Friday, December 30, 2011

Stop the testing madness and focus on what the Finns have already proven works! #edreform


Let's face it, profit drives America. It's what a society based on the merits of capitalism is all about. As such, here's a truism we continue (and likely will continue) to ignore:

There's no profit in fixing poverty and inequality, but there's a fantastic amount of profit in high-stakes testing and charter school management. The education reformers will continue to ignore what drives Finland's success. (my words)

Anu Partanen, a Finnish journalist based in New York City, writes a compelling year-ending post for the Atlantic Journal titled: What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success. The most compelling thought is the sub-heading of the online article: The Scandinavian country is an education superpower because it values equality more than excellence.

Here are several key points from her article but I strongly encourage you to go to the link and read the entire post:

  • Finland owes their fame to one single study, the PISA survey.
  • Finnish schools assign less homework and value creative play.
  • There are no private schools in Finland. Only a small number of independent schools exist and they are publicly funded. There are no private universities, either.
  • Finland has no standardized tests except for an exit exam following the equivalent of high school.
  • Teachers are trained to assess students in the classroom using teacher-created tests (what a novel idea).
  • The Finnish system focuses on responsibility, not accountability.
  • Teachers are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility.
  • A master's degree is required to enter the profession (in America, the reformers argue a master's degree is not necessary in teaching).
  • Education policy is driven not by competition but by cooperation.
  • The PISA results were a surprise to most Finns. They thought it was a mistake. They were not focused on test results, instead they were focused on eliminating inequality of opportunity.

As Partanen points out, Pasi Sahlberg's new book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? makes a similar argument and Sahlberg himself admits no one in America wants to tackle the real problem. We don't even want to talk about it:

Americans are consistently obsessed with certain questions: How can you keep track of students' performance if you don't test them constantly? How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad teachers or merit pay for good teachers? How do you foster competition and engage the private sector? How do you provide school choice?

In other words, the solution in America involves (1) give more tests, (2) fire more teachers, (3) destroy the unions, and (4) open the market up for ginormous profiteering through charter school management. 

All of these focus on the bottom financial line. None of these focus on student learning.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Give community-based public schools the same freedoms #edreform


Now that this holiday season is being relegated to the ghost of Christmas past, the mainstream media appears to be gearing up (or pushing) for the next battle in Lansing: GOP lawmakers want more cyber schools in Michigan.

I'm certainly pro online-learning and my record as superintendent of an urban community-based school district proves it, but before lawmakers simply add new types of schools, they must work to ensure a level playing field.  Take off the 19th century seat-time shackles in traditional K-12 public schools, as well as relieve us of the growing, burdensome regulations that do not contribute to higher levels of learning for all students.

Lansing and Washington continue to tie the hands of traditional schools while providing unparalleled flexibility and freedom to charters and cyber charters, which primarily serve to enrich the corporations that run them. Private business does not exist to serve the public good. They exist to serve their bottom line. That's not criticism of private-sector business, just a reminder that their interests do not change just because they venture into the public sector. As an example, a construction company and its subcontractors do not exist to provide needed classroom space for kids; rather, they exist to make a profit off of construction contracts for new and remodeled schools. They may be building a school but other than the jobs they create based on the healthiness of their bottom lines, they do not contribute to the public good.

If you truly believe the rapid expansion of brick-and-mortar as well as cyber charters will improve student achievement, give the same freedom to traditional public schools. Here's some suggestions to get you started (I recognize that these are not from Michelle Rhee or Bill Gates so you probably already stopped reading this post, but here it goes anyway):

