Saturday, September 13, 2014

Educational Inequality & Why School Funding Matters

From Bruce Baker's Anatomy of Educational Inequality & Why School Funding Matters:

We are being led down a destructive road to stupid – by arrogant , intellectually bankrupt, philosophically inconsistent, empirically invalid and often downright dumb ideas being swallowed whole and parroted by an increasingly inept media – all, in the end creating a massive ed reform haboob distracting us from the relatively straightforward needs of our public schools. 
Many of the issues plaguing our current public education system require mundane, logical solutions – or at least first steps. 
Money matters. Having more helps and yes, having less hurts, especially when those who need the most get the least. 
Equitable and adequate funding are prerequisite conditions either for an improved status-quo public education system OR for a structurally reformed one. 
It’s just that simple.

Anatomy of Educational Inequality & Why School Funding Matters | School Finance 101


Monday, September 1, 2014

How to have a successful school year: run it one step at a time.

Those who know me know that I greatly enjoy distance running.  Long distance running. And while I've had to battle back from a chronic Achilles injury sustained several years ago when I bit off a few more ultra miles than I probably should have, it hasn't dampened my love for getting out on the open road and pointing my face into the wind.

Some years ago, I had the chance to run with Dean Karnazes, ultra runner and author of the best selling book, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner (2006). Prior to that, I had read his book met him at a local signing and from there, I was hooked. A little more than a year later, and several 50K and 50-mile runs under my belt, Dean came to Grand Rapids during his 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days tour and I signed up along with several dozen others to join him on the local marathon route, running stride for stride --- for the first twenty miles, anyway. The guy was an impressive running machine and a true inspiration.

Dean Karnazes (front, fifth from right) and the Grand Rapids contingent for the Endurance 50 marathon. I'm in the third row, fourth from the right (glowing bill of my running cap).

I started listening to Dean's latest book, Run!: 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss, first published in 2011 but updated as an Audible Book this year with a new chapter on his incredible 3,000-mile run across America. I did what any runner might do. I strapped on my iPhone, plugged in my earbuds, selected the book, and headed out the door for a short fifty-minute run. Just enough time to listen to the first chapter with Dean describing the trials and tribulations of 3,000 mile run. Trying to absorb myself in his vivid descriptions while keeping both eyes on the road and my surroundings, the last few minutes really hit home:

How do you run across America?  Simple. One step at a time. 
(T)here are no shortcuts or paths to least resistance on the road to reaching something worthwhile.  The secrets for success are really no secrets at all: Hard work, dedication, commitment and sacrifice. 
(P)assion and conviction are more important than talent. Find that which you truly love and pursue it with heartfelt fervor. You will realize an inner strength that is boundless, and an external energy that is indefatigable.  Do what you love, dream big, be restless, sleep little, don’t play life safe, dare boldly instead. Live as though you really mean it. 
(I)f you keep tireless chasing your dreams, one day you just might catch one. You don’t always have to go fast, you just have to go. 
We runners are a unique breed. We like chasing dreams. When you distill it all, we don’t run for the trophies or the records or the recognition; we run because a rapidly beating heart pumps more life through our veins. Our ultimate calling is not to arrive at the finish line in a composed state but rather to stagger in breathlessly, totally annihilated and on the verge of collapse, proudly knowing in our hearts that we have run our race and it was glorious. 
Whether you end up with a medal being place around your neck or an IV line being place into your arm, the inner bliss is the same. You have waged your war and you have emerged victorious. The job is done. That is, until the next one. Yeah, every runner knows the feeling.  ~ Condensed from Karnazes, Dean. Run!: 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss. Audible Audio Edition (2014)
I know, it sounds like typical distance runner stuff but this being the day prior to the start of a brand new school year, his words reflected not only what it takes to complete a run but what it will take each and every day if we want to face up to the many obstacles that make our days difficult and help our 1,900-plus young charges reach their own finish lines. Think about the next 177-school days we face and then go back and read Dean's words again. Every teacher and school administrator wants to finish the year "proudly knowing in our hearts that we have run our race and it was glorious."

