Sunday, November 28, 2010

Blog 4 Real Education Reform - The Sequel

Aaannnddd, action!

On November 22, hundreds of voices nation-wide put their thoughts in writing and submitted some fabulous posts for the National Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform. I'm still in the process of reading and pondering some great posts on how we at the grass-roots level believe true education reform is occurring.

On January 1, we'll enter the first year of the 20-teens, a decade that is promising to be both tumultuous and exhilarating for public education.  For one, we'll be experiencing the continuing convergence -- a sort of critical mass -- of a weak economy combining with expanding technology which, politics aside, will serve as the fulcrum for deconstructing last century's factory-style education system and rebuilding off a totally new vision for delivering K-12 education.

I don't know about you, but it's definitely enough excitement to keep me in the game for the next ten years, God-willing!

This New Years, we can take another giant step forward by once again coming together in a grassroots effort to contribute the ACTION STEPS each of us plans to take at the start of the new decade to further positive educational reform in our classrooms, school houses, districts across the country.  What specifically will YOU do, what will you initiate, or how will you further sustain an initiative that will change or is changing the nature of learning for staff and/or students in your school?

Let's simply call it Blog 4 Real Education Reform - The Sequel.

By January 1, each of us commits to blogging a contribution to our collective ACTION PLAN for re-tooling, re-inventing, and re-imagining what we're going to do to turn the corner on 21st century learning. We've talked about it for ten or more years - now it's time to take the hill.

Let's plan on posting our blog contributions during the week leading up to January 1, 2011 (between Christmas and New Years). This gives us plenty of time to think deeply about our own personal commitment to change and the actions we'll need to take to influence others to do the same.

We'll follow the same route we took on November 22.  Use the Twitter hashtag #blog4reform and a website will be provided as we near that week for posting a link to your blog.

Change is coming. Our struggling economy and rapidly expanding technology will be players. The question is what will we do to take advantage of these and other forces to build the best educational system in the world?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Education's 9/11? A Twitter Conversation

A spontaneous conversation on educational reform broke out this morning between Pam Moran, David Britten, Ira Socol and M.E. Steele-Pierce. It began around a discussion over the parallels between the failures that led up to 9/11 and our current resistance to envisioning the educational system of the future. What ensued was an interesting discussion "Twitter-style" around the themes of a “stuck-in-the-past” vision of schooling, the speed bumps that make change difficult, and the possibility that education's 9/11 event will be centered on our inability to financially sustain the current method of public education.

Here's the link to the log of our Twitter conversation: Twitter Chatter: Education's 9/11?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Rule of Law

The State of Michigan expects all public school districts to fully abide by the massive pile of state laws and regulations governing K-12 education. If not, the state resorts to bully tactics and threaten (1) withholding state aid payments, (2) withholding grant funds, and/or (3) taking over a specific school or the entire district.  On the other hand, state legislators and bureaucratic officials have unfettered ability to openly and knowingly violate our foundational document - the Michigan Constitution of 1963.

The state constitution was amended in 1978 by the Headlee amendment passed overwhelmingly by Michigan's voters to get runaway taxes under control. A provision of the amendment specifies:

The state is hereby prohibited from reducing the state financed proportion of the necessary costs of any existing activity or service required of units of Local Government by state law.  A new activity or service or an increase in the level of any activity or service beyond that required by existing law shall not be required by the legislature or any state agency of units of Local Government, unless a state appropriation is made and disbursed to pay the unit of Local Government for any necessary increased costs.  The provision of this section shall not apply to costs incurred pursuant to Article VI, Section 18.  ~ Const. 1963, art 9, section 29

In other words, if the state requires local units of government, including public school districts, to provide any new or increased level of service or activity, the state must appropriate funds specifically to pay for that.  However, for the most part, this has been ignored by various state departments and agencies since 1978, and the legislature has been an accomplice all along.

In 2000, school districts filed suit specifically against the growing practice of the state to require districts to report mountains of data annually that has little or nothing to do with teaching and learning in the classroom.  The Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI) has been the primary culprit and focus of that lawsuit. The Adair suit claims that districts are being forced to spend tens of hundreds of dollars each simply to feed CEPI's appetite for data, money that's taken permanently from the classroom to support the requisite expansion of administrative staffing and technology in order to comply.  This past year, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in favor of the districts but despite this confirmation of the rule of law, the state - and specifically CEPI - continues to ignore this constitutional prohibition.