  1. Eliminate the graded-school system that was never designed to improve student learning but only to control the growing masses of students in cities.
  2. Eliminate grade-level based state assessment since this is a major obstacle to eliminated the graded-school system. By saying students have to take high-stakes tests every year to measure an additional year of learning assumes that all students learn at the same pace - THEY DON'T! Allow students to take assessments when they are ready.
  3. Immediately eliminate the Carnegie unit in high school graduation requirements. Students are graduating unprepared for the real world after barely earning the minimum credits in core academic areas instead of focusing on mastery of specific benchmark standards. PS. That might take some students to age 20 to do so - SO WHAT! Are we saying learning should only occur between ages 5 and 18?
  4. Get rid of all seat time requirements. If a student is engaged in learning in any way that is connected with his or her school, and credit for learning is granted by that school, the student is present and the school should be credited accordingly.
  5. Eliminate all of the special education regulations and statutes that actually compel most schools to warehouse special needs students in lower achieving environments, instead of being supported in regular, rigorous core academic classrooms so they can learn at the same level as their peers.
  6. In Michigan (and many other states), abolish the asinine (and some might say bipolar) restriction against starting the regular school year prior to Labor Day. This clearly was not a decision that was based on what's best for kids. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know the family might be able to squeeze in another few days of vacation but schools should be focused on kids' futures, not convenience in the present. There are at least 185 days available during the year for being tourists.
  7. Stop the overwhelming urge to use public schools as social laboratories for every little whim or interest that comes up. There are only 1,098 hours in a Michigan school year and it's already been proven that to cover the entire K-12 curriculum requires that a student attend school until age 22, so stop piling on the stuff that's mostly coming from the need of politicians to say, "See what I did?"
Taking action on these seven simple issues would move traditional K-12 schools into a more flexible environment that will allow us to experiment more with non-traditional modes of instructional delivery and learning, just like those being touted by building-based and cyber charters. This is real ed reform versus the latest rage of funneling public school monies to the private sector testing industries and charter school management companies. This is the public interest.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Strengthening district and school leadership with social media tools #edleader

There are two excellent books our right now that every district leader should read. The first to hit the shelves was Communicating and Connecting with Social Media by William M. Ferriter, Jason T. Ramsden, and Eric Sheninger. They suggest that social media should be a key weapon in a district and school's arsenal for enhancing communications.

After reading the book, Sr Geralyn Schmidt posted to her blog about the importance of Social Media for School Leaders. She points out:

The enormous popularity of social networking today leaves little doubt that while the form is sure to evolve, the desire for social connectivity is here to stay. I believe that the human heart is intrinsically made to connect to others, and Social Media allows us to be connected to others in a way never before experienced or imagined.

Too many educational leaders, both administrators and teachers, are hesitant to use this type of communication. Communication that is clear and concise is the most important aspect of leadership in any venue, especially in education.

The second significant tome to hit the stands is Chris Lehmann's and Scott McLeod's What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media. Experts in  educational technology, they explain how to best integrate technology into K-12 schools, from blogs, wikis and podcasts to online learning, open-source courseware, and educational gaming to social networking, online mind-mapping, and using mobile phones ( description).  Sheninger, Principal of New Milford High School wrote an endorsement for this work that points to its value in helping overcome resistance and provide school leaders with both a foundation and direction:

Digital technologies and social media continue to evolve and are transforming the way in which we communicate, teach, and learn. This book, written by knowledgeable practitioners, provides a solid foundation for school leaders who are either resistant or unsure of where to begin.

If any school leader wants a quick and straightforward read on the various digital technologies and Social Media schools can (and should) be embracing, this book is an excellent choice. It would be an ideal book for all admin teams to read and discuss together if they have goals for introducing or more effectively using digital technologies in their districts/schools.

Any district superintendent or school leader returning from the holiday break still scratching their heads over the value of social media should read both of these fine books.

If you could send one message to your super...? #edleader #edchat


The 2011 year was certainly exciting in both school reform and technology integration, but as the saying goes, "We ain't seen nothin' yet!"

With 2012 just a few days away, what is one important message you'd really like your K-12 superintendent to hear and take action on in the new year?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Creating a Digital Culture

Combining digital technology with quality teaching to provide choice and increased learning engagement.

Monday, December 26, 2011

BYOD will challenge your leadership thinking -- hopefully!


With 2012 knocking at our door, the debate over technology in schools is only going to heat up. That's exactly what it should do! There's no sense in hiding our heads in the sand and hoping the questions surrounding 1:1 and BYOD go away -- at least until I retire. Sounds familiar?

Earlier this fall, Tom Vander Ark published a short post intended to challenge our resistance to BYOD by acknowledging the concerns that are out there but then offering reasons BYOD should be considered in each of our districts, anyway:

Bans on student use of mobile devices exist for some good reasons—kids use them inappropriately at school and there are safety and security concerns.  So why bother considering a change?  There are six reasons to consider BYOD.

Tom also provides a handful of links to help the district or school leader considering lifting a ban on student-owned devices and incorporating BYOD as part of your technology strategy.

And if you find you're still not convinced or you start uncontrollably shaking whenever anyone mentions BYOD, I encourage you to read my post: Smoke from my keyboard: Cut the excuses and lead!

