Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Where do our public education dollars go? A comparison of Michigan's traditional and charter public schools.

The table below provides a comparison of revenues and expenditures for Michigan traditional, community-based public school districts and charter schools. The data is available to the public taken from the annual MI Bulletin 1014 for 2012-13, the latest data available on the Michigan Department of Education website.


As readers can see, traditional public school districts put more of their total expenditures (65.51%) into basic and added needs instruction as compared to charter schools (45.36%). This is largely due to the reality that charter schools spend more of their public money on costs such as administration as well as operations and maintenance. Because public dollars that flow to for-profit charter operators is not required to be transparent by current state law, there's little the public can do to determine what exactly those funds are being spent on. This includes salaries for teachers, administrators and other corporate employees.

In an Epic-MRA poll taken this past summer and reported on by The Detroit Free Press, eighty-two percent of respondents felt charter operators "should be required to fully and publicly explain how they spend all tax dollars received." And eighty-eight percent "favor legislation to require such disclosure."

Time will tell if our legislators are listening.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Social Lives of Networked Teens: Obsession? Addiction? Or simply a way to get past growing parental restrictions?

I'm reading a very interesting book by danah boyd about teenagers' use of technology for social purposes. I just completed a fascinating chapter on so-called social-networking addiction and teens' obsession with social media. boyd concludes that much of what we (the adults) perceive as addiction and obsession is not with the technology itself, but rather with the need for teenagers to socialize with their peers. Technology is helping teens fill the void created by a world where parents are convinced (wrongly) that their children are not safe away from home or structured environments.
"Today’s teenagers have less freedom to wander than any previous generation. Many middle-class teenagers once grew up with the option to “do whatever you please, but be home by dark.” While race, socioeconomic class, and urban and suburban localities shaped particular dynamics of childhood, walking or bicycling to school was ordinary, and gathering with friends in public or commercial places— parks, malls, diners, parking lots, and so on— was commonplace. Until fears about “latchkey kids” emerged in the 1980s, it was normal for children, tweens, and teenagers to be alone. It was also common for youth in their preteen and early teenage years to take care of younger siblings and to earn their own money through paper routes, babysitting, and odd jobs before they could find work in more formal settings . Sneaking out of the house at night was not sanctioned, but it wasn’t rare either." (Kindle locations 1425-1432)

Adults increasingly have become obsessed with controlling the lives of their teens and limiting their time away from home to do what they feel is either dangerous or nothing but a waste of time. Teens see social-networking through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, texting and now Snapchat as a way to connect and "hang out" with their friends.
"Teens’ engagement with social media—and the hanging out it often entails— can take up a great deal of time. To many adults, these activities can look obsessive and worthless. Media narratives often propagate the notion that engagement with social media is destructive, even as educational environments increasingly assume that teens are networked. Many adults put pressure on teens to devote more time toward adult-prioritized practices and less time socializing, failing to recognize the important types of learning that take place when teens do connect. When teens orient themselves away from adults and toward their peers, parents often grow anxious and worried about their children’s future. The answer to the disconnect between parent goals and teen desires is not rhetoric that pathologizes teen practices, nor is it panicked restrictions on teen sociality. Rather, adults must recognize what teens are trying to achieve and work with them to find balance and to help them think about what they are encountering." (Kindle locations 1635-1642)
For anyone who has been fascinated or exasperated by the teenage obsession with technology, reading It's Complicated is well worth the investment of time.



boyd, danah (2014-02-25). It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Debunking the Assumption that Improving Educational Outcomes will end Poverty

Peter Greene, both teacher and writer, has written a testy and though-provoking post entitled, 7 Bogus Assumptions of Education Reform.  The one that caught my attention the most, because I work in this reality every day, is the following:
Better Educational Outcomes Will End Poverty
The promise of reformsters (including prominent gummint reformsters) is that once every young American is emerging from high school College and Career Ready, every adult American will be employed at an above-minimum-wage job that is personally and economically rewarding. Education reform has been presented as a means to end poverty. This is a bizarre assertion. When the day of 100 percent CACR graduates arrives, will U.S. employers declare, "Well, now that these guys are so well-educated, we will start paying them more." Did well-paying US jobs move overseas because Indian and Chinese workers are so better educated, or because they are willing to work for American peanuts? Will being a burger flipper become a lucrative position, or will it disappear as a job entirely because the burgers are flipping themselves? Exactly how will having better-educated citizens make more jobs appear? If you want to see the falseness of this promise debunked with charts and numbers, read this and this.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Michigan can learn from leading states how to work together to improve schools

Bridge • The Center for Michigan : Smartest kids: What Michigan schools can learn from leading states

“'The way this stuff gets done is two or three or four or five governors in a row keep plugging away at stuff,' former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen told The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis.
"That hasn’t happened yet in Michigan, where education reform vision often dissolves into political polarization, from fights over charter school authorization to name-calling about teacher unions.
“'What worries me about what I read is going on in Michigan is that (education reform) strategies have become tools of political battle rather than instruments for improvement,' said Paul Reville, a former Secretary of Education in Massachusetts who now teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
"Don Wotruba, director of government relations for the Michigan Association of School Boards, said Michigan lacks leadership when it comes to fixing schools.
“'I would say there is no attempt to create a plan between the policy makers in Lansing and the school people who carry out changes,' Wotruba said. 'So what we have is new legislation or edicts handed down on how schools should do things and often with conflicting directions.
“'Some real discussion on what is mutually agreeable and some time to actually implement would really help our schools,' Wotruba said, 'but few in Lansing have the patience to allow reforms to happen.'”

