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.
I am sure that many readers have seen the speech from the valedictorian at a US High School. I shared this with many colleagues in philanthropy, with the hope that we take her words seriously. I somethings think the generation gap between those who “manage” education portfolios for foundations and those of teachers and students one the ground are so wide that we loose our ability to think creatively. I remember Eric Nord (one of the Nord Family Foundation founders) once commenting on a project that would stimulate early stage venture capital in NE Ohio. He was an enormously successful engineer with more than fifty patents to his name. After more than 25 years in philanthropy was that the sector was more akin to bankers and lawyers who by nature risk averse. He thought that most program officers were good managers as their jobs required. He wondered if the field really allowed for innovative thinking. Most of the successful patents from the company that bears his name (Nordson) came from spending hours on the “shop floor” with the engineers who worked each day with the equipment and were always thinking of improving the quality of the product.
I wonder sometimes if we in philanthropy being to self select and talk among ourselves in an echo chamber. “Best practices” “evaluation” best practices, and the like are all important but I know far too many program officers who tend to create a fetish of evaluations. I have had many teachers, and nonprofit leaders tell me that visits from some program officers is as happy has having an IRS audit. Power that comes with having control of lots of money can make us feel like a VERY select and self-inflated crowd. Many of us seek conciliation with the powers that run public schools at the expense of being true and critical of the “system” we week to “improve.”
I am so happy I found this speech. I hope that some of my colleagues read it. I hope that in our dealings with public school systems we will speak for students who have been made pawns in a cruel game created by those who fetishize standardized tests in an effort to manage this unwieldy “system” we call Public Education.
Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling in Graduation Speech
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Last month, Erica Goldson graduated as valedictorian of Coxsackie-Athens High School. Instead of using her graduation speech to celebrate the triumph of her victory, the school, and the teachers that made it happen, she channeled her inner Ivan Illich and de-constructed the logic of a valedictorian and the whole educational system.
Erica originally posted her full speech on Sign of the Times, and without need for editing or cutting, here’s the speech in its entirety:
Here I stand
There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master, “If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen? The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years . .” The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast — How long then?” Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.” “But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?” asked the student. “Thirty years,” replied the Master. “But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?” Replied the Master, “When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.”
This is the dilemma I’ve faced within the American education system. We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective.
Some of you may be thinking, “Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn’t you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible.
I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I’m scared.
John Taylor Gatto, a retired school teacher and activist critical of compulsory schooling, asserts, “We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness – curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids into truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then. But we don’t do that.” Between these cinderblock walls, we are all expected to be the same. We are trained to ace every standardized test, and those who deviate and see light through a different lens are worthless to the scheme of public education, and therefore viewed with contempt.
H. L. Mencken wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not “to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. … Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim … is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States.”
To illustrate this idea, doesn’t it perturb you to learn about the idea of “critical thinking.” Is there really such a thing as “uncritically thinking?” To think is to process information in order to form an opinion. But if we are not critical when processing this information, are we really thinking? Or are we mindlessly accepting other opinions as truth?
This was happening to me, and if it wasn’t for the rare occurrence of an avant-garde tenth grade English teacher, Donna Bryan, who allowed me to open my mind and ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine, I would have been doomed. I am now enlightened, but my mind still feels disabled. I must retrain myself and constantly remember how insane this ostensibly sane place really is.
And now here I am in a world guided by fear, a world suppressing the uniqueness that lies inside each of us, a world where we can either acquiesce to the inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism or insist on change. We are not enlivened by an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, for work that need not be done, for enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement. We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.
We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. We are all very special, every human on this planet is so special, so aren’t we all deserving of something better, of using our minds for innovation, rather than memorization, for creativity, rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we can consume industry-approved placation after placation. There is more, and more still.
The saddest part is that the majority of students don’t have the opportunity to reflect as I did. The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it. I will never be able to turn back these 18 years. I can’t run away to another country with an education system meant to enlighten rather than condition. This part of my life is over, and I want to make sure that no other child will have his or her potential suppressed by powers meant to exploit and control. We are human beings. We are thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we want to be – but only if we have an educational system that supports us rather than holds us down. A tree can grow, but only if its roots are given a healthy foundation.