You may not even realize it, but you're getting in the way by not adapting, by not personally modeling the use of mobile technology, and by not leading the technology transformation.

You might want to visit our new Connected Superintendent blog for a collection of other articles and links intended to help you in leading.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Smoke from my keyboard: Cut the excuses and lead!

The #edchat discussion this past Tuesday evening (What are the positives and negatives of limited technology in school) managed to bring my blood to a boil as excuse after excuse scrolled down my Twitterfall screen. I managed to squeeze in a few comments that solicited a mild although limited debate, but by the time I managed to close my eyes that night, there was smoke coming from my keyboard. I took pause for a few days to vet my thoughts with my esteemed colleague, Pam Moran, and a couple of others from my own district, opting to remove some of the rough language that sounded more like my 22-year military career rather than an educational professional, but here it goes.
Enough already! Waiting for exactly the right conditions to provide or even allow widespread use of technology in your district, building, or classroom is lunacy. It's idiocy!
And here's my personal message for fellow superintendents and principals: If you continue to get in the way of technology integration in your schools, get out of the education leadership business. You may not even realize it, but you're getting in the way by not adapting, by not personally modeling the use of mobile technology, and by not leading the technology transformation. In this 21st century learning environment, you've reduced yourself to office decoration; you're not out front leading. As such, you've shown that you're averse to taking risks, you're a politician who lives by polls, and your kids are the ones losing out. Go ahead and field that championship football team so you can suck up to your school board, your parents, your community. But don't screw up the future of your entire student body just because you're afraid kids just might become distracted in the classroom or accidentally venture upon a web site that's (shudder) bad.

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” John Quincy Adams

If the problem stems from not knowing what to do, shame on you. There's plenty of guidance out there to help you help yourself and become not only technology literate (so you can babble on during one of your all-day staff or school improvement meetings), but to become an avid consumer AND contributor to the vast personal learning networks available on the net. Not interested? Then get out before you do any more damage to your kids. But before you make up your mind, read this recent post: 5 Indications Your Leadership Is Obsolete for 21st Century Schools.
If you've made up your mind to change or you've already started down that road, I suggest you read, study and apply CoSN's Empowering the 21st Century Leader.
And when you're finished perusing that document, purchase a copy of Communicating & Connecting with Social Media by William FerriterJason Ramsden and Eric Sheninger. Read it and share what you've learned with your staff. Begin to use the tools, not just in the quiet, safe comfort of your office but in the hallways, classrooms, board room and even the athletic complex. You haven't lived until you've accidentally walked into a wall or closed door while Twitter or reading a blog (don't do this while driving, though!). The staff (and even the kids) will chuckle but they'll also note that you've shed your dinosaur skin and it may excite them to do the same.
Teachers waiting for that mythical tsunami of all the right toys, conditions, and the perfect PD need to set down your chalk and slate and mosey on out the door - for the benefit of your kids. If you can't model lifelong learning for your students by taking risks, thinking outside the box, adapting to change, and bringing technology - any technology - into your classroom, your kids don't need you. And believe me, they will eventually leave.

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”  Steve Jobs

Are you listening? It's about your kids' future, not yours! In fact, it's not even about your present! Teaching has never been about you nor should it be. It's about kids - rich or poor - being raised in a world where technology is woven into their lives 24/7 (except during school in too many places) and has become a key tool in how they learn, how they communicate, how they socialize, how they create and publish, and simply who they are. Stripping this generation from the opportunity to use digital technology in schools is akin to forcing them to check their vocal cords at the door but expecting them to sing. Stop waiting for your leaders to serve technology and PD on a silver platter. Get something in your classroom, whether its your own personal device or the kids' devices. If policy prevents that from happening, storm the board! Insist that your leaders and school board join the 21st century. Don't stop until they do or they leave.
EVERY teacher and administrator should be completely knowledgable about the ISTE standards for technology in education and they should even be part of your evaluation:

