Why is it always about money and failure?

159/365. Agony.<rant>

I am growing increasingly tired of the lies, misrepresentations, and half truths being spewed in Austin about public education during our Texas Legislative cycle. The pro-public ed side says we need more money. The anti-public ed side says schools are failing, teachers suck, admins get paid too much, schools waste money, and we need more tests. The anti-public ed side says we need more charter schools (nobody talks about the number of failing charters)  and offer vouchers (nobody talks about the exclusivity of private schools or requiring those who accept vouchers to follow TX mandates). It’s all about rhetoric and personal gain from their business ties. It’s not about the kids.

Everyone paints with very broad brushes. Nobody wants to pay attention to the fine details needed to move education to the next level where we are graduating college and career ready students at a high rate.

Will someone ask the most foundational of questions and build from that point?

How do kids learn best?

Let’s progress from there. </rant>

Photo Credit: Anant N S

I’m just not sure he gets it completely

Listen in on TribLive and Evan Smith’s interview with TEA Commissioner Michael Williams:

 

To answer the question of why Exemplary schools spend $1000 more per student than unacceptable schools, Williams says the reason some schools are Exemplary and some are unacceptable is based on the makeup of the students. “It’s not the dollars. It’s the characteristics of the youngsters we’re trying to train.” So….. it’s the dollars.  What am I missing here? It is about Equity across the board.

His “answers“:

  • Closing racial achievement gap. (Me: not a problem schools can solve at home and costs lots of money at schools via individual tutoring, smaller class sizes, special remediation, etc. You cannot catch kids up by pouring them into giant classes and not individualizing their instruction. That’s what the rich kids get on top of pressure from home life to be successful at school.)
  • “Put world class instruction in front of every youngster in every classroom.” (Me: costs money to train/retrain)
  • Early school readiness. (Me: Money!)
  • More time in class and not in AEP. (Me: This is as much a family issue as it is a school issue)
  • “Do more things better/faster/cheaper.” (Me: Really? This is based on his experience from what? Teachers are on burnout mode already. There are only so many hours in the day for so many kids per teacher. Toss on the massive amounts of documentation required for most kids these days, you have to add instructional staff.)

Choice/vouchers:

  • gave first speech in 1990 promoting choice
  • developed school choice proposal in 1991
  • “I won’t be promoting choice in the halls of the Capitol.”
  • “We will answer the implementation questions.”
  • On accountability structure for private schools question: “We are not doing any work in the building on school choice.”

“We have TX college readiness scores around 30%.” (Me: Where should this number be and who decides that? Why should every kid be “college ready.” I like the idea of the foundational body of knowledge, but that’s not college ready.)

Williams blames local school districts for too much testing. (Me: To think that benchmarking shouldn’t be a part of state testing shows his lack of understanding of student progress. He also fails to realize that federal law requires regular monitoring of ALL students via probes and benchmarks for RTI identification. Even if he knows it, leaving it out in his comments is tantamount to misrepresentation of the facts.)

Creating a Culture of Connectedness from the Top Down

Photo Credit: gfpeck

In my post yesterday Teaching in a Participatory Digital World, I wrote about our need to change as a whole. That easily draws back to the questions of how and where do we start. There is a great blog post by John Robinson titled “5 Principles That Make Outdated Educational Practice Impossible.” In it, he deals with the #edchat topic, “How should teachers deal with colleagues who are comfortable with 19th century and punitive measures for non-compliant students?” He states that we are asking the wrong question:

At first glance, I would agree that the administrator does have the responsibility to address the issue of teachers using outdated practices. However, I think the real solution is a bit more complicated and can be captured with another question: How can a teacher engaged in outdated pedagogy and practice possibly exist in a true 21st century school? Should the school environment not be so innovative and challenging that such teaching is impossible? Perhaps the real problem is that we have been fooling ourselves into thinking our school is a “21st Century School” when it’s not. Just maybe our school systemically allows teachers to continue do what they’ve always done and avoid growing personally and professionally

He then goes on to discuss what a school or school district with that culture may look like. Here are his top 5 things with my commentary listed after each:

1. A strong expectation of personal and professional growth permeates the school and school district environment.Everyone, beginning with leadership, are lifelong learners, and their every action is focused to that end. There’s an attitude of perpetual learning and professional development surrounding everything that is done.

