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.