The biggest fear most folks have for long distance running is fear of the unknown. What will happen to me when I get tired? If I get hurt? Should I become lost? If I get thirsty? And it goes on. Often those same fears confront us when we embark on a new school year, whether we are new to our profession or a seasoned educator. It probably doesn't help lately with all of the negative attacks on public schools and teachers but there's little we can do about that. We have to focus and run our race.

Earlier this summer, my wife read a book titled God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life's Little Detours by Regina Brett. She shared with me a quote from chapter two, When in Doubt, Just Take the Next Right Step. Brett is describing her inability to get her life moving forward and her fear of choosing a goal and pursuing it. Once she got started, however, one step led to another and another.  Once she achieved success and looked back, she realized that pursuing your goals, especially when they involve change and fear of the unknown, is something like "driving a car at night." She goes on by quoting E. L. Doctorow, "You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." In other words, as Brett puts it, we've all experienced driving at night (or running at night as most of us ultra runners have done) and even if we've never before driven (or run) in that direction or by that route, we can always see in front of us, and "even with that much light, I can travel all the way to California." We each only need to see just enough light to get us going and to take the next step.

So here's to whatever race you'll be running this school year. No matter what difficulties lie ahead, just remember to take it one step at a time. And then another. And then another. Keep moving forward.

And don't forget that even if darkness comes, you can always turn on your headlight.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Digital Leadership Requires Leading from the Front; #leadershipday14

As a retired career military officer, I have always operated under the firm conviction that whether you serve children as principal or superintendent, you are obligated to lead the technological journey into 21st century learning from the front. Ultimately, as superintendent I’m responsible for providing a level of professional learning for leaders in my district that help accomplish this objective. There are many ways to provide quality learning experiences but I believe that the more personally involved I am and the more I set the tone by my own use of technology in my role as district chief executive officer, the greater the credibility for asking the members of my team to do the same.

This recent spring and summer, our administrative team has been engaged in an ongoing study of what it means to be digital leaders in our schools as well as our district as a whole. We’ve been reading Eric Sheninger’s Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times (Corwin, January 2014) as the basis for our discussion and plan to wrap up our study during a one-hour, face-to-face discussion and development of coordinated action plans later this month.  Eric identifies what he calls seven pillars of digital leadership: 
  • Communications
  • Public relations
  • Branding
  • Student engagement/learning
  • Professional growth/development
  • Re-envisioning learning spaces/environments
  • Opportunity 

This is the first concerted effort we’ve made as an administrative team to delve more deeply into the use of technology in the performance of our daily work. My own use of technology has become well known throughout the area but for the most part, I saw the majority of our team limiting themselves to email and texting. Most of our past focus on technology has been on its use in the classroom with the main effort towards building a supporting infrastructure and equipping teachers and students with the latest tools. Very little has been accomplished in the area of engaging and enabling our school and district administrators to be visible leaders in this area by using and modeling digital tools on a daily basis.

To facilitate our study, I set up a free Blackboard Learn site to host our online discussions centered weekly around several threads based on Eric’s book. Here’s an example of the type of thought-starters I’ve been using to drive our discussion (from Chapter 2: Why Schools Must Change):

Sheninger argues that today's industrial-model schools no longer meet the needs of students. What are some of the common practices found in schools that are outmoded? 
Which of these practices are evident in our school district? If you could, which would you change and why?

I wasn’t quite sure at first how this would go since besides myself our team includes our two assistant superintendents (finance and teaching/learning), principals and assistant principal from all grade levels, business manager, tech director, dean of students, athletic director, special ed director, my executive assistant and HR coordinator, and the community education director. This variety ensured that our online conversations were not necessarily always focused on teaching and learning, and it’s been important that the discussion threads have been open to a wide variety of ways for using digital leadership in the workplace.  That way, no matter what our individual roles, each response may serve to directly or indirectly support the work within the classroom. The results have been better than I expected and the general feedback from members on our team has been very positive, to say the least.