Me: Agreed. Obviously it will be more difficult to change those who are not knew to the campus/district because they have a practiced method they are comfortable with. Start working on them a little at a time with the goal of having made that shift inside of two years. Above all else, make the culture evident in ALL new hires. Let them know what they are getting into and what the expectations are. The cream will rise to the top.

2. The school and school district culture values risk-taking more than playing it safe. Valuing risk-taking takes courage from leadership and everyone else. It means accepting failure as part of learning. Leadership that values risk-taking can’t ask others to take risks if they themselves aren’t willing to do so.

Me: Not only value the risk-taking, but make it a part of the teaming process and campus meetings. Give purpose to those meetings. Have an open dialogue with staff on these things. let them know they are safe to discuss the failures with the larger group. Everyone needs support to grow. Who better than the folks who are near and dear to them?

3. Leadership in the school includes more than the principal. When the leadership includes strong teacher leadership, it is difficult for those not growing professionally to exist. Teacher leadership means there are peers pushing those teachers to develop professionally.

Me: I completely agree with this statement. One of the hardest things to get teachers to do is mentor other teachers unrequested. Teaching is a professional career. Until we start doing all of the things that professionals do, it will be difficult to get the community to accept us as such. Doctors and lawyers wouldn’t stand by as others in their profession did things against their code or in a less than professional manner. I’m not sure why teachers do not feel compelled to help those around them become the best they can be in their careers. Sometimes it only takes a short email or conversation in the hall. Or, maybe a few minutes of PD added to grade level or department meetings can do the trick. Admins should make that a global expectation and then find and mentor those special teachers on campus who have a knack for leadership and are respected. Nurture and grow that talent so that it can spread. 

4. Collaboration among staff is the norm. When issues and problems and challenges are viewed as “our issues/problems/challenges” then everyone is expected to be a part of the solution. This means those who are hanging on to outdated practice find it more difficult to do so. Their colleagues are pushing them to take ownership of the school’s future and they can’t continue to exist in their tiny isolated compartment within the school. 

Me: This is where being the academic leader of the campus comes in. Jumping in and being a part of the process of learning instead of just being the leader of the campus. Joining in on the planning, implementation, and resolution of good work in the classroom shows support and encouragement for both staff and students. Parents will appreciate the knowledge the campus leader has of what is going on in the classroom. This helps grow great practices much quicker. Like the teacher who handles classroom management issues by the proximity they are in the room, campus admins can do the same. 


5. There’s a strong sense of entrepreneurship among staff regarding the school. They feel that it is “their school.” Staff who feel this aren’t just provided a token opportunity to give feedback on School Improvement Plans. They have a say in the direction and focus of the school because it is genuinely their school too. Teachers engaged in obsolete practice can’t continue to operate in an obsolete manner because colleagues push them to do better.

Me: This really ties into the last two, but I would add that it is imperative that educators have time during the school day to grow together. Teaming, PD, and PLCs are all important things that should occur each school day. Teachers are so overwhelmed with the testing culture that has been created. They know that routine well. Grade homework, cover new topic, review new topic, assign homework over new topic…rinse, repeat. It is going to take some time and effort to get them out of that cycle. They will find it tough going to begin with, but they will appreciate the pushing and urging in the end. More than that, the students will benefit from that in the end. 

Just like we expect our teachers to plan their weeks out in their classrooms, admins must do the same if they expect the culture/paradigm shift we so desperately need in our classes. Target high needs areas and staff. Do some mental RTI work to plan out the best way to grow the skills of those in need. Find that time to allow staff to work together to grow each other and be a part of that process. Showcase the positives more than spotlighting the negatives during group meetings. Create a culture where failure is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow. Create a culture where connecting is the expectation and not the exception. 

Next EDU Gurus?

I’m always open to hear new voices, yet I have this piece of doubt that creeps up in me every time I see some new “Top (insert number here) Educator” list. It seems pretty random and nothing really fresh more times than not.