For those of you out there that must continue to sit in desks and yield to the authoritarian ideologies of instructors, do not be disheartened. You still have the opportunity to stand up, ask questions, be critical, and create your own perspective. Demand a setting that will provide you with intellectual capabilities that allow you to expand your mind instead of directing it. Demand that you be interested in class. Demand that the excuse, “You have to learn this for the test” is not good enough for you. Education is an excellent tool, if used properly, but focus more on learning rather than getting good grades.
For those of you that work within the system that I am condemning, I do not mean to insult; I intend to motivate. You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system. I know that you did not become a teacher or administrator to see your students bored. You cannot accept the authority of the governing bodies that tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and that you will be punished if you do not comply. Our potential is at stake.
For those of you that are now leaving this establishment, I say, do not forget what went on in these classrooms. Do not abandon those that come after you. We are the new future and we are not going to let tradition stand. We will break down the walls of corruption to let a garden of knowledge grow throughout America. Once educated properly, we will have the power to do anything, and best of all, we will only use that power for good, for we will be cultivated and wise. We will not accept anything at face value. We will ask questions, and we will demand truth.
So, here I stand. I am not standing here as valedictorian by myself. I was molded by my environment, by all of my peers who are sitting here watching me. I couldn’t have accomplished this without all of you. It was all of you who truly made me the person I am today. It was all of you who were my competition, yet my backbone. In that way, we are all valedictorians.
I am now supposed to say farewell to this institution, those who maintain it, and those who stand with me and behind me, but I hope this farewell is more of a “see you later” when we are all working together to rear a pedagogic movement. But first, let’s go get those pieces of paper that tell us that we’re smart enough to do so!
Update 8/7/10 – It was only a matter of time until a Youtube video of Erica’s speech emerged. I’ll warn you now, her delivery isn’t as well put together as her speech.
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.
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.
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!!
One of the most intelligent people in philanthropy is Terry Ryan at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Dayton, Ohio . Terry has been a leader in our professional meetings challenging the State to address the proliferation of online learning and its impact, not only in Ohio but across the country. I find myself agreeing with Terry on many of these issues and it my hope that more people in philanthropy will engage in this important question with us.
An increasing number of education and business experts are documenting that the second-wave of computer technology along with adaptations of social software will transform the way “schooling” and “teaching” take place. Online learning, e-learning, e-schools, virtual schools, and cyber-schools are all terms that refer to the phenomena of using online approaches to educate children. Over the past decade, there has been an explosive growth in the use of online learning opportunities across the country and across Ohio. States have seen the growth of stand-alone online schools as well as online programs connected to traditional schools and school support groups like state departments of education and county educational service centers.
As of the fall of 2008:
• 17 states offer significant supplemental and full-time online options for students;
• 23 states offer significant supplemental opportunities, but not full- time opportunities;
• 4 states offer significant full-time opportunities, but not supplemental;
• 34 states offer state-led programs or initiatives to work with school districts to supplement course offerings; and
• 21 states have full-time online schools (often charters, but also district-operated schools that operate statewide).ii
The Florida Virtual School, for example, is an online school built and operated by the Florida Department of Education that has seen course enrollment grow dramatically, from 77 at its 1997 inception to 113,900 course enrollments in the 2007-08 school year. In Ohio, more than 24,000 students attend online schools, based online rather than in school buildings. Thousands of others take some of their courses online while at their traditional schools.
Indeed, this is the fastest growing segment of the new schools’ sector in Ohio and many other states. Ohio now has it’s own Ohio Virtual Academy for K-12 and the State is uncertain how to respond. It is clear that the power of information and communication technologies and online learning to improve and customize learning for children is accelerating. If this sector is encouraged in coming years, it will lead to powerful educational innovations, including exciting partnerships between classroom-based instruction and online learning, and increased 24/7 learning opportunities for Ohio’s children. The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that “50 percent of all courses in grades 9-12 will be taken online by 2019.”
