to the demand for personalized learning. To support the Grants superintendents and especially school board members must provide teaching professionals culture of inventiveness in order to bring success in learning to scale. For too long we have supported an evaluation system that appears have been designed to create future game-show contestants rather than learners. Placing the power of innovation into the hands of capable teaching professionals will produce assessments that reflect a child’s true understanding of material. State-of-the-art management tools that increase productivity in the private sector should be available in schools and encouraged to demonstrate scalable cost savings.
Real innovation will be accelerated when the State makes use of the same technologies to update its irrational and wasteful system of professional development. This will not be accomplished by pouring more money into traditional education schools but taking cues from online options That mission can be enhanced when Cleveland makes much better use of its television and media to spotlight what works in education.
Philanthropy has funded successful inventions in classrooms and buildings across the country. Only with the collaboration of the government can successful classroom inventions turn into innovations that will benefit all children. Mr. Kasich has provided educational leadership the opportunity for inventiveness not seen before. Let’s figure out ways to make it happen.
In 2010, The Nord Family Foundation provided support for the Ohio Grantmakers Forum’s (OGF) education initiative making this the third year for such support. Trustees were provided a detailed report on the role The Nord Family Foundation played in participating in the state-wide stakeholders meetings which resulted in the 2009 publication of, Beyond Tinkering: Creating Real Opportunities for Today’s Learners and for Generations of Ohioans to Come.
In 2010, OGF has taken a very active role in working with the Governor’s office and the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) in order to secure a potential $400 million in Race to the Top (RTT) funding from the Federal Government.
Ohio was not selected in the first round of applicants for the highly competitive Race to the Top competition. When the initial request for proposals (RFP) came out, OGF urged ODE to conduct more outreach and stakeholder involvement and encouraged ODE to make use of the working group teams that had already been assembled for Beyond Tinkering. ODE made a decision to go it alone.
The first-round application process was not transparent. Members of the State Legislature asked to see drafts, but this request was denied. Not surprising, this alienated many in the State Legislature especially from the Republican minority whose endorsement was required by the Feds. ODE found the process overwhelming given the short timeline. Its effort to “manage” the process was disastrous. Ohio went into the competition in Washington in fourth place, based on preliminary criteria. After the March 2010 presentation in DC, Ohio went from 4th to 10th place among 16 competing states. Even a phone call from President Obama’s office to put this important swing state into priority was ignored. It was that bad.
ODE and the Governor’s office justified the lack of transparency claiming they were worried about information leaking out because it was a competitive process. Quite frankly, this is the way they do business at ODE. The legislature, Governor’s office and the ODE had a field day of finger –pointing.
At this point, OGF once again offered assistance to the Governor’s office stating that without its expertise they would not be successful in Round 2. The Cleveland Foundation, Gund Foundation, KnowledgeWorks and Martha Holden Jennings Foundations pooled funds allowing OGF to hire a consultant whose prior experience was with the Tennessee RTT application (Tennessee was one of the states to receive RTT funding in the first round. The Governor demanded that ODE work with the consultant and be more open to stakeholder involvement and input.
OGF’s activities in preparing the application for Round 2 of the Race to the Top application:
1. The first effort was to help the ODE and the Governor’s office manage communication with the legislature and conduct meaningful outreach with the stakeholders who had been involved with the Beyond Tinkering activities. (These included philanthropy, and organizations like the State School Board Association, the Ohio Teachers Union, district superintendents and teachers (novel thought!) and social service agencies.
2. OGF partnered with KIDSOhio and tasked specifically for producing regular and accurate information to the legislators, including House and Senate Republicans for their input to the application.
3. Race to the Top Application Progress Summaries were sent to all stakeholders to keep them informed. Several stakeholder meetings were convened by OGF in service to the Governor’s office.
In August 2010, Ohio was awarded a Race to the Top grant of $400 million to improve education. It is interesting to note the emphasis on including successful charter schools in eligibility for support. Another Nord Family Foundation grantee, the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools (OAPCS) has played a critical role in ensuring the quality of charter school certification and training in the State. Last month, OAPCS sponsored a state-wide event in which State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Deborah Delisle acknowledged the critical importance OAPCS plays in improving the quality of education in Ohio. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised OAPCS for its innovative seminar called The Ohio Alliance Conference on Collaborative Practices focused on shared learning between traditional public and charter schools.
Changing a huge entity like public education is an enormous undertaking requiring focus, discipline and determination.
Yesterday I was asked to complete a survey in anticipation of a conference sponsored by Grantmakers for Education. The topic is “Designing for Innovation in American Education.” The highly competent staff at GFE ask,
Despite the increasing attention being given to “innovation” in education, innovation remains a loosely defined concept. How can grantmakers envision a truly innovative future for American education-and use that understanding to ensure our education systems meet the needs of learners today? How can human-centered design drive education innovation, particularly as we strive to engage diverse learners? What new capacities must education philanthropists develop to effect trans-formative change? Join colleagues from across the country as we answer these key questions.
This request arrive the very same day that the following article appeared in the New York Times. The subject addresses innovation and its demise in one of the world’s largest companies.
Microsoft’s Creative Destruction
By DICK BRASS
Published: February 4, 2010
Microsoft’s huge profits — $6.7 billion for the past quarter — come almost entirely from Windows and Office programs first developed decades ago. Like G.M. with its trucks and S.U.V.’s, Microsoft can’t count on these venerable products to sustain it forever. Perhaps worst of all, Microsoft is no longer considered the cool or cutting-edge place to work. There has been a steady exit of its best and brightest.
What happened? Unlike other companies, Microsoft never developed a true system for innovation. Some of my former colleagues argue that it actually developed a system to thwart innovation. Despite having one of the largest and best corporate laboratories in the world, and the luxury of not one but three chief technology officers, the company routinely manages to frustrate the efforts of its visionary thinkers.