Communities waiting until only the best roads are put in place before anyone's allowed to drive a car are just plain backwards and need to get out of the way of progress. As I continue to repeat, it's your children's future not yours. It doesn't matter if you have full accessibility to high-speed internet or not. Waiting for that to happen before you make a move at using or even allowing technology in your schools is akin to malpractice. Forcing your schools to simply be museums of what life was like in the 1980's (or in many cases, the 1950's) will not help them become centers of learning excellence and your students will struggle later on competing in a flat world economy.
We keep making excuses, whether valid or not: unfettered access to technology is too distracting, too dangerous, will have negative effects on reading and writing habits, will increase plagiarism, will harm their social skills. Or, they don't all have access to high speed Internet, no computers at home, not enough PD for our teachers, lack of devices for every student, la, la, la.... Just a bunch of excuses intended to keep those who are making them from putting themselves out there and keeping up with change. The world evolves and the power of technologically-driven evolution is beyond anyone's capability of stopping it. We couldn't stop pencil and paper, we couldn't stop mind-numbing television, and we won't stop the infusion of digital technology in our lives, but what we can stop is the incessant whining and excuse-making about why we can't, shouldn't, or won't move forward.
Now that I've got your attention, let's get moving. Here's a few additional resources besides those mention above to help you in your journey:

21 Things for the 21st Century Administrator:

21 Things for the 21st Century Educator:

Educator's PLN: The Personal Learning Network for Educators:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Take the 30-Day Twitter Challenge for Teachers!

Twitter is all over these days but I still believe only a small percentage of people really understand the potential value of tying a social networking application with professional learning. I’ve been trying for some time to better understand how to explain it to people who simply look at me as nuts when I say, “I’m tweeting”.
People still struggle with the point of it, the seemingly ridiculous nature of updating what you are doing (or learning) in 140 characters or less. Yes, they might sign-up because they are at a conference or workshop, but there seems to be a number (maybe just what I’ve seen) that never really embrace it, never really make it a part of their learning community/network.
While there are many reasons for this, keeping Twitter as a random, “stop in when I can” website keeps it foreign and somewhat odd for many. This makes it really difficult to experience the power of connecting, contributing, sharing, and always-on learning.
Therefore, I’m issuing a personal challenge to those of you exploring the potential of Twitter, those of you promoting Twitter, or those of you that have dismissed it in the past to do the following things for the next 30 days and then evaluate or re-evaluate the worthwhileness of Twitter:
First, if you do not have a Twitter account, you will need to go to and set up a free account. It’s quick and easy but please remember the Twitter name and password you select. Then…
1.            Select and follow at least 50 people from the following lists of educators:  Twitter4Teachers  This many people may sound like a lot but you need to immerse yourself in a loud enough crowd. Be sure to be diverse in your selection including a global focus.

2.            Download and run TweetDeck on your computer as a means of having Twitter always on. 
This is the critical step. It allows you to engage synchronously and asynchronously.

3.            Understand and engage with the following Twitter Basics:

@ – when placed in front of a Twitter name, it allows the person to see a reply to them under Replies
RT: – you use this to re-tweet a tweet that is worthy of sending again to your followers; this is a great way to gain followers, too

# – hash tags to track specific conversations (try #ascd or #edchat in Twitter Search to see what I mean)

DM – Direct message for private messages when placed in front of a Twitter name

4.            Over the next 30 days, post at least 5 Tweets a day: something great (or a struggle) from your teaching/leading/learning that day, a question for the day, something that displays your personality and interests, and two replies to Tweets from others.

5.            Participate in at least 1 Twitter chat from a list of chats at Educational Chats on Twitter. This will also test your understanding of the use of # (hashtag) in Twitter searches.

6.            Optional: If you want to take Twitter mobile, here’s a link to the Best Free Mobile Twitter Apps for iPhone and Android.  And if you really get your Twitter on, you might be interested in exploring The Most Complete Twitter Acpplication List Available – 2011 Edition by Social Media Today.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Read William Ferriter’s excellent, short article for ASCD’s Educational Leadership: Why Teachers Should Try Twitter. Another great resource to build your understanding of Twitter and its capabilities to take you even further in your professional learning is 100 Tips, Apps, and Resources for Teachers on Twitter. And still, Cybraryman’s awesome collection of all things Twitter will certainly fill your appetite.
In the next 30 days, embrace Twitter as something more than just a random spot to visit on the web. Turn on the network and see what it can do for you by embracing this 30-Day Challenge! You’ll be happy you did.
Talk to you on Twitter,


Thanks to @bwasson and @ryanbretag for suggesting this challenge.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Are We Too in Love With the Past?

