Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Bust a Deal and Face the Wheel" - The Craziness of High Stakes Testing!

Sometimes moments in your life become juxtaposed to create a heightened awareness of reality - or -  a new view of it.

I just watched Mad Max - Return to Thunderdome for the umpteenth time and then a few days later during the holidays I listened as my nephew described the depressing situation in his elementary school.  The story thrust a line from the movie into my head - "Bust a deal and face the wheel" uttered by Auntie Entity (Tina Turner).

First, the background. Dan is a gifted special ed teacher who has dedicated his career to helping children, like his mentally disabled brother, achieve the highest levels possible. Yet, it is challenging to say the least. Every day he sees slight progress - he's a professional and recognizes and can measure his students' progress.

Yet, once a year the teachers are forced to administer the state tests. And here's the "deal": if your students pass with adequate yearly progress, the government will leave you alone. But if they don't make the expected progress, and you "bust the deal." you become a failing school and get to "face the wheel" - choosing between longer hours for more drill and kill, getting fired or furloughed, being taken over by a charter organization, etc.

So he is now in a failing school.

Here's the craziness of it all. Our rules around testing in the U.S. seem almost as strange as the rules in Barter Town in the movie, a bureaucracy carved out for a failing system. When Dan tests his kids, they must be tested at their grade level and they must read the test by themselves. Now the population in his school is 25% special education (it is a kind of magnet school) and on top of that, 50% ESL, leaving only 25% of the students without these challenges. He told me of one boy who had just arrived in this country from Africa, who could speak no English, and was directed by the teacher to 'play the game' of marking one circle per question - questions that he could not read!

One test, on one day out of 180 school days, determines the fate of an entire school community. Welcome to Thunderdome! "Two men enter, one man leaves" - 50% drop out rates have some root causes and this is one of them!

Dan is thinking of changing careers, though he really doesn't want to - he loves his students. But for his mental health, he might have to.

We must stop the insanity! Give back the schools to their communities and apply what we know works to make all schools better!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bill Gates - Education Reform Expert Strikes Again

Once again, billionaire Bill Gates, philanthropist extraordinaire, announces his simplistic solutions for education reform at the Council of Chief School Officers annual meeting (Gates Urges School Budget Overhauls). In his speech, Gates recommends re-aligning school budgets, but then he focuses on specific teacher-related budget cuts like ending tenure (I agree, but for different reasons), eliminating incentive pay for graduate work, and worst of all, creating larger class sizes and reducing the number of teachers.

This article really frustrated me. How can Gates appoint himself an expert on education when he doesn't even take the time to back up his beliefs with research? Focusing solely on teachers is just wrong-headed. Sure teachers can get better, and I am against tenure - I saw enough bad teachers protected not only by the union but by administrators who simply liked them. But teaching is the core competency of education. A lot can be done to improve medical services by improving doctors' skills, for example, but would we undermine them by not rewarding them for keeping up with the profession? 

If we want to improve teaching, let's look at the top performing countries in the recent PISA report from OECD. The top countries view teachers as professionals and spend a lot of money on training them initially and then continuing to improve their skills with professional learning communities. They look at teaching and learning as processes that can be documented, replicated, and measured. 

Let's look at the process of teaching and learn from best practices. Targeting a few specific band-aids and focusing only on outcomes will do nothing to improve teaching and will only alienate those who are doing a great job and not being recognized.

By the way, great teachers are leaving American schools on their own. Several studies have shown that 50% of teachers leave within the first 5 years. This isn't only about pay, it's more about the hostile, bureaucratic, and stifling environment these professionals are working in. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Assessment Sanity, Scariness, and Proven Success

The Scariness: The State of Georgia is investigating potential tampering of state tests by teachers, especially in Atlanta schools. Over 250,000 erasures were made to tests last year, and even kids are reporting that teachers change their tests or give them answers. The punitive nature of our current once-per-year high stakes tests is driving teachers to perform unnatural acts. This is no way to run an education system that should be developing our kids into knowledgeable, well-rounded, creative, and productive citizens. High stakes testing with its related threats and punishments must change.

The Sanity: Finally! The USDOE announced that two consortia and a total of 47 states have been awarded over $330 million to develop new assessments for public schools. The assessments will be implemented in 2014 and are focused on measuring 21st century skills and modern ways to learn like using multimedia, project-based learning, and communication and collaboration skills. The tests will be adaptive, meaning that students will be given items based on their previous performance, not just boring, standardized items over and over.  Also, the focus of the project is to create online, formative assessments that measure students' progress throughout the year.

