In 2010, The Nord Family Foundation provided support for the Ohio Grantmakers Forum’s (OGF) education initiative making this the third year for such support. Trustees were provided a detailed report on the role The Nord Family Foundation played in participating in the state-wide stakeholders meetings which resulted in the 2009 publication of, Beyond Tinkering: Creating Real Opportunities for Today’s Learners and for Generations of Ohioans to Come.
In 2010, OGF has taken a very active role in working with the Governor’s office and the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) in order to secure a potential $400 million in Race to the Top (RTT) funding from the Federal Government.
Ohio was not selected in the first round of applicants for the highly competitive Race to the Top competition. When the initial request for proposals (RFP) came out, OGF urged ODE to conduct more outreach and stakeholder involvement and encouraged ODE to make use of the working group teams that had already been assembled for Beyond Tinkering. ODE made a decision to go it alone.
The first-round application process was not transparent. Members of the State Legislature asked to see drafts, but this request was denied. Not surprising, this alienated many in the State Legislature especially from the Republican minority whose endorsement was required by the Feds. ODE found the process overwhelming given the short timeline. Its effort to “manage” the process was disastrous. Ohio went into the competition in Washington in fourth place, based on preliminary criteria. After the March 2010 presentation in DC, Ohio went from 4th to 10th place among 16 competing states. Even a phone call from President Obama’s office to put this important swing state into priority was ignored. It was that bad.
ODE and the Governor’s office justified the lack of transparency claiming they were worried about information leaking out because it was a competitive process. Quite frankly, this is the way they do business at ODE. The legislature, Governor’s office and the ODE had a field day of finger –pointing.
At this point, OGF once again offered assistance to the Governor’s office stating that without its expertise they would not be successful in Round 2. The Cleveland Foundation, Gund Foundation, KnowledgeWorks and Martha Holden Jennings Foundations pooled funds allowing OGF to hire a consultant whose prior experience was with the Tennessee RTT application (Tennessee was one of the states to receive RTT funding in the first round. The Governor demanded that ODE work with the consultant and be more open to stakeholder involvement and input.
OGF’s activities in preparing the application for Round 2 of the Race to the Top application:
1. The first effort was to help the ODE and the Governor’s office manage communication with the legislature and conduct meaningful outreach with the stakeholders who had been involved with the Beyond Tinkering activities. (These included philanthropy, and organizations like the State School Board Association, the Ohio Teachers Union, district superintendents and teachers (novel thought!) and social service agencies.
2. OGF partnered with KIDSOhio and tasked specifically for producing regular and accurate information to the legislators, including House and Senate Republicans for their input to the application.
3. Race to the Top Application Progress Summaries were sent to all stakeholders to keep them informed. Several stakeholder meetings were convened by OGF in service to the Governor’s office.
In August 2010, Ohio was awarded a Race to the Top grant of $400 million to improve education. It is interesting to note the emphasis on including successful charter schools in eligibility for support. Another Nord Family Foundation grantee, the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools (OAPCS) has played a critical role in ensuring the quality of charter school certification and training in the State. Last month, OAPCS sponsored a state-wide event in which State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Deborah Delisle acknowledged the critical importance OAPCS plays in improving the quality of education in Ohio. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised OAPCS for its innovative seminar called The Ohio Alliance Conference on Collaborative Practices focused on shared learning between traditional public and charter schools.
Changing a huge entity like public education is an enormous undertaking requiring focus, discipline and determination.
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.
The economic depression continues to decimate families in communities throughout the area served by The Nord Family Foundation. The President was in town last week and spoke about jobs. The legislative quagmire over addressing health-care has thwarted meaningful conversation about this important topic. Hope for a resolution to the challenge of the rapidly growing number of medically uninsured people is dissipated. As politicians focus more on gaining political points for partisan camps, community members of this part of the rust belt still try to find solutions to this massive problem.