It's been a long week and I'm a bit sleep-deprived so it may not be the best time to blog, but I've been wondering whether we depend too much on the past to evaluate what is good for the present or future? 
I recently read a report claiming the BA degree is still the best path to middle-class jobs and earnings (Georgetown University). 
Is a BA degree still the best predictor of future earnings because of the value of the BA degree or because of past trends? Does that mean we can't change the system? Based on a comment once by Henry Ford, a typical headline in 1904 might have read, "Horse and buggy still the preferred method of transportation." Does that mean folks back then should have invested in more horses and buggies instead of the new-fangled motor car?

If higher education proclaims, "You need more of us to get where you want to go," is that any reason to jump on that bandwagon? What if horses could communicate? Do you think they would have been saying, "You need more automobiles to get where you want to go?" Probably not. That'd be kind of self-defeating, don't you think? We can only expect that colleges will proclaim, "We are the portal to a better future," whether it's accurate or not. After all, no one has been to the future to see if that's true. It's all measured by a past that's no longer here.
What about schools and our insistence that we hang on to the old traditions of the graded school system and other structures? Is it because it once worked so we should simply have more of the same? And then there's the pseudo-reformers who want to hang on to the vestigages of an era when they went to school, while expecting schools of the past to do a better job of educating students for the future. Didn't Einstein hint that could be a sign of mental illness?
I'm not sure I've made much sense with this, but we seem to be stuck looking in the rear-view mirror, nostalgic for what once was.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Overcoming the Obstacles to STEM Learning in an Urban School


Christopher Emdin identifies five reasons why kids won't be scientists in his revealing entry for the Huffington Post. Even more convicting is his straightforward indictment of most science (and math) classrooms:

"...much research in urban science education has proven that youth are more disengaged than ever in STEM-focused classes. Students are bored, don't find the topics being discussed as engaging, and opt for majors and interests in other disciplines. For those who are engaged in science classes, and are doing well in them, the nature of the instruction and the assessments often reflect more of an ability to memorize facts and sit attentively than truly actually engage in science. For these students, when they are faced with "true science" further along in their academic careers, they are underprepared for the creativity, analytical skills, and curiosity necessary to truly engage and be successful."

Student engagement, connection with the curriculum goals, contribution to the class, and ownership of the learning are precisely what our classroom observations have focused on this fall and nowhere is that more critical than in the STEM courses from the earliest grades to graduation. Urban students have a right to an education that will lead them through pathways to exciting, challenging careers in the sciences, engineering, technology and math, just as much as our more affluent neighbors.

During a discussion earlier this week, we talked about how just the traditional system of grading sends a message, "You suck at science (or math)!" Too often, students come to each new STEM class with some reluctance but anticipating that perhaps this will be a better experience and the worst is behind me. It starts out "good" but maybe with a little apprehension. Then two weeks into the class, the first graded quiz or test sends the message once again, "You still suck at __________!" From then on, its purely survival and do what I need to do to pass this class and move on. Retaking tests and staying after school everyday just to scrimp enough points to pass the class will not instill a desire to be a scientist.

What we've seen this fall in our secondary science classrooms at Lee Middle & High School is a great start and we want to continue building on the quality teaching and learning experiences that stimulate student interest. In the end, if students elect not to pursue STEM in higher education or their careers, let it be based on their decision not something we've done to them.

Here's a quick list of Emdin's five reasons and I encourage you to read his explanation of each:

1) We have instilled the phrase "I'm not good at math or science" into a new generation.

2) Science is taught in a way that is opposite to what it truly is.

3) Science has lost the "cool factor" and kids have no "science heroes."

4) We don't focus on current issues in the discipline.

5) Good grades in science will not make you a scientist.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

When testing only ACTs like it's measuring student achievement


During last week's AuthorSpeak 2011 sponsored by Solution Tree, one of the lunch panel sessions included Dr. Thomas Guskey, renowned guru on educational assessment. I've attended sessions in the past that featured Dr. Guskey but I guess I never really heard him make a case against using the ACT (and SAT) in NCLB-forced high school assessments. As he claims, the assessments used by states such as Michigan are designed to measure academic achievement against state-adopted curriculum standards, however, the ACT and other tests like it are intended solely to compare and select potential college applicants. These two purposes are at odds with each other according to Dr. Guskey.

In the current issue of ASCD's Educational Leadership, Dr. Guskey summarizes his main objection to using college entrance exams as academic achievement measures:

Assessments used for selection purposes, such as college entrance examinations like the ACT and SAT, are designed to be instructionally insensitive (Popham, 2007). That is, if a particular concept is taught well and, as a result, most students answer an assessment item related to that concept correctly, it no longer discriminates among students and is therefore eliminated from the assessment. These type of assessments maximize differences among students, thus facilitating the selection process.