Theoretically, with appropriate formative testing,  schools wouldn't need to do a one-time summative assessment - teachers and administrators should always know where students are performing. Measuring progress and achievement in a variety of ways and across all important content areas is the only sensible way to assess student achievement and the effectiveness of curriculum and teaching approaches.

The Success: Cisco' Networking Academies is a program whose leaders really understand the value of formative and summative assessment. Over 900,000 students in 150 countries attend Net Acad classes at high schools and colleges to become certified network engineers. Students in the program are self-motivated because they know that after graduating from the program, which involves doing real-world work every day while students learn concepts and principles, they will get a job and be contributing to their nation's economic growth and development.

The program just achieved a huge milestone - its online curriculum and test system just registered 100,000,000 exams taken.  The exams include adaptive testing, simulations, and meaningful conceptual and contextual problems. At any time, students - and their teachers - know exactly where they are in their ability to perform intellectual and physical tasks.  Why can't we learn from this type of program?

As I've said before in this blog, I believe, and research shows, that we do know what makes effective education - we just need to put the right people in decision-making spots and measure what matters. I know it's not easy and it won't happen right away, but maybe the tide is turning.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Rise of Video - Viral Education

Today I watched a great TED Talk about the rise of video for all communication by Chris Anderson. "TED's Chris Anderson says the rise of web video is driving a worldwide phenomenon he calls Crowd Accelerated Innovation -- a self-fueling cycle of learning that could be as significant as the invention of print." The power of video can permeate all of education from kids learning with other kids around the world to bringing experts into the classroom. Video is powerful - non-verbals, tone of voice, tempo communicate a lot!

But the bigger opportunity is to open learning resources for kids and their parents (and teachers) to consume as needed. Imagine if students were given the standards that we all believe they should learn/demonstrate - and also guided to develop their own based on their talents and interests - and then let them, their parents, and their teachers design a personalized curriculum? It can be done now, with technology that already exists. In fact, home schooling parents ARE doing this.

This isn't the end of 'lessons' or teachers - printing didn't eliminate the powerful experience of listening to an expert speak about his or her passion - but video and videoconferencing provides a rich virtual environment of experiences that learners can take advantage of.

By the way, a personalized curriculum doesn't mean that millions of kids would learn independently, isolated - a school of one literally. It means that they are learning what they need and want to learn - in the way they want to learn - with technology enabling them to be connected to other kids learning the same things...but it doesn't have to be in the same school - or even the same country.

Imagine this! Let go of your pre-existing restrictive thinking...imagine what it will look like? Because it will happen!

And we still need teachers! Designers of learning experiences, guides on the side, tutors, facilitators of learning, assessment developers....all sorts of things!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Finally an Answer for School Leaders: Use the Power of Your People!

I recently read a wonderfully uplifting report about a promising new movement in educational transformation. APQC (the American Productivity and Quality Center), a 30 year old organization founded by visionary Jack Grayson that has done incredible work in industry, health care, and government, has completed a pilot study in 11 districts across the U.S. applying their approach to school improvement. The project, called Northstar, brought systematic thinking to district leaders to help them solve costly and time-consuming problems such as reducing utility costs, improving school bus safety, reducing drop-out rates, redesigning curriculum, and freeing up teachers for more instructional time. Their focus is on process improvement and performance management -- in other words, looking at the everyday work of school personnel to uncover opportunities for lowering costs, improving efficiency and effectiveness, and eliminating wasted time. 

Here's what I like about the APQC approach:
  • First, it acknowledges that schools are inhabited by passionate and smart teachers, administrators, and staff who really want to do a good job educating children. How many news stories lately highlight that aspect of school personnel? It's not the people who are causing the problems - it's the system, policies, and processes.
  • Second, it provides a collaborative process for cross-functional teams to identify top problems to solve, uncover root causes, and create solutions together. No heavy dependency on expert consultants and 'gurus' telling the leaders what pedagogical approach is the best, what technology to use, what software to buy -- no flavor of the month!
  • Third, it provides a customizable process that APQC consultants can align with district leaders' and stakeholders priorities and organizational culture. The approach helps districts focus on what's important,  especially under today's budget constraints and high achievement expectations, and drive toward solid solutions that all stakeholders can buy into.
  • Fourth, APQC builds capacity for the district to continue the process improvement and performance management approach to 'running the business' after the first few projects are successfully completed.
What I love about all this is the process perspective. Long ago I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Edwards Deming talk about process and I will never forget his memorable admonition to managers at General Motors, where I was working. When talking about all of the problems GM was experiencing, Dr. Deming said: "It's not the workers - they are not the cause of the problem (think, let's fire all of the teachers), they are doing the best they can given the system they are working in. It's up to management to provide a system in which smart people can be successful."