The Context – According to results from the 2008 Ohio Family Health Survey, there are an estimated 29,326 uninsured adults, age 18 to 64, in Lorain County. This number represents 15.9% of adults in Lorain County, a statistically significant increase of 4.9% (9,160 persons) over 2004 figures. Further, there are 2,723 uninsured children, under the age of 18. This, however, represents 1% fewer uninsured children over 2004 figures.
The improvement in the rate among children is attributable in large part to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) which provided insurance for children in families with incomes up to 250% of the federal poverty level. In 2008, eligibility was increased from 200% of the federal poverty level.
Some of the characteristics of the adult uninsured population are as follows:
Males were more likely to be uninsured than females.
Younger adults have higher estimated uninsured rates than older adults. In Lorain County, 34.1% of adults ages 18 to 24 were uninsured versus 8.4% of adults ages 45 to 64.
Married couples have much higher health insurance rates than others. In Lorain County, 32.4% of unmarried adults ages 18 to 64 were uninsured versus 4.8% of married adults.
Adults ages 18 to 64 who are less educated are also less likely to have health insurance. In Lorain County, those with a four-year college degree had an uninsured rate of 8.1% versus 47.6% for those with less than a high school diploma or equivalent.
Differences in employment status are also related to insurance status. In Lorain County, 7.8% of full-time workers were uninsured, compared to 19.9% of part-time workers and 29.4% of unemployed adults.
In Lorain County, adults in households with income of at least twice the federal poverty level (FPL) had an uninsured rate of 8.5%. Those below poverty (less than 100% FPL) had an uninsured rate of 34.6%, and almost half (48.6%) of those with incomes between 101% and 150% FPL were uninsured.
The two primary hospital systems located in Lorain County are Community Health Partners Regional Medical Center and EMH Regional Healthcare System. Both systems do their share to provide care to those without coverage and/or the ability to pay. In 2007, EMH provided approximately $17 million in charity care. This was an increase of 15% over 2006, a 54% increase since 2004, and more than double 2001. The same year, CHP provided $4.8 million in traditional charity care, and an additional $11.7 million in unpaid costs for Medicaid.
The Response – In 2008, The Nord Family Foundation contributed $129,000 to the Community Foundation of Greater Lorain County, to initiate HealthCare Lorain County. These funds leveraged local grants allowing the group to contract with the Altarum Institute and the Public Services Institute of Lorain County Community College to facilitate a year-long community engagement and planning process aimed at improving access to health care for the uninsured in Lorain County. The two contractors, guided by Robert Woods Johnson’s Communities in Charge, initiative diagrammed stakeholders’ perspectives of the current and desired Lorain County health system, completed a local environmental scan, outlined key problems, and mapped provider resources.
Participants – Approximately forty (40) community leaders, referred to as the Working Group, participated on this initiative at some level and are committed to addressing/improving the health care situation in Lorain County. This Working Group was comprised of individuals from all aspects of the health care field (hospitals, health departments, mental health board, medical society, etc.), as well as state and local government, law enforcement, social services, local funders, faith-based organizations, and business representatives. A Steering Committee of ten (10) members acted as a sort of Executive Committee and met when the Working Group did not – vetting data and information and taking suggestions back to the larger Working Group. Between August 2007 and December 2009, the Working Group and the Steering Committee each met five times, under the guidance/facilitation of the consultants.
Goal – HealthCare Lorain County focused its efforts around providing access to Medical Homes for the uninsured. In a medical home model, primary care clinicians and allied professionals provide conventional diagnostic and therapeutic services, as well as coordination of care for patients that require services not available in primary care settings. The goal is to provide a patient with a broad spectrum of care, both preventive and curative, over a period of time and to coordinate all of the care the patient receives. This “Medical Home” decision was reached by the Steering Committee in June 2008 and presented to the Working Group in late July 2008 after much data analysis regarding the statistics of the uninsured in Lorain County, and the current rates/usage stats of the two main hospital systems. Over the next several months the group reviewed examples of other communities’ successful solutions to the same problem Lorain County is facing and ways in which those communities adopted medical home models or something similar. December 2009, the Committee recommitted to the long-term goal.
