Tag Archives: change

Inverted EducationPyramid

The pyramid shape of business and government organizations does not bode well for education Top-Down-Leaders-Pyramidsystems.  Not that there should be a hundred school superintendents to one teacher, but rather that the level of importance, of strength, educational prowess and excellence, not only should but must be found in the classroom not the principal/superintendent’s office(s).  Successful and powerful educational organizations be they primary, secondary, or higher educational systems are marked by successful and powerful teachers.

As an educational consultant I’ve been in many schools and undeniably the schools with best attendance, test scores, least discipline problems, and greatest graduation rates had the best teachers.  In fact these schools most often had invisible administrators. I would venture to say that these schools could easily have functioned without a “principal” (administrator) utilizing an administrative staff to communicate with local and state authorities about policy and procedures.  I remember one high school where the principal for health reasons was more often than not, not present during the school days with little or no impact to the faculty and no impact on the students.

The administrative function in educations needs revisiting.  The term “principal” used to mean “lead  teacher”  meaning the principal lead the school using his/her teaching skills as the main teacher in the building; not the person who signs travel requisitions. We need all our efforts focused on securing the best teachers and (here’s a sore spot) pay them accordingly.  We need to remove the “principals” from their offices, send them back to the classrooms, and reorganize the “administrative” functions of schools and of county/district offices.  It is that superior academic program, lead by those excellent teachers, that identifies outstanding schools.

Common Core & Al Gore!

I finally watched the 2014 television special on my DVR ( Ann Curry Reports) reporting on the what is now generally accepted truth; that the earth’s climate is changing and it is our own fault. As I watched the show I was thinking of Al Gore and all the flack he took about his predictions. UnknownWho’s laughing now? I’m not sure we “get it” as a people. Despite the evidence in front of us, smacking us in the face, we often times just ignore it because we “can’t handle the truth.” It is not in our culture, we’re not made that way.
Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is not the government taking over (always a good line to get people upset and revolt against anything the government does as they stand in line for food stamps) it is not a move to fire all teachers and it is not an effort to remove the power from local systems. Local systems and teachers still control much of what is presented and the how it is presented. Common Core is a tough educational statement. Who doesn’t want that? Who would rather send their children to the “easy” school?
I followed the blog of a group of homeschooled parent/teachers out of Michigan I believe, and read several of their blog comments about the subject matter they were presenting and how they went about it; the museum visits, visits to businesses, etc. I read how their children use the internet for research, watch educational videos, and interact with a text they were using that had all sorts of interesting links that kept the students engaged. As I read the blog I noticed that often their goals and projects mirrored Common Core objectives and in several cases went far beyond. Perhaps we need proof of life? Perhaps we need a county in each state to adopt CCSS and follow it and the use tests for a few years to demonstrate?
Al Gore was correct, just premature. We needed Camille to destroy New Orleans and Sandy to smack New York. We needed snowstorms of record amounts, forest fires that were out of control and floods that swept away our cars in order to listen and understand. Is Common Core premature? Are we needing further proof, further failure of the system before we accept the need for change? Are you willing to roll the dice on you children’s future because the tests are tough?

Fracking Education

Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) scores were released in Tennessee recently and combined with the state’s ACT performance, progress has eluded many of the state’s school systems.  Tennessee is not alone.  Across the country many are struggling and the discontent with more school change is rising. Schools exist on this pendulum swinging between getting a satisfactory rating for a few years, to an unsatisfactory rating for another few years.  Money is thrown at different programs that often wither on the vine after the money is gone.  Educators however, continue to plod away at the problem, turning the wheel of time using the same standards they’ve used before; the tried and true lesson that served them in the past sometimes unaware of all the changes in the world and society going on around them.  