Lately, the Michigan House of Representatives in lame-duck session has crafted a new shell game to allegedly fund the cost of CEPI requirements in districts.  House Bill 5887, which will be considered by the Senate after the Thanksgiving holiday, will set aside $25.6 million already committed to public schools in the form of regular per-pupil funding and then turn around and hand it to us as if it represents "additional funding."  What a joke!  This action will result in a loss of funding once again to support classroom learning.

It's high time that Michigan's citizens demand that Lansing be held accountable under the state's 1963 Constitution and specifically the Headlee Amendment. Crushing legislative and regulatory requirements that serve no purpose but to expand state government and reduce local control has got to stop once and for all.  Hopefully, the Senate will have sense enough to say NO to more illegal unfunded mandates and force CEPI and other agencies to scale back their overreach. In the meantime, if our districts and other local governments have to continue to go back to the courts to put an end to this nonsense, so be it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Reform Revolution from the Ground Up

I had an awesome experience this week as part of a national effort to shine the light on school reform – not from some gilded stage or the bully pulpit of a television studio – but in classrooms and schools across the country, where the real educational professionals are making a difference in the lives of kids. It was on the occasion of a grassroots effort to declare November 22 as National Blogging for Real Education Reform Day and encourage educators across the country to contribute their ideas for continuing to bring our schools into the 21st century.


Twitter was the central medium for promoting yesterday's event and by the end of the day, over 384 people had contributed to the streaming conversation that included 1,110 tweets centered on public education reform. But most importantly, a majority of these professionals contributed in a more substantial way by blogging their views and opinions on what needs to be done to improve student achievement. Even U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan opined on this extraordinary event in an post that stated:


There’s been a great conversation happening online today on the National Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform. I appreciate how many educators have taken time to share their ideas thoughtfully with the rest of us....At the U.S. Department of Education, we’ve been listening in. I am convinced that the best ideas come from classrooms and communities across the nation. I am committed to supporting the great work that is happening in states and districts.


Secretary Duncan even posted a plug for the event and his contributory remarks on his Facebook page! And while most folks know that the Secretary and I don't see eye-to-eye on many issues of substance, his acknowledgement of the importance of yesterday's event is a step in the right direction for creating a more inclusive approach to the political momentum towards education reform.


Pam Moran, Superintendent of Albemarle County Schools in Virginia summed up the day's effort in what I refer to as the “capstone blog” titled, Imagine. November 22, 2010:


Each post, each tweet, each comment contributed to the weaving of a tapestry of voices from all the spaces of our lives: teachers, assistant principals, principals, central administrators, superintendents, higher education, parents, educational activists and, eventually the U.S. Secretary of Education.


I am struck that no superheroes made today happen. We didn’t even need just regular, run of the mill heroes to make today happen. Rather, today represents what it will take to transform our public schools from places that are mostly constructed for factory workers to spaces that are designed for contemporary learners- our children. It will take all of us leading together. It will take all of us working together.


One cannot fully appreciate what was accomplished yesterday until you've had a chance to read through the many outstanding blog posts that were collected and take time to browse through the Twitter transcript to get a better feel for the conversations as well as the momentum. Here's an opportunity for you to join in this professional dialogue, stretch and even challenge your own thinking about school reform, and perhaps become part of our growing Twitter community in the future. The time is right, the purpose is worthy, the goal is to provide the best possible educational system for our kids.


Besides my personal blog contribution titled, Real Reform Begins with Raising Expectations, here are the three main links that will open your doors to a rich professional learning experience:




Cooperative Catalyst


Twitter Transcript



Sunday, November 21, 2010

Real Reform Begins with Raising Expectations

Before I was a school administrator, I was a soldier – for nearly twenty-two years. I enlisted in December 1974 following the end of the Vietnam War. Not because I was patriotic. I needed a job. Our economy was taking a beating largely due to the oil embargo and the start of rampant inflation. During basic training that next spring Saigon fell. Mostly what I recall from that day was my big, burly drill sergeant crying like a baby. It was a low point in what would be nearly a decade of low points for the once-infallible United States Armed Forces. Years of persistently low morale, lack of organizational pride, leadership that abandoned their careers faster than rats on a sinking ship, and rampant drug use came to a climax with the “Debacle in the Desert” in the spring of 1980.


The supersecret operation failed dismally. It ended in the desert staging site, some 250 miles short of its target in the capital city (of Iran). And for the world's most technologically sophisticated nation, the reason for aborting the rescue effort was particularly painful: three of the eight helicopters assigned to the mission developed electrical or hydraulic malfunctions that rendered them useless.”