Internal competition is common at great companies. It can be wisely encouraged to force ideas to compete. The problem comes when the competition becomes uncontrolled and destructive. At Microsoft, it has created a dysfunctional corporate culture in which the big established groups are allowed to prey upon emerging teams, belittle their efforts, compete unfairly against them for resources, and over time hector them out of existence. It’s not an accident that almost all the executives in charge of Microsoft’s music, e-books, phone, online, search and tablet efforts over the past decade have left.
As a result, while the company has had a truly amazing past and an enviably prosperous present, unless it regains its creative spark, it’s an open question whether it has much of a future.
Innovation and its demise within a large business serves as a lesson to the public school system which, by its nature, thwarts an innovative spirit. Disruptive technologies can be very threatening to school administrators who feel tremendous pressure from “The STATE” to have their schools perform well on the report cards. In that sense, schools and school officials spend a lot of time talking about “school improvement” which presupposes that the thing they are trying to improve is inherently good. Disruption, as in disruptive technologies discussed most notably by Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn, threatens the very core of what a dutiful school superintendent is trying to achieve which is a kind of educational “equilibrium.” How many teachers across the country work with Superintendents whose managerial style mimics those described by the former Microsoft employee. How many principals, and superintendents have, “created a dysfunctional corporate (educational) culture in which the big established groups are allowed to prey upon emerging teams, belittle their efforts, compete unfairly against them for resources, and over time hector them out of existence.” To paraphrase Mr. Bass’ article, it is no wonder greatest and most talented younger people wind up leaving the teaching profession after only a few years. No wonder why schools have a hard time recruiting new teachers. What young person, raised and nurtured in a system that encourages creativity and thinking wants to work in such a system?
W. Brian Arthur’s book, The Nature of Technology discusses the question raised by my colleagues at the Grantmakers for Education. This professor and visiting researcher at the Palo Alto Research Center says in his most recent book, “…we have no agreement on what the word ‘technology’ means, no overall theory of how technologies come into being, no deep understanding of what ‘innovation’ consists of … missing is a set of overall principles that would give the subject a logical structure, the sort of structure that would help fill these gaps.”
Without a common understanding of what innovation can mean, it should be no surprise that school officials react negatively when the concept is introduced. Unfortunately, these same officials and their teachers do not embrace the urgency that is needed to explore the ways in which technology can and is challenging the way students learn and achieve. The lack of any state sanctioned Innovation Zones results in too many classrooms across the states tinkering with technology and learning. This parody, done by students at University of Denver, show the less than optimal results.
My vision for Ohio would be to legislate the establishment of Educational Innovations Zones. More specifically the legislation would support the establishment of five Innovation Zones throughout the State. This concept starts out being consistent with the Ohio School Improvement Program which, is aspirational at best, but which, in my opinion, flounders in implementation.
Ohio’s School Improvement Program
…Rather than focusing on making improvement through a “school-by-school” approach, Ohio’s
concept of scale up redefines how people operate by creating a set of expectations that, when
consistently applied statewide by all districts and regional providers, will lead to better results for
all children. OLAC’s recommendations are supported by recent meta-analytical studies on the
impact of district and school leadership on student achievement, and provide strong support for
the creation of district and school-level/building leadership team structures to clarify shared
leadership roles/responsibilities at the district and school level, and validate leadership team
structures needed to implement quality planning, implementation, and ongoing monitoring on a
The two concepts diverge however when I suggest that these “zones” include some of the best teachers from varying districts within the region. An ideal zone would include teachers from public, charter and private schools as well as home-schools, who can demonstrate a creative approach to education. The zones would be given a five-year time period to meet regularly and demonstrative clear and effective methods to improve teaching and learning. More importantly, these zones would be encouraged to demonstrate effective assessment tools to measure success using these new approaches. Also within these zones, school administrators and teachers would be charged with coming up with tools that will demonstrate clear cost-savings to the business of educating. For example, can a ‘zone’ be managed in new ways that would allow the State to reduce the number of high-paid superintendents and curricular officers. These zones could and should be given levels of autonomy. Rather than the current Office of Innovation These offices could report to the Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement which by its description is simply another management office to tinker with what is already in place. It is certainly NOT a way to stimulate the real innovation that needs to take place on the peripheries. The zones can be virtual places such as SecondLife where people across long physical distances can meet regularly.
These innovation zones would be managed by local boards, consisting of educators from K-12, educators from higher education, business leaders, education technologists and accountants who will help oversee the evolving budgetary implications of innovation. These board would report out to a State and/or National official on a quarterly basis. Real innovation would be posted similar to the way that the Lucas Foundation’s site Edutopia reports out on innovative uses of technology by individual teachers and schools across the country.
In an ideal world, these zones would be the targets of Federal Race to The Top funding. It is not inconceivable that other states could legislate innovation zones and a national competition be underway to demonstrate real innovation in teaching and assessment for learning. To appease the teachers unions which will likely fight this every step of the way, the legislation should be firm (urgency should prevail), but allow for the entire concept of innovation zones to be scraped if no significant cost-savings or significant gains in learning take place. We can go back to the way things were.
It is important to realize that real innovation will be a process. A process similar to medical research in which making mistakes is allowed. Failures should be published and shared. Medical researchers can learn as much from failure as they seek to create new and effective protocols for treating disease. Similarly, risk taking can be encouraged with the understanding that all will learn from success as well as failure.
Referring again to Dr. Arthur’s book one can understand why these innovation zones need not be concentrated in one particular school building or “district” as we have come to know them bound by geographic lines drawn over a century and a half ago. The zones need to be centers of knowledge as well as ways of thinking. This thinking by its nature will conflict with the aspiration to equilibrium too many school administrators crave.
