There are many books and articles that instruct foundation chairs and CEO’s on how to conduct a successful board meeting. No one has written a book on what happens between board meetings and yet that is where some of the most productive time can take place. The challenge for our foundation is: “how to engage trustees and members in the activities of the foundation especially when board meetings are limited to just a few hours three times a year.?”
We realized that by asking this rhetorical question of ourselves we established one of the most fundamental issues when anyone considers navigating they way into the “social media” market which is flooded just too many choices. One must discern between applications that are simply fads and which can have serious applications to the field of philanthropy. So two of the most fundamental question for us to ask is, a. “What is something we would like to do, but can’t.” and b. “What media tools are available that can help us get to where we want to go?”
For the Nord Family Foundation, our challenges were – how to enhance communication among the board that lives in many geographic areas and has limited time to spend at meetings? How can we enhance knowledge-sharing among board members, and the larger community? How can all this be done on a reasonable budget?, and finally who will take control of the data management in input when our staff is so small?
We were in process of redoing our website, and I knew that ours could be a website that was more than an electronic version of what is readily available in paper. We also knew that we did not need to spend the typical $30,000 fee to pay for a web design. – which when you want to add features typically costs thousands of additional dollars. We made use of an open-source tool called Drupal which is a shell that supports and amazing array of two-way communication packages. We also know there is an active “drupal community” that are willing to help organizations construct websites and add applications tools at relatively low cost. With very little training, almost any approved person (staff and/or trustee) can add information to the website. The site supports not only text, but an ability to embed video, audio as well hyperlinks to related websites.
In short, our website contains both a public and a private component. The public side includes our website as well as an online application form. This form links to our in-house grants administration system Gifts for Windows. We include the contact information and links to websites for each of our grantees. The community can use a key-word search to find information about grantees who might be engaged in similar work. The community is encouraged to leave comments which are open to the public. We make use of this blogging tool to solicit ideas and input from the larger community. On the member’s side, which is private, all information relevant to the foundation is contained on the website. This includes all policy-related documents, members and trustee contact information. Each trustee and member has an assigned blog and can write about issues of interest to them that might related to the work of the foundation. Other members can leave comments on those blogs thereby creating a “conversation” about topics. Most interesting for us, is our board book is online. All grant requests for the docket are placed online. Trustees can read, and comment on each requests prior to the meeting. Other members are able to see those comments ahead of time. The board book includes an on-line voting tool that allows the trustee to register their vote on the staff recommendation as “approve” “disapprove” and “for discussion.” As each individual vote is cast, it is aggregated into a program that will allow the Board Chair to see ahead of time which g rants have unanimous approval, which need discussion and which are disapproved. Comments posted ahead of time will help inform discussion around the table. These votes are pre-voting. It is interesting to see how decisions made prior to the meeting can possibly change when the grant is discussed by the full board.
Not only does our online solution enhance the meeting, but it enhances the quality and quantity of communication among trustees between meetings.
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.
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.
Make the costs of school district administration transparent to Ohioans
Push school districts to enter aggressive shared services agreements
Create a BRAC-like commission to mandate best practices in administration and cut the number of Ohio’s school districts by at least one-third
The state also needs to catalyze local government collaboration. Ohioans live and work amid a proliferation of local governments. The state has 3,800 local government jurisdictions, including 250 cities, 695 villages, and 1,308 townships. Ohioans have the ninth highest local tax burden in the U.S., compared to the 34th highest for state taxes. While the proliferation of local governments and the fragmentation of the state into tiny “little box” jurisdictions may satisfy residents’ desire for accessible government, it also creates a staggering array of costs, such as duplication of infrastructure, staffing, and services, and a race-to-the-bottom competition among multiple municipalities for desirable commercial, industrial, and residential tax base. Perhaps most damaging is the fact that fragmented regions are less competitive than more cohesive metropolitan regions. To encourage collaboration, save costs, and boost competitiveness, the state should:
Change state law to make local government tax sharing explicitly permitted
Create a commission to study the costs of local government and realign state and local funding
Catalyze a network of public sector leaders to promote high performance government
Support the creation of regional business plans
Reward counties and metros that adopt innovative governance and service delivery
The top tier of the administrative-heavy Ohio Education bureaucracy will probably take a very very long time to address some of these critical issues. It is delightful to go out to the field and find places where shared resources ARE taking place, due to the initiatives of teachers and good administrators who are working on the ground. Just this past month, the foundation I work with provided a grant of $100,000 to initiate a county-wide shared curriculum for the nationally respected science curriculum known as Project Lead the Way.