This approach is refreshing given all of the confusion in education today around the 'best program' to adopt. It puts solution development in the hands of the people who do the work, it leverages process and performance data, and it is guru-and technology agnostic! The APQC PPM approach has worked for 30 years in every other line of business -- it's time for school leaders to accept that they can learn something from those who have been successful in every other sector!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Instruments as Technology - Teacher as Conductor

I recently watched a wonderful show on PBS about the 125 year history of the Boston Pops Orchestra. and it reminded me of the most important role of a teacher - to be the conductor of learning. The Pops latest conductor, Keith Lockhart (who had big shoes to fill - Fiedler, Williams), said he was intimidated but eager to take on the role. He believed that as a conductor he knew his role was "to inspire his musicians; they can't be coerced." He has faith in the musicians and it's his role to create the vision and the story, and let the musicians create the result.

A friend of mine who is a wonderfully creative, ambitious, and technology-savvy teacher recently proved what I mean about teacher as conductor. Her district was considering a one-to-one laptop solution and gave her 3 MacBooks and 3 iPod Touch's for one month near the end of the school year. The goal was to prove to the School Board that the addition of this technology would improve engagement and learning in her 5th grade class immediately and that they should invest their technology budget in this solution.

Putting the challenge in her hands was the genius of the superintendent. Lyssa KNOWS educational technology and has been desperate to get it into the hands of her underserved students. She immediately went to work teaching every student the basics of using the equipment, the accompanying software, and exposed them to many online tools and websites.

She DIDN'T create a complicated curriculum. Instead she set goals for a final product to have them demonstrate their knowledge in the most creative ways. And off they went!

In one month the 30 kids in her class explored and then almost mastered over ten different online tools and every application on the MacBook. They taught themselves! They did their research and then created wonderful representations of their learning in a variety of formats. There were no discipline problems, there was intense engagement, and many stayed after school to get to use the computers. (Remember, she had only 3 of each device).

After one month, Lyssa presented, with her kids, to the School Board to make the case for technology. She showed their work and their testimonials, and the students themselves spoke about the intense engagement they felt - that they were finally free to learn the way they were comfortable. There were tears on the faces of the adults in that room to see those kids so passionate.

Lyssa was truly a conductor in this situation. She determined a vision for her students' learning, gave them access to their 'instruments' and guided them to individual outcomes that, woven together, created a powerful learning symphony.

For the kids, their instruments are the technology, the music is their learning.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Merging Personal and Public Learning Environments: Why Not?

I've just returned from the ISTE Conference in Denver and had many take-aways, but a big one was about the merging of formal and non-formal learning environments. During a  keynote panel discussion, Karen Cator,  Director of the Office of Educational Technology for the US DOE,  challenged the audience (mostly teachers and technology coordinators) to start accepting that kids are learning as much or more out of school than in it. This happens because many schools do not allow or make available the tools students want to use to learn with depth and breadth.  And students don't separate their 'learning lives' into artificial subject areas and standards. They just go after the information they need to address their learning needs.

What can we learn from them? What would happen if all teachers could figure out a way to propose problems, challenges, quests, and journeys to kids, teach them some strategies, immerse them in a learning environment and let them go?

Take a look at this video about a girl's Personal Learning Environment. She is participating in a project that her (obviously flexible, net-savvy, and enlightened) teacher is doing on networked learning. She is using an application called Symbaloo and you need two hands to count the number of websites, resources, and tools she uses to do her work (in a 3-minute video).

Be sure to listen to the last minute. I love her quote: "We like learning this way because we have more's not that I don't have to do the work, I just get to choose how to do it." Freedom to learn the way they want...wouldn't we all prefer that? Been in a corporate or college class lately?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Tech Tools Don't Transform Learning - Teachers Do!

A recent article in the Washington Post by Stephanie McCrumman questions the value of the expensive technology being installed in classrooms all over the world, particularly interactive whiteboards. While I agree with a lot of what she is saying, she misses the key point. Unless teaching and learning activities change to more learner-centered experiences, technology will not revolutionize our schools. And this depends on teachers knowing how to change their approach.

In 1975 I had a wonderful technology in my kindergarten class - a machine with a monitor, speaker, keyboard, and early stage interactive disk which the kids would sit at to learn to read. A word would come on the screen and a voice would say "cat" and then the student would type the word "c-a-t" and if successful, they got to see the word, hear "cat," and see a picture of a cat. WOW! For 35 years ago that was pretty amazing technology. Everyone wanted to be on the machine - but after only a few weeks, most found it boring, and the expensive toy was abandoned. I learned to design more engaging activities, like having the kids dictate experience stories into a tape recorder (technology), transcribe them with our parent volunteers, illustrate them, then read them to their peers.