…when new bodies of technology – railroads, electrification, mass production, information technology – spread through an economy, old structures fall apart and new ones take their place. Industries that were once TAKEN for GRANTED become obsolete, and new ones come into being.
Real advanced technology – on-the-edge sophisticated technology – issues not fro knowledge but from something I will call deep craft. Deep craft is more than knowledge. It is a set of knowings. Knowing what is likely to work and what not to work. Knowing what methods to use, what principles are likely to succeed, what parameter values to use in a given technique. Knowing whom to talk to down the corridor to get things working, how to fix things that go wrong, what to ignore, what theories to look to. This sort of craft-knowing takes science for granted and mere knowledge for granted. And it derives collectively from a shared culture of beliefs, an unspoken culture of experience.”
The urgency remains. Too many good teachers who are indeed professionals are not meeting their potential due to a system that has lost its ability to mange. Philanthropy can play a role by working with the State to fund these centers of innovation. President Obama is working with the MacArthur Foundation to stimulate innovation in education with a $2 million competition. Other foundations across the country could pick up the challenge but I believe that better coordination with the States who ultimately run education would be a better approach. More on this later.
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. www.ohiograntmakers.org
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.
Last week, I met with my colleagues from the Ohio Grantmakers Forum (OGF) Education Task Force. The purpose of the meeting was to get an update on how the report recommendation Beyond Tinkering influenced Governor Strickland education budget. The publication purports to help guide policy to “Create Real Opportunities for Today’s Learners and for Generations of Ohioans to Come.” The budget in its current form does little to meet that reality.
The Governor ignored the number one recommendation placed forward by the philanthropic sector which is to create several education “Innovation Zones” throughout the State. He also ignored another compelling recommendation which was to establish a Statewide P-16 Education Technology Plan. Instead his staff appropriated $200,000 in the budget to establish a Creativity and Innovation Center within the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). I suggested the Governor would do well to reallocate that line item to another area because such a center ultimately serves as another top-down management tool for a system that needs another organizational system.
The education reform – dictated by budge constraints promises to be an expensive Tinkering Project informed by political agendas. It is discouraging as a funder to see incredibly innovative approaches to teaching and learning at places like Case and Oberlin College ignored by the pubic school sector. It is energizing to meet the vast number of teachers and people across the country who are pushing innovation in schools in informal networks. It is most disheartening to see how little foundation people, business leaders and school bureaucrats understand the potential technology has to support innovative approaches to learning and understanding. Foundations in particular seem to be risk averse when it comes to seeking out true innovation. Too many of us resist appealing to the god of “Evidence-based practices” which seem only to gain credibilty if funded through expensive consultants from graduate schools of education. To me, that term is becoming argot or those who fear real change to public schools as we know them.
As I watch this budget develop, I find it tragic that those who advise the governor seem to lack any understanding of the power and impact that new learning technologies can have not only in schools but in the market as well. The new technologies and approaches come with massive disruptive change in school management and teaching. Perhaps a concept far too big for policy makers to embrace.
One of the most formidable challenges for this Governor is changing i educational management in communities where the economic downturn continues to erode civic virtue. The following article appeared in the Elyria Chronicle, the newspaper for a mid-west city where the loss of manufacturing jobs has resulted in decreased population and concentration of poverty in the city core. Elyria was once a center of commerce in this part of NE Ohio. Fifty years ago, a working-class family could afford a nice home, have a yard, worship at the church or temple of their choice, join clubs and graduate from schools. The good life attracted families in the post-war boom years. The school district has struggled with low-performing outcomes on State Standardized tests coupled with increases in social ills associated with poverty. On the same day, the paper reported incidents about a shooting of a teen in one neighborhood, the resignation of the county law director who was jailed for drunk driving, a severe beating of one school wrestler with another at a garage party where beer and marijuana was present and a story about the former director of the Community Development Corporation (South Elyria CDC) who is a fugitive from the law – accused of stealing more than $50,000 from the agency.
Many in the next generation of those baby boom families have left the region resulting in population decrease and with that diminished need for the various school buildings. Last week The Elyria Chronicle paper announced the board decided to close two neighborhood schools. As a result, students will be bussed to another building which will now serve as a consolidated school. Note the report on how administration will address the teaching staff. If you are a new teacher, your abilities mean nothing. Union rules make it that no matter what the skill level seniority trumps ability.
In addition to the closings, the district — which also has a projected deficit for 2013 — will lay off 23 teachers — eight at the elementary level, 13 secondary and two special education teachers.
(The), district director of human resources, said the 23 teachers will be notified this week of the reduction plan. At the April 8 board meeting, board members will vote to approve the contract termination of each.
He does not anticipate that enough veteran teachers will decide to leave the district before that time, saving some of the younger teachers from losing their jobs.
So far, only three retirements have officially been announced. There are no plans to offer any sort of retirement incentive, he said.
The teachers slated to be lost have one to three years of experience with the district.
Combined, the cost-cutting measures will save the district $2.25 million annually and erase the projected 2012 deficit while decreasing the 2013 deficit to $700,000, (The)Superintendent said.
As I read the article, I drew parallels to what has happened in the manufacturing sector in many towns in this Great Lakes region. Factories are closing across the county. We see the empty and furloughed factories of the car manufacturers who are now in danger of bankruptcy due to obsolete management and product design that make their cars irrelevant to the American buying public. Other businesses have moved abroad or to the South because they cannot meet union demands. I spoke with one businessman who told me he had a hard time finding workers who could pass random drug tests. These are the realities contributing to the economic malaise in NE Ohio. The malaise is transferred to some of the public schools as well. Teachers stick to obsolete curriculum and assessment tools. Morale is low because they are not treated as professionals and the State pushes them to produce test results in the way a factory pushed workers to produce widgets. In this envorinment, where teaching can be the last hold-out profession for families, I can understand how fear and protection can govern local policy decisions. Change is long overdue, but the community does not seem prepared to even ask the right questions to find a way out.
