Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Can we see the future of education?

Frederick Hess recently was part of a panel discussion at The Aspen Institute. (Hess' part of the program starts at about 1:12:00.) He begins by stating that many people who talk about improving schools or fixing schools start with the premise that schools and teachers are a given. The stated goal of many is to improve education by fixing schools. That includes, among other things, improving teacher quality, holding people accountable, taking the institution as we have come to know it and making it better.

Hess' continues and suggests that institutions established to address one set of purposes at one point in time may not be equipped to address a new set of purposes in a new time.

Does this describe our schools? Were our schools created for one purpose to address one set of circumstances and now that purpose and those circumstances have changed? Are schools as we know them outdated?

In a world where the students in my schools have access to information at times and in ways that I do not control are schools as they are currently structured appropriate?

There are websites - http://www.wolframalpha.com - that help me solve equations.

There are phone and tablet apps that teach me how to spell - Little Speller First Words (http://www.grasshopperapps.com).

We have online virtual schools for students in grades K-12. Harvard and MIT have collaborated to create online open courses (http://www.extension.harvard.edu/open-learning-initiative).

Schools with teachers in buildings have been around a long time. But perhaps we are at a tipping point. Perhaps those of us invested in schools need to be invested more in ensuring that we create environments where our students will learn.

Maybe schools with teachers that have students arrive by bus at 8:30 AM (or 7:15 AM or 9:00 AM) and sit in desks in classrooms are the past of education and not the future.

The question is can we see the future?

Monday, October 29, 2012

What should we teach?

We have the Michigan Grade Level Content Expectations.

We have the High School Content Expectations.

We have the new Common Core.

And then there is this - The Sporting Journal. This sports website was created by a 14 year old who had an interest in sports. In the "About" tab one reads this:

Currently all our reporters are currently aged between 13 – 25 and are all very keen to learn and grow their skills. Our founder himself is a mere 14-year-old.

Those reporters will learn the skills they need to communicate, to write, to analyze by creating their website. As we think of those young reporters, the question is not what school is for but how can school engage these young people by connecting what goes on in school with what goes on in their life?

How do we - those who say that we are educators - take the power that is available in technology and social media and create an educational system that taps into the interests, skills, and enthusiasm of those we teach?

(I learned about The Sporting Journal" in Will Richardson's book Why School? I would recommend it.)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Giants Win the World Series!

I was driving between meetings today and happened to tune into sports radio. I was surprised by what I heard.

It appears that after one game in this year's World Series we can call the whole thing off. As I understood the conversation, the Giants have won.

Now, technically, they still have to win three more games but the callers were convinced that after one disastrous game by my Detroit Tigers that the Tigers had no hope.

I was somewhat stunned.

I must tell you I was stunned last night as well when the Giants hit rocket after rocket against Justin Verlander. My belief, as well as the belief of many in Detroit, was that Verlander would win the game. He had given up just two runs in this year's playoffs. At one point he had not allowed a run in 84 at-bats.

But last night! Oh boy - he was not very good. Or the Giants were very good.

Regardless, the callers to sports radio today were united in their belief that the Series was over.

Again, I was somewhat stunned.

Granted things look bad right now. But, my fellow Tiger fans, don't give up.

Tiger fans, let's us unite to remain optimistic. In a Business Week article about the economy and optimism, the author suggested that "practical people should open their minds to the opportunities to be seized just as much as to the dangers to be dodged."

Michiganders - we are practical people. We can see possibilities as well as dangers. Let us focus on the positive.

Another website suggests that the "anticipation of difficult events is almost far worse than the events are. Your mind can often be your own worst enemy."

As this conversation rattled around in my head today I thought about the business of schools. At times there is a lot to look at pessimistically. The new Common Core. Waivers for NCLB. Increased expectations from the state. Reduced funding. Tighter budgets.

The list of potentially negative news can be long. At times it can seem a bit overwhelming.

Yet, I have reason for hope. There are opportunities to be seized. The future can look bright. The sun is still rising.

