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.