The Fund for Our Economic Future is a unique collaboration of the philanthropic sector which pooled funds to support organizations by providing early-stage venture capital to innovative individuals with promising businesses. In its first year, the Fund supported a region-wide conversation on the economic challenges called Voices and Choices . This $3 million dollar effort captured community concerns. Number one concern for the citizens of NE Ohio was addressing the poor educational system and the second was jobs. The regions leaders were able to respond quite well to the jobs issue. Working in coordination with the State to leverage Third Frontier Funds into the region the Fund has worked closely with the business and political leadership to create an engine of economic activity for new and emerging business in the region. The effort has resulted in tens of millions of new dollars coming into the region and the creation of jobs. The Cleveland Foundation has taken a lead role in collaborating with business and the universities directing funds to stimulate innovative businesses in energy and nanotechnology.
Elyria has one of Ohio’s best community colleges, Lorain County Community College with a magnificent new LEED certified building called the Entrepreneurship Innovation Institute (EII) that provides training to people with ideas and shows them how to bring it to scale. The Nord Family Foundation provided support to both the Fund for Our Economic Future and to local efforts with Team Lorain County and EII. At the same time, Elyria, it is a tale of two cities. On one end, stands this center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation with a vision of moving this economically desperate community to the future. On the other end the school district is depressed and managing a response straight out of 1960’s. There is little hope for true innovation because the bureaucracies will not allow change to happen if it means changing the way things have always been done. It will not change as long as those in power will protect their jobs to the detriment of the greater good.
This focused region-wide effort to reinvigorate and innovate in the manufacturing sector in NE Ohio has been seriously lacking in the education sector. There is no focus for discussion and no horizion with a vision of what can be. Despite remarkable resources in centers like Case Western Reserve University’s Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education, One Community, Cleveland State (to name only a few) the public school system is stagnating with a system that resists any invitation for innovation. Few in the public education system in the region even know these resources exist much less how to make use of their innovations. The public school system appears to be experiencing a random approach to innovation, and seems more concerned with addressing job retention within the system. There are exceptions. The success of the MC2STEM school initiatives show promise, but these schools are in the minority. Rather than stimulating innovation, the Governor’s draft budget hinder it because it includes language that will cut support to some of the most innovative charter schools in the State.
I cannot understand why a Governor so tuned to the need to stimulate innovation in industry, is so opposed to doing the same in education. Why not create an innovation and entrepreneur district in this town of Elyria? (other cities like Cleveland could be candidates as well) Why not tap into the potential a P-16 compact could have in pushing that agenda. If the car manufacturers and other industries are changing to meet the needs of the next 25 years, why can’t the bureaucracies that strangle innovation in education do the same? To do that requires training and work, which many older teachers are – quite honestly – reluctant to do.
As a funder I hear stories from many people as to how the system does not serve the needs of students. These confessional moments (as I call them) are not mere griping, but passion-felt laments over how “the system” is broken. Most complaints however are whispered for fear of retribution of colleagues and superiors. Recently once colleague shared the following thought with me. He wanted to post it on a blog but was afraid of the consequences.
Title: Ranting, Nightmares and Interactive Whiteboards
I’ve been struggling to write blog posts lately.
My lack of posting isn’t for a lack of things to say. Nor is it for a lack of enthusiasm for my work with children or other educators.
I’ve been quite simply because I don’t want to lose my job for questioning the administration on the WWW. Nor do I want to anger colleagues, dedicated teachers who are indeed working very hard in their classrooms. I also don’t want to sound like a ranting lunatic or a nitpicking critic. I am not a classroom teacher – I’m a technology teacher – so who am I to critique classroom practices and the instructional designs of my colleagues? Although, I hardly call a 10-page purple packet filled with teacher-generated questions and lines on which to write answers a designed project for student learning.
But…I’m having nightmares. I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold, panicked sweat. I wonder when they’re coming to get me. Which grant funder will expose me as a fraud? In my latest nightmare I was being charged as an accomplice to “Crimes Against Children.”
Crimes Against Children? No, I’m not a pervert. I’m not skimming money off the budget. Nor am I purchasing materials for personal gain with district funds.
What am I?
I am a silent witness to lessons, projects and activities that either are not engaging, serve only the middle, do not provide opportunities for student choice, or only make use of technology to skill and drill students in hasty preparation for standardized tests. The longer I stay in public education, the more schooled I become. And I’m not using schooled in a complimentary fashion. As each day passes, I’m living out my own version of the situations described by the main character in Ted Sizer’s Horace’s Compromise.
Here’s my latest dilemma: My district spent over $250,000 – that’s a quarter of a million dollars of tax payer money – to place an interactive whiteboard in every single classroom in the school’s building projects. A quarter of a million dollars. We also offered numerous in-house courses for graduate credit where teachers could learn how to use the interactive software – the hallmark of the boards is the interactivity of the software. The company provides a marvelous website with free access to downloadable materials created by teachers, free tutorials, discussion forums, video highlights of teachers using the products in their classrooms, courses for nominal fees; we have our own user group; the company reps have been out to troubleshoot, train, provide 1:1 instruction – sky’s the limit! We have access to the whole nine when it comes to getting our teachers trained on the boards and the software.
Do you know what most of our teachers are doing w/ their interactive whiteboards? Guess. Please.
Using them as nothing more than display devices to complete worksheets. Yup. Giant, expensive overhead projectors.