Lorain County, Ohio is currently in desperate need of a skilled, knowledgeable workforce that will help attract new industry to Northeast Ohio. In order to successfully meet the challenges in the years ahead, it is very important that young students are encouraged to pursue careers in science and technology. This is especially critical when one considers the growing gap between the increasing demands in the workforce and the shrinking supply of professionals in science, engineering and technology.
Established in 1971, The Lorain County JVS provides career-technical training for both the high school and adult populations of Lorain County. The JVS is located on a 10-acre campus on the corners of State Route 58 and 20 in Oberlin, Ohio. It is one of the largest career-technical facilities in the state of Ohio and offers some of the most outstanding, nationally accredited career development programs in Northern Ohio. The JVS serves 13 school districts: Amherst, Avon, Avon Lake, Clearview, Columbia, Elyria, Firelands, Keystone, Midview, North Ridgeville, Oberlin, Sheffield-Sheffield Lake and Wellington.
The high school annually serves over 1,100 students on campus. In addition, the JVS provides satellite programs for an additional 700 students in 13 associate school districts. These satellite programs include Network Communications Technology, Consumer & Family Science, Teacher Education Exploration, Career Connections, Career Based Intervention and GRADS.
At the JVS, high school students can explore over 30 career options through a wide range of exciting career and technical programs available in the following academies: Building Trades, Business & Marketing, Culinary, Manufacturing & Pre-Engineering, Transportation, Service, and College Tech-Prep.
The Adult Career Center was also established in 1971. It annually serves approximately 4,500 adults from all cities in Lorain County. Many adult students prepare for their careers in 17 full-time career development programs. In addition to the career development programs, the Adult Career Center offers a large number of career enhancement and special interest courses which include customized training, job profiling, and assessment services for business and industry. Services are provided on-site or at the JVS. For on-site training, a self-contained mobile training unit can be taken to the worksite to provide machine trades and computer training programs.
Eight school districts in Lorain County (Avon, Avon Lake, Amherst, Firelands, Clearview, North Ridgeville, Wellington, and Oberlin currently participate in the curriculum; (Elyria is interested in joining in 2011 once their building project is completed). Additionally, Lorain County Community College (LCCC), early-college students will have the opportunity to study pre-engineering principles and computer aided design beginning in their sophomore year of high school. PLTW was chosen because of its nationally tested qualities that encourage student success:
Receiving necessary extra help and support to meet higher standards
Experiencing relevant and engaging learning experiences in academic and career/technical classes.
Avon, Avon Lake and North Ridgeville will provide their own instructors. The JVS will provide instructors to Clearview, Firelands, Wellington, Oberlin and Amherst.
The PLTW Planning Committee is comprised of eight school districts, community and business partners. Some of the school districts have teachers ready to attend training this summer. All districts involved have signed a school agreement with Project Lead the Way with the national offices. In the first year of this collaboration, 200 students will be enrolled in the first course.
Once students have completed the first course at their home school, four PLTW pre-engineering courses will be offered at the South site of the JVS and the North satellite location at Lorain County Community College. Pathway options include an Associate of Science degree, Associate of Applied Science, or a Certificate of Proficiency. Students can choose an engineering school of their choice. Courses planned at the JVS and LCCC include Principles of Engineering, Digital Electronics, Computer-Integrated Manufacturing, Engineering Design and Development and a capstone course where students partner with a business in Lorain County to solve an open-ended engineering problem. A plan of action is in place to implement PLTW pre-engineering curriculum in eight districts in 2010 (contingent upon computer equipment) and PLTW biomedical science curriculum in 2011.
Once the site labs at the eight districts are in place, the JVS will use these facilities in year two to initiate the PLTW Biomedical Sciences curriculum following the same collaborative design. To move forward, the JVS needs to purchase the computers that have the capacity to support the engineering software and graphic programs at each host site.
The JVS Project Lead The Way pre-engineering program is in its second year. Two JVS students completed summer internships at NASA in 2009. Senior Katie Fallon spoke at the Ohio PLTW luncheon on November 4, 2009 in Dayton, Ohio. Each school district has 25+ students who want to take the Introduction to Engineer course in fall 2010. The JVS is slated to earn national certification in spring 2010. The JVS will graduate its first PLTW pre-engineering students in June 2010. This grant will help expand the program to eight additional school districts in Lorain County. Lorain County Community College is ready for the 2011 school year when the first class of juniors will arrive at the satellite site. The first biomedical sciences course will start in 2011 at the district site. Each district has completed a signed agreement with Project Lead the Way at both the national and state levels. The partnership with Lorain County Community College has been established. This coalition supports implementing the PLTW biomedical science curriculum in 2011.