By now, the American people had little faith in the capability of its military complex and support was at an all-time low. Many of us rarely wore our uniforms in public and leaders accepted a culture of disobedience and disrespect from the lower ranks. Recruiting quotas in active and reserve units were rarely achieved, and there was a feeling among the soldiers that if the Cold War stalemate were to break on the European front, our forces in Germany would serve as nothing more than a speed bump. There was no expectation that we would achieve success.


Then came the Reagan-era beginning with the election of Ronald Wilson Reagan as 40th President of the United States. And despite your political or personal beliefs about that era and Reagan himself, one thing he certainly did was lead a restoration of faith in our Armed services. He refused to accept that we could not restore our military strength and again lead the world-wide fight for freedom and democracy. He raised the bar while providing the needed supports and by 1991, following a decade of escalating and successful military expeditions that included the end of the 40-year Cold War, the United States Armed Forces were once again seen as competent and a great source of national pride. Obviously, Reagan didn't do it alone but the example he modeled from the top by steadfastly refusing to accept what had become a culture of low expectations firmly set the historic transformation in motion.


This is the beginning of the path to positive educational reform in America. Real reform cannot be successful until political and educational leaders – including most importantly our teachers – change our mental models, first about our students and then about our schools, restoring our belief in their abilities to achieve. We can build a hundred or even a thousand half-billion-dollar Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools but without the critical mindset of staff, parents, community and students believing that every child who walks through the door can achieve, all we'll be left with is another expensive monument to a growing mediocrity.


How does that happen when every day, educators across this country are bombarded with negative messages that convey a persistently expanding lack of belief in the competence of our public education system? Just imagine if President Reagan had decided the only way to reform our military and greatly improve on its capability was simply to fire all the sergeants, lieutenants and captains and replace them with inexperienced leadership. What would have been the chances of a successful Desert Storm in 1991? Or, perhaps, he might have decided that a government-run military is no longer capable of being successful, so let's get rid of it and replace it with a privately-run security system. Dare we think of placing our future security in the hands of companies like, oh, say Blackwater?


Not likely. Nor should we expect that the future success of our educational system rests with mass firings and expanded privatization. And at the same time, given our national pension for blaming the current economic woes on our schools, something that has become almost a sport in the political and “billionaire-boys-club” arenas, don't expect a Ronald Reagan to lead a similar national conversion of faith in public education. If public schools are to remain the mainstay of our educational system, it will be up to the teachers and principals, and it will begin when we turn our individual and collective backs on a culture of low expectations.


No one rises to low expectations.


The Chilean mine rescue earlier this fall is another great example of setting high expectations for success. Following the cave-in that trapped thirty-three miners nearly a half-mile underground, their fate at best was uncertain. Chilean President Sebastián Piñera was told by advisers that expectations for success were low and chances of their survival were slim. But the President refused their advice.


Many people thought the rescue was impossible,” said an exuberant Piñera after having shown Churchillian determination during the rescue effort. “But we made a commitment to look for the miners as if they were our own sons.” Time


Instead of capitulating to an established culture of low expectations surrounding mine rescues, he set in motion and led an intense rescue effort, sparing no expense. His belief that the operation could be successful led to the eventual emergence of all thirty-three miners.


As I hinted above, true educational reform begins in the classroom and the school house, not on the floor of Congress or in a television studio. We know from the data that many of our so-called failing schools are in urban areas with high concentrations of limited-income and minority students, a growing number of which do not speak English as their first language. A high percentage of these students do not enjoy the same parent support as their more affluent suburban neighbors, and have greater risks to exposure to high levels of crime, gang activity, unemployment, homelessness, and single-parent households. All of these have statistically been shown to contribute significantly to low levels of academic achievement and high drop-out rates, despite a few pockets of success in rare but not necessarily replicable charter schools. But teachers and administrators can have little impact towards changing any of these social factors. Our work must be done in classroom but if we continue to maintain low expectations for students in these situations, no matter how many strategies we employ, we will not be successful at closing achievement gaps and turning public education around.


Teachers' expectations play a significant role in influencing student performance, determining how well and how much students learn. This has been proven time and time again since the idea was first presented in Pygmalion in the Classroom, a 1968 study by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson.