So let us commit to seeing the possibilities!

(Now if Doug Fister pitches the way Justin Verlander did, I may rewrite this!)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Comparing bottoms (and tops)

Too much time has been spent by the state in trying to defend its new system of classifying schools and by districts trying to argue that the state's new system is fatally flawed. This is particularly true in Oakland County where a number of school districts have landed in the state's new "Focus Schools" classification.

Focus Schools are defined by the state as those schools with the largest achievement gaps in the state. That is not in dispute. What is disputed is whether these schools deserve what they perceive to be a scarlet letter.

The state Superintendent has stated that this methodology "looks solely at achievement and unmasks students who were hidden in previous accountability systems." Looked at from one perspective that may be true. This new methodology does identify schools that have large achievement gaps.

However, many of the schools in Oakland County would argue that the system may identify the schools with large achievement gaps but it then hides the schools with overall low achievement. And, these schools would argue, what is worse - an achievement gap or low overall achievement?

There are two fundamental questions in this debate that deserve an analysis:
1. Are the gaps bad?
2. Does focusing on the bottom 30% continue to mask differences in achievement?

Let's look at the answers to these questions. On the first question - are the gaps bad? - the answer is more complex than the state would lead you to believe.

First, let me state that I believe our responsibility is to ensure that every student is proficient. Our district goal states that all students will achieve at a high level. We have defined that as every student being proficient.

Having said that I would argue that gaps are inevitable. There is no possible way to ensure that all students perform at the same level. Even if every student was proficient there would still be a range - and the range could be quite large. If the bottom of the range is proficient what is the top of the range? In any group there will be some students who significantly outperform their peers.

The appropriate goal is not to eliminate gaps. A more appropriate goal is to ensure that every student moves forward every year. Our district's number one goal is to ensure that every student makes at least one year's growth in one year's time. In our district we have institutionalized a gap because we understand that the school's responsibility is to take a student where they are and move them forward. If everyone from the barely proficient to the highly proficient move forward then you will continue to have a gap.

As long as everyone is proficient the achievement gap loses its significance as an important marker.

Every district in the state has a range of performance. In my district the schools with the gap happen to be high achieving schools. We are not arguing that there is not a gap. What we would argue is that while we have a gap other schools have a more serious and systemic problem - low achievement.

Look at this chart. It compares the percent of students' proficient in math who are in the bottom 30% of students in each school in Novi with the percent of students' proficient in math who are in the bottom 30% of students in other schools in Michigan.
  In the bottom 30% how many students are proficient in math
Novi School 71.95%
Novi School 64.63%
Novi School 38.15%
Novi School 68.75%
Novi School 41.33%
Novi School 50.92%
Novi School 29.22%
Novi School 19.04%
District X School 0.72%
District X School 1.56%
District X School 0.98%
District X School 5.08%

The interesting part of this chart is that only one of the schools in the comparison district (District X) is classified as a Focus Schools while all but one of the Novi schools are classified as Focus Schools. To be clear, of the four schools in District X one is a Focus School. Of the eight schools from Novi seven are Focus Schools. Yet, even though Novi schools are classified as Focus Schools, Novi schools have significantly more students proficient. 

Remember, this chart takes the bottom 30% at each school and shows how many are proficient. Every school will always have a bottom 30%. The clear and obvious point is that many of the schools not identified as Focus Schools have much lower achievement than many of the Focus Schools.

The state can argue all it wants that Focus Schools have gaps and I would not disagree. What I do disagree with is that the state then argues that our gaps are worse than schools with overall low achievement. If I was a parent I would much rather my child go to a school that has high achievement and a gap than go to a school with lower achievement and no gap.  

Yet when the state Superintendent talks about Focus Schools he uses phrases like the following: "In our efforts to identify Focus Schools, we feel that it is important to bring up data-driven results that need to be addressed if we are going to close the alarming achievement gaps in Michigan schools, so that we are truly serving ALL of Michigan’s students – especially those who are not yet proficient."