Job Placement/Post Secondary: 2008 Grads — 6 months after graduation
52% were pursuing post-secondary education
54% were employed in careers related to their JVS program
General Operating Budget: $25 million (58% local funding/42% state funding)
Educational Foundation Scholarships, Incentives and Grants: $69,375
Despite the exciting potential for this program, Project Lead the Way will scramble to have to find the additional $150,000 needed to see it to completion. The Race to the Top frenzy, disqualifies projects like this because a Joint Vocational Services Center is not considered a Local Educational Authority (LEA). Even the federal funding system works out of an old district model that works against many of the recommendations set forth by the Brookings report. Nonetheless, the teachers will continue to try and find the funds from private and corporate sources to make this program work.
I have had the great honor to spend a few hours with teachers from the PLTW at the JVS. I was so encouraged by our conversation I did two things. I want to share with you some of the quotes from our conversation. And secondly, I asked the faculty to play with a tool called Voicethread.
In a very informal session, I asked two teachers and one administrator from the Lorain County Joint Vocational Services to share their thoughts on what contributes to successful teaching and learning in a world where technology is changing the very foundations of how students learn.
Dr. Cathy Pugh: Education has changed dramatically since I began teaching some 30 years ago. We still have a hard time getting over the “factory model” for educating young people. Getting kids through an assembly line of courses in order to graduate is a model that no longer works. Other teachers and I are excited about encouraging youngsters to focus on learning rather than just getting a grade. A new approach to teaching, supported by technology allows us as science teachers to encourage them to take risks. Our approach is to help them to understand it is o.k. to fail as long as you learn from mistakes.
Jim Pavlick: We are trying to reintroduce the concept of “play” into learning, especially in the sciences. Kids come up with some crazy ideas, but a wise teacher knows this is where really good teaching opportunities arise. My theory is, ‘if you throw it out, you have to be ready to catch it, so it is ok to respond to new ideas with ‘I don’t know, so let’s find out.’ A lot of kids want to have the answers ready for them. The exciting educational moment is to help them take responsibility for their learning by explaining to their peers, as well as their teachers the process they used to prove or disprove why their idea can or cannot work.
Mike Bennett: I worked as an engineer for 25 years before moving to teaching. When I first started in business a young engineer could work in isolation. Technology has changed that paradigm. Today, companies encourage collaboration. These are changes I try to impart in my teaching high school students. Working in teams, encouraging people to come up with creative solutions to problems is the way to go. Communication – being able to speak and write well are critical to science, math and engineering skills today. Computer technology such as 3D programs used for engineering and drafting has changed the way teachers and students learn in that discipline. Thirty-years ago, a student had to memorize theorems and later apply it to drawing. Today, the 3D programs allow students to readily apply the theory with practice. Even more exciting is the fact that engineering becomes art with its unique and language. These are very exciting times to be a teacher. I love my job.
These teachers are an inspiration to the profession. It is my sincere hope that the education bureaucracy will see to it that projects like this will get the federal and state support they need to serve the young people of our country.
If you want to listen to the teachers talking about the program, you will probably have to sign up for a voicethread account. It is worth it!
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.
In previous blog postings, I lament the fact that governments are slow to pick up on implementing Innovation Zones. On reflection, I realize –as is often the case – the problem perhaps related in our groups inability to provide a more precise vision of what an Innovation Zone could look like.
Compounding the problem is the fact that Innovation by its nature implies risk-taking. Government entities (and some philanthropic institutions) tend to be risk averse.
I have struggled with the question how can philanthropy play a role in galvanizing the community around the idea of implementing zones where we can do something about the many glaring inefficiencies we see in our local governments. I continue to be intrigued by Innovation Zones. Some municipalities have introduced Innovation Zones but these are typically involve tax incentives between public and private entities to attract new businesses into towns. The Innovation Zone I propose of are not to attract new business, but change the ineffective ‘business as usual approach to public management. These Innovation Zones engage the public, private, university and nonprofit sector in a zone (virtual and real) to demonstrate new collaborations that will result in cost savings and produce greater efficiencies in service delivery. I hope that soon philanthropy will help to develop just one as a demonstration site that can be replicated in many other communities across the country.