Online learning opportunities are expanding rapidly because they offer much promise. Full-time online learning opportunities provide an outlet to traditional classroom-based instruction for parents seeking greater customization of learning opportunities for their children. It can also facilitate a parent’s involvement in their child’s education. These programs, done well, offer new learning opportunities for children and a place for parents to turn if they and/or their children are unhappy with the education provided by their traditional school. These programs can also be important supplements for what traditional schools do and provide significant support to classroom teachers. An additional promise of online learning is its potential to help students access rigorous courses and highly qualified teachers despite their location (e.g., rural areas, hard to staff urban schools, or home-bound children). Internet-based learning models remove geographic, physical, and time barriers to learning allowing successful models to expand rapidly.
My colleagues at the KnowledgeWorks Foundation have put together and very impressive video that challenges every educational administrator and teacher serving in the today’s educational sector. The question to any educational professional viewing this presentation is to gauge your immediate reaction to the video – Does it scare you? or Does it present exciting challenges to you in how you and those who follow you will continue in the “profession” of teaching?
As with any disruptive organizational change efforts to align online learning to the traditional system are not without controversy. For example, there is wide variation in the quality of K-12 full-time online learning schools, and some are poorly designed and deliver un-challenging lessons. Others offer little personal attention to children who need it. Look at the successful marketing frenzy of RosettaStone™ and its move to online language learning. Some cash-strapped districts such as those in New Jersey and Virginia, are eliminating their high school language departments and replace it with this product in the naive attempt to get on-boad the technology boom.
Despite the growth in online learning there is little research available that measures program quality and rigorous research has yet to be released that informs us what types, and under what conditions, online programs work best. Promising practices have been identified, but more is unknown than is known.
At the same time, legislators have introduced a bill to create a new “distance learning pilot program.” It would offer AP courses via teleconferencing equipment to every Ohio high school, thereby providing access to classes that students wouldn’t otherwise have because those classes are too costly for their schools to provide. Given the state’s potential for terminating a large chunk of Ohio’s extant online learning community while at the same time promoting online learning via other measures, the time is at hand to identify promising initiatives that can be supported, replicated, and scaled up.
Another video, produced by teachers in the system presents us with additional challenges related to the urgency online learning presents to anyone in the educational sector.
One of the teachers presents the following challenge
One of the things I think we have to ask ourselves as school leaders is ‘What’s our moral imperative to prepare kids for a digital, global age?’ Right now we’re sort of ignoring that requirement. . . . I think you would take a look at much of what we do in our current schooling system and just toss it and essentially start over. So the question for school leaders and for policymakers is ‘How brave are you and how visionary are you going to be?’ And you don’t even have to be that visionary. Just look around right now and see the trends that already are happening and just project those out and see that it’s going to be a very different world.
This is the urgency I would like to see propelling the Educational Innovation Zones I spoke about in the previous post. The problem with this video is that it talks about innovation in learning but it continues to take place within a public school “system” as we know it. My read indicates that they are talking about new ways of learning but pouring new wine into the proverbial old skins. The video still pans on aging schools and kids doing their computer work in some type of lab but in reality, even the spaces in which learning take place, will change the way we construct schools. I refer to the example of the architectural innovation in the Seattle Public Library.
Philanthropy has a role to push this challenge to the established educational bureaucracy in this country to help change the system. Specifically, Philanthropy can provide a unique role in working with teachers to help them reshape their role in this new and changing environment. There are many examples of that and I will offer them up in the next post.
A relatively small family foundation has to be realistic about the type of impact it can have on achieving what we perceive as excellence in teaching and learning. The politicization of education in the State system in Ohio creates an environment where foundations work at cross-purposes with the State. Many want to support ongoing programs in public schools realizing there can be little sustainable outcome. Others support charter schools and/or faith-based and parochial schools to encourage viable and oftentimes excellent alternatives to failing inner-city schools. All would agree about the importance of education in this country and most would argue that public schools are and will remain a viable institution for years to come. As foundations assist the States in preparing students for the challenges in the next century, confusion and ambiguity surround the term “21st Century Learning.” Given the rapid change in technology, it is almost impossible to define what 21st Century Learning will actually look like even ten years from now. Lacking an interest or incentive or even the space to explore what 21st century learning really holds for the truly imaginative, the language of what one local superintendent calls “The State” devolves into rhetoric wrought with clichés. As a result few have a clue as to its implementation. Pressure to perform leads many educators to focus on the very short-term with an eye on that looming state report card. The rhetorical language in this context is understandable. It reflects the way the State is structured to do its business – i.e. achieving educational equilibrium and maintaining what some authors call, boundary management. It is practically impossible to stimulate innovation in a system when that is the end goal. Foundations can play a pivotal role as provocateur in the same way a good CEO would challenge his company to really “think-outside-the-box.” Based on a really great book I just read, I submit that educational innovation zones are the only way to extract the innovators from the culture of equilibrium we find in most schools and most districts. The best way to do it is to help the State Superintendent tap into her inner cocktail hostess.