What is alarming to me is that there are schools in Michigan that have proficiency rates of less than 1% or 2% or just over 5% that the state does not single out in an achievement classification and that can hide under the radar without having anyone draw notice to them. The data is clear to me. These schools are not serving all students and have significant numbers of students who are not proficient yet they are not publicly called out and labeled.

Here is a "data-driven result" - the schools that have a problem with students "not yet proficient" are not always the Focus Schools. The schools that have a problem with students "not yet proficient" are those schools that have embarrassingly low proficiency rates. Yet, in the state's classification system, many of these schools are not labeled as Focus Schools because they do not have an achievement gap.

The state Superintendent also uses phrases like, "The Focus School methodology looks solely at achievement and unmasks students who were hidden in previous accountability systems."

Yet, if we are looking "solely at achievement" and trying to "unmask" students hidden in accountability systems, it appears that schools that have proficiency rates in the 1%, 2%, and 5% range have a more significant achievement problem than schools that have proficiency rates significantly higher than that.

So are achievement gaps bad? I would suggest that achievement gaps are one factor that must be examined. But achievement of all students is also a critical factor. Many schools labeled Focus Schools have high achievement and a gap. Many schools not labeled have no gap but low achievement.

That leads to the second question. Does the Focus Schools metric really reveal achievement? I would argue that it does not. The state tries to argue that gaps are bad. In my mind gaps are less problematic than overall low achievement. In the schools in my district the majority of the students are proficient. In many districts in the state that is not the case.

The label Focus Schools indicates that a school has a wide gap between the highest achievers in the school and the lowest achievers. It does not reveal anything about achievement. In fact, as noted in the numbers above, many Focus Schools outperform non-Focus Schools, have fewer students who are not proficient, and have more students who are proficient.

The state Superintendent in correspondence with the media points out that Focus Schools have 0% of students in their bottom 30% proficient in social studies, science, and math.

Yet that statement is true of almost every school in the state of Michigan. Most of the students in the bottom 30% of any school in the state are not proficient. The schools in my district are not unique.

Look at another chart that summarizes performance in the state.

SubjectPercent of Michigan Schools with 0% proficient in the bottom 30% of their student test scores
Social Studies99.80%

The bottom 30% in any school are by definition the lowest achievers in the school. Yet the performance of the lowest 30% varies widely. Additionally, just because students are in the bottom 30% in one school does not mean that they are not proficient.

In one of the schools in my district there are 27 students in the bottom 30% at 3rd grade reading. Of those 27 students 8 are considered proficient and 11 are considered provisionally proficient. So of the 27 students 19 are actually calculated as proficient.

In one non-Focus School there is no one in the bottom 30% labeled as proficient. Yet that school's low achievement is masked because it is not identified as a Focus School. How is that not having a system that hides proficiency and achievement?

The state also calculates a top 30% in each school. In one school in my district the average of the scale scores of the top 30% in math was 378.05. In this school the average of the scale scores of the bottom 30% was 317.26. Of the 80 students represented in this group of students in this school 57 were calculated as proficient by the state - that's 71.25%. Of the students not calculated as proficient 16.25% fall into achievement level 4 - the lowest performing category.

In a non-Focus school the average of the scale scores of the top 30% in math was 346.19. That is 31.86 points lower than the Focus School. The average of the scale scores of the bottom 30% was 309.03. Of the 105 students represented in this group of students in this school 53 were calculated as proficient by the state - that's 50.47%. Of the students not calculated as proficient 40.00% fall into achievement level 4 - the lowest performing category.

These two schools represent a difficult truth for the state. The school labeled a Focus School has higher average scores in the top 30% and the bottom 30% than the non-focus school. The school labeled the Focus School has more students who are proficient than the non-focus school. The Focus School has fewer students in the lowest achieving category than the non-focus school. The Focus School is a higher achieving school than the non-focus school on every measure except the achievement gap measure.