Fast forward to today and the New York City  School of One, in which differentiated learning is the philosophy and approach (this came first) and the technology is the enabler. A similar school in South Carolina, Forest Lake Elementary School created a self-directed curriculum in which students as young as five interact with each other to learn, create, and publish their work in a variety of ways. Teachers are designers of engaging work and facilitators. In both schools there is a tremendous amount and variety of technology, but the curriculum design came first. Wouldn't you love to teach in these schools? Why can't every school adopt this approach in which the students thrive? Vision, strategy, plan, is an enabler and essential to today's educational landscape, but the educational vision comes first.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Keep It Simple Using Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

School leaders and their technology experts take months to decide which technologies to buy and how to integrate them into their curriculum. The first step is always determining the results you expect by integrating the technology. And the second step is determining the best technology for the goals you are trying to reach.

This process doesn't need to take months to decide if a 'total cost of ownership' approach is used. Total Cost of Ownership is a principle that says when you are considering investing in a change, or if you want to adopt a new technology, you should consider all of the costs to adopting that change. Total cost includes not just the purchase of the technology, licenses, and warranties, but also facility upgrades and installation costs. To be thorough, you also need to consider related software, customization and configuration, and integration into data systems. Social and human costs also must be calculated (not as easy but just as important) such as change management, curriculum design, and ongoing technical and professional support. Even public relations and organizational communication activities should be considered.

Once all of the associated costs are calculated, two things need to happen. First, you need to decide if you can really afford the "total" change and second, you need to assess whether you will see a return on your investment.  Decisions can become pretty 'black and white' when TCO is employed.

A good application for TCO is when selecting high end solutions like interactive whiteboards. A series of opinion pieces in  ISTE's Learning and Leading magazine highlights why TCO is so important. Several people make good cases for and against adopting whiteboards, and all of them, on both sides of the argument, point to the adoption process as keys to success or failure. The integration into existing best practices, ongoing training and support, incentives for innovation all are critical and all cost money if done correctly. And more than that they cost emotional and professional capital as well.

The biggest mistake school leaders can make is to invest in new technologies without considering TCO - the financial and human costs of implementing the change. Because of this tens of thousands of scarce dollars are wasted every year. In contrast, considering TCO helps school leaders make solid decisions and wise investments, with corresponding customer results, that is, more engaged and successful students!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Learning from Business: E-learning is Not Just Tech-Enabled Curriculum

I have been visiting schools and talking to education leaders recently about the challenge of building 21st century skills into existing content and core skills curriculum. One approach is to simply enhance the learning outcomes that students are expected to achieve to include higher level skills like problem solving and critical thinking, and then design curriculum to achieve those goals.  But that just adapts a traditional subject-area curriculum, not fundamentally redesigning it.

Another, more powerful way is to weave core skills, complex 21st century skills, and interdisciplinary content into an interesting and engaging tapestry. Creating a series of real-world problems to solve is one of the best ways to do this. At Cisco, when we moved from traditional corporate technical training ('sit and get') to more hands-on approaches, we leveraged technology to create real-world learning experiences for our students. We started pretty low-end with screen captures and written case study problems, but then moved on to more sophisticated simulation modules in which learners could work through real problems. Case situations were presented, then students could study videos, technical papers, or customer examples, on demand, as they worked through a problem. These modules weren't tightly designed into a long course, but were recommended as components of the personalized learning roadmap after students took knowledge and skill-focused assessments. The very same 'learning objects' were available as performance support for on-the-job refreshers.

In education, e-learning is becoming a popular term, but hopefully educators will learn from our corporate experiences. Don't just put the existing curriculum, even if modified to include 21st century skills, into a online format. Create new experiences for learners and link them to real-world challenges and situations. Learning the content becomes a necessary requirement to solve a real problem, not an end in itself. Create a series of authentic small problems to solve that can link together in a larger context and create support materials that become tools in the toolbox for the problem-solver. With creativity, curriculum developers and teachers can build many interesting situations for learners and make available a variety of resources for them to use as they work through the challenges.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Six Impossible Things