Guskey, Thomas R. Five Obstacles to Grading Reform, Educational Leadership. ASCD Nov 2011 pp. 17-21 

Naturally, I was more than curious to learn what else Dr. Guskey might have to say about college entrance exams as the basis for state testing. In a web search, I came across an interview for the Lexington Herald-Leader presented on March 16, 2008:

...College entrance exams such as the ACT and SAT help colleges and universities decide whom to admit [but they] do not reflect any particular level of knowledge... rather where each student ranks in relation to others. Ranking makes the selection process easier.

Problems arise when a test designed for one purpose is used for another. ... tests like the ACT and SAT are labeled "instructionally insensitive." If instruction helps most students answer a question correctly, then that question is removed from the test, for it no longer serves its purpose. Even if the question asks about a vitally important concept, it no longer differentiates students and is eliminated.

This is why scores on selection tests are more strongly related to social and economic factors than are scores on competence tests. Aspects other than those influenced by instruction often account for the differences among students. It is also why it makes little sense to use a selection test like the ACT or SAT as a measure of the quality of instructional programs. Doing so would be analogous to using a ruler to measure a person's weight.

Having all students take a selection test such as the ACT or SAT may help some realize that they rank high enough to get into a college or university. That would be a good thing, especially for non-traditional students and those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

But to use the results of an "instructionally insensitive" selection test to assess the quality of instructional programs is educational sacrilege. No testing expert would agree to it -- and neither should any legislator or policy-maker.

So I guess my question is rather obvious: Given the argument presented by one of America's most noted researchers on educational assessments, why have states such as Michigan simply ignored the fact that using the ACT as a significant factor in ranking schools and students in academic achievement is akin to assessment malpractice?

Or does it even matter what makes sense when political agendas take over the reins of public education?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Do We Need Traditional Local Media Anymore?


This post is only intended to generate reflection and critical analysis. 

Just a half dozen years ago, our local print media (The Grand Rapids Press) contained a wealth of local news with a complete section each week dedicated to regional areas. This weekly pullout was always loaded with school news, most of it positive. The Press made a business decision to eliminate the community news section and also to reduce its daily number of pages to basically advertising, distilled national and international news, and few sprinkling of articles covering local news. As you might suspect, the reduction in local news reporting (most of the beat and contract reporters were let go) led to an era of devoting most space to controversial issues in schools and local government. At that point, I cancelled my 30+ year-old subscription and went to relying on the internet for news.

I'm back as a paid subscriber due to the e-edition of The Grand Rapids Press, but I don't really know why except perhaps for the novelty of it. Had I not purchased an iPad, I probably wouldn't have bought the subscription. I can read through the daily edition in about ten minutes because that's the extent of anything really newsworthy that I haven't already read online from free resources. Sunday's edition takes a little longer because I have to wade through the endless advertisements and pullout sections.

The Grand Rapids Press just announced it will be reducing its print editions to three days per week and beefing up its online presence. My question is why even bother printing at all? Will it mean that the Press will return to the days of reporting more on local news and expanding its reach through positive school and local community reporting? Not likely. That kind of reporting requires, well, reporters and the Press has pretty much laid them off or forced them into retirement. There is no reporting. I see or hear from our school district beat reporter about once every two months, unless a controversial issue rears its ugly head. I even link to him through social media but he's stretched so thin, there's no reasonable way to expect that he can cover it all. There is no reporting.

In this era of free or cheap, readily-available online blogging and social media, do we really need one or two corporations controlling our news coverage anymore? The Press argues its in the business of providing expanded coverage of what might be incomplete reporting by TV and radio outlets or online sources. I doubt that's accurate since many of the national and international articles I read in the Press are vastly reduced from the original source, which I already read online anyway.

Perhaps its time for school districts to band together to provide their own media outlet and online news service since most of our parents, students and communities have access in some manner to online or email-delivered news. Maybe local communities can do the same so that we can once again report on what's really happening in our local areas in a more balance approach instead of only the sensational stuff. There is no valid reason anymore to continue paying money to a single organization for the "privilege" of having select, edited, delayed content sent our way. Once we open up our thinking to multiple media outlets - local, state, national and international - we'll no longer be subject solely to what the editors want us to know. We can think for ourselves in a much more balanced way.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Education, American Style - A Student Voice from 1958

In researching for an eventual book I plan to publish on the history of the Godfrey-Lee Public Schools and surrounding community, I came across an essay in the October 30, 1958 student newspaper that upon reading it, gave me a feeling of deja vu.