Here’s one sample response to a question on professional connectedness as a digital leadership standard. It demonstrates the depth and breadth of thinking and reflection about digital leadership I’m looking for this summer:

Connectedness has always been the standard for anyone who desires to expand his or her ability to learn and grow. Digital resources and a self-created PLN help expand the opportunity and range of ways to become connected, to connect both to and for others. The greatest benefits to me have been:

·       The realization that the challenges in education are universal.
·       The affirmation that schools and school personnel worldwide are positive forces for change and growth for societies. 
·       The creative challenge to take what has worked for others and use it in some way to transform my own work.

All of these are enhanced by my own digital PLN. I am mostly a consumer of information, and have some growing to do begin more production of information. Guess it's time to dust off the blog I started a few years ago…

The variety of leadership viewpoints that have been expressed each week have demonstrated to me that while we all see the use of technology from different perspectives, we can certainly come together as a team and develop the synergy needed to further move our district towards a 21st century learning community. Ultimately, approaching our professional learning in this manner is providing me with a roadmap that I can use to further steer our learning over time. Use of the Blackboard Learn tool also enables me to capture our conversations so that eventually we can utilize everyone’s input in collaboratively developing a common theme for digital leadership that will serve as our joint resolution and basis for action planning in the coming year.

Ultimately, real change will require each member of the team to internalize what we've collectively and individually learned over the past ten weeks. But the driver of that change must be the leader of the organization, leading by both example and participation in the process. There's no room in 21st century schools for leaders who stand on the sidelines. It's time for all of us to lead from the front.

Read other Leadership Day 2014 posts.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Michigan's Proposal A promise has never materialized...and nothing is being done about it.

America’s Most Financially Disadvantaged School Districts and How They Got that Way | Center for American Progress

"In some states, state aid plays a much greater role in financing local public school districts, but even larger shares of such funding do little to advance equity or accommodate student needs. Michigan and Arizona are two egregious examples. Figure 6 (page 16 of the full report) conveys the pattern of revenue disparities for Michigan school districts. Since the early 1990s, Michigan has been touted as a model of state school finance reform, attempting to dramatically reduce—and, originally, to entirely eliminate— the role of property taxes for school funding and promising to pay the bulk of education costs through a statewide formula. The promise of Michigan’s school finance reforms was never realized, largely because the state found that it could not raise sufficient revenue from other tax sources to provide adequate funding for all districts.15 Instead of rethinking the original plan and better targeting the revenue that was raised to the districts that needed it most, however, the state moved forward with a plan that continued to flatly allocate aid regardless of need or local capacity to supplement."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Pay Attention #MichEd: California's New Funding Formula Recognizes Higher-Needs Students

Amid Bumps, New School Funding System Rolls Out in California - Education Week

Under the Local Control Funding Formula, school dollars are divided into three broad tiers:
  • Base grant: All of California’s roughly 950 school districts receive the same base allotments per student, depending on grade level.
  • Supplemental grant: Districts with high-need student groups receive supplemental grants equal to 20 percent of each student’s base grant. All districts are eligible for these funds.
  • Concentration grant: Districts where high-needs students exceed 55 percent of enrollment receive a grant equal to 50 percent of each student’s base grant. In the 2013-14 school year, 565 districts were eligible for these grants.
An essential part of California’s effort is a promise to undo recession-era cuts, including at schools that don’t have high concentrations of the three high-needs groups.
 California’s system is modeled after what’s known as “weighted student funding,” popularized after its adoption by a Canadian school district in the late 1970s. The idea is to give schools with the largest numbers of needy students more money and also more autonomy over spending, in the hopes of reducing inequities and improving achievement. Similar formulas are used by a smattering of school districts across the U.S., including New York City, and a few states. New Jersey and Rhode Island follow versions of the system; Colorado and Illinois have considered the idea.
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