The other day I saw the movie Alice in Wonderland and came upon a terrific line spoken by Alice about her father, an innovative capitalist: "Why, everyday I've thought of six impossible things before breakfast!" Near the end of the movie Alice realizes that six things she thought were impossible had all happened! I'm beginning to feel the same way about our national educational landscape. Impossible, or at least, unlikely things are happening that may shape - in a positive way - the re-authorization of the ESEA, also known as the "No Child Left Behind" act as well as The Race To The Top competition. There are obvious political reasons for some of these events and controversy as well, but I think they are signs of a major disruption in the attempt of the federal government, specifically the DOE, to exert more control over local issues.
  1. Governor Crist vetoes Florida's bill to tie teacher evaluation to test scores and eliminate tenure. While it is unclear whether the huge opposition to the bill by teachers, students, parents, teachers, and community leaders swayed him, it is clear that grassroots efforts are gaining momentum.
  2. Kansas, Vermont, Indiana, Texas, and others have pulled out of Race to the Top for a variety of reasons, but in essence they are refusing to adhere to the Feds' control of local issues by attaching strings to the money.
  3. Diane Ravitch, a staunch supporter of charter schools, standards, and accountability using standardized testing, has reversed her point of view based on data showing that these 'innovations' aren't working. Her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System is now number 17 on the NYT bestseller list after a little over a month. Her Facebook fan base is growing fast!
  4. Diane is being listened to as she makes her way across the country and it is the grassroots - teachers, administrators, parents - who are coming to hear her. They finally have someone on their side.
  5. Arne Duncan is doing a series of town hall meetings on CNN. He's saying all the right things and admitting that there are serious flaws in NCLB. Could it be he's floating trial balloons for big changes or is this just another politician telling us what we want to hear with no plans to "walk the talk"?
  6. The DOE is funding consortia across several states to create more balanced assessments ($350 million). Hopefully they will look at more than just test scores. The largest consortia has Linda Darling Hammond as their chief advisor. That is reassuring. As Obama's chief education advisor during his campaign, she was the logical choice for Secretary of Education but was pushed out. Maybe now she can have some influence.
In some ways none of these events are impossible...but they may represent a groundswell back to sanity in education policy decision-making...letting the professionals in the field start making some headway in fixing so much of what is wrong.

    Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    Give Kids Technology and Let Them Go - They Will Show You Amazing Things!

    I recently attended an exciting technology open house at my local K-8 school district. The combination of a visionary principal, hard-working staff, committed parents, and a persistent fundraiser brought a one-to-one laptop solution to the schools in only one year.

    Looking in on our well-to-do community, one might not be surprised that we were able to do this from a financial perspective. But that is not what is important here. Many communities, wealthy and poor, are finding ways to make computers accessible to every student. What is impressive here is that in less than one year, all teachers and students are using these computers throughout the curriculum, throughout every day.

    This isn't because the teachers are forcing their use, but because the kids are being allowed to use computers as a work tool - something quite natural for them. For this to happen, teachers need confidence that they can ease their need for control and let learning occur. To help with this they visited other successful 1:1 schools, attended many hours of professional development, and were coached and encouraged by hard-working educational technology specialists. Teachers are comfortable letting the kids take out the computers whenever they need to. What resulted was not the typical "once a year major multimedia project" as one teacher told me, but "quality, everyday learning products."

    Many districts buy the technology but forget that it is hard work for teachers and staff to weave technology into their daily learning environments.

    The open house was amazingly student-centered and reflected this philosophy of computer as learning tool. Throughout the evening students from kindergarten to eighth grade presented their digital products (500+), reflecting the use of technology in every subject. There were no teacher presentations. The products revealed the willingness of teachers to encourage students to display their learning in their own ways. There was much evidence of independent learning, and the sophistication of much of the work shows how far kids can go when you have high expectations while letting them be creative, which is quite natural for them.

    As a kindergarten teacher who encouraged students' natural creativity, I used to say, "If they can do these things at 5 years old, imagine, if we let them go, what they'll be doing when they're 16!" We are still learning this lesson and technology is making it easier.

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    Bullying Is Beyond Teacher and Administration Control - My Personal Experience

    A recent rash of bullying by teens that has resulted in deaths and suicides appears to be something new and disturbing, inflamed by the Internet.  Everyone is trying to find someone to blame - teachers, administrators, the victim, but I feel strongly that the greatest responsibility lies with the teens who did the bullying and their parents.  And this is nothing new, although the Internet can add to the frequency and intensity of the bullying.

    In 1968, I was bullied for reasons apparently similar to the girl in South Hadley, MA., who had recently moved from Ireland. At the beginning of my senior year of high school my family moved from Southern California to a small town in New England, a culture shock for sure (think Doors-West Coast v. Young Rascals-East Coast, mini-skirts v. Villager print dresses to the knees, and on and on). My new experience was a weird mix of boys immediately being interested in taking the new California girl to the movies (read that "parking and drinking beer and...") and girls refusing to let me join their clubs, groups, and parties. I had come to the school as a student body officer, cheerleader, and student play director - confident and happy, and because of heartless humiliation and backstabbing (what did I do? I wouldn't go "parking" - what a snob!) by January I had lost all of my confidence, was miserable, and actually started stuttering for the first time in my life!