Simply put, when teachers expect students to do well and show intellectual growth, they do; when teachers do not have such expectations, performance and growth are not so encouraged and may in fact be discouraged in a variety of ways.” ~ James Rhem


There's a monograph by Jerry D. Bamburg posted on the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory website that goes into great detail on the three different types of teacher expectations that contribute significantly to student achievement. It's well worth the read by anyone interested in contributing to real education reform, particularly in our urban schools. The Pygmalion effect is one of two results from teacher interactions with students that are influenced over time by lowering expectations. A student who persistently struggles in school may be seen as part of a social-class that over time, always appears to achieve at lower levels. Hence, the result of a perception of low achievement in the classroom eventually becomes a key contributing factor as to why students are failing, and even an excuse for lowering our expectations in the future. A sort of wagging-the-dog-by-the-tail effect as time goes on: student behavior is impacted by opinions and perceptions that others initially have for them which in turn become self-fulfilling prophecies.


I'm not going to go into a long thesis in this forum on specifically how low expectations are manifested in the classroom, both through words and deeds, but just to say that teachers and school principals are usually unaware that they have low expectations for students (Marzano) and that unless we start changing our behaviors towards our students, a conscious awareness of this bias will have little positive effect. If all President Reagan did was make rosy speeches about our military might, very little would have changed. It took outward visible action to raise the level of expectation.


The second of nine characteristics of high performing schools outlined by Dr. Terry Bergeson, Washington State Superintendent of Instruction, defines what it takes to demonstrate high standards and expectations for all students:


Teachers and staff believe that all students can learn and meet high standards. While recognizing that some students must overcome significant barriers, these obstacles are not seen as insurmountable. Students are offered an ambitious and rigorous course of study.”


The first two sentences demonstrate the belief while the third sentence combines action.


High standards and expectations require more than lip service. The mantra “all students can learn” must be followed by instructional practices and teacher behavior that demonstrate that teachers believe in the students, believe in their own efficacy to teach students to high standards, and will persist in teaching them. Teaching advanced skills and teaching for understanding together with basic skills are required for all students to achieve at high levels.”


So on this National Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform, let's turn our focus to what will truly make a difference in the achievement levels of our students. If you haven't yet begun, start by having professional conversations around what it means to have low expectations and what it will take individually (yes, you do need to risk vulnerability if you truly want to see change) as well as corporately to transform the culture of your school to one of high expectations for all. Jonathan Saphier provides a powerful but simple recipe for raising students' belief in what they are doing:


All students receive three critical messages at every turn from every adult and from the policies, practices, and procedures of the organization:


  1. What we're doing here is important.

  2. You can do it.

  3. I'm not going to give up on you – even if you give up on yourself.”

     As cited in Tim R. Westerberg's Becoming a Great High School, ASCD, 2009


This may just be the most important step you take toward reforming public education in the 21st century.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Defending Freedom

I was fortunate to serve twenty-two years in the United States Armed Forces and while prepared to do so, was never called on to serve in combat. So while proud of my service and the many valuable experiences I had and training I received, on Veterans Day my attention typically turns to my many ancestors and family members who did answer the call during times of war.

John Britten - my 4th great grandfather who served in the Revolutionary War first with New Jersey in 1779 with the Virginia 4th Regiment and again in 1782 with the New Jersey 2nd Regiment.

Abraham Britten - oldest son of John and my 3rd great granduncle who served in the War of 1812.

Jacob A. Britten - great-great grandfather who served in the American Civil War with the 1st Michigan Infantry; wounded in the arm at Gaines Mill, Virginia where he was captured by Confederate forces and confined at Richmond, Virginia; he was paroled a month later and discharged that next winter for disability resulting from his wound.

Joel P. Hudson - great grandfather who served in the American Civil War with the 13th Michigan Infantry and was wounded in the face at Chicamauga Creek, Georgia September 1863; continued to serve beyond the end of the war and was promoted to corporal.

Howard Hudson - grandfather who served in World War I as a member of the United States Marine Corp with rank of corporal.

Glen Hudson - great granduncle who served in the United States Army as a member of Troop C, 7th Cavalry, during the Mexican Expedition Campaign of 1916-17.

Gale H. Britten - father and disabled American veteran who served in the United States Navy during World War II.

Joel L. Hudson - uncle who served as a "frogman" on an underwater demolitions team, forerunner of today's Navy Seals, during World War II and continued to serve until his retirement during the Vietnam War.

Gordon Britten - uncle who served in submarine duty during World War II.