In an article by Henry Di Sio ( Why Our Old Lens On Learning Will Fail A New Generation ) a former deputy assistant to President Obama, he illustrates the fact that education has not changed.  We are going nowhere while the world around us continues to change at an alarming rate.  What is the problem with education inertia?  Why can we not make the leap?  All around us the old structure of education is crumbling.  Charter schools, special school districts, on-line schools, home schools are all examples of the blood leaking out of the educational body as the system collapses on itself.  Our education system in many rural communities is much like the movie “The Money Pit” where despite their best efforts and throwing good money after bad, the house they were trying to save collapses on itself.  It’s a dream, an illusion.  We cannot fix education with money.  We can only fix something by first acknowledging what is broken and then agreeing on how to improve education.

So what is broken?  What exactly is the problem?  I have personal experience as a student, parent, and teacher in both the American education system and European system.  I know one thing about those two systems and that is in spite the fact they are both educational systems, we cannot compare one with the other.  In Amanda Ripley’s “the smartest kids in the world” a must read for every parent and educator, the answer is Finland’s students are the smartest.   The fact of the matter is we cannot compare our system to anyone else.  You can’t stay as slim as the French and eat eclairs all day and keep your lifestyle.  If you want what others have you have to act, follow, adapt their lifestyle.  We are not going to do that.  One thing that we’ve demonstrated better than anything else is that we are great at digging in, resisting change, living in the past. So what is broken/what is the problem?  For a complete revolutionary change this is a short list of what’s broken, the problems, and can it be fixed.

▪Basic Education System: Everyone takes a shot at this massive topic, everyone has another, a better idea, but this is the engine that runs the whole process.  We keep adding on and adapting, modifying, adjusting, and then going back to the old standards, so much so  that to define the educational system is like trying to tack jello to the wall.  Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the first major overhaul of the system in many years with great intentions, has tripped and fallen because of the failure of the leaders implementing CCSS, they neglected school’s adult social inertia (number 2 below, School Daze). In an earlier article I published about rural schools, I made the statement that school “is the music of our youth, the foundation of our religion, the beginning of our family, the origin of our job.” I believe CCSS is a great attempt at achieving systemic reform; using it as a big stick to force change is a grave error.

▪School Daze: School is, for the older generation (anyone over 30 who votes and has children), an integral part of their society.  It is the source from which many of their future husbands/wives/employment/voting attitude develops.  Our country’s school framework is not going to change that easily; you can’t force change as with CCSS, it must come as a revelation, a revolution.  I read some of my former students posting on Facebook, how their children are doing in elementary schools and found interesting and revealing that their comments and actions mimic those of school age parents and children of the 50’s.  Those same school social expectations.  The same attitude toward the educational system.  Their same reaction to teachers, administrators, and the school system in general.  CCSS appears to the uniformed as a threat to the comfortable school system and that fear of a great societal change for their children is too frightening, unacceptable; not the way things are “supposed to be.”  Progressive parents, seeing the problems with their schools, the poor scores, the in-fighting, the failure of schools to produce responsible and educated students, opt for other “outside the box” solutions often with great success.  Changing this is monumental: Change will happen.  Changes to societal attitude toward school and education will occur, brought on by the forces of technology, our economy, and social trends.  This change will happen, and the sooner society realizes that the educational system must fold the way it currently operates and open with a new organizational system, the better.

▪School Administrative Systems: Time’s up for the old school administrative system.  There are 13,588 public school districts in our country.  That means there are 13,588 interpretations of school curriculum, school schedules, teacher evaluations, student achievement.  An impossible mix of opinions, social standards, religious beliefs, community expectations.  Not manageable at any level, at least not manageable effectively.  It is time to reinvent school districts.  School support systems must reflect the latest change in education and in every school system you can find waste, duplication of effort, nepotism, and unqualified personnel making economic, technological, and policy decisions that are simply against the educational grain.  A business model, more like they way most companies operate today, is necessary.  It’s time to do away with the focus on weekly football pep rallies, candy sales for trips, and trying to maintain a low profile in the community and begin the work of education.