If I were the curriculum director, the tech director, heck! the treasurer of that district – if I were in an administrative role in this district – I’d want to see one – just one – one example per month from each building of an interactive lesson – something that STUDENTS do at the board – an activity created by the teacher, that takes advantage of the interactivity of the board and a sample of what the kids did AT THE BOARD! If I were an administrator I’d want access to a board so I could try out this interactive lesson – see how it feels to learn at the board – try my hand with the magic wand that makes things move on the board – demonstrate my understanding with an innovate piece of equipment.
But…I’m not in charge. I’m not even in a position where I could safely express this observation without being ousted by my colleagues or reprimanded for suggesting that the administration doesn’t know what a technology-rich classroom looks like.
My fear is that my next nightmare will involve a tar and feathering for my unpopular opinions about classroom technology use.
Under normal circumstances, this lament could be considered a complaint by a disgruntled professional. However, by serendipity or destiny, the article below was shared with me by my colleagues from Ohio Grantmakers Forum on the same day I received the e-mail above. This article by Mike Lafferty at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Ohio is a summary of a national report on the successful implementation (or not) of technology in classrooms.
Ohio earns a D-plus in use of technology in schools
Ohio, birthplace of the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, and Neil Armstrong has received a D-plus in the use of technology in education (see here), according to an Education Week survey.
Oddly, though, the state received a B-minus in the capacity to use technology, so we seem to have it but we don’t know what to do with it.
However, some Ohio education experts say the survey is misleading in that it misuses the term “technology” by implying only computer-related technologies and that it distorts the issue of “technology standards.” Technology includes aerospace, agriculture, manufacturing, materials, environment, energy, and other issues, they said.
In the survey of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Ohio was ranked 47th in the use of technology. Ohio tied Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington (all with D-plus scores). The District of Columbia was last with the lone F.
Education Week evaluated the use of education technology in four categories: Do state standards for students include technology? Does the state test students on the use of technology? Has the state established a virtual school? And, does the state offer computer-based assessments? Ohio met the standard only for having state achievement standards that includes the use of technology.
At the top were Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia. They all had scores of 100.
If Ohio needs a model, Colorado provides just that. This month, the legislature has approved Bill which allows for innovative districts.
Innovation is the key to education reform
By Dwight Jones
Posted: 04/13/2009 12:30:00 AM MDT
Updated: 04/13/2009 10:19:11 AM MDT
Everywhere we turn, we hear about the need for innovation in education. Four months ago, a Denver Post editorial proclaimed that “tinkering around the edges of reform” is insufficient to produce sustained improvements in public education. I could not agree more.
Education reform is easy to talk about but hard to do. At its core, reform is doing things a better way. With regard to education reform, however, we not only must do things better, we must get better results. Innovation is key.
As highlighted in a recent Post article, Colorado could soon receive several million dollars in federal stimulus money for public education. In addition to a fair share for programs that serve underprivileged students and those with disabilities, there is the prospect of additional funds earmarked for innovation. Known as “Race to the Top” funds, these funds will go to “a handful of states that devise the most innovative ways of improving education” — to the potential tune of $500 million per state.
The article concluded that Colorado has every reason to be optimistic. After all, with initiatives on longitudinal growth, charter school development, updated standards and performance-pay programs, Colorado has been in the forefront with regard to innovation and school reform.
Innovation is more than just a good idea, it’s about putting that good idea into practice. The Colorado Department of Education is presently pursuing a wide variety of innovative education models, including new approaches to teacher preparation, leadership development, school choice and the way in which education is funded. We are organizing strategies and directing resources in ways to innovate intentionally, and, in so doing, increase capacity to take to scale what improves education for Colorado’s students.
At the same time, the department is creating a statewide system of support for districts, built upon internationally competitive standards and greater expectations for ourselves and our students. This system will monitor, measure and foster what matters most — increased student achievement.
The department’s pursuit of innovation began in earnest in September 2007 when the State Board of Education called upon the department to modernize the Colorado Model Content Standards. The spirit of innovation was further kindled last year when Senate Bill 130, commonly referred to as the Innovative Schools Act and led by Peter Groff, president of the Colorado Senate, was enacted into legislation. This bill has allowed Manual High School and Montview Elementary School in Denver to implement new programs outside the constraints of traditional school policy.
This year, through the leadership of state Sens. Evie Hudak and Keith King, Senate Bill 163 promises to streamline accountability and to devote great support to struggling schools and districts. It also promises to shutter those schools that persistently fail. This legislation, if passed, will play a key role in the promotion of intentional innovation by providing a framework for us to fund what works and stop throwing money at what doesn’t. Innovation without accountability is not in our students’ best interests.
Working collaboratively with the Colorado Association of School Executives, the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Education Association, the governor’s office and our 178 school districts, it is increasingly clear that we all have a role to play in obtaining “Race to the Top” funds.
As mentioned in The Post, “Colorado is positioned well to win innovation money.” Winning the money, however, cannot be the goal, lest we win the race and miss the top. Instead, we must remain focused on supporting initiatives that transform the delivery of education and improve student achievement.Now that’s a race worth running.
Dwight D. Jones is Colorado’s commissioner of education.
I am skeptical that anything like the Colorado approach could happen in Ohio. I say this because of the meeting last week. Those that participated in writing the Beyond Tinkering Report, included representatives from the Ohio Education Association. To the astonishment of the entire group the OEA representatives complained that the Tinkering report that recommended changes in teacher tenure and hiring/firing rules misrepresented their position. These OEA representatives participated in the working group for at least one-year and were at every session where the details of the issues were worked out. I witnessed the representatives endorsement of the final edit. When the publication came out, others in the membership rebelled and urged the same representatives to let the Governor know the OGF report misrepresented their opinion. When our group asked the representatives to help us understand how it was they endorsed the final edit with us but renounced the document publicly the response was a marvel at political doubletalk and disingenuous representation of fact. This reaction helped my understand why the Governor and his staff are genuinely afraid of this powerful constituency that can twist fact to meet a political agenda and appease and seething membership. After the meeting, a colleague of mine was shaking his head saying, “If a liberal democrat like me can leave here disgusted with union behavior, they – as a group are in serious trouble.” It also helped me understand why a Gubernatorial candidate with an eye to another election has disregard innovative recommendations because they will clearly incite t alienate a powerful voting block.