Currently, Community Health Partners has started a very small Medical Home pilot program with the assistance of the Lorain County Free Clinic – both of whom served on the Steering Committee. The two main hospitals, CHP and EMH, along with the Steering Committee Chair and two of the larger foundations funders, met in November 2009 to discuss how the two hospitals are prepared to commit to/expand on a full Medical Home program for the Lorain County community. The most viable option for the two appeared to be the Toledo CareNet model which serves a triaging center to make sure the medically uninsured and under-insured have a human being ushering them to an appropriate care. CareNet’s strength is in providing a continuum of care for the medically indigent requiring chronic care. At this writing, the hospitals are reluctant to make a financial commitment to what could amount to a $300,000 operating budget for CareNet to function in Lorain County. The foundations are continuing to meet with the hospital directors to determine why this is the case.
Public Health Departments –
In 2008, The Public Services Institute (PSI) of Lorain County Community College was contracted by the Lorain City public health department to initiate a strategic plan. The plan was published in July 2008 with little discussion from the Health Care Lorain County group. The plan calls for a need for the three entities to “collaborate,” but fails address Health Care Lorain County’s call to explore consolidation of the three separate health districts into one. PSI had engaged in low-level negotiations with the health departments to push the idea of merger forward in 2009. In January 2010, Nord Family Foundation inquired about the PSI’s efforts and received the following response from the Elyria Public Health Director,
We have been unable for many reasons to meet with Lorain City. We have of course had financial reductions in grants and have laid two positions and eliminated the well child program. We just received an 100,000 cut in the general fund from Elyria — and so are anticipating other major changes within this year — because so much of our budget depends on grants and those grants are on a fed fiscal year, we have until June to complete whatever we decided to do about consolidation of some of our remaining programs, etc. This has been — due to our early and constant involvement withH!N! — a very difficult and challenging year. The Board has worked and supported us — but we all know we need to come up with a new business plan that will fit our budget. Unfortunately at a time when our services are really needed on a lot of fronts, we are at risk! But the Board is still interested in some kind of collaboration with Lorain city. There has been no enthusiasm or cordiality on their part re. to invitations — but they are also under stress.
PSI’s message to Nord Family Foundation is,
You will notice the strategic priority regarding collaboration. Honestly, unless someone funds a neutral convener and facilitator to take these two entities to the next level, I doubt much will happen until either Kathy (Elyria director) and/or Terry (Lorain director) retire. Both individuals have to be close to this point so the time is now.
As these conversations continue, the Nord Family Foundation awarded $297,000 in grants to unrelated health-delivery organization in Lorain County between 2008-2009. The recipient organizations are: Community Health Partners Regional Foundation; Family Planning Services of Lorain County; The Lorain County Free Clinic; The Lorain County General Health District and the Lorain County Health and Dentistry.
Progress is being made in that the foundations continue to engage in conversations with the hospitals, the federally qualified health centers and the free clinic. An ad hoc committee on the medically uninsured continues to meet regularly with focus on sustaining the Lorain County drug repository. The Nord Family Foundation hosts those monthly meetings.
After more than a year of meetings, the following challenges remain:
There is a need to continue exploring this very complex issue of providing quality health-care to medically uninsured and underinsured people in the county.
There must be a new technology infrastructure put in place to facilitate data sharing.
There is a desire to provide every citizen a sense of a medical home. People desire a relationship with a personal health care provider rather than an impersonal institution.
The community needs to explore open-source charts so every patient can have an online chart that will follow him or her to their port to the health care system. The Cleveland Clinic’s remarkable on-line health record called My Chartis a great example of what an electronic health portfolio for medically underinsured and uninsured could look like.
There is a need to examine how health dollars currently flow into the county. There are tremendous inefficiencies and possible duplication of effort among three distinct health departments (Elyria, Lorain City and Lorain County Health) which draw most of their funding from federal and state programs. These departments which were established initially to address infectious disease in the earlier decades of the 20th Century, are not equipped to handle comprehensive chronic care that the majority of the population needs. Competition from for-profit clinics such as Walgreens Take Care Clinic raises questions about the place of these health departments in a 21st century health care model.