If I am a parent I want my child attending the school that has higher achievement even though it has a larger achievement gap. 

The state has created an achievement classification system that points a finger at Focus Schools and says improve. Yet, there are many non-focus schools who have lower overall achievement, have fewer proficient students, and have more students performing at a lower level that receive no state sanction or classification.

This reflection is not to suggest that the state create another way to rank schools. But when the state Superintendent says that Focus Schools "leave 30% of their students behind" and that the "students in the lowest 30% subgroup deserve more" he is suggesting that those students are failing. The evidence from my district does not support such wide, general statements.

Certainly in my district there are students who are not proficient. But the evidence - the data - suggests that the number of students who are not proficient in my district is less than the number of students who are not proficient in other districts. Yet my district is saddled with the Focus School label.

There appears to be no "reward" for having high achieving students in this new system. In fact, it appears that high achieving students create a disadvantage because their high achievement makes the lower achievement of other students a negative. Even when that lower achievement is still higher than the achievement of other students throughout the state.

I do not claim to have an answer for the state as we seek to create a system for evaluating teacher/administrator/school/district performance. I know that the state received feedback from my district and from others that we had significant concerns with this new system.  

Any system creates winner and losers - those that meet the standard and those that do not. It just seems to me that this system does not give a true measure of achievement no matter how loudly the state says that it does.

Maybe what the state should do is just publish the data in a way that is accessible to everyone in Michigan. Here's a sample table that the state could use for 3rd grade reading:

Number of students tested in reading
Number and percent of students proficient in reading
Average of the scale scores of the highest 30%
Average of the scale scores of the lowest 30%
Number and percent of students in the lowest achievement category

So what is the outcome of all of this brouhaha about Focus Schools?

I would argue that it is much ado about nothing except for the fact that it gives the impression that a school not labeled a Focus School is actually a better school than a school that is labeled a Focus School. That is simply and unequivocally not true.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

Let's look at the data

Mike Flanagan, Michigan's State Superintendent of Public Education, has decided to defend a system that is indefensible. His technique is a classic propaganda technique - provide part but not all of the data.

Today, Mr. Flanagan sent an email to educators throughout the state of Michigan. In this email he talks about the state's new achievement classification system. Quoting from his correspondence he says, "The Focus School methodology identifies schools with the largest achievement gaps."

He is correct about that. But he makes that seem like a bad thing. In some instances I am sure that it is but in my schools it is not.

The Focus School calculation measures the difference in performance between the highest 30% and bottom 30% in a school. Those with the largest difference in the state are labeled Focus Schools.

Mr. Flanagan argues that "some schools have been going along thinking they are doing well, when in fact, large numbers of students are struggling."

I am here to disagree! There are not large numbers of students struggling in my schools. There is a range in ability. Our goal is to help every student move forward every year. If I do that there will always be a gap because those at the high end are moving just as those at the low end are moving. The vast majority of students in my district are proficient. The data is clear on that.

In my district we have seven schools labeled as Focus Schools. Here is the data on the "bottom 30%" from two of our Focus Schools.

School One
  % Proficient Reading % Proficient Math % Proficient Writing % Proficient Science

Bottom 30% 86.58% 71.95% 25.92% 0.00%
African American 100.00% 42.85% 0.00% 0.00%
American Indian     . 0.00%
Asian American 75.00% 80.95% 25.00% 0.00%
Hispanic 100.00% 100.00% 0.00% 0.00%
White 91.66% 71.15% . 0.00%
Multi-racial     . 0.00%
LEP 64.28% 57.14% 0.00% 0.00%
Stdts. w/ Disabilities 61.11% 33.33% 0.00% 0.00%
ED 100.00% 50.00% 0.00% 0.00%