YouTube shared its “Meet the YouTube Next EDU Gurus” video yesterday. I expected some corporate deal to be mixed in, but I was pleasantly surprised to see some great young faces who seem genuinely excited about the video medium to share their passion for their subjects. Take a look at the video then jump over to their individual channels and see what engaging content you can find.

 

Meet the YouTube Next EDU Gurus today: http://goo.gl/SKMRB

www.youtube.com/AmorSciendi

www.youtube.com/AsapSCIENCE

www.youtube.com/bozemanbiology

www.youtube.com/hughesdv

www.youtube.com/KemushiChan

www.youtube.com/Lexie527

www.youtube.com/mathapptician

www.youtube.com/powerm1985

www.youtube.com/profspop

www.youtube.com/SpanishIsYourAmigo

A Chance to Breathe


Photo Credit: Darren Kuropatwa

Rarely do schools get legitimate opportunities to be a part of the legislative process in Texas. You can argue we always have the opportunity, but I can equally argue that our input is rarely welcomed or invited by many in leadership in Austin. But thanks to the work of Sen. Carona and Rep. Strama during the 82nd Session, the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium was created. White Oak ISD is one of the fortunate, hard working, twenty-three applicants chosen to play a part. The bill, the child of work from TASA’s Public Education Visioning Institute, offers member schools the chance to have a say in these four key areas:

  1. Digital learning–Engagement of students in digital
    learning, including, but not limited to, engagement through the use of
    electronic textbooks and instructional materials and courses offered
    through the Texas Virtual School Network;
  2. Learning standards–Standards that a student must master to be successful in a competitive postsecondary environment;
  3. Multiple assessments–Various methods of determining
    student progress capable of being used to inform students, parents,
    school districts, and open-enrollment charter schools, on an ongoing
    basis, concerning the extent to which learning is occurring and the
    actions Consortium participants are taking to improve learning; and
  4. Local control–Ways in which reliance on local input
    and decision-making enable communities and parents to be involved in the
    important decisions regarding the education of their children. 

The biggest piece of this work is centered around the next accountability system. If the bill works out as planned, the consortium members will draft a plan to be approved in the upcoming 83rd Texas Legislative session. That plan should provide consortium members some needed respite from the current testing system with the goal of utilizing that freedom in implementing a new system built around the bigger picture of the child’s learning and not just one day. That data will then be brought back to the TEA commissioner and the Texas Legislature for further recommendations in the accountability system updates.

I am fully aware that there are detractors already lining up to dismiss the work of this group. They are protecting their special interests and ignoring what should be the focus of the public education system: educating each student to his or her full potential. What gets lost in this is that these special interests think all kids have the same potential. They ignore the special needs of students above or below the norm. They wishfully think that every single child has the intrinsic goal of attending college and thus force curriculum and testing onto them with that in mind. They believe that students dropping out of school due to a “failing public education system” is improved by even more testing.

If these special interest groups would pull their heads out of the sand long enough to view the real world outside of their fancy office windows and stack of campaign checks, they’d realize we have a wonderfully diverse population in Texas. It is one full of future career professionals such as doctors, lawyers, educators, business men/women, and engineers. It is equally full of creative citizens who will ply their trade in welding, plumbing, electrical work, and carpentry. They’ll keep the infrastructure of our great state moving forward with a growing citizenry. No great state can be complete without successful citizens in all of these areas and more.

The fact that open-minded legislators, such as Sen. Carona and Rep. Strama, were able to push through a bill offering hope to an education system continually burdened with multiple choice tests shows just how much we need to change. Our system will not improve by piling on more of the same, regardless of what some say. It will improve by changing to meet the needs of our current customers: students with the broadest options for careers that our country has ever known.

Let’s get to work creating a system that holds schools accountable for that.

Why School? Will Richardson tells you why.

Below are my thoughts on Will Richardson’s new book Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere. I have to say, this was a great read that I have already shared with my entire admin staff. We are reading it prior to a district visit with Will and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach October 2nd. Looking forward to the follow-up conversations this book will lead to. It steps on a few toes, but it does so lightly and appropriately.

The following is my review of the book I posted to both Amazon’s site and the iTunes Book Store.