The economic pressure necessitates collaboration between the two charitable hospitals and the Cleveland Clinic.
All eyes are on the negotiations with the impending federal health care legislation in Congress.
Lessons Learned –
The challenge for the Nord Family Foundation (or any foundation) deciding to take on a convening effort of this magnitude trustees must determine
How visible a role you want the foundation to take
have flexibility built into the expectations you have for the outcome
know the level of risk you will tolerate (the outcome could result in stakeholders walking away from the table)
determine how much staff time and money you are willing to put into the effort
look for innovation from players outside the local cohort
be willing to stick with it – conversations of this magnitude can take years but n the long run, the Medical Home is likely to result in savings to patients, employers, and health plans. Increasing the emphasis on primary care could produce large dividends throughout our health care system
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.
At a Philanthropy Roundtable conference on Education, Chester “Checker” Finn hosted a panel discussion called Rebooting the Education System with Technology. Mr. Finn mentioned his conversation with Clayton Christensen about his book Disrupting Class. Although Mr. Finn praises the book vision, scope and very realistic assessment of where the demands for learning are moving, he considers Mr. Christensen to be remarkably naive to think this vision will be implemented by any State Department of Education. The bureaucracy is just too ossified. Mr. Finn’s prediction proved disappointingly true when the Ohio budget – House Bill-1 (that included funding for education) was passed.
The Nord Family Foundation contributed funding to a State-wide effort to inform the Governor and the legislature on the role of philanthropy. After a year of a multi-constituency task force, including philanthropy and educational leaders from across the state, the final House Bill 1 .virtually ignored the top two recommendations which would have “Created Real Opportunities for Today’s Learners and for Generations of Ohioans to Come” were all but ignored by the State officials. The top two recommendations were:
Create Ohio Innovation Zones and an Incentive Fund
Attract and build on promising school and instructional models (STEM, ECHS, charters etc.)
Introduce innovations w/ district-wide impact
Eliminate operational and regulatory barriers that preclude schools/districts from pursuing innovations
There is little to no emphasis in the Bill on removing operational and regulatory barriers, other than the recommendation that districts develop charter schools.
Focus on Transforming Low Performing Schools
Develop a statewide plan targeting lowest 10% of schools
Focus on research-based best practices
Develop rigorous, local restructuring plans w/ state guidance
The first recommendation was based on Innovation Schools Act legislation in Colorado which established the creation of school innovation districts designed to strengthen school-based decision-making by letting schools break free of certain district and state education rules. This legislation allowed schools like the Bruce Randall School in Denver’s inner city to be relieved of the typical State imposed restrictions on access to technology and collective bargaining rules. This act enabled administrators to have significant flexibility over the length of the school year and the use of time during the school day, the hiring of staff, the leadership structure within the schools, and the ability to pay staff above the levels stated in the collective bargaining agreement for certain assignments.
Last month, the Indiana State Board of Education issued a blanket waiver allowing state-accredited public and private schools to use a broad range of multimedia, computer, and internet resources to supplement or replace traditional textbooks.
My work on the Ohio Grantmakers Forum Education Committee has made me come to learn that the political leadership in Ohio acts much like many companies when confronted with the idea of innovation. An article in the November 2008 Harvard Business Review, authors James Cash, Jr., Michael J. Earl, and Robert Morrison. Teaming Up to Crack Innovation Enterprise Integration write that, “…business innovation and integration have two things in common – both are still ‘unnatural acts. …Businesses are better at stifling innovation than at capitalizing on it, better at optimizing local operations than at integrating them for the good of the enterprise and its customers. The larger and more complex the organizations, the stronger the status quo can be in repelling both innovation and integration.” This assumption is reified when one looks at reports from local charter schools our foundation has supported over the years.
