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!)