If you want a successful school system, equal across every state and college, then CCSS and national standards need to be adopted.  Schools need to be organized and run by a managing board of educators and community members answering to a regional office.  That regional office is staffed with education professionals and business leaders invested in the educational system.  The state providing oversight, funding, and management of resources.  Cut out the cutie fluff.  The goal, the focus of the school, is the education of the student and the enrichment of the schools community. To waste time on anything else is to lose focus on the reason the school exists.  Perhaps then we can recapture lost “effective” school days and get our education system back to where it should be; back in the primary business of educating students.

Classroom Technology Choices

God knows there is more advice on the web and educational servers about great things to use in the classroom or things to stay away from and I am certainly not here to advise either way.  I believe, as most experienced educators would agree, that the most important tool in the classroom is the teacher and his/her relationship with their students.  Technology cannot fix a broken or ineffective teacher. A recent blog discussing Learning Management Systems does a good job of reviewing some of the choices available, and he is an advocate of Google app systems that have been recently released titled Google Apps for Education.  

Most technology sections in county central offices are staffed with either a part time individual stuck with the job, to a moderate section with several staffers often with little training.  The main function of the technology section is often to block progress rather than work with teachers to improve educational technology.  Their first (and often the only one needed) wall of opposition is that of inappropriate use of technology.  Always crying wolf and it rings a bell in the ears of the older less technologically informed county leaders, they often are successful at arguing against any new advancement/app/program leading teachers to use older technology or hiding their use of technology from supervisors.  I visited a county recently where they were still debating letting teachers message each other!  As I introduced several apps, websites, programs that they could use to enhance lessons, encourage more dialogue with students, they admitted they use some of them but they do not tell anyone because they “county administration would have their jobs.”

I’ve been on my soapbox recently about educating administrative leadership at the county/main office level, but technology is an area that ignoring the possibilities offered through the use of technology, often for absolutely no money ( ScribusGimpLibreoffice ) is the opposite direction we need to be going in education.  Perhaps it’s the perceived threat to technological advisors that they either refuse to allow new technology into schools, or the fear that their ignorance of new and developing educational programs will be revealed.  I’m not sure but I do know one thing: Students already use the technology and are looking for educational leadership to help them make informed decisions.

Until we catch up in education with the technology used by our students and we can provide solid educational guidance on technological programs and equipment, we are failing our students.

Moore’s Law

There’s an advertisement on television that caught my eye recently, I pay attention to advertisements as a former media teacher because it takes a very clever, intelligent group of advertisers to put together concise information into 15 or 30 second spots. Anyway this advertisement for AT&T U-Verse shows a young person around 12 years old telling their siblings about the “old days” of television — where they had to go to the room the television was located in because it had to connect to a wall outlet where now with their new service they could watch it anywhere. The difference in age of these actors is about 3 to 4 years. I am sure the tongue in cheek reference here to us older folks is that the expression the “old days” was most often in reference to a multi-generational issue spanning 5 or 6 decades not 3 to 4 years, but this 30 second advertisement reveals more about the world we live in than just a passing reference to television technology.
Moore’s Law is an observation by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore who observed essentially that computing technology would change/improve itself every two years … that was in 1965. Today’s version would read something along the lines of technological change every month, perhaps even faster. The point here is (as I type this on my iPad, connected wirelessly on a school wide server, using an application or “app” a term in 1965 that was no where near associated with computers) that education reform, comfortable with the snails’s pace of past reform movements, must accept the new pace of education or leave. In fact I believe it is time for school boards, administrators everywhere to have a face-to-face discussion about change and reform in school with each and every staff member, teacher, support faculty, administrator — everyone. If they cannot change now, then they need to leave now. The sooner the better because you cannot go forward when part of the faculty is stuck in the mud pulling you back. We need leadership the elicits change and progressive thinking more than we need money. We need teachers who accept the role of classroom learning enabler and educational guide more than we need advanced placement classes. We need people reform to stay abreast of this ever advancing educational world.