“Advocating for charter school funding has been a challenge this year. Governor Strickland’s first budget reduced funding to charters so significantly that E Prep would have had to close its doors if the budget had been adopted. E Prep joined Citizens’ Academy and The Intergenerational School and hired a state lobbyist to help draw attention to both the success of these schools and the devastating effect of the proposed budget. In addition, many, many E Prep supporters were asked to write letters to the state legislators. The budget that was finally passed restored funding to charters, thankfully. We believe we will have to revisit this issue in two years, however.”
Herein marks an interesting parallel to our work with OGF. Philanthropy as a sector is great at setting up “pockets” of innovative projects and in many cases supporting successful schools that work. When reporting these successes to the public sector, public school leaders repel those concepts, often fueled with activist organizations like teachers unions to tell people why things like successful charter schools or faith-based enterprises rob the system of monies. Try introducing innovative technological solutions in schools and many will not participate in the training that is inevitable required unless stipends are provided. Leaders (including governors and the state and local superintendents and even board members) who do not understand the technology and/or innovations will act similarly to the CEO’s described in the article. They allow the status quo to repel both innovation and integration. The best the legislature could do in response to the explosion of innovative technologies and approaches to learning and assessment available was to appropriate $200,000 to establish an Office of Innovation within the Ohio Department of Education to examine best practices. This is the epitome of command and control economy practices. Ohio’s intolerance for innovative practice outside the public system is known nationally.
The final report on the bill shows where the legislature, and ultimately the governor took recommendations. In short, they went for recommendations that dealt with nominal modifications to recommendations about standards, teacher hiring and firing principals and modest changes in granting public school teachers tenure. The decisions were influenced heavily by partisan politicking on the part of the Governor, his aids and the Head of the Chancellor of the State Board of Regents. Unfortunately, the policy makers adopted least resistance to anything that would jeopardize relations with the ever powerful Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Teachers Union. When setting out on this committee, I was not expecting to become so negative about the teachers unions; however. it is evident to me that unless the system is shaken up, the unions have too much interest in self-preservation and the status quo than they do in promoting innovation.
The OGF Committee remains committed to continuing conversation about exploring options for Innovation Zones across the State. In philanthropy, I think trustees of foundations have a moral obligation to state authorities to focus attention on improving educational opportunities for students who are trapped in under performing public schools. It remains to be seen whether those efforts will result in legislative change in this ossified State School bureaucracy. To be fair, I think Philanthropy needs to do a better job informing the power stakeholders in defining what innovation is and what innovation in a school district can and should look like. It is not only related to technology.
Innovation in education technology – evidenced by the rapid proliferation of Online learning, as well as improvements in technologies that will support the burgeoning number of children in public schools in need of special education is happening at rapid pace. Change is happening and schools must be prepared for how those changes will benefit children and families in poor performing districts. For them, education is their ticket out of poverty.
I do not believe that technology is the answer for all districts, especially districts that are financially challenged. I do however think that innovation includes new ways of approaching teaching and learning that stand outside the box of the top-down structures of the ODE. I have posted previously on successful charter and faith-based schools that have little to no technology, but can and do produce students with academic achievement that far outpaces that which is done in neighboring public schools. I will write more on my ideas on innovation in my next post.
I 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.
Last year, the trustees of foundation I work for provided a grant of $10,000 to support Ohio Grantmakers Forum (OGF) initiative on education for the state of Ohio. The grant provided funding that convened education leaders from across the State to develop policy recommendations for Governor Ted Strickland. The recommendations were to inform his vision for creating a school system that was ready to teach 21st Century skills.
The process of sharing ideas and knowledge from a variety of perspectives was an intellectual gift. Some of my previous posts address parts of that experience. The result of the year-long process were released last week by the OGF. The day after its release, Governor Ted Strickland announced his long-awaited plan to improve education in the State of the State address on January 29, 2009.
Mr. Strickland’s address has been followed with a budget that is confusing to media pundits who admit they do not understand how many of his proposals will be paid for given the State’s enormous budget deficit. What is clear however is that, two-years into his first tenure, Mr. Strickland ‘s plan is his launch of his campaign for a second term. Curiously, the day after the budget was released, a city councilman from another part of the state announced he would be a candidate to run against Mr. Strickland in 2010.