School Two

  % Proficient Reading % Proficient Math % Proficient Writing % Proficient Science

Bottom 30% 87.08% 64.63% 48.14% 0.00%
African American 71.42% 44.44% 100.00% 0.00%
American Indian        
Asian American 87.09% 80.00% 44.44% 0.00%
Hispanic 50.00% 60.00%   0.00%
White 92.68% 54.00%   0.00%
Multi-racial 100.00% 0.00%   0.00%
LEP 76.92% 42.85% 20.00% 0.00%
Stdts. w/ Disabilities 72.00% 17.39% 28.57% 0.00%
ED 33.33% 40.00% 100.00% 0.00%

Look at the percent proficient. In "School One" over 86% of the students in the bottom 30% are proficient in reading and almost 72% of the bottom 30% are proficient in math. That's right - in the bottom 30% of performers in this school over 86% are proficient in reading and 72% are proficient in math.

"But look," you say, "only 33% of the students with disabilities are proficient in math." That's right only 6 of 18 special education students are proficient in math. Remember those are students with a diagnosed disability and 6 of them are proficient.

Mr. Flanagan's propaganda would have you believe that this is a school that is struggling. Yet look at the numbers. When he calls it a Focus School and says it has a large achievement gap a person immediately thinks that large amounts of students are failing. But that is not the case!

There are schools in the state that do not have as many students proficient as this school does in its bottom 30%.

You might also say no one is proficient in science. Here is another dose of Mr. Flanagan's propaganda. Ask Mr. Flanagan how many school districts in the state of Michigan when you look at the bottom 30% of students have 0% proficient in science? The answer - 99.6%.

That's right - in almost 100% of Michigan school districts no one in the bottom 30% is proficient in science. Mr. Flanagan fails to point that out when he suggests that Focus Schools are doing a lousy job because no one is proficient in science. It appears that not one district in the entire state is doing well teaching science.

Or could it be that the measure of proficiency is unrealistic.

Mr. Flanagan would have you believe that Focus Schools are doing a poor job. But look at this data from another school in the state. This is not a Focus School.

School Three

  % Proficient Reading % Proficient Math % Proficient Writing % Proficient Science

Bottom 30% 59.84% 1.56% 0.00% 0.00%
African American 64.70% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
American Indian 100.00% 0.00% 0.00%  
Asian American 50.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
Hispanic 25.00% 10.00% 0.00% 0.00%
White 63.04% 1.11% 0.00% 0.00%
Multi-racial 0.00%   0.00% 0.00%
LEP 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%  
Stdts. w/ Disabilities 37.50% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
ED 56.81% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%

In reading 60% of their bottom 30% are proficient in reading but only 1.5% of their bottom 30% are proficient in math.  That's right - less than 2% of their bottom 30% are proficient in math. Yet the state suggests that they need no intervention because they do not have a large achievement gap.

They have no gap because all of their students are clustered around a much lower percentage of proficient than the students in my schools.

The bottom 30% in my school outperform the vast majority of students in this school. Yet my school is labeled a Focus School.

I am outraged that the State Superintendent would try and defend a system that clearly punishes schools that have high achievers. Does Mr. Flanagan want me to get off the Focus List by becoming like this school?

I refuse to do that. I will continue to help every student be successful. As a result we will continue to have gaps in my school.

Our goals in Novi are to ensure that all students will make a year's growth in a year's time and that all students achieve at a high level. What is a "high level?" It starts with proficiency. I want all students to be proficient. We are close to achieving that goal. Then we need to make sure that every student makes progress every year. That's our focus! I think it is the appropriate focus.

Mr. Flanagan I respectfully request that you come visit my district to see what we are doing to ensure that all students - every single student - has the opportunity to succeed.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Do numbers lie?

My wife and I went to see the movie "Trouble With the Curve." Clint Eastwood plays Gus, an irascible old baseball scout who believes you have to see a player play before you can tell if he will be any good.

Matthew Lillard plays Phillip Sanderson, the new age "moneyball" kind of scout who believes that everything you need to know about a baseball player can be found by looking at the stats on a computer.

Joe Massingill plays Bo Gentry, the high school baseball phenom.

Gus knows the numbers but wants to go up and see the Bo play.

