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.
My related posts:

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Test scores and school quality

Julie Mack: Test scores, school quality and public vs. private schools |

"The findings of the Coleman Report transformed educational theory: Turns out that a child's life outside of school has a far greater impact than the school he or she attends.
"Those findings have been reconfirmed by countless studies over the past 48 years. Educators now recognize test scores are hugely influenced by sociodemographics, including household income, mother's educational attainment, and the child's neighborhood and social circle.
"School quality certainly matters, but largely on the margins. It also turns out that "school quality" is much more nuanced than the conventional wisdom assumes."

Shocking news said no one ever who has any substantial knowledge at all about how learning works and doesn't think of children merely as pets who will do any tricks for treats.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Comparing higher education tuition increases with K-12 public school foundation revenue

Just imagine if K-12 public schools could raise revenue the same as four year colleges and universities.

Yesterday, it was announced that West Michigan's Grand Valley State University was raising tuition by 2.9% (on top of the average 5.9% revenue increase provided earlier this spring by the state legislature and signed by Governor Snyder). The increase in tuition alone brings the annual tuition rate up to $10,752 per undergraduate student.

Thirteen years ago, my wife and I sent our son to our alma mater GVSU which that year had an annual (two semesters) tuition rate of $4,660. This of course doesn't include all the added fees, books, room-and-board, and other costs and by the time he graduated, tuition rates had already risen by 41%. Compared to that same year, the GVSU trustees just approved a rate for this fall that will be...wait for it, wait for it...131% higher than in 2001-02!

Now compare it to our K-12 public school district's foundation allowance, which one could argue is a similar funding source providing for core academic instruction and basic operations, although unlike postsecondary institutions like GVSU, public schools do not enjoy any control over how much this combined state and local funding will be each year. In 2001-02, the same year my son entered the hallowed halls of GVSU, our district received a foundation allowance of $6,666 (okay leave out the jokes about the end times, mark of the beast, etc). Following a severe per-pupil cut in the foundation allowance the year Governor Snyder came to office, despite the fact this key source of revenue already fails to keep up with the rate of inflation, our per-pupil revenue rate has now been set at $7,251 for this fall. That equates to a new level of per-pupil revenue that is merely 8.8% higher than thirteen years ago
Let me summarize.

GVSU, which is also benefiting to some degree by Governor Snyder's raid on the School Aid Fund that had been designed solely to support K-12 public education, has raised its annual tuition rate by 131%. At the same time, public schools like ours nearby have been expected to operate at a greater level of efficiency and provide a higher rate of college and career readiness while taking on more difficult curriculum standards and graduation requirements, working with a greater percentage of students who are struggling due to poverty, limited English proficiency, transiency, and a growing lack of parental support for learning, all while making due with an 8.8% increase in our foundation revenue.

To be fair, colleges and universities claim their revenues are not keeping up with costs. Oh, really? Try walking in the shoes of a K-12 public school administrator some time. That rationale doesn't seem to resonate with those folks in Lansing holding all the power and making all the decisions on school funding.

And then we wonder how to make sense of allegations that K-12 schools are not adequately preparing our charges for college?  At the same time, should we question if it make any difference if no one can afford to attend a four-year institution any longer?