So the philanthropic collaboration to focus on making profound change in education in Ohio has been tempered by the frustrating realities of politics and negotiation. Our document maps out a series of recommendations with two time horizons. The first is a very short horizon that would address ways to change immediate obstacles to managing a complex organizational structure. The issues in the short term – changes to teacher tenure rules, teacher residency requirements, a change in the tests to determine assessment, and lengthening the school year by 20 days, enable the Governor to garner political attention around an issue which registers high on the interest levels among residents in the state. These changes do absolutely nothing to focus on the longer-range need to disrupt the old way of doing education in the state. Although the governor talks about the need and urgency to change the way education takes place in Ohio if we are to prepare students for the next century, his list of priorities focus on short -term changes that will tinker with the current system as we know it. The longer-term need to introduce technology to innovate and improve student learning is pushed off to what I suspect could be an agenda for a second political term. In the meantime the State will offer no clear and decisive map to guide the disruption that is urgently needed if we are to really transform teaching and learning in Ohio.
The hope that the report engendered related to truly bold programs and initiatives and investigate new approaches to learning and technology were eclipsed by political ballet that will reshuffle state dollars for the funding formula, palaver about firing teachers for just cause and finally changing the Ohio Graduation Test to an ACT test.
In my disappointment I actually saw this image running through my mind as I heard the Governor speak:
I am frustrated that the governor failed to convey the sense of urgency that is needed introduce innovation into education. In my opinion, pushing our recommendations to explore innovation to a back burner, demonstrates a failure of leadership. If I had a chance to have coffee with him, I would suggest that as a leader he can and should focus on finding ways to engage the entire citizenry to understand the role of technology and how it is transforming networks of learning for students and the people who teach them. That means harnessing the media, universities, businesses and teachers in an effort to seek out disruptive technologies that will provide solutions to the complex task of creating new learning environments.
My participation in the drafting the OGF document gave me a new appreciation for the daunting complexity of this thing we call public education. All would admit there is a profoundly urgent need to articulate a clear plan to create a technology infrastructure that will support the promise that things like cloud computing can and will have on curriculum development. I am disappointed with the governor’s adoption of our recommendations because the speech reveals a tacit admission of not having a clue about innovation in learning that is already underway and ready to bring to scale. Any hope of innovation (which typically occurs with a free exchange of ideas) has been relegated to a department within the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). It would be a miracle if anything truly innovative came out of that department unless they were willing to take the bold step of opening collaboration to people outside the ODE who not only know but practice innovation. One can only hope that the directors of that department embrace some of the philosophy of collaboration described by authors Phil Evans and Bob Wolf in the July – August 2005 edition of Harvard Business Review in an article entitled Collaboration Rules.
Extraordinary group efforts don’t have to be miraculous or accidental. An environment designed to produce cheap, plentiful transactions unleashes collaborations that break through organizational barriers.
The authors point to the open-source tool Linux to serve as the example of how to structure collaborative rules.
Corporate (and political) leaders seeking growth, learning and innovation may find the answer in a surprising place: the open-source software community. Unknowingly, perhaps, the folks who brought you Linux are virtuoso practitioners of new work principals that produce energized teams and lower costs. Nor are they alone.”
I find it curious that the Governor’s speech occurred on the same day in which, fifty-years earlier Pope John XXIII announced to the world his intention to convene a Vatican Council. He used the term aggiornamiento which was a call to open the windows and bring the church up to date. As a lapsed catholic with a nostalgic streak, I had placed some expectation that the governors speech might be an exciting call for an educational aggiornamiento or opening of the windows in which the ODE’s tradition as a closed, conservative, controlling and hierarchical structure serving the state might take place. The ODE is not a place to expect miracles!
Restructure the traditional model of teaching and learning.
Refine the state’s academic standards.
Create an assessment system that allows students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in different ways.
Ensure that we have the best teachers and principals working in all of our schools.