    Who was at fault? While I didn't have thoughts of suicide, I had certainly backtracked and was very sad. 40 years ago I blamed my fellow students, maybe their parents, but certainly not the teachers and administrators - they had little idea about the intensity of my problem. Did I tell my parents? No. I was a typical teen protecting my privacy, blaming myself, confused. Luckily for me I found a group of great kids who were also 'different' and found my way. Peers were the problem and the solution!

    35 years later, my introvert son went through a very similar experience at his large high school. After 8 wonderful years at a small private school, my son, a little geeky, a little shy, found life challenging at a large upper middle class public high school. He didn't fit in and was bullied terribly, became very depressed, and desperately needed help. Yet, even though I was aware of his state of mind and got him help (outside of school) I had no idea until he matured and told me the stories, just how horrible his daily life at school was.

    We have to stop blaming teachers and administrators for everything that happens to kids just because those kids spend several hours each day in their care (6 hours out of 24!). Instead we - as a society -  should be looking at what is causing the irresponsible behavior of mean kids - what makes them so unhappy, insecure, and aggressive? Why doesn't the silent majority of kids help those being attacked? Are they modeling their parents' behavior?

    The key is human behavior and social behavior are complex, and simply blaming the teachers is a cop-out, when even parents don't know what is going on with their children, both the bullies and the victims. Let's start a dialogue about compassion and taking responsibility for each other -  at home, in schools, and in communities. And it wouldn't hurt to have a zero tolerance policy for disrespect in schools either (among students, teachers, and administrators), it just can't be the only solution.

    Sunday, March 21, 2010

    New York Times Thinly Veiled Support of Charters Is Wrong

    Today the New York Times published an editorial titled "Who Grades the Graders" and in its first paragraph proposes that a more complex form of evaluating teachers is needed, including rethinking the role of principals and superintendents.

    I agree with that sentiment, but the editorial says little about principal's role in evaluation and nothing about superintendents. Instead it focuses on a study by the Center for American Progress about the effectiveness of teacher evaluation in 5 charter schools representing the three major charter school operators. The NYT once again is pushing the charter school solution for American education rather than a broader view about best practices evident in mainstream public schools as well.

    Many education leaders believe in a view of teacher evaluation that insists on multiple measures and focuses the conversation on teacher development rather than a punitive approach to simply weed out bad teachers. Principals and superintendents do have important roles here, especially around providing the time and resources for this to be implemented.

    But this isn't happening just in charter schools.

    One of the leaders in teacher development is the New Teacher Center which mentors and coaches over 49,000 teachers across the country. The involvement of organizations like NTC, who work in thousands of mainstream public schools, in the re-authorization of ESEA is critical if the Feds are to create a balanced view of teacher development and evaluation.

    In fact, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island is proposing the Teacher and Principal Improvement Act, which would amend the ESEA Title II to include more comprehensive developmental evaluation processes for teachers. One statistic quoted in a description of Reed's proposal states that the cost of replacing teachers who leave the profession is $7,300,000,000 annually! Firing bad teachers isn't the key issue, it's developing new teachers so they will be more successful and stay.

    But we need to go one step further in teacher evaluation by focusing on the work of students as well. The Schlechty Center's work with thousands of educators provides methodology for using a collegial  coaching process for looking at the quality of student work as evidence of effective teaching. By examining the design of learning activities and resulting student products, teachers are evaluated by the success of their customers - their students - who are depending on schools to enable them to be productive and responsible members of our society, in their work and in their civic duties.  This broader, student-centered approach, could fundamentally and positively impact teacher development and retention, as well as the quality of American public schools. We don't need charters to make this happen for all children.

    Thursday, March 18, 2010

    NCLB Reauthorization - Everyone Is Getting Into the Discussion and That's a Good Thing!

    Today's NYT editorial on the re-authorization of NCLB made a few good points, especially about measuring school and teacher success. While I believe that measurement is a good thing, the way in which district and school success is measured must be broadened. Good teachers monitor and measure their students' performance and growth all year using many tools. Teachers look at student products, project work, progress and end of unit tests, collaboration activities, and individual reports from self-paced learning programs. Using a test score from a single day in the school year to make any determination about the performance of schools is absurd. In California, the STAR test has no meaning for 11th graders as many have already passed the high school exit exam and only care about grades and SAT scores. There are no consequences for kids from the high stakes tests results, so what motivates them to do well except the fear that well-meaning, but misguided teachers drive into them? I've heard from many parents and teachers that there are much more meaningful measures of a school's and teachers' success. Using today's technology advances, let districts and states decide how to measure effective schools using a broader view of student performance so teachers can get back to providing a broader, more meaningful curriculum.