Race to the Top funding has all the potential to address this challenge to the educational system. Lacking a clear framework however, the Federal Government initiated it’s typical Request for Proposals (RFP’s) with its requisite short time-line to submit proposals. This approach set the States in a double frenzy a. to demonstrate numerical achievement on State standards and b. to spin wildly in its efforts to qualify for the Race to the Top monies. As an observer, the process distorts the purpose of a State system to manage and promote excellence in learning and preparing students for the so-called 21Century learning. It also is a harbinger of colossal waste of Race to the Top Funding, especially in Ohio and some foundations will contribute to the problem.
When the Race to the Top competition was announced, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) invited a group of foundations to provide input as they planned to shape the application. Foundations have amassed considerable wisdom on the topic by nature of their investments in education over many years. The State obliged the Ohio Grantmakers Forum with an hour-long session with the foundations to provide input. The deputies from the ODE were only vaguely aware of the OGF report entitled Beyond Tinkering: Creating Real Opportunities for Today’s Learners and for Generations of Ohioans to Come. The opportunity for public input devolved into a lecture by a stressed and overworked State bureaucrat whose job was to get this application done! There was little room for discussion and little tolerance on the part of the person from the State for questions from the foundation representatives on the call. Several interesting points were brought up and the bureaucrat in question promised to follow-up with phone calls. None of those follow-up calls were made.
Despite the call two large operating foundations in the State with access to the Governor’s educational inner circle have managed to insert themselves in to the Race to the Top proposal with lucrative benefit including allocations of $10,000 a day for consulting for five to ten days a year. Based on their own template for assisting public schools you can be sure the monies will be used to produce a farrago of sounding sessions from teachers across the state who, for the most part, have little exposure to innovation in teaching and, according to teachers I interviewed last week, are fearful of taking risks that might derail kids from current assessment systems.
The governor’s task force’s demonstrated a mistrust of outside advice and assistance can be attributed presumably to pressure to produce a document in such a short period of time. Wary of outside advice the ODE has again resorted to developing a proposal by “insiders” i.e. career state educational operatives whose very ability to work their way up “the system” will tend to put them in the equilibrium camp and suspicious out new ideas coming from “the edge.” This is the very system that, within leading companies has stifled innovation with predictable demise. I say this not to excoriate people, but to put it in a context to understand why the system can’t work as it now stands. A new structure – such as the innovation zones – hold some potential as to how federal dollars to the States might be better utilized. These innovation zones would be charged with explore new opportunities to (a) enhance teaching and learning, and (b) with appropriate use of technology, leverage cost savings to the system itself. Rather than spreading the Race to the Top dollars among a smattering of qualified Learning Education Authority, the focus on innovation zones would provide an opportunity for those in the districts to bring innovation to scale, which is what the Race to the Top monies hope to achieve.
The video below is a conversation with the State Superintendent of Schools, Deborah Delisle Listen carefully to her conversation. I have great respect for Ms. Delisle, but the poor woman’s aspiration is bogged down by the divergent political interests that pull every which way on the system she is charged with managing. Her goals for the Race to the Top funds comes across as a mash-up of clichés and betray an anxiety about trying to manage than to think introduce innovation into a school system. Ms. Delisle is a consummate manager having come to the position as a Superintendent in a Cleveland area school district. From my experience, she is also a very bright woman and capable of real visionary leadership, however the current political environment thwarts her from finding really creative solutions to the problems that plague Ohio public schools, especially the under-performing districts. In the absence of a gubernatorial or legislative vision, Ms. Delisle has little choice by to resort to what authors Richard K. Lester and Michael J. Piore in their book, Innovation – The Missing Dimension call boundary management.