I am going to attempt to answer for myself the following questions. Anyone reading this blog is welcome to comment and perhaps provide answer I cannot see at this point.
I recently read the wonderful book by Vanguard Investments founder John C. Bogle entitled Enough. This book is filled with wisdom and insight into the accumulation of money with focus on the financial sector. Enough includes discussion about the salaries that CEO’s of the large financial firms made just as the economy began its nose dive. Mr. Bogle paraphrases Winston Churchill saying, ” ‘Never has so much been paid to so many for so little’ in the way of accomplishment.”
I recommend the book to anyone with an interest in philanthropy but most importantly for anyone who finds him or herself in a position of owning or being the beneficiary of significant wealth.
After reading the book, I remained disturbed about the newspaper reports of compensation and bonuses offered to investment firms and banks that had been the recipients of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) initiated by the Federal Reserve just short of one year ago. I need not go into the details. Suffice to say I was listening to a story about executive compensation on the National Public Radio’s Market place on September 2, 2009. Bailout bank CEO salaries very healthy. I listened as I drove through working-class neighborhoods of the Ohio county where I live. These modest homes owned by people who, for the most part, worked in the manufacturing industries that were once numerous – Ford Motor Plant, Republic Steel, American Shipbuilding not to mention numerous smaller manufacturers. In one neighborhood alone, I counted fourteen houses for sale. I am quite certain that most are in foreclosure.
I think a challenge for the philanthropic sector is to set a standard for what people can do with this sudden wealth. The thought brought me back to exactly ten years ago when, new to my job in philanthropy, I was asked by the then Donors Forum of Ohio to come to Columbus to provide testimony to the State Attorney General Betty Montgomery and her Tobacco Task Force which was called to gather ideas on how Ohio should deal with the approximate $10 billion windfall in tobacco settlement monies. We argued that the State should set up three Trust Funds overseen by the general public with protections that would ensure that money would be focused on reducing tobacco use in the State and take aggressive measures to improve public health. The state did establish funds, but did not relinquish power to a general public fund similar to a community fund. As a result, a significant amount of the funds were used by the governor to pay for budgetary shortfalls beginning in 2006.
After the funds came to Ohio, it became evident that a number of lawyers began receiving huge salaries for their involvement with the funds. In September 1999, I wrote the following piece addressed to lawyers who benefited from the windfall. I submit it to this blog asking the reader to imagine the same suggestion to CEO’s and hedge fund managers who have won mightily at the game of risk management, often on the backs of those who have lost savings and their homes. The Presidents have changed, but the call to give back still holds. not only to CEO’s but lawyers and any professional that stands to earn well in a time when others are loosing everything.
The question is what leader in the political or philanthropic sector is willing to keep the theme in front of those who benefit from the bounty.
Tobacco Settlement for Lawyers Fees –
Dreams of What Could Be
About a year ago, I was asked to Testify before the Governors Task Force Committee on Tobacco. I an my colleague Lyn Hiberling-Sirinack from Donor’s Forum of Ohio stood before the committee which included State Attorney General Betty Montgomery. In our testimony, we gloated over the fact that we were the only people in the room not requesting money. Instead, we made a plea that the Governor not spend all the settlement money at once, but reserve a portion (we recommended one third) of the 10 billion dollars in settlement monies into a charitable foundation. Our testimony demonstrated that placing approximately $3.5 billion in a Trust for all the people of Ohio could increase in value over time, and in doing so, ensure charitable off-sets for inevidtable shortfalls in the State Budget for years to come. Although we do not pretend to take credit for the decision, the Task Force did make the recommendation to set up two “Trusts” that would be used to support development projects well into the future. The recommendations were accepted and two Trusts have been set up to serve the citizens of Ohio.
A year later, I find myself stunned at the unprecedented amount of money $265 million dollars that the Tobacco Free Arbitration Panel has decided to award three Ohio Law firms and five out-of-state firms for legal fees for successfully working with the State of Ohio to secure the $10 billion dollars. I am in no position to make any comment or pass judgment on the size of the legal award and the amount of time that went into the effort. I do find myself wondering however about how that money will be spent.