I have two nephews currently serving (Jeremy Britten - US Air Force and Mitchell Britten - US Marine Corps and Afghanistan War veteran) and also two younger brothers (Thomas and Steven Britten) who wore the United States Army uniform during the height of the Cold War.  I'm proud of each of them as well as my many cousins who have served their country in preserving freedom.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

They're Just Brick Walls

"Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want something badly enough. They are there to keep out the other people"  
Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture)

We need to face the fact that our district will continue for some time to come wrestling with budget shortfalls even while the learning expectations for our students continue to rise.  And in the end, that's a good thing!  We cannot allow the lack of resources in one area or another to restrict our thinking, our creative imaginations, our focus on success. Our students deserve the best possible schools no matter what the economic conditions. This is a "perfect storm" for modeling Dr. Randy Pausch's credo and teaching every student how to achieve the best even when conditions are the least.

I invite you to read Michael Fisher's DigiGogy post on "How can we do more with less?"

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Friday, November 5, 2010

GLPS and City of Wyoming to Honor Veterans

Our schools will set aside time on Thursday, November 11, to honor veterans of our Armed Forces as well as those still serving.  Lee Middle & High School will hold its program in the gym beginning at 9:05 a.m.  Veterans from the Godfrey-Lee community are invited to attend.  Short programs are also scheduled for 1:30 at Godfrey Elementary and 2:15 at the Early Childhood Center.

The Wyoming Veterans Memorial Garden Committee cordially invites the community to join them in honoring local veterans during its annual Veterans Day ceremony, Thursday.  
The ceremony will take place at 6 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Garden, 2300 DeHoop Ave., SW. The evening's program will feature a number of presentations and recognitions, as well as a message from Capt. Charles Heidelberg, a local veteran who is currently serving full time at the Grand Valley Armory. Music will be performed by the Lee High School band under the direction of Kevin Gabrielse.  
Attendees will also have the opportunity to view the first of three planned entryway arches being added to the Veterans Memorial Garden. The first arch was installed on Oct. 25, just in time for Veterans Day. The arch includes an American flag emblem and the word Honor.  
"Being able to honor our veterans and current service members is a privilege for our committee," said Michael Carpenter, chair of the Veterans Memorial Garden Committee. "Our community is blessed to have so many veterans, and those currently in active duty, as citizens. We want to remember them, especially on this day."

The Wyoming Veterans Memorial Garden Committee annually sponsors Veterans Day and Memorial Day services, provides cemetery flags for veterans and plans and implements improvements to the Veterans Memorial Garden. Improvements are funded, in part, by the sale of special memorial bricks, which feature the name, branch of service, conflict and years served by the honoree.  

The committee has already begun work to raise funds to erect two more arches over the next two years. Funds for the arches, which cost approximately $6,000 each, are being raised through donations.  
The garden is completely funded by donations and was developed to serve local veterans and give them a place to reflect and be honored. The committee is asking for help to reach the goal. Donations can be made payable to Veterans Memorial Garden, 1155 28th Street SW, Wyoming, MI 49509 or contact the City Manager's Office at 530-7272.

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Monday, November 1, 2010

Failing to Read the Tea Leaves...Again

Fifty years ago, ASCD's May 1960 issue of Educational Leadership was devoted to looking "forward" to 1985 and discussing some of the changes and potential problems in K-12 education.

Curtis Paul Ramsey contributed an article titled, Testing in Tomorrow's School (p. 503, Vol. 17, No. 8.) in which he foresees the inherent dangers of high stakes standardized testing:

"As testing programs assume a larger role in the curricular structure, and as decisions of increasing importance are made with reference to class and school achievement test results, many teachers and administrators find themselves giving way to the pressures induced by indiscriminate testing.  When the unsophisticated person places so much emphasis on a single score, the groundwork is laid for an erosion of ethics related to test administration, scoring, reporting, and to the teaching experience which precedes a testing session.  Because of the undue stress some administrators have placed on meeting or exceeding test norms, some teachers have begun to teach material specifically related to test items they anticipate will be given to their students.

"...manipulating an academic environment before a testing session does not provide reliable information about general scholastic achievement.

"Should these pressures continue to increase, due to national testing programs..., a sub rosa (author's emphasis) national curriculum will have been established by test publishers.  Abnormal emphases on a single test score can produce such unwanted and unsought results within individual classrooms of our nation's schools (emphasis added)."



While Ramsey's article was primarily focused on national testing programs for college admissions and was written many years before most state K-12 assessment programs were developed, it was visionary in pointing out precisely what our system of education has become: test-prep institutes vying for the golden apple that results from arbitrarily-defined success on a single test score.

It also serves as another reminder that we too often fail to heed the warnings.