If you're not an intellectual person you might as well skip this editorial. For those of you who wish to continue, I hope this article will strengthen your belief in the American Educational System.
Largely responsible for the intensity of the recent reappraisal of U.S. Schools are the latest scientific acheivements (sic) in science and technology made by the Soviet Union since the successful firing of Sputnik last year.
"The Soviet system provides a standard curriculum through grade 7. On completion of grade 7, Soviet children are subjected to rigorous testing and screening. Those who show academic promise go on to regular secondary schools. Those who have not done so well academically are directed into one of a number of specialized programs: factory schools, special vocational schools, semi-professional schools."
In our democratic society we hold "opportunity for the youth" as one of the chief purposes of education. To obtain a comprehensive education is every young person's inalianable (sic) right. Surprisingly enough, the concept of "life adjustment" around which our present educational policy is centered, did not come about until after the close of the Second World War. The aim, therefore, is to provide in a single school all the educational needs of all youth in a community.
When people say our schools have failed, how then do they explain the high patriotic, military and economic status that exists in the United States at the present time?

by Nancy Graeber
Lee High School Ariel

Friday, October 21, 2011

Shooting Blindfolded in the Classroom


Suppose I'm a master archer, which I’m not. But just suppose I am, and one day I happen to take a group of people, placed blindfolds on them, and carefully lead them out into a wide, open field. No, this is not a creepy story with a sad ending so stay with me.


Once blindfolded, I hand each a bow and a quiver of arrows. Did I tell you they have never held a bow in their hands let alone shot an arrow? Now you might think handing a group of rookies bows and arrows is potentially dangerous, but these are good students and they mostly listen to my directions. You see, as a master archer I could in fact teach someone how to properly don their quiver and hold a bow, learning the parts of the bow and the arrow by touch, even the all-important understanding of which end of the arrow do they point in the general direction they want it to fly. As a master archer I could, with patience, teach them how to skillfully take an arrow, place it properly in the bow with the nock, draw, use the rest until ready to fire, and loose the arrow when ready.  As a master archer I could even lecture on technical terms such as anchor point, brace height, draw weight, and the various types of bows, giving his blindfolded students the basic facts every archer should know.


But even as a master archer, there’s little I can do to ensure my blindfolded students hit the targets at the other end of the field. You see, they have no idea where the targets are sitting, what the distance is to each target, or what effect wind and other disturbances might have on successfully hitting the target. They can’t, without a ton of luck, hit the target in those conditions.  But they can certainly learn and even practice all of the activities and tasks that it takes to at least get the arrow moving in the general direction, if I’m there to help them.  But if I walk away from the group at any time leaving them on their own, well, you start to see a general picture of what might happen.


Isn’t this what learning is often like in schools? Beginning with the teachers, aren’t they often blindfolded by the absence of complete understanding about the specific curriculum goals they should be using as the basis for learning in their classrooms? Or how about the work they expect their students to perform? Do they know for a fact that what they are asking their students to accomplish is fully aligned with the desired learning outcomes? Or are they loosing their arrows blindfolded?


And then there are the students who typically haven’t had a chance to understand anything about the overarching learning goals in advance, let alone see the intermediate objectives along the way. They are continuously being expected to shoot blindfolded hoping if they pick up enough clues along the way they can get a good grade from the course, despite the fact even students who get high grades probably never really hit the target. But who would know? Everyone’s still wearing a blindfold.


This is a the situation found in most schools and classrooms and it exists for a number of reasons which I prefer not to labor on but to look forward at solutions.  To take off our blindfolds – teacher and students – requires the following:


1.     The teacher has to know the curriculum standard (the target) inside and out and he has to know the initial skill level each of his “archers” are starting out at.

2.     The teacher has to know how the standard is going to be assessed during and at the conclusion of the learning activities, and she has to be certain beyond any reasonable doubt that the assessments actually measure the intended target.

3.     The teacher has to analyze the results from each of these assessments and all student work to determine the accuracy of the instruments and whether his students are firing blindfolded or getting a clearer view of the intended target.

4.     The students, before they are asked to perform any work in the classroom, must understand the overall learning target, the intermediate targets, and how the work they do contributes to hitting the target dead center.