A quick scan of recent newspaper articles reveals that many law firms involved in the state tobacco settlements have contributed to the political campaign of a Seattle attorney whose consultations enabled a number of private law firms to reap as much as $20 billion dollars in legal fees. That is quite an accomplishment. A New York Times article describes hundreds of thousands of dollars from tobacco settlement legal fees going to support Democratic candidates. In one instance, a lawyer from Charleston, West Virginia who headed up the legal team for the Florida tobacco settlement gave $30,000 for charities in three cities in that State.
If there were a panel like the one I testified last year, I would make a plea that the three Ohio and the five out-of-state firms to apportion some of this windfall for public charities. I would love to challenge the lawyers to think boldly, strategically and bravely and apportion on half of the award $130 million – to an existing or new charity to respond to any number of charitable needs. A Tobacco Lawyers Charitable Trust with an operating corpus of $130 million dollars, invested properly could yield approximately $6.5 million dollars each year for charitable programs throughout the State of Ohio. If a national charity were established with just a fraction of the $20 billion dollars awarded to legal firms, the impact would perhaps be as significant as
Just as an example, wouldn’t it be great to have the lawyers Trust fund a program that would resurrect speech and debate programs in all Ohio public schools. Speech and debate programs could encourage young people to engage constructively in public debate and perhaps groom some future lawyers.
Surely the lawyers who have benefited from the Tobacco Settlements have the right to choose how to spend their money. Supporting political candidates is entirely within character and perhaps to be expected. Curiously however, each of the Presidential candidates has made a point of encouraging philanthropy. The Chronicle of Philanthropy quoted George W. Bush as wanting to take a “muscular” approach to encourage giving. Mr. Bush stated, “”We could be on the verge of one of the great philanthropic periods in America, where enormous wealth has been generated,” he said in an interview. “The next president needs to encourage that wealth to spread. People need to give back.”
Let the lawyers of this State exercise this muscular approach to encourage giving back.
Ten years later, the characters change, but the call has not.
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.
I spoke about the foundation’s response to economic downturn in a previous post. My colleagues from other foundations have been talking about the fact that the economic downturn and scarce resources will create an urgency for nonprofits to “figure out ways” to merge and collaborate better. On January 13th Cleveland’s WCPN public radio show called, The Sound of Ideas held great conversation on a topic called When Charities Can’t Afford to be Charitable.
The concept is great and I support my respected colleagues comments. I once heard it said, “Everyone wants collaboration, but no one wants to be collaborated on.” In my work at this foundation, I have seen redundancy in programs in both nonprofit and public sectors, many of which have received grants from us. I see an awful lot of waste in private and taxpayer dollars, but I must be careful not to appear the perennial town crier. I, like many foundations and their board members, like to consider ourselves social innovators on the lookout to support like-minded social innovators and social entrepreneurs. After all, that’s what the philanthropy industry is supposed to promote. The fall 2008 edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review an article called Rediscovering Social Innovation by James A. Phillis, Jr.; Kriss Deigelmeier, & Dale T. Miller describe what many foundation directors, program officers and their boards hope to be in their service to the community,
The underlying objective of virtually everyone in the fields of social entrepreneurship and social enterprise is to create social value (a term we define later). People have embraced these fields because they are new ways of achieving these larger ends. But they are not the only, and certainly not always the best, ways to achieve these goals. Social entrepreneurs are, of course, important because they see new patterns and possibilities for innovation and are willing to bring these new ways of doing things to fruition even when established organizations are unwilling to try them. And enterprises are important because they deliver innovation. But ultimately, innovation is what creates social value. Innovation can emerge in places and from people outside the scope of social entrepreneurship and social enterprise. In particular, large, established nonprofits, businesses, and even governments are producing social innovations.” p. 89
I can think of one crisis in particular our foundation has taken on and has asking for community leaders to explore innovative ways to better serve the needs of the medically uninsured and under insured in our community. I have discovered that is a huge task and one wrought with landmines.
In 2008 the foundation provided funds to facilitate conversations and strategies to address the growing number of uninsured and under-insured people in the county. The foundation paid a consultant to assemble representatives of “established nonprofits, businesses, and even government” with the purpose of providing an “idea mart” to see if we could come up with innovative solutions to the crisis at-hand. The conversations continue but I observe a decrease in interest and engagement especially when the conversation gets a little too close for comfort.
You see, I think we at foundations do a good job of convening meetings and encouraging people to submit themselves to be collaborated on! It is clear to me however that convening people who represent long-standing institutions often with a history of relative financial stability, go into protective mode very quickly when it becomes clear their entity is being critiqued. Too often, the jobs in public health institutions, federally funded agencies and nonprofit organizations develop around an administrative personality. In these cases, I have found very often that critique of the organization and perhaps a questioning of its relevance is interpreted as a criticism. The individual in charge of that agency becomes defensive; feeling vulnerable to the exposure that peer-to-peer conversation can produce.