Within the State Educational system, far to many boundaries exist. Boundaries between and among departments, boundaries among districts, boundaries among teachers and administrators, between special programs, boundaries between high-performing and under-performing districts and of courses boundaries between charter and traditional public schools.
Innovations in some of the more simple technologies such as on-line learning present new boundaries whose potential presents terrifying challenges in a system already wrought with boundaries listed above. Part of her job is to attain an equilibrium among those entities to keep the ship moving forward. As the waters become more turbulent with pressures from new technologies that threaten the very structure of this ship, the reaction to hunker down is understandable.
Messers. Lester and Piore write:
In recent years, management theorists have devised a storehouse full of tools for managing across boundaries. These include flat, decentralized structures, network organizations, matrix management practices, multifunctional teams, team leadership skills, and a wide array of techniques for listening to the voice of the customer. But among the practicing managers with whom we spoke, these models and maxims often seemed to be mere placeholders. Lacking the content to be operable in the real world, they quickly degenerated into clichés. When prompted, the managers in our cases could usually spout the rhetoric of integration. But in the real world of new product development, most of them were much more comfortable talking about policing boundaries than about breaking them down.
Unfortunately for Ms. Delisle and for the State of Ohio, this is precisely the situation the State Superintendent finds herself. Foundations would do well to help the State break this management conundrum within the system by encouraging both the governor and legislatures to create centers for innovation that will encourage boundary free zones where true cross-disciplinary collaboration can take place. Given the political interests, this would take enormous courage and singular leadership.
It is not an understatement to say, The State of Ohio is at a critical juncture in history. Pressures from rapid development in technology coupled with increasing “customer” dissatisfaction with the schools as well as a insecure revenue stream, bears the same hallmark as huge companies that are facing unanticipated pressures from outside the company. In these circumstances, there is an urgency to encourage change and innovation while at the same time trying to manage the company and its responsibility to its shareholders. The two use case studies to drive their point through the book. The most pertinent case study is that of AT&T and the synergy between the corporate management structure and its innovation center Bell Labs which, among many other innovations, patented the technology that would become the cell phone.
The initial development of cell phone technology took place at Bell Labs, a sheltered enclave within AT&T that enjoyed the research ethos of an academic laboratory. Bell Labs was insulated from commercial pressures and hospitable to collaboration among different scientific and engineering disciplines.
…The companies that pioneered cellular typically came from either the radio or telephone side of the business. At&T was a telephone company. Motorola and Matisushita were radio companies. Each faces the major challenge of finding a partner to create the new product. Not an easy task. The cultural differences between radio and telephone engineering were deep-rooted…..there were difficulties merging these two industries…
Once it was established as a new and innovative means of enhancing communication, the cell phone section was moved from Bell Labs.
.. into a separate business unit that was subject to the conventional AT&T bureaucratic practices and hierarchy. None of the other companies ever had a sheltered environment like Bell Labs in which to start development of cellular. Most of them began by assembling groups of engineers into newly created but poorly defined organizational entities, where they worked in teams with and ambiguous division of labor and sometimes confused lines of authority. Like AT&T however, they all ended up adopting more formal, systematic decision making processes and creating better defined organizational structures in which to house the cellular business.
They compare creating innovation within businesses to that of a person hosting a cocktail party. Innovation is spawned by structuring intentional conversations
Cell phones emerged out of a conversation between members of the radio and telephone industries…the manager’s role was to remove the organizational barriers that would have prevented these conversations from taking place.
Here is where the book becomes fun. Reading this section Deborah Delisle manager blends with Deb Delisle, educational cocktail hostess. Educational Innovation in Ohio could hinge on her ability to party,
How does a manager initiate these interpretive conversations and keep them going in the face of pressure to solve problems and bring them to closure? Here the metaphor of the manager as hostess at a cocktail party provides a useful guide. At most cocktail parties the guests are relative strangers. They are invited because they might have something interesting to say to one another, but only the hostess really knows that that is, and even she is not always sure. To make sure the party a success, she will often invite enough people so that it does not really matter if any one pair of them fails to hit it off.