All this being said, allow me to dream for a minute. Suppose the P-16 compact I described in the earlier post were to stand-up to the legislature, the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers and say, Enough! There is however one glimmer of hope. The same town of and the Community College are host to a newly created P-16 or (P-20) compact. Suppose that P-16 were to take similar approach that took place as the Denver districts and demand change in the system as it has been brought to the Ohio public with little change since 1835?
Here is where a P-16 compact could have an interesting impact by possibly crafting legislative language that like the Colorado law, would allow that body to override state laws and collective bargaining agreements. P-16’s are comprised of leaders from all sectors of the community including business, nonprofits, government and even education. Suppose that group were to try to effect legislation in Columbus that would allow for the creation of an extension of the Innovation Zone on one side of town to include and Innovation District? Would a P-16 have the political courage to suggest that (for example) the Elyria Schools District be declared an Innovation District that would, “…implement new policy outside the constraints of traditional school policy.” just as Manual High School covered on NPR) and Montview School.
Here is what the law says:
The Colorado State Legislature passed the Innovation Schools Act in 2008 (Senate Bill 08-130). The law is intended to improve student outcomes by supporting greater school autonomy and flexibility in academic and operational decision-making.
The law provides a means for schools and districts to gain waivers from state laws and collective bargaining agreements. The law includes procedures and criteria for a school or group of schools within a school district to submit to its local board of education a proposed plan of innovation. A local school board may initiate and collaborate with one or more public schools of the school district to create innovation plans or innovation school zones.
Allows a public school or group of public schools to submit to its school district board of education an innovation plan to allow a school or group of schools to implement innovations within the school or group of schools. The innovations may include but are not limited to innovations in delivery of educational services, personnel administration and decision-making, and budgeting.
Requires the local board to review each submitted plan and approve the school as an innovation school or the group of schools as an innovation school zone or reject the plan.
Allows a local board to initiate creation of a plan in collaboration with one or more schools of the school district. The law specifies the minimum contents of a plan, including the level of support needed from the personnel employed at the affected schools.
Encourages schools, groups of schools, and local boards to consider innovations in specified areas and to seek public and private funding to offset the costs of developing and implementing the plans.
Allows a local board to submit the plan to the commissioner of education and the state board of education and seek designation as a district of innovation (following creation or approval of one or more plans by the local board).
Directs the commissioner and state board to review and comment on the plan, and directs the state board to make the designation unless the plan would likely result in lower academic achievement or would be fiscally unfeasible.
Requires the state board to provide a written explanation if it does not make the designation.
Directs the state board to grant any statutory and regulatory waivers requested in the plan for the district of innovation, however, certain statutes may not be waived by the state board.
I am afraid that the first line of this program would result in a collective paroxysm among members of the OEA and teachers union. But without that type of true leadership, nothing will change. An Innovation District would take the report from the educational technologist and go back to the classroom to find out why teachers are not using smartboards to their potential. An Innovation district would encourage teachers to take risks using new technology to enhance learning. An innovation district would arrange to have a district office to share exciting breakthrough in classroom learning with others and discuss ways in which those practices can be shared. An Innovation District would make use of Universal Design for Learning and find ways in which technology can be used to make implicit understanding of subject matter, explicit and in a form that validates their accomplishments. In an innovation district teachers would be treated as professionals and be rewarded for success. An Innovation Zone and a P-16 district would be successful if they can go beyond tinkering which has been the case for far too long. These ailing districts could use the help of Innovation MAN who talks about Innovation but has to be reminded of the most important step – Implementation.
That implementation will require the school bureaucracies to go outside the silo of Public Education and invite the business community to ask questions about how things are done. If the teachers are no using smartboards to their potential, where and or what is the obstacle preventing that? What is the quality of professional development currently offered by the State Educational Services Centers?
A really interesting challenge for the Governor and his advisers is – set up several Innovation Districts across the State. Initiate a five-year competition to see which one can come up with some of the most cost-effective uses of open-source educational tools and demonstrate cost efficiencies and higher learning outcomes. Financial incentives could be put into place to reward teachers and/or districts that can bring those innovations to scale. I am sure many will take on that challenge.
A serious P-16 would challenge the community to ask the same questions posed by Richard Baramiuk of Rice University’s Connextions project, and make use of technology about one simple issue such as text books and how we use them in schools. Why not pose a challenge to this district to come up with an alternative to text books which currently cost a district approximately $800, per child per year. What about challenging a school to become knowledge ecosystems and work with teachers to figure out how to conduct assessment. A successful innovation district, pushed by a strong P-16 compact could possibly re-engineer schools to respond to the needs of children and reinvigorate hope into too many communities where parents cry in frustration over schools that are outdated, mismanaged and leaving too many children without hope of achieving the skills they will need to usher in the next few decades.
If this happens, foundations will be ready to provide support. This is the type of programming will have high impact. Anything less is just more of the same and, quite frankly not worth an investment of private monies. Foundation funding portfolios demonstrate that there are too many charter, private and faith based as well as promising online courses that are meeting the needs of students far more than what the public system currently offers.
If Ohio is serious about stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship in its obsolete manufacturing system, it must make the same honest effort to do the same for innovation in education. The results are likely to pay off just as well.