5.     As the students progress, they must have continuous feedback on how they are honing their “archery” skills and are the doing what they need to do to be successful. If not, what do they need to do to improve.

6.     Because the teacher will not always be, students must learn how to self-assess their own individual performance and use that information to make corrections and improve their chances for success in this particular course and for the rest of their lives.


These actions remove the blindfolds from the students as well as the teacher. It requires communication and collaboration – teacher to teacher through professional learning teams sitting down together to examine the curriculum and analyze student work, teacher to student in designing conversations and activities that examine the overall learning goals, and student to student in collaborating together to better understand the work in relationship to the target.


Without these critical conversations, we’ll simply continue loosing our arrows blindfolded. “I shot an arrow in the air, and where it landed I do not care…”

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Reality or excuse? In the end, does it matter?

Julie Mack of the Kalamazoo Gazette is an excellent educational writer who looks at issues objectively and then pens some very thoughtful posts: Is it fair to expect teachers in high-poverty schools to be miracle workers?

The school-reform movement — as embodied by No Child Left Behind — adopts a no-excuses approach to education. So while decades of research overwhelmingly indicate that academic outcomes are largely correlated with socio-demographics — and that white, middle-class and affluent children consistently test significantly better than low-income and minority students — No Child expects schools to achieve similar results no matter the student population.

While I certainly agree with her observations about the difficulties all of us who work in poor urban districts face, it should never become an obstacle to our constant desire for improving our profession and providing the best possible learning environment for all of our students, bar none. What it does is forces us to think outside the box (I know that's becoming a tired cliche) to find new ways to overcome as many of these obstacles as we can in the time we have with our kids.

At the end of the day, we may go home a little more tired, a little more bloodied and bruised, but with the deep satisfaction that we did our very best to meet their diverse learning needs.

Friday, September 9, 2011

In an Instant, Everything Changed

I was an intermediate school principal with 450+ fifth and sixth graders when 19 terrorists and four hijacked planes shocked the world with a devastating attack on America. I still recall that morning, coming out of my office to see news pictures on the school office television showing live footage of one of the towers burning. Minutes later, the second tower erupted in an explosion and somehow we knew the world was going to be different.

Some weeks following the 9/11 attacks, I was invited to watch one of our 6th graders skate in competition at a local ice rink. Curious and wanting to show my support to this young lady and her parents, I went and found a seat in the back of the cold, dark arena. Imagine for a moment a die-hard Detroit Red Wing fan watching competitive figure skating and you might have to stifle a laugh, but I was taken back by the athletic precision demonstrated that night.

For a concluding number, all of the girls performed a synchronized salute in honor of those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks. The performance was backed by Enya's "Only Time," a soul-searing number that when combined with the beauty of their skating touched me deeply to the point that there is rarely a day I don't recall that evening. For a time after I thought about that night and often wondered why it affected me as much as it did. It took time but I finally came to grips and realized that at that moment, I knew that for these young girls and their generation, everything had changed. Just 12 years old, Kaitlin and her partner's lives would forever be impacted by the consequences of that horrible day.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rebel U Take 2


This week, the entire teaching staff at Godfrey-Lee Public Schools spent a day in a sort of mini-EdCamp to prepare for the oncoming school year. Organized by Tech Integration Specialist Sarah Wood (@woodsar) with help from the entire Tech/Media Team, teachers and administrators volunteered to present on their favorite tech topics and tools in six concurrent sessions throughout the day.  This was the second year school kicked off with this type of professional learning event but it was obvious from my point-of-view as an observer and participant that the tech skills of our staff have grown significantly.

The district, grounded in the concept of learning "anytime, anywhere, and with any device," took another giant leap forward with this event while we continue expanding our 1:1 technology plan. Our students and staff have access to our network and Internet learning tools anytime and with any device - theirs or ours. This year we'll ramp up our emphasis on teaching digital citizenship as well, taking it down into the elementary grades where "internet footprint" will become a common phrase, even in throughout the kindergarten.

What an exciting time to be an educator!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Teachers, school leaders, and students make a positive difference at Lee High School

The district was notified this morning that Lee High School is no longer on the 5% list of schools ranked as persistently low achieving (PLA). This is a great accomplishment after more than a year of hard work, planning, and robust implementation of the federal school improvement grant plans by everyone involved.

Read more about the school's first year success with its transformation plan and what will be coming up in years two and three at GLPS Superintendent's Notes)