Sunday, January 9, 2011

Taking Action During a Storm

If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”

Over the past few weeks I've been blogging on the effects that the deepening educational funding crisis can have on our traditional school model, especially when you combine it with the force of evolving technologies and political pressures. My earlier posts include Riding into the Perfect Storm of Reform and For the times they are a changin', contributions to an ongoing grassroots effort titled Blog 4 Real Education Reform. One might successfully argue that you don't wait for a storm to fix or replace your roof. And while that makes perfect sense when it comes to roofs, the urgency being created by the convergence of current forces impacting public education not only require that we rebuild in the midst of the storm but that it's the perfect time to do so.

My primary point is to prepare the Godfrey-Lee Public Schools district for a tsunami of change that will no doubt be rooted in this year's budget cycle. Michigan's economy continues to be in the tank and doesn't promise to get well for another two to three years despite the recent political changes in Lansing. Governor Rick Snyder and our new legislative leadership will be looking to public schools for help in reducing the overall state deficit which in the short term will add to our budget woes. Governor Snyder has called for “shared pain” in pulling Michigan out of the muck by rebuilding our economy and within the next month he'll be outlining his plan in greater detail.

In the coming weeks, our district's Board of Education, administrative cabinet, and labor association leaders will be teaming together to begin reducing a projected deficit that could reach as high as $1.2 million dollars. While we are engaged in this difficult process, it will be important that as a district team we all work together to continue improving student learning in and out of the classroom. We cannot afford to let our students down by using the condition of our state's economy and public education's fiscal crisis as an excuse for not making substantial progress with 21st century reform. It is my intent that we forge ahead with our one-to-one technology initiative as we navigate through this “perfect storm.”


I came across the following excerpt we should all keep in mind as we work together to streamline our programs, expand the availability and use of technology, and at the same time focus on a more efficient, economical, and effective learning system:

...ed reform is not technology reform and...embedded, transformative technology is not simply digitizing what we’ve already been doing . Ed reform is about learning and the instructional practices and environments we need to create for students functioning in a world vastly different from the one we grew up in. This brings to mind the quote we often hear, 'We are educating students for the future they will grow up in, not our future.' As educators we need to take on the role of learners, risk takers, and innovators and gather as much information about learning, innovations, and future skills that our students will need and begin to reform education and work toward change at the grass roots level – our classrooms.” ~ Innovation, Change and Ed Reform For The Future Of Our Children

To help us focus our district-wide reform efforts that will keep us on target for a new and more effective system of learning, I suggest the following action steps as a basis for our work in the coming year. Let's begin by taking full advantage of the current economic and political situation to re-imagine and reform our entire preK-12 system by rapidly phasing out our industrial model of schooling, replacing it with an individually-focused, collaborative learning model. From there, let's work together to:

  • restructure our system from one that centers on an age-based graded structure to a system modeled on demonstration of learning;

  • reduce the amount of large-group, teacher-delivered, control-based instruction;

  • integrate core and encore learning at the elementary level; move teacher planning/collaboration time to outside student day;

  • employ a “School of One” concept or similar structure that provides customized lesson planning to meet the needs of each student and engage them in the labor of learning using multiple delivery modes:

    • a large base group with multiple adults

    • variety of learning stations

      • teacher instruction (seminars)

      • technology-mediated instruction (pods)

      • virtual large group instruction (traditional online learning and assessment)

      • personal tutoring (peers)

      • intensive small group tutoring/relearning (adults)

    • mastery-based rather than age-dependent

    • integrated technology tools providing for blended as well as independent learning;

  • provide dual language learning for all students starting at the early ages as a literacy component of a re-purposed Title I program;

  • require that all students complete at least one online documented learning experience and one college-credit course for graduation;

  • rapidly phase out “cafeteria-style” secondary system of independent courses and replace with project-based, collaborative learning that integrates core and encore content;

  • substantially increase learning time for all using one or more methods:

    • expanding the traditional school day and calendar

    • using technology to expand learning beyond the traditional school day

    • opening media centers and access to computers/wifi after school, evenings, weekends, and summers

    • increasing teacher collaboration and professional learning time;

  • design and provide intensive education and support to parents of children ages 0-3 in the art of home-based literacy (e.g.,“language dancing”) in their native language;

  • reduce staffing and overall labor-related costs maintaining a “just-in-time” level of fund equity to avoid additional costs for payroll loans, etc;

  • design and implement a merit-based compensation system that rewards the most effective teachers, administrators, and support staff;

  • and, promote city-wide dialogue on the concept of community-based, extra-curricular activities that remove a significant financial burden from the backs of school districts and broadens opportunities for students.

Perhaps after reading through this list, and my earlier blogs, you have more questions than when you began. If this is true, great! My primary purpose is to generate a productive dialogue centered around on reform in our district as we work through our upcoming budget concerns and negotiate new labor contracts. We can no longer afford simply to adjust to the demands for higher achievement with incremental changes. The time for disruptive change is here.


Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved."

~ William Jennings Bryan


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