P-16 structural realities that concern me about its likelihood of success in an Ohio community
In recent months there has been great fanfare in my area with the launch of a P-16 compact that promises to revitalize education in this fair county of 280,000 people and 14 separate school districts!
The reaction from this funders perspective is a mixture of skepticism and excitement. The skepticism is grounded in a seeming lack of true innovation proposed in anything the P-16 projects propose. The excitement lies in the opportunity that could be for a truly innovative P-16 that links the focus and energy of a region-wide push to create innovation in the business and government with education. The opportunity is great and presents funders with exciting investment potential. Those investments should be made with the same scrutiny and vetting that any new business innovation would undergo with a venture capitalist. In this time of scare economic resources, it is morally imperative for foundations to hold the education sector to the highest demands for quality programming.
For those interested in the P-16 programs, I recommend a publication by Dennis McGrath, PhD for the KnowledgeWorks Foundation called Convergence as a Strategy and as Model, linking P-16 Education Reform to Economic Development, published in 2008. The article is an excellent overview of the various P-16 programs launched in Ohio. It provides a comprehensive overview of elements that are exciting but also raise concern for the alert reader.
The author describes P-16 as a
…little understood but vital trend developing in and throughout Ohio.” The article promises that P-16 will serve the communities by, “promoting entrepreneurship and strengthening the education skills of residents (which are) vital to the economic security and well-being of their communities….and must be coordinated with workforce development and the creation of career pathways.
Coordination gives me pause because we have seen too often in education, that coordination translates in to tighter control and increased standardization of learning assessment.
On further reading, it becomes evident that the P-16 is really a variation on the “workforce development” initiatives launched through the public education network about ten years ago. What is unclear to me is whether P-16 and officials who drive its implementation, envision a workforce that in the 19th century was prepared to take orders in a factory, or will have the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit to collaborate on work-teams and communicate new ideas with colleagues and superiors.
I worry that institutionalized education will respond to the latter rather than the former because those driving the bus are used to one way of doing things. My skepticism is rooted in my experience with Ohio Stakeholders, especially those representing the established educational infrastructure (ODE), (OFT) and to a certain extent the Ohio Board of Regents who despite the larger community’s demand for innovation and reform in education – focus their attention on “tinkering” with a system that is clearly overly standardized and not meeting the “customers” need for diversity in learning, in assessment and even type of knowledge acquisition. In this case the customer is parents, students and colleges and universities.
Two unique aspects of the culture of education are also worth noting as constraints on the flow of entrepreneurial talent into the field – one that affects “outsiders” and one that affects “insiders.” Outsiders face the fact that public education’s hiring patterns favor people who have worked there way up the system in the conventional fashion – namely, by becoming a teacher and then an assistant principal and/or principal, and so on. According to a RAND study, for example, 99 percent of school principals had been teachers means that individuals seeking to break into the education industry from other sectors are working against convention. P.52.
The P-16 claims to be successful because of its ability to produce “convergence” i.e. community conversations that include the business sector, foundations, churches other social service organizations. My fear is that unless the convergence happens on the terms of those invested in the public system, change will not occur. In our county, this Foundation invested more than $4 million in a Center for Leadership in Education which, when established in 1994, had goals similar to those expressed by P-16. The CLE was part of a then, national move, pushed by the Annenberg Challenge of the Annenberg Foundation, to create such centers where private money would be used to establish centers for help reform public schooling. More than 15 years later, the majority of these private institutions struggled due to a lack of full buy-in from the public school systems, and later by competing goals by State established Educational Service Center.
As foundations are approached to fund P-16, they would do well to read all the evaluation reports of the Annenberg and similar foundations that chronicle the difficulty of transforming public schools. Are we simply re-inventing the wheel with P-16? The only change is that the public system is in charge and controlling the agenda.
I am not overly optimistic about P-16 producing an breakthrough in innovative thinking on education and learning. I remember taking part in a community-wide discussion with teachers, superintendents and community leaders. The question on the table was “what does it take to create an adequate school system. I was rather vocal in expressing my concern that the question was not “what does it take to create an excellent school system.” I was told we had to work with what we had.
I will never forget that community session. In the business world or in the medical world what company leader or head of a hospital would tolerate a discussion about creating an “adequate” company or health care institution, yet we allow that to take place in education.
The hope for P-16 in a economically struggling community
I have expressed my concerns, but I need to shift to what I think are exciting possibilities for a P-16.
To start, the P-16 program has been spearheaded by Dr. Roy Church who is a remarkably successful leader in that he has created one of the most robust community colleges in the country. The Lorain County Community College has an impressive variety of educational options for young and adult learners and has a broad menu of career path and training options for residents of this county. LCCC has been the site of the successful early-college program which, in collaboration with the Gates Initiative and the KnowledgeWorks Foundation. (The Governor of Ohio has threatened to cut funding for this successful program in favor of supporting traditional P-12 programs.)
The LCCC has emerged as one of the engines of economic development in this former “rust-belt” community by creating two centers to promote and stimulate business entrepreneurship. The Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE) and the Entrepreneurship Innovation Institute (EII) are arguable two of the most impressive incubators for business development in the region. Note the two words Innovation applies to creating new businesses to respond to economic crisis. I have not seen the word Innovation used as the community responds to the educational crisis.
In my mind, a successful P-16 compact would move beyond the palaver about convergence and community sounding sessions. Given its structure for administration and community input, the effort has all the potential of being nothing more than a solipsistic exercise. I would see a P-16 that not only focuses on public schooling as we know it, but embraces serious examination of the many new innovations in education that combine different use of technology and teacher time. Programs that encourage student focused learning. Also, the current public system cannot abide honest and frank discussion with charter schools. Furthermore, there appears to be little tolerance for discussion about how to integrate the elements of successful private and/or faith based schools such as Cristo Rey Schools, the Nativity Schools as well as schools such as the E-prep Academy in Cleveland. Finally Lorain County has one of the best independent schools in the region – Lakeridge Academy. This school is one of several independent schools in NE Ohio that are known for academic excellence and producing students of high caliber and integrity. For the Press, and community leaders, conversation takes place as if these institutions did not exist. I have even heard some people suggest the country would be better if these institutions shut down.