I have learned that making collaboration work depends in great measure to sustaining urgency. Urgency is fueled by passion – a passion that derives from visiting places like the Lorain Free Clinic or, emergency rooms at the charity hospitals. It is a passion that derives from knowing people for whom the economic downturn is proving not just a misfortune but a disaster. Any healthy human being to wants to “do-something” when one touches that level of suffering.
A person with a sense of social entrepreneurship and the funding to support innovation, will by nature want to ask, why the system seem to not be working well and how can a constituency be served better. The response means more than just convening the meetings. The convener must have the expertise (in-house or external) to keep the conversation and going and to keep the participants focused on the passion and urgency. Foundations typically hire consultants to take on that task. Although consultants do their jobs very well, it is my experience that “hiring” the consultant removes the foundation one step from the center of the activity. If the foundation convenes the meeting to address and urgent problem, then it is my opinion that the foundation (or collaborative of foundations) should try to maintain a visible role and presence in the conversations. If not, the sense of urgency may dissipate. I believe fully that foundations can serve to keep passion buoyant in rational civic discourse.
Too often, people come to meetings, agree on the urgency of the problem and are sincere in their desire to find solutions. They come willing to contribute and discuss. Few come prepared to really think about giving up they way they have been doing things.
The public health disaster in our county is a good example. The county which is 25 miles west of Cleveland has a population of 280,000. There are three separate public health entities – two city agencies Lorain City Health Department and the Elyria City Health Department as well as the Lorain County Health District. These entities were created in the 19th century when the cities of Elyria and Lorain were rapidly increasing in population due to the need for labor in the steel industry, auto industry, shipbuilding and manufacturing. Immigrant labor poured into the region. Public health agencies were created to address the reality of contagious diseases. The hospitals, (primarily charity hospitals run by orders of Catholic religious women) were created to deal with chronic disease and tertiary care.
Today, the cities are emptying out as the industries that sustained families have left the area. The second and third generation of the immigrant families have left town, or move to subdivisions that were once farms outside the towns. The cities now have families and elderly who live at or below the federal poverty level.
As we explore ways to reinvent health care delivery in the county, one of our questions has been, “In an age of technology and rapid information exchange, are three separate public health offices really necessary and relevant?” We agree, they continue to serve medically indigent populations in very specific state funded programs, but in most cases they deal with people suffering chronic disease – something public health agencies were never really created or equipped to do. Also what is the role of a public health agency when down the street, Walgreens (“America’s Online Pharmacy”) offers patients in-store clinics. If you can come up with enough cash, you can be seen and treated by a health-care affiliate and given a prescription for your illness and pick it up at the in-house pharmacy conveniently located next to the health clinic.
In the case of the health care coalition the foundation convened, the catalyst was the sense of urgency around the news that the Lorain County Health and Dentistry – which provides significant health care to medically uninsured or underinsured – did not recieve a $700,000 operating grant from the Federal Government. The charity hospitals gave compelling evidence of the number of patients flooding their emergency rooms to treat the uninsured. The Nord Mental Health Center, which treat patients with mental and behavioral diseases. reports a steady increase in the number of new patients requireing services, attirbuted in some measure to sresses associated with the economic depression.
The health situation is in crisis but after a year of conversation, it was difficult to get people to really change the way they did business. In particular, it was hard to have the public health agencies roll-up sleeves with the charity hospitals to explore possible innovations in combining services. Perhaps this can be attributed to the realization that such a move would constitute the elimination of the public health service system as it is currently structured. Similarly, the Nord Behavioral Health Center, which is a nonprofit agency with almost 85% of its revenue channeled through the Lorain County Board of Mental Health has undergone convulsive administrative challenges with board members spending tax dollars to sue each other. Conversations to explore how the charitable hospitals could take over many of the emergency services and need for in-patient beds is too threatening for people to contemplate. So, after the initial good-faith effort to talk, the parties go into protective mode. The desire to collaborate is threatening when one realizes one is about to be collaborated on! Meanwhile people that need the services are hampered by services that are difficult to access which is why people still flood the emergency rooms when they need health care.