Once the party is under way, her job is to keep the conversation flowing. A skilled hostess will introduce new people into groups where conversation seems to be flagging, or she will intervene to introduce a new topic when two people do not seem to be able to discover what they have in common on their own. She may break up groups that do not seem to be working or are headed for an unpleasant argument and steer the guests to other groups.
The lessons of the cocktail party can be summarized in a series of distinct but closely related roles for the manager:
Step One: choose the guests
Step Two: initiate the conversation
Step Three: keep the conversation going
Step Four: refresh the conversation with new ideas
The governor’s office and the Ohio legislature can create one of the most exciting models to realize a vision for introduce innovation in so called 21st century teaching and learning. Create five places where these allegorical cocktail parties can take place on a regular basis. The superintendent will encourage conversations among some of the best people from the field of education, academia,business, technology, neuroscience, as well as teachers, students and union representatives. Conversations will take place simultaneously and within the context of working school zones. Ambiguity is welcome, encouraged and processed to contribute to creative solutions to problems. The State will not dictate the parameters of the discussion but be a party to the discussions and seek to find ways to adopt the findings to its way of doing business throughout the rest of the State.
The conversations are too large, and too critical to be diffused among districts throughout the state. Everyone has to want to be at the party.
The legislature would need to mandate the zones through the State budget. The zones would be akin to the Bell Labs. The zones would be distributed throughout the State. They would have the appropriate technological support and communication networks to make it happen. (See my blog post of June 8, 2009)
Teaming Up to Crack Innovation Enterprise Integration is written for the business growth with focus on CEO’s, Chief Information Officers (CIO’s) and IT organizations. The model easily adapts to a State education bureaucracy and includes two elements that would be critical to the success of the Innovation districts. Their thesis is relatively straightforward. Here is how they summarize the concept:
IT has long been a catalyst of business innovation and essential to cross-functional integration efforts, but few large companies have systematically leveraged technology for these purposes.
Close study of 24 U.S. and European businesses reveals a model for systematically doing that that through the formation of two IT-intensive groups for coordinating these two processes that are critical to organic growth
A distributive innovation group (DIG) combines a company’s own innovative efforts with the best of external technology to create new business variations. The enterprise innovation group (EIG) folds yesterday’s new variations into the operating model of the enterprise.
The two groups help better identity, coordinate, and prioritize the most-promising projects and spread technology tools, and best practices.
Their charge would be to create boundary-free zones where participating teachers and administrators realize their task is to encourage change and innovation by encouraging collaboration and inter-disciplinary approaches to problems.
Schools buildings participating in the Innovation zones would bridge what is all too common chasm in today’s schools, i.e. the teachers are different from the “tech-support” offices. These two entities would work hand-in-hand to observe students, monitor progress, look for obstacles and challenges and find solutions that will solve those problems. In many cases those solutions can be resolved with appropriate technological supports. Technology will NEVER replace human interaction which is critical to successful education. Technology can however serve to make good teachers great if it is used to help them become the true professionals they are.
The innovation zones would have an initial life expectancy of five years. In that time the districts will be challenged to come up with unique solutions that will address the challenges facing schools in Ohio. Challenges will not be limited to advances in teaching, learning and assessment, but also to demonstrate administrative costs savings to the State by more appropriate use of technologies to create administrative efficiencies. Advances in these innovations zones will be shared with colleagues in other districts outside the innovation zones.
The task of the Superintendent will be to foster conversations among people with varieties of experiences. Foundations can partner with the States by focusing their grantmaking to programs within the innovation zones that have promise to meet these goals.
I submit that using Race to the Top funds to establish this type of culture for innovation would be far superior to what is currently in the application.
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.
I spotted this television advertisement for GM the other evening. It occurred to me that watching the demise of the American Auto Industry, is tragically analogous to what is happening in public education.
The blog post Daily Finance’s writer Peter Cohan cites five reasons why GM failed. Read and draw analogies to public schools in the United States.