This foundation has provided support to many of the schools mentioned above. Careful scrutiny of their programs, site visits to the schools and solid outcome data demonstrate to us, these schools are successful, especially in urban areas, transforming lives of entire families by providing quality education. Why can a community not ask why these schools are able to remediate children from failing public schools in less than a year. Why do these same schools boast 90% college acceptance and more importantly – college completion rates!
Why can’t these schools as well as emerging online programs be invited into the process of innovation in public education. Instead of condemning charter schools why not look at them in the same way a leader in business will look at innovation to improve the company’s product or develop an entirely new line. I would argue that the nature of the public school system does not allow teachers to engage in meaningful discussions with principals and superintendents to even ask the right questions about where education is going. Instead the focus is on grades and reports and data. Teachers no longer feel challenges to practice and art of teaching but instead to conform to some rigid standard to produce pro-scribed results.
Northeast Ohio has been lauded by the likes of The Wall Street Journal for the truly collaborative accomplishments of philanthropy with the business sector. The Fund for Our Economic Future is a three-year project that resulted in philanthropy coming together to work with companies to form and support early-stage capital investment in new and exciting businesses in energy, biotechnology and manufacturing. The Fund has proven success in spawing several non-profits such as Jumpstart, Bioenterprise and Nortech which, in turn have fostered development of several promising businesses. Lorain county has pushed this region-wide effort through Team Lorain County whose leverage of State and Federal economic revitalization dollars have resulted in the IIE and GLIDE.
Suppose the P-16 Compact in this region were to harness the that same innovative spirit and apply it to education. The economic reality has shown this region that the old way of doing business has changed forever and will not return. In response the community has adapted brilliantly. The education reality in the county, especially the urban areas also has proven that the old way of doing education is not working and needs to be rethought and injected with a spirit of innovation.
A really exciting P-16 would take inventory of what the market is doing anyway, and demand that tax dollars, earmarked for public education be redirected to products and programs that are known to work in other settings. A sincere P-16, linked to two centers for innovation would set up offices to implement programs – proved effective in a non-public school structure, and look to see how this “product” can improve and/or replace the old. Authors, Joseph Keeney and Daniel Pianko pose a question that any credible P-16 in an area truly looking for innovation needs to ask:
…are there concrete models from outside education that could be employed by government or philanthropies to attract and leverage private investment in K-12. Specifically – in order of formality – an a prize (or pay for performance) model that is increasingly being used in philanthropy, and angel capital model like the Department of Defense’s Venture Catalyst Initiative (“DeVenCI”); and a traditional venture-capital co-investment model like the Central Intelligence Agency’s In-Q-Tel.
Suppose a Community College and a Innovation Zone were to demand that the Governor create an Innovation District allowing the schools leverage to implement exciting technologies that are proving effective in learning. (See the work of Constance Steinkulher at U. Wisconsin on the positive impact gaming has on education outcomes for urban youth). That zone (perhaps established at the LCCC) would lift all barriers to school innovation including contracting, labor contracts and technological restrictions to create an open environment for educational programming in Lorain Schools.
The P-16 needs to look at the market and what is catalyzing capital investment in education. Imagine an Educational Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center that housed regional affiliates of programs such as:
Since much of the success in schools depends on the often overlooked area of professional development and teacher training, suppose a center for innovation included programs such as Building Excellent Schools or, New Leaders for New Schools and house these organizations in the same edifice with the Educational Services Center. Put them in the same edifice as one would see at the Entrepreneurship Institute or Jumpstart and see how the culture of professional development changes. State funding for professional development to the ESC is in the area of $900,000 a year. Imagine a situation where, with the buy-in and support from the P-16 those dollars were distributed to organizations like those named above based on performance outcome and innovation. That would be a very different scenario from the one envisioned by the Knowledgeworks publication. It is also one that would meet with incredible resistance from the entrenched powers of the educational bureaucracy that by its nature serves as the primary barrier to innovation in education.
P-16 is a great idea conceptually. To be truly innovative, those that believe in creating schools that will work can only do so by opening the doors to creativity and innovation and borrow from success in the business sector. I fear it cannot be done as long as P-16 is driven by the public education sector. The public education sector – with its drive to standardize a profession which really should be an art has created a system that does not validate the creativity of individual teachers but dumbs them down into cogs that do their job to push out statistics which happen to be yours a my children. More on that in the next blog post.
As far as convening the community to focus on developing so-called 21st century skills once again, I fear the focus on workforce development and standards does not address the larger challenges youngsters will face in the next decades. Not asking the right questions will have terrible results. If you have the time view this amazing lecture by Physician Dr. Patrick Dixon to an audience at the National Association of Independent Schools. After viewing it, ask yourself if you think we are asking the right questions.
I suggest that any foundation – be it community foundation, private foundation or corporate asked to support a P-16 collaborative hold public officials responsible for demanding innovation that goes beyond tinkering we have seen with far too many public school efforts. True innovation will require breaking down barriers that exist which prevent truly innovative thinkers and practitioners from sharing public tax dollars that shore up far too many ineffective school districts and professional development programs. Philanthropy has a responsibility to raise the bar and require the public in general to hold educational leaders responsible for creating an environment that will respond to the needs of divergent learning and quality education for all.
I welcome comments from those in the system and those who are simply interested.