The Fund for Our Economic Future is a collaboration of virtually all the grantmaking institutions in Northeast Ohio. For more than four years FFEF has gathered regularly to address the need for economic transformation in the Northeast Ohio region. Aside from is main function which is to pool funds to provide early stage venture capital for organizations that promise to create new businesses for the region, the Fund has hosted several meetings of “stakeholders” to provide a strategy for how the region can move out of its economic stasis. The first was the incredibly expensive and nominally productive engagement with AmericaSpeaks which evolved into the highly productive and provocative arm of the Fund called Advance Northeast Ohio. Aside from pushing the public to engage in conversations about how to move the economy forward, Advance Northeast Ohio, the fund, as well as several foundations funded the production of a study demonstrating the cost inefficiencies in doing government in NE Ohio. The document is called, Cost of Government Study for Northeast Ohio. Subsequent feedback from the larger community in NE Ohio shows that citzens want to see more collaboration among government agencies. Few know how to get there. All realized there are too many separately incorporated towns and small cities in the region, each with very expensive infrastructure. These towns developed in the mid 1800’s when transportation and communication infrastructure were primitive and it made good sense to have government pockets serve scattered populations. Today is makes no sense whatsoever to have separate jurisdictions when collaboration and shared services would probably result in costs savings to taxpayers.
Unfortunately, getting public entities to change their administrative structure (which would mean eliminating some jobs) or, to give up power (probably the MOST guarded treasure for elected officials) is practially an impossible task.
As long as tax dollars and State and Federal monies continue to support these organizations, there is little incentive for people to change. The reality is that the economic crisis may result in drastic cutbacks that will force agencies to close and services to be eliminated.
As foundations look to encourage collaboration, they might do well to read a great new book by John Kotter, Professor Emeritus at the Harvard Business School. Dr. Kotter does a great job describing how business loose their sense of urgency. The same applies to public and private entities when they begin an initiative to make change in society.
In addition to Dr. Kotter’s call for groups to understand the role of Urgency in social interaction, a recent article in the December 2008 edition of the Harvard Business Review, called Which Kind of Collaboration is Right for You by Gary P. Pisano and Roberto Verganti. This is a great article best described by as side script that says, The new leaders in innovation will be those who figure out the best way to leverage a network of outsiders.” The authors describe four modes of collaborative innovation which are:
The Elite Circle in which one company selects the participants, defines the problem and chooses the solutions.
The Innovation Mall where one company posts a problem, anyone can propose solutions and the company chooses the solutions it likes best.
The Innovative Community where anybody can propose problems, offer solutions and decide which solutions to use.
The Consortium Which operates like a private club, with participants jointly selecting the problems, deciding how to conduct work and choosing solutions.
Each of these models have correlates in the public sector. I will end this post with a quote from the article in question. Although it is directed to companies, I suggest foundations that urge collaboration read it with an eye to their admonition that non-profits and the public sector figure out ways to merge and collaborate. It is – no doubt – easier said than done.
All to often firms(foundations?) jump into relationships without considering their structure and organizing principles – what we call the collaborative architecture. To help senior managers (read public officials and nonprofit leaders?) make better decisions about the kinds of collaboration their companies adopt, we have developed a relatively simple framework. The product of our 20 years of research and consulting in this area, it focuses on two basic questions. Given your strategy, how open or closed should your firms network of collaborators be? And who should decide which problems the network will takle and which solutions will be adopted?” p.80
I am encouraged by the fact that many people I make reference to in this post continue to come to the table to discuss the issue because they do have the best interest of the community at heart. The fact is this economy is only beginning to reveal the hard choices and sacrifices we face as a community. People are meeting that challenge overcoming a fear of the unknown.
The publicity about the Obama’s choice of the Sidwell Friends School shed light on the apparent contradiction of those who support public schools but elect to send their children to private schools. I am sure this fact makes the Obama’s and others like them feel a bit defensive when attending parties. In Oberlin, Ohio where I live, people who send their children to the independent school are literally shunned by those who keep their children in the public system.
One of the great challenges facing Independent schools, and the foundations that support them is how to make the excellent quality of education available to those outside the walls of these relatively small institutions. The winter 2006 edition of Independent School, published by the National Association of Independent Schools gave voice to a growing number of members who struggle with perception that independent schools are institutions only for the elite. In an environment where the gap between wealthy families and poorer families grows, fewer middle class families are able to afford private school education. The quality of Independent School education, such as the institution I send my children (Lake Ridge Academy) can not be disputed. In fact trustees of foundations tpically send their children to independent schools places like: Noble and Greenough School, Heathwood Hall, Buckinham, Browne and Nicols and others of pedigree based on a history of quality education. Read the mission statments of any of them and compare that aspiration to those of public schools. This reality presents an unease because these same trustees approve grants that try to improve the quality of public school education. We all know that undertaking can have pockets of success but due to the enormity of the task of reform rewards are elusive.