I’ve read lots of “school needs to improve” books over the last decade or so. What happens is that they get bogged down in repeating the same problem with different verbiage over and over. It gets old and boring and I quit reading. Will went the right track with this text. He nails the issues at hand, offers a little commentary, and moves on. This is a quick, but insightful read for any person interested in making positive, proactive changes in their schools and classrooms. Keep in mind what you want for your own child as you read throughout. One of my favorite passages from the book:

“What doesn’t work any longer is our education system’s stubborn focus on delivering a curriculum that’s growing increasingly irrelevant to today’s kids, the outmoded standardized assessments we use in an attempt to measure our success, and the command-and-control thinking that is wielded over the entire process. All of that must be rethought.”

I would postulate that the group who contends “if it was good enough for me when I was in school, then it’s good enough for these kids” are the group causing all of the drop out issues we are facing today. The quote above describes the Industrial Revolution education systems that are still in use today in far too many places. It is that mindless, fact regurgitation system that bores kids and disconnects them from the love of learning new things they had as toddlers. Failure to adjust leads to failure to succeed.

Listening to politicians and big business has gotten us nowhere over the least several decades, unless you consider making the testing companies giant, rich automation factories. Take from this book and consider the part you can play in improving the education system. Quit letting others with their own special interests make the decisions for you.

Flashback Post

This originally appeared on my blog 6/29/08 as a post titled “First Impressions and Being All Artsy Fartsy.” I am reposting it again below because I think the connections we make with our students are extremely important, and there is no better way to connect than with a strong first impression. This, to me, is a strong first impression. Can you imagine the joy of a parent finding something like this video posted on your classroom blog showing just how much you are willing to give to their children in the coming year? It makes a very powerful statement. Enjoy. 

 

Many folks like to introduce themselves at the beginning of the school year sharing who they are and what their philosophies are for the classroom learning environment. Kids just love this part as well (yeah right).

This is the most painful part of the year for me. At the elementary level when I taught first grade, they were zoned out from me within minutes. They just wanted to hit the centers I had set up. At the secondary level in the middle school classrooms, they sat politely because they knew the drill. First five or ten minutes of each new class was the “Hi, I’m Mr. Floyd, and….” part of the class. Boring. I try. Lord knows that. I just do not have the artsy fartsy bones in me.

Then, I come across folks like Beau Bergeron. This kid (23 years young) has a wonderful sense of conversation. I am more than happy to learn from those younger than me when they are so dadgum (Texas term) creative. I guess I can blame testing for my lack of creativity since it all started when I was in school (thanks H. Ross Perot), but probably not. Anyway, I digress. Take a look at what Beau has created below and enjoy. Most of all, take some time and think through the first impression YOU are going to create when the kids and parents come this year. I realize James Dobson says, “Don’t smile until Christmas.” But what impression do you want the kids to get about what your expectations are? I want to set the bar high and have them live up to them. When they see I put more energy into the classroom than I have to, hopefully they will do the same. It’s worth a try. Realize what you do speaks so much more powerfully than what you say. First impressions.  Then, when you are ready to work on your own, shoot me an email. Let me know what I can do to help you create yours.

Enjoy Beau’s mind and imagination. PS – Realize he played this video on the white shirt he wore to the event.

The students are not waiting on us…

nor should they. The Speak Up Survey brings out a pretty clear view of where many think schools are failing in preparing our students for the 21st Century world they currently live in.

It’s no surprise, but it’s encouraging if true: America’s students are not waiting for the rest of us to “catch up to their vision for 21st-century learning,” reports Project Tomorrow, which conducts the annual Speak Up survey, having surveyed 294,399 K-12 students, 42,267 parents, 37,720 teachers and librarians, and 4,969 school administrators and technology leaders in 6,541 public and private school districts this time around. As they should be, “students are already very effectively implementing [their] vision of socially based, untethered, and digitally rich learning on their own, in and out of school, with or without the assistance and support of their teachers or schools,” Project Tomorrow reports.

So we all now know that today’s kids know how to learn without us. What are we going to do about it? 

Hint: leverage their learning and interests

Bonus Hint: My friend Gary Stager reminds us, “Less us, more them.”

Plugged In

Photo Credit: mikefisher821