Phillip doesn't think anyone needs to go see Bo play - after all the statistics are right there on the computer.

Gus knows you can look good on paper but be a lousy ball player.

Phillip thinks that numbers tell the whole story.

Gus thinks numbers can lie. Or at least he thinks numbers don't give you all the information that you need.

As I watched the movie I thought about the MEAP tests. These state assessments during the month of October will provide us with numbers.

But numbers, as Gus knows, can lie. Or, perhaps more charitably, numbers don't tell me everything I need to know about a student.

I get lots of numbers from the MEAP test, but do I get what I need to know?

Is all I need to know about a student revealed when I look at at a student's score on the MEAP test?

Or skip the MEAP test. Is what I need to know about a student seen when I look at how they did on the NWEA or the ACT or the EXPLORE or the PLAN or the CAT?

Or is there something else I should look at and look for?

The answer for me is easy.

I need numbers. I need some external measure of success. Standardized achievement tests do that. They give me an external measure that I can use to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a student.

But numbers can lie.

I also need a skilled teacher to tell me if a student has the courage to struggle to find an answer.

I need a teacher to work with and watch a student so the teacher can tell me if that student has the capacity to work with others, share information, and be part of a team.

I need a teacher to observe how students organize ideas, develop thoughts, and apply what they know to new and novel situations.

Just like Gus, I need to see a student not just look at the numbers.

The measure of a student is revealed by how she does on an achievement test.

Just as importantly, the measure of a student is also revealed by how well she does working with others and living in the world.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Don't miss your life!

As I stood watching the homecoming parade of Novi High School today, I saw parents with the children. They were smiling and laughing. Children in the parade were waving at parents who were taking pictures on the side.

It was wonderful.

It also reminded me that things go by quickly. My boys are out of high school and have been since 2007. Time indeed does fly. I thought back to homecoming parades they were in, homecoming football games they played, and the general business and craziness of being a parent of a high school student.

But time goes quickly.

Then I thought about one of my favorite songs. (I admit it - I like country music!)

It brings the message home about the importance of cherishing the time we have with our children.

I hope you like it as well.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The future is unknown but it probably will be different

What is the future of learning? It is hard to know.

We have been promised that technology will change education for a long time. And while technology has brought change and created new opportunities for students to learn, classrooms today look remarkably like the classrooms of yesterday.

Some are suggesting that the environment today is different. These education innovators are suggesting that technology finally will radically change learning.

It is hard to predict the future.  The following video provides a perspective. At times this video makes me uncomfortable. At times I disagree with what it is saying. At other times it makes complete sense. At other times I agree wholeheartedly with what it is saying.

What are your thoughts as you watch it?

Watch and think:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My Detroit Tigers and Public Education

My Detroit Tigers are in the American League playoffs. I say "my" recognizing that I am not the owner, a stockholder, or an employee. I am fan. Technically being a fan gives me no vested rights. But that is just a technicality. My definition of "fan" is broad enough to include caring about the team as if they were mine.

So my Detroit Tigers are in the playoffs. Much to my surprise I might add. I had written them off several times over the course of this season. Just a few short weeks ago when they lost games to the Chicago White Sox I told myself that it was time to stop caring.

Only I couldn't.

The Tigers are my team. They represent Michigan. They represent the area I live in. Each night as the season wound down I would check the TV. I would alternately be thrilled and crushed. I would yell at the TV or the radio. Sometimes I was mad, other times I was deliriously happy. Finally they overtook the White Sox and captured the Central Division crown.

Now they are in the playoffs. As I write this they are up two games to one over the Oakland A's. 

I should be thrilled. 

But I worry. They lost last night. What if they lose tonight? Then they have to play an elimination game tomorrow.

This is the life of a baseball fan. After the season - whether they win or lose -  I'll understand that the journey was worth it. Right now it is an emotional journey.

How does my experience of being a baseball fan connect to the experiences I have had as a student, a parent of three boys, and, now, as the Superintendent? Most of the experience of being a fan does not relate to schools but one part of the experience relates very well. 