    Wednesday, March 17, 2010

    Is The Administration Finally Admitting Change Is Needed?

    The Obama administration is revising NCLB - finally there is sensibility in Washington. Maybe. The good news is the expansion of standards to include science and social studies, not just math and ELA. Also positive is the plan to back off AYP and, rather, set goals for college or career readiness for graduating students. Another positive aspect is the focus on principal quality in addition to ensuring the effectiveness of teachers.

    However, there's still the goal of using testing as the measure of success with a heavy hand by the federal government on ensuring compliance to standards. Even with new national standards that reflect higher-order thinking versus memorizing facts and formulas, schools will still be held accountable by the federal government, rather than their state government, or better yet, their community. Even with the decrease in the number of poor performing schools being punished, the federal government is still meddling in local issues. Providing grants and funding for innovation and improved results is a great role for the Feds but using test scores as the only measure of success is just wrong. Awarding the dollars in return for compliance to unproven reform practices (e.g, more charters, firing staff, closing schools) is even more deadly to public education in this country.

    Local communities - politicians, business leaders, formal and informal social groups - need to take back control. Some districts and states are refusing to compromise local control and principles by not applying for Race to the Top funding. We need to see more community and state leaders have the courage to just say "no" to the money if it means implementing questionable improvement practices, that are more like punishment than rewards.

    Monday, March 1, 2010

    Communities and corporations are getting more involved in public education and that is a good thing. Funding for resources that don't focus on high stakes testing is becoming less available as massive budget cuts are underway.

    However, creative administrators, teachers, and parents can find some great resources out there. Time Warner Cable has launched an initiative called Connect a Million Minds where parents and kids can connect with organizations that provide after school and summer activities related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The coolest feature is that you can put in your zip code and find local offerings in an instant. Each day more organizations are loading their information onto the site, which launched in November 2009, and more kids are connecting to them.

    Another corporate initiative, sponsored by PepsiCo is called Refresh Everything. Every day ordinary people vote on the ideas of dedicated and creative educators who submit their requests for $5,000 - $250,000 grants. PepsiCo gives away $1.3 million every month to a variety of projects across all social sectors.

    Donors Choose is another initiative that connects individual donors with teacher requests for funding for projects. It's a simple process similar to those used by KIVA and other organizations who provide a marketplace of sorts for people wanting to give back to society. Instead of costly evaluation processes, the teachers who receive the grants merely have to create a 'thank you' package to show the donors how they used the money.

    Some may be cynical about these programs, suspecting that the corporate programs have ulterior motives and that the non-profits will show few measurable results. But I believe these are wonderful ways for people to directly impact the education of kids and get involved in helping provide engaging learning experiences. Maybe this will inspire them to get more involved in the larger discussion about providing a richer learning experience for all kids in public schools.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Let's Just Eliminate Buses, 12th Grade, and While We're At It Teacher Development!

    This week a Utah lawmaker proposed eliminating 12th grade to cut $102 million annually because "You're spending a whole lot of money for a whole bunch of kids who aren't getting anything out of that grade" and who have "either got one foot in AP classes in college, or they're just running around taking P.E."  I could go on about the wrong-headed ideas of ignorant politicians who don't back up their emotional outbursts with facts, but it's not just them. In some states, districts have eliminated buses to save costs, with parents sometimes agreeing because, they say, they used to walk a mile each way when they were kids...probably in three feet of snow! Many states, including California, are considering reducing the budget by eliminating school days, targeting teacher professional development days.  Hawaii has already cut away to the bone and still needs to cut more.

    I know school budgets must be slashed, but as district leaders dig deeper for savings, they will hopefully go about it in a thoughtful, analytical manner. The 'low hanging fruit' has been picked. Decision-makers can look to business for the right approaches. During tough times in business, good companies don't just slash and burn to eliminate costs, and layoffs are often the last resort after everything else is tried.

    The tools corporations use can be applied to school districts just as easily. Process analysis, for example, can help central office administrators identify non-value add activities that can be eliminated while making work efficient and ready for automation. Root cause analysis can help identify the source of problems that waste staff time and effort, and process redesign can permanently eliminate them. Pareto analysis can identify the not-so-obvious savings in the budget that may be overlooked because of 'sacred cows' being hidden from view.