Faith-based schools such as Epiphany School, Nativity Prep, Arrupe Prep as well as non-denominational charter KIPP schools. supported by the foundation I serve, offer the quality education that rivals the atmosphere, academic dicipline and values of higher priced independent schools. However these schools are expensive to maintain and require constant funding from private sources. The State simply will not fund these entities. In the case of KIPP and Charter Schools, the national discussion is typically met with a vitrol accompanied by public policies that keep State funding to a minimum. Tacitly, the policy carries a hope that charters will fail and, like apostates, will someday realize the waywardness of their action and return to the public school system as we know it. That system of course is failing millions of children in the U.S. daily, but there remains no strategy to address that reality.
How can one make the quality of Independent School education available to families of the middle class and even children of low-income families has remained elusive. D. Scott Looney, Head of Hawken School in Cleveland suggested, “The benefits of having the broadest possible exposure to students with other backgrounds, races, ideas, and experience must be part of that education, and must include children from families in the bottom 50 percent of the socioeconomic tier.”
How can an independent schools do that when the availability of scholarship monies is limited? Technology provides answers.
Independent Schools can make better use of web-based technology to break down the walls of their institutions and make their curriculum available to a larger number of students.
The Harvard Crimson reported an innovative adaptation of SecondLife™ at Harvard University in 2006 whereby students at the Harvard Law School will co-learn with students at the Harvard Extension School – linking a divergent student body in a cooperative learning process. Independent Schools can and should do the same thing with outreach to public schools. Foundations can support these activites.
SecondLife offers very tremendously exciting opportunities to explore how the quality of independent school education may be open to others who cannot afford a typical four-year education. What can that look like? Check out the site that explains how Secondlife works for educators.
Independent schools can and should explore the possiblity of creating their schools in Secondlife and inviting their professors and other educators to work with selected students in a virtual envorinment. This is particularly true of the children in the lower 50% of the economic tier Mr. Lowney mentions.
Phillips Exeter Academy is known for the Harkness Table. This seminar-styled approach to high school education was developed in 1931 and invites young people to share thought together in a collaborative learning experience. Why not re-create a Harnkess Table in Secondlife whereby children from schools across the country could benefit from this educational style and interact with students who typically will not have access to these inistitutions of privilidge.
The Burton D. Morgan Foundation in Hudson, Ohio funded one of the first business/entrepreneurship programs at the high school level to Lakeridge Academy. The teachers developed a very fine curriculum which serves the 20 or so students in that program. I can imagine a very interesting project where, for example students from the business/entrepreneurship at Lakeridge Academy participated in SecondLife with students from the E-City program and the related Entrpreneurship Academy or E-Prep in Cleveland. (E-Prep received a start-up grant from The Nord Family Foundation and continues to receive yearly operating support s0 I disclose my interest and passion for this great school). A project of this type would expand the number of people who share in the curriculum and widen the perspectives on what entrepreneurship means in the suburbs and what it means on “corners” in Cleveland.
Foundation should consider funding these types of projects as a means of opening quality education they can (and often do) provide their own children and to talented and able children attending failing public schools.
Although SecondLife has been tremendously successful in higher education, the potential for its use in high school settings has been thwarted because SecondLife restricts its users to a minimum age of 18. Students under that age are pointed The Teen Grid. It is the hope of many educators that someday soon, SecondLife and its creators at Linden Lab will allow for less restrictive use by high school teachers.
Another very interesting organization to watch for application for Independent schools is the work of the remarkable Aaron Walsh at MediaGrid at Boston College. This organizations provides high quality virtual environments that rival those of expensive interactive games.
Foundations that restrict themselves only to supporting projects in public education are selling themselves short by not opening themselves to exploring these new ways to blend independent school and public school education. It is my experience that most independent school faculty would welcome this innovation to expand their educational mission to those outside their walls.
It is time the philanthropic sector open itself to this important discussion with colleagues from Independent and Public Schools. For those unsure about all this, may I suggest reading a report published by the MacArthur Foundation’s and the Digial Youth Resesarch at U.Cal. Berkeley. Great reading!