Ohio Grantmakers Forum and its partners are saying that we can no longer defend or tolerate an industrial-age school model that is out of step with the demands of the 21st century in which jobs, careers and workplaces are learning-intensive and where people often have many jobs over their lifetimes.
The recommendations reflect these realities …
164 Ohio young people drop out of school every day.
Just 24% of Ohio high school students take a rigorous course of study, which is the best predicator of success in college.
Ohio colleges and universities report that more than 40% of first year students need remedial courses in mathematics and/or English.
And Ohio’s higher education attainment rates are among the lowest in the nation.-We’re 38th out of 50 states.
The findings are not intended meant to suggest that Ohio has ignored its education challenges. But it underscores the reality that incremental changes are not getting the job done. It challenges the Governor and policy makers to take Bolder steps and to accelerate the pace of improvement are required.
Here are some of the bold steps OGF and its partners have urged Ohio’s leaders to take:
Accelerate the pace of innovation by restructuring the traditional, industrial model of teaching and learning.
Create Ohio Innovation Zones and fund promising school and instructional models.
Develop a statewide plan for transforming the state’s lowest performing schools.
Develop a statewide strategy for making better use of technology and its applications.
Ensure that the state’s expectations for what all students should know and be able to do are aligned with college- and career-ready expectations.
Benchmark them against international standards and make sure they include 21st century skills.
Create a balanced assessment system that allows students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in different ways, informs teaching strategies and improves learning, and provides a complete picture of how schools are doing against a consistent set of expectations.
Refine Ohio’s academic standards and restructure the state’s assessment system
Ensure that Ohio has the best teachers and principals working in all of its classrooms and schools.
Strengthen standards and evaluation for teachers and principals, and create model hiring and evaluation protocols based on the standards.
Provide financial incentives for schools and districts to improve teaching and learning environments.
Strengthen the awarding of tenure.
Develop new compensation models that improve the connections among teaching excellence, student achievement and compensation.
These are tough times … and they call for tough choices.
The extreme fiscal challenges facing the state of Ohio today provide a great opportunity, if not a mandate, to look at how Ohio invests its current education resources.
Many of these recommended actions do not require new funding. Yet, some may necessitate a re-allocation of existing resources, while still others may demand new investments. Re-allocating existing resources is a political hot-potato but one that is desperately needed. (More on that in a future blog-post).
As a member of the community I sought reaction from teachers on the Governor’s speech. The more than one of the teachers I spoke with had two immediate reactions: 1. “Well, if they extend the school year by 20 days, he’d better pay me.” and 2. Thank god they are using the ACT rather than the OGT. That is hardly the vision I would have wanted were I in a position of taking bold moves to change education across the state.
As far a non-teachers, their concern is that they do not understand the changes in the school funding formula. Clearly this is an important topic since the issues has been a plague on the Ohio educational system since the famous DeRolf decision declared it unconstitutional. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer,
Strickland’s primary pledge was that the state would eliminate a phenomenon dubbed “phantom revenue”– a ghost in the state’s funding machine that assumes school districts receive local education dollars they never actually see…Strickland said his plan would eventually result in the state picking up 59 percent of the tab for education — a level he said would make Ohio’s school-funding system meet the “thorough and efficient” constitutional standard that the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled four times the state has not achieved.
At the end of the day few people really think this formula will change much of anything in terms of quality of teaching and learning in schools. Today’s Plain Dealer reports,
Of the 97 districts in Northeast Ohio, 48 would see no change in the amount they get from the state next year, and 49 would see an increase (no more than 15 percent.)
The second year, 52 would see a decrease (no more than 2 percent) and 45 would see some increase.
The second major issue addresses how to deal with the union stranglehold on employment in the State. The governor did adopt the OGF policy which would allow principals and superintendents to fire under-performing teachers for “just cause.” The governor did assume enormous political risk by standing up to union leadership saying,
Right now, it’s harder to dismiss a teacher than any other public employee. Under my plan, we will give administrators the power to dismiss teachers for good cause, the same standard applied to other public employees,” Strickland said to applause from Republican lawmakers as Democrats held back.