    Bringing sensibility to budget-cutting using these tools and many others, can keep sanity in the decision-making process with the data to back it up. It's time for legislators, school boards, and district leaders to learn from business. It won't be that painful, really.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    TED is On!

    Tomorrow the TED conference begins. It should be awesome. Here is the line-up. Every year there are great presentations by amazing people from all walks of life that really get you thinking. Each presenter has a big idea to throw at the audience, an idea that is in its own right interesting, but that can also apply to much of the work we do every day. Here are a few of my favorites from last year:

    Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) on Genius...we all have it if we let it in. But if it doesn't come to us, just showing up to do our jobs is great too! Especially when you are changing careers.

    Ken Robinson on how schools kill creativity. I love how he talks about his own children in this. This talk is funny and so true! I recognize this formal education phenomena and remember so vividly my frustration after spending a year with five year olds building their sense of confidence in their unique gifts and ideas, just to have it hammered out of them as they ascended the grades.

    Panav Mistry on Sixth Sense Technology. This one blew my mind. If teachers have trouble integrating technology now, and tech directors are struggling to block anything interesting on the web, wait until we have this amazing technology available to us. I love the idea of picking up a real newspaper, but "reading" interactive articles as it accesses the web. Ah, the NYT on Sunday can still work for me, but without all those trees being cut down.

    These talks should be available to students -in school - one a week - for discussion, pondering, and inspiration. 

    You can have TED TALKS sent to you via RSS feed.

    Monday, February 1, 2010

    Hope in NYC

    Last week I attended an event at NYU called Sci-Ed Innovators, in honor of Jhumki Basu, an amazing science educator who passed away at 31 in 2008 after a long struggle with breast cancer. There is a nice write-up at justcallmefrizzle about it. I am helping the Jhumki Basu Foundation build a collaborative website to support "the democratization of science," as Jhumki called it, for kids in grades 6-12. We are focusing on underserved urban youth because traditional science is just not relevant or accessible for them. I visited several schools in NYC last week in conjunction with the event and saw amazing teachers who are doing so much under so many constraints. It's not just an issue of money - you can clearly see that there are so many policies that undermine teachers' abilities to provide student-centered learning environments. Restrictions on the amount of time teachers spend with students, the mandate to strictly follow pre-determined curriculum guides, and constant concern about prepping for standardized tests are just a few ways teachers' hands are tied. In fact, after I observed two teachers' lessons, they apologized to me for not having more creative approaches and student-directed work. Both are frustrated with the restrictions they live under. I know these experienced teachers would provide more engaging, relevant work if they could. And so we will be providing a forum on our Sci-Ed Innovators platform for policy discussions as well as ideas for new ways to make science relevant and engaging. This should make our site unique and engaging for teachers, science educators, and school leaders - and hopefully we will start a movement for real change.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010

    Like Rip Van Winkle, Not Much Has Changed

    With this first posting I rekindle a passionate flame that was extinguished 30 years ago when I gave up and left teaching. As I re-entered the field of public education as director of an $80 million Cisco school transformation project after Hurricane Katrina, I noticed that not much had changed since 1980, and in fact, things were much worse. Sure, standards were introduced, and that was a good thing after the swirling confusion of the open classroom era in the '70's, but now they have been taken to the extreme, enforced by mindless, rote lessons and meaningless high stakes tests. As I've visited classrooms across the country, I see teachers who are held hostage in a swamp of senseless bureaucratic rules imposed from way above the community schools in which they teach. Administrators' feel trapped as well as needed funding is held up as bait to lure them into compliance. This is exactly the system I left, only worse.

    However, there are also rays of hope all around the country. We saw it in our Cisco 21S project districts in Mississippi and Louisiana. We met teachers, administrators, and school boards who really
    wanted to design a new way for kids to learn and for administrators to lead. We met visionary, seasoned practitioners like Phil Schlechty and Larry Rosenstock who, unlike me, never gave up the vision that we all had in the 70's and that still has only been achieved in pockets of innovation.

    I hope to use this blog to spark educational change.

    I believe we can design better schools, but not without fundamentally changing the way they are managed. A system approach to change is needed. After 30 years of working in the business world, I've learned a lot about system change and organizational design. I hope to contribute my experience and ideas as part of a larger movement that has started from the ground up rather than the top down. The top is driving American education out of business and the only ones left behind will be the poor and those without any other choices.

    As I did in the 70's, I expect to get into some trouble by questioning the status quo. But I don't really care - the goal is too important! Our children's, and our country's, futures are at stake.

    Peg "Sparkie" Maddocks (a name given to me by my golf buddies for my ability to make sparks appear on golf tees!)