People care about schools.

Teachers and administrators care.

Parents care.

Students care.

Our community cares.

A fan cares about the team. A fan wants the team to do well. A fan has ideas on how to improve the team. It is similar in schools.  

People who care about our schools want our schools to do well. They have expectations and when those expectations are not met they voice their opinion. 

In my role as the Superintendent, sometimes it is hard to listen to those who care about our schools because they are pointing out things that are wrong with our schools. I can see and understand the frustration. My job is to fix what's wrong. 

Other times people tell me about the great things that go on in schools, how much a teacher helped, how a principal went out of his or her way to make a difference. I listen to those stories as well. 

Why do people care about our schools?

People care because they understand that education gives a student a chance. An education does not guarantee anything but it gives every student a chance. If schools teach our children well then they will have the skills to make good decisions, the skills to get a job, the skills to make a difference in the community. It is not a guarantee but a chance.

Baseball fans want a chance.

Parents want their schools to provide a chance, an opportunity, a possibility. 

People care about schools because they understand that schools provide hope for the present and the future. People care because they understand how important schools are to providing opportunity. 

Baseball and public schools. Both great traditions!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Reading: The defense against our age of distraction

Two recent features on the radio started me thinking about the power of reading. In one, a Michigan State University professor began research on distractability. In the other an author in an interview for his new book spoke about how in our modern age it really is difficult to get and keep people's attention.

Both of these stories made me think about iPads and the internet and Twitter and Facebook and the way our modern world affords people the opportunity to superficially scan hundreds of articles and ideas a day. It made me ask again the question are we capable of focusing in our hyper-connected world?

The answer, from both of these stories, is yes.

The researcher found that the whole brain becomes involved when one engages in close reading. Parts of the brain that are involved in movement and touch become activated when a person becomes engaged in the act of reading. It is as if a person "physically places" themselves in the story.

The author, who also developed a smartphone application, talked about how people often move from website to website and app to app. Capturing a reader's attention and engaging them has increasingly become more difficult.

But reading can grab people.

Because reading has the potential to engage readers in deep and meaningful thought we need to help those that we teach learn not just the act of reading but give them tools to reflect on their reading. Developing the skills to engage in reading can and should help our students learn the skills of engagement in other areas of their life as well.

Reading, it appears, is one of the tools that we have to push back against the tide of superficiality and distractability that threatens to engulf our world. A true gift in our modern world.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Are schools ready and able

Will Richardson in his book Why School (how do you tell people the page number of a book you are reading in the Kindle app on an iPad?) says the following:

"Fewer companies will be willing to offer full-time jobs with health benefits or retirement plans when they can hire short-term contractors from anywhere in the world to do much of the work they need."

As I read those words I thought of the article in the New York Times that talked about a digital start-up that technically had one employee - the founder.

Richardson went on to say that:

"More and more, our children will have the chance - and, increasingly, be expected - to forge their own paths to an education and into the workplace."

That is a significantly different perspective than I grew up with. Schools need to help our student prepare for their world and not prepare them for the world that I grew up in.

My question is are schools ready and able to do that?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Training, skill, and a little luck . . .

Life has a unique way of playing out. Why events happen is, at times, hard to understand.

I have lived a life without much trauma or drama. 

Ed Gavagan has not. Listen to his story.

As I listened to this remarkable story what struck me was his affirmation that the chaos of the world can be beaten back with luck and, more importantly, with people who have training and skill.  

I want the people with whom I work to understand that they are the people Mr. Gavagan is talking about. His story revolves around the remarkable skills of surgeons and doctors. But everyday I see teachers and principals who push back against the chaos with students in our district.

Teachers and principals create opportunities, inspire, build up the confidence of struggling students, push students to go further than they imagined.

The students who show up in our classrooms and in our schools we don't get to pick. Yet everyday there they are. The job of the teachers in my district and in my schools is to use their training and skills to make a difference. 

And they do a remarkable job!