1. Bad financial policies. You might be surprised to learn that GM has been bankrupt since 2006 and has avoided a filing for years thanks to the graces of the banks and bondholders. But for years it has used cars as razors to sell consumers a monthly package of razor blades — in the form of highly profitable car loans.
And the two Harvard MBAs who drove GM to bankruptcy — Rick Wagoner and Fritz Henderson — both rose up from GM’s finance division, rather than its vehicle design operation. (Read more about GM’s bad financial policies here.)
2. Uncompetitive vehicles. Compared to its toughest competitors — like Toyota Motor Co. (TM) — GM’s cars were poorly designed and built, took too long to manufacture at costs that were too high, and as a result, fewer people bought them, leaving GM with excess production capacity. (Read more about GM’s uncompetitive vehicles here.)
3. Ignoring competition. GM has been ignoring competition — with a brief interruption (Saturn in the 1980s) — for about 50 years. At its peak, in 1954, GM controlled 54 percent of the North American vehicle market. Last year, that figure had tumbled to 19 percent. Toyota and its peers took over that market share. (Read more about GM ignoring the competition here.)
4. Failure to innovate. Since GM was focused on profiting from finance, it did not really care that much about building better vehicles. GM’s management failed to adapt GM to changes in customer needs, upstart competitors, and new technologies. (Read more about GM’s failure to innovate here.)
5. Managing in the bubble. GM managers got promoted by toeing the CEO’s line and ignoring external changes. What looked stupid from the perspective of customer and competitors was smart for those bucking for promotions. (Read more about GM’s managing in the bubble here.)
GM has now produced this mea culpa, promising a new organization with new products and a new attitude. The answer is to reinvent itself.
It is not hard to draw analogies to public schools. Poor financing and financial management. Management (administrative bubbles), inflated salaries for administrators, ignoring the competition…..the list goes on. The list does not mention the tortuous negotiations and battles with organized labor – but that analogy fits as well.
Interesting that the public sector (federal government) has to be in the unbelievable position of having to bail out this failing industry. The act has people from the private sector incredulous. Even the President himself seems uncomfortable with the fact that the government has had to take this unprecedented action.
Public Schools in too many urban districts are a failing industry. Too many administrators, public officials and even some private philanthropists ignore the competition (i.e. charter schools, successful faith-based schools and even advances made in independent schools). These entities are seen not as competition, but as the enemy. In an effort to preserve themselves and guarantee job security, those in the bunker form the bubble.
Too many are afraid of adapting to new technologies that are likely to guarantee, smarter, leaner administrative budgets and more likely than not to improve students learning outcomes. Good administrators will report up to the “management” that revises standards and tests to juke the stats and have the public believe their inferior product is actually working.
Far too many individual school “districts” makes no sense anymore. I live in a county of 280,000 but there are 14 individual school districts each with high-paid administrators including superintendents, principals, curriculum directors. The cost to the public every year exceeds $4 million dollars. Much of that work can be done online through more effective use of management technologies.
Too many public dollars are wasted paying for textbooks. Innovations in online texts are occurring every day, yet too many school administrators are slow to adapt them. Many philanthropists have funded organizations that provide solutions to this unnecessary expense. cK-12 is a private non-profit foundation that is just one example. Another is Currwiki. Schools and school districts – not to mention the multimillion dollar textbook industry has an interest in keeping these innovations out of schools. Too many foundation officers and school administrators – fearful of change, block innovation with the appeal to waiting for results from “evidence-based practice” before they do anything. Where are the “practices” taking place and who is collecting the “evidence?” I know than many foundations have a lot of evidence of what is working, especially in charter, faith-based and indepdendent schools, but this evidence is ignored unless it has imprimatur from “the academy.”
It just seems to me that the time is ripe for foundations across the country to sponsor one or a series of local symposia that will bring together leaders from the field of educational technology, business, K-12 systems, and higher edcuation to re-imagine doing schools. These symposia should be public – coordinated with local newspapers, and newsmedia. Public television stations typically have local afficilates that could foster regularly scheduled converesations about re-inventing school and invite public policy officials to be part of the conversation. Together, these entities can help to reinvent public schools just as the auto industries are about to embark on reinventing themselves.
I 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.