This is an important issue for any Governor to take on. Earlier in January, the Cleveland Plain Dealer did a lengthy report on the fact that looming budget cuts surely meant that some of the most innovative and successful schools in Cleveland would have to lay-off teachers. Most at risk were the promising charter-like academies and magnet schools because firings would go on the old union patronage system of last hired first, fired. Here is how the story reported it,
High School, one of Cleveland's 10 new niche schools. Classes are at the Great Lakes Science Center until a permanent home at GE's Nela Park campus in East Cleveland is renovated.
Just as Cleveland’s new niche schools show signs of leading the district to reform, layoffs may sweep some of their handpicked teachers out the door.
Schools chief Eugene Sanders says the district will have to lay off hundreds of workers if the financially strapped state slashes deeply into aid that accounts for 60 percent of the Cleveland schools’ budget. Big buzz centers on how that would affect 10 single-gender and other specialty schools that have turned in good test scores and won over parents during the last three years.
With union consent, the so-called “schools of choice” select their own teachers, reaching outside the system in some cases. But cuts would follow the contract: Last hired, first fired.
Sanders said he will ask the teachers union to help limit layoffs at the niche schools. But union President David Quolke does not expect to scrap the seniority policy. “All that would do for a union is pit member against member,” Quolke said. “To agree to something that says one member is more important than another member is not something I’d be willing to do.
I suppose this effort by philanthropy to partner with stakeholders to inform a governor can be considered a success. I only wish he had not cherry-picked the policies with the short time horizon to do his plan. Given the mess of dealing with teachers unions, budgetary shortfalls and an assessment system that is strangling students and discouraging teachers to be creative, I suppose he did what he needed to do in the short-term. Despite my personal disappointment, the success can me marked by the fact that it was the first time the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Federation of Teachers sat at the same table at length – ever! They worked out issues jointly and even agreed on several recommendations. I believe that only philanthropy could have made that happen and kept them coming to the table.
It is by now quite evident that I harbor frustration at the seeming inability of the state government to do what is necessary to stimulate and sustain true innovation in learning by encouraging innovation in schools. My assessment is the governor may have stepped only a small length “beyond tinkering,” but I am learning that a politician can only go so far with bold moves, especially in education. If I had my way, I would have wanted the Governor introduce the first recommendation in the report – the creation of innovation districts throughout the state. These schools would be center for innovation in teaching and learning, freed from constraints of labor negotiations and the constraints imposed by the “tech guys” who block more access to the internet in the name of “protecting” children. These would be places where social media experts, educational researchers, higher ed teachers , creators of Multi-user virtual environments and the likes of the New Media Consortium would collaborate with students and teachers to test new media with curriculum. This is a distinct where each student would have an electronic portfolio that would serve as a platform for him or her to demonstrate their learning and understanding of the standards. This district would foster a cadre of teachers who would be able to develop means of assessing that learning into meaningful feedback.
On the first day of class, I would call an assembly and invite Scott Anthony, co-author of “The Innovator’s Guide to Growth” be the convocation speaker and introduce the concept of “disruptive innovation” to establish the framework for the collaborative teams effort to move forward.
I am not a politician and I am not an education bureaucrat. I admit that I do not always appreciate the difficult balancing act these people need to do to survive. I respect and admire their ability to navigate the turbulent waters of managing many people. To accomplish the longer-range goals of transforming education to better serve the needs of individual students – no matter how old they are, philanthropy will need to make investments to support institutional psycho-therapy to help the educational infrastructure overcome its get over Fear 2.0 which is crippling it from really serving students. The soothing words of Dr. Clayton Christensen might be a good start – light a candle, pour a glass of wine and listen carefully.
Listen carefully to the podcast with Clayton Christensen on his book, Disrupting Class….
Hopefully one day we will get there and I think foundations will continue to play a key role in holding out that vision to policymakers who, at the end of the day probably want to see it happen too. Maybe someone will make a video of it so someone 60 years from now might embed it in his or her own blog!
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.