Additional resource: Ed Trust Midwest fact sheet on Massachusetts

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Breaking the Bonds of the Past to Envision a New Future through Human Centered Design

Everyday we hear someone lamenting the alleged poor quality and outcomes of our public schools, particularly those serving low-income areas often with high concentrations of minorities, immigrant families and English language learners. Then in the next breath, one hears someone else touting a public school – traditional, community-based or charter – they deem is the absolute model of perfection kicking out high concentrations of college-and/or-career ready students.

The puzzling part of all this is there really is no set of perfect performance standards to which one can measure either type of school. It’s just assumed that schools in more affluent suburban areas produce better results while those in urban poor areas are lacking.  But no one can point to a definitive waypoint to which we can draw valid comparisons. It’s as if we’re simply supposed to accept that the schools on the top of the top-to-bottom lists are what every school should aspire to.

But I say that’s not good enough. What if the school that produces the best results and sits atop the list of all other schools still isn’t as good – or great – as it can be? What if it’s only an illusion that the top schools are performing at their best? And what if the one thing that’s holding ALL schools back – low or high performing – is the very structure of K-12 school itself?

To put it another way, what if we were to completely re-invent our traditional, industrial assembly-line model of education and remove the constraining shackles of clocks, calendars, and age-based grade-levels? Now some parents, community members, politicians, education reformers and even teachers will ask why since they feel there are many districts and schools that are “successful” under that model. But how do they know if those schools are performing as high as they possibly can since they don’t have anything but our antiquated structure of schooling to measure it by? What they are really thinking even if they are not saying it is that our schools are “good enough.” They were good enough for me, and they’re still good enough for our kids.

And that shortchanges the potential possibilities our students of today will never get to experience. It also means that for schools on the bottom of the list to get better, they have to do more of what is working for schools on the top, independent of the factors outside of school that create barriers to learning and regardless of the fact they have the same number of days and hours, and the same constraining grade-based promotion system as those schools achieving at higher levels. Logically speaking, this means the same thing as saying if a school with a preponderance of students achieving at one, two or more grade levels behind should be expected within the same structure of schooling to be achieving at high levels and graduating all students college-and-career ready, then schools already achieving at high levels each year should be able to graduate their students by age twelve! In other words, if a low-achieving student is expected to learn two or three years of content in one year to get caught up, then a high-achieving student can also be expected to learn two or three years of content in that same year and graduate early. My, what an efficient and economical system!

But we know that little of what I just said is practical in real world terms and my point isn’t about contracting the K-12 system, it’s about completely changing it. Not just throwing out politically-driven ideas such as charters or cyber schools which are structurally not any different than our current public school system and generally produce the same or worse results, but literally inventing a new idea that breaks through the artificial barriers of our outmoded factory model.

To begin with, this would have to be a model that is constructed around the needs and desires of children, not simply the wishes and hopes of adults. Today’s schools continue to be adult-driven enterprises that incorporate a variety of features and processes designed to mold and shape the child into the student we want, with efficiencies and economies-of-scale that meet our adult needs. Nothing about schools today provides personalization so that no matter where a five year-old (or older) is at on the day he or she walks through the door, and no matter how fast or slow that child develops and learns over time, in the end success will be measured based chiefly on how effectively the school and its teachers helped that child achieve his or her dreams regardless of how long the journey took.

What would this school look like? How will all of this work and still keep our educational system as the core process of preparing children to be contributors to society both socially and economically? I have no idea and that’s what excites me the most. The very fact I can’t envision this type of learning institution means that I’m not falling into the trap of simply reinventing or transforming the current system with the same or at least similar existing constraints. The system that worked when we needed it to simply pump out a massive number of industrial workers speaking fluent English and becoming the core of the consumer class, which following World War II became known as the middle class, no longer works for a 21st century world. That’s why any real attempt to fix our K-12 educational system will only be successful once we virtually abandon the model that holds us back.

Our district is developing a core team of dreamers and thinkers who are learning how to use human centered design as a vehicle for completely reimagining a whole knew structure for our school system. We are a relatively small school district with the highest concentration of children living in low-income households within the surrounding area. Coupled with the second highest percentage of limited English-speaking students, we are severely limited by the current structure to meet their needs and provide each with the same educational outcomes as other schools in more affluent areas. To think we can keep doing what we’ve always done – even if it were “better sameness” – and produce substantially higher results is foolhardy and gambling with the lives and future fortunes of our children. Using an HCD model to identify, test, and produce a better system through inspiration, ideation and implementation is the least we owe our kids regardless of how long the process takes, how many roadblocks we run into, and how tedious it might be as we learn through a system of test-fail-reflect-learn-change.

Looking back over the past several decades, we have to wonder why much of the change that’s occurred throughout the world has been more of a system of replacing an existing mode with a completely different one, while education has stuck to a process of refining the existing structure and relying on better-sameness?  I think it was Henry Ford that said something to the tune of, “If I had listened to the people, they’d want faster horses.” Can you imagine what life would be like right now if instead of the computer, we’d have been satisfied with a more souped up version of the slide rule? Or abacus? What if the Bissell company had decided we didn’t need a newfangled sweeper or vacuum cleaner, just better brooms? And our varied types of transportation systems were not always designed based on existing methods at the time. If that were the case, instead of flying to cross an ocean we'd simply have invented a way of building a long floating version of existing road bridges and driven there. Flying is not a better-sameness method of transportation than automobiles. It's completely different.

These are just a few of examples of how often we’ve invented a new model rather than refine an existing one because it became clear the new was far better than the old and ultimately better served the needs of the user. Isn’t it time we did the same with education?

In our district, that's precisely the direction we're headed.