Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sacred work

During this holiday season I have begun to wonder if the the work of educators - teachers, administrators, school secretaries, school bus drivers, preschool teachers, school food service employees, the tech staff  - is sacred?

Sacred not in the religious sense obviously. But sacred in the sense that the work is highly valued and worthy of respect.

I would say that the work is sacred.

Those that choose to work in schools have chosen to a life that will influence children and young adults. In a school, the job does not matter. Students look at all the adults in the building to pick up cues on how to live their life, how to treat other people, and, most importantly, the value that education plays in their still developing world.

Schools are more than just places that children and young adults go to be safe for seven hours a day. Schools are more than just places that children and young adults go to be with their friends so that their parents can be about the important work of the world.

Schools are communities. As in any community, children and young adults learn the values of that community. Values such as the importance of hard work and working with and for others. Values such as not giving up and finding different ways to solve problems. Values such as supporting each other and not walking away when someone struggles.

Within the school community students learn the values associated with learning. These are the values that help students find their passion, develop their sense of their place in the world, and understand that they have something to contribute.

Everyone in a school helps students learn these valuable lessons.

It could be the bus driver who, as the first person most students see from the school each day, communicates, through their words and deeds, the importance of each student. The drivers recognize their responsibility to keep students safe but also their responsibility to help students learn to navigate life on a school bus.

One might say that the school bus driver is just a school bus driver. But, to me, that is not the case. School bus drivers understand that the twenty or thirty minutes a student spends on the bus can impact that student's day. The school bus is not just a mode of transportation. It is also, or it should also be, a place where students apply lessons they are learning about being proactive, solving problems, resolving differences, and looking out for each other.

It could be the food service worker - the lunch "lady" - who sees that a student is not eating and inquires why. Food service workers are busy, yet many take time to notice students, say hello, ask about brothers and sisters. These school employees are not just serving food, they are part of the culture that schools build that communicates to the students that they matter and that there are adults who will mentor and model how to navigate the world.

The secretaries often see and hear students at their most vulnerable - when they are sick or when they are hurt. The way the secretary treats those students in those times of stress teaches those students lessons that they will not forget.

The work that occurs in schools is more than just important. It is a sacred trust between parents, the community, and the school. The community and parents agree to support schools with the understanding that those who work in schools will honor the children who attend. Those that work in schools understand that we must help students learn the knowledge and skills that they will need to live in a world that we will not. The future that our children live into will be lived without us.

So the job that those of us who work in schools accept is the job of preparation. We know that our job is to prepare our students with knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will help them continue to improve the world.

While those of us who work in schools know that the future does not depend on us, it does anticipate that we will not fail. Parents, the community, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends all play a huge part in the development of our students. But the work that goes on in schools is essential.

Those that work in schools understand that we cannot afford to let down those who come through our doors every day.

Does that make our work sacred?

I believe that it does!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Exurberant Skipping: Managing my own happiness

I walk my dog Kaya several times a week. Most of the time my wife and I walk together.

Last Sunday, however, I walked Kaya by myself. As I walked along I suddenly had a irresistible urge to skip. So I did.

Now before you laugh skipping has a rich history as a great exercise. It benefits your heart, your brain, and battles osteoporosis. (Granted most of the benefits of skipping talk about skipping rope and not just skipping but I digress.)

So last Sunday I occasionally skipped as I walked Kaya. Now I am not saying that people were surprised, but even Kaya, our blind dog, wondered what I was doing.

Photo: Walked this morning with Kaya. I added random exuberant skipping to my walk. I'm not saying I looked funny but even our blind dog Kaya stopped and stared. But I did learn two things. It's harder than it looks. And you have to smile when you skip.

So I asked myself, "What am I doing?"

After considering this for a few moments I decided I was trying to combat negativity.

Let me explain. As I have reviewed some of my recent entries here I noticed a pattern. It seemed like I was starting to become a complainer, a whiner, a "negative Nellie" if you will.

Not that there isn't a lot to complain about. Our state legislature has been debating legislation that would require 3rd graders to be retained if they failed the state reading assessment. They were also debating a new school accountability system that would force 5% of the schools in the state to be failed - regardless of performance.

In the spring the legislature passed legislation that allowed any student in grades 5-12 to take two online courses a year - paid for by the local school district. No evidence was presented that this was a good idea but still it is state law. We have to publish the new online catalog starting January 2014.

Then last week the new PISA results were released. The United States education system took another pounding.

So overall the last couple of weeks have given me plenty of reasons to look at the world through dark lenses instead of rose colored lenses.

So Sunday I decided to fight back. Step one - skipping.

Happiness is a choice. No matter how bad the world gets I still have the choice. I can choose to be happy or not.

Sunday I decided that I wanted to be happy. Skipping seemed like a good way to start.

Happiness, for me, is a hot topic. What has been most appealing to me in these discussions about happiness is the idea that I can control my own happiness.

As an example, having a purpose in life tends to make your happier. The greater the sense of purpose, the happier we feel. The belief that I need to reserve my energy for me instead of reaching out to others will probably work to reduce my happiness. The thing that is most likely to help increase my happiness is reaching out.

So Sunday I decided, as I was skipping, that I would become more intentional about focusing on my purpose in life and less focused on the things that work against me.

And I'll skip occasionally.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Apple Newton, Nehru Suits, and Online Learning

Not to sound like a curmudgeon but what is the fascination with the new?

Before this discussion begins I must confess that I drive a Saturn Ion, a car that is not even made any more. It is 9 years old and has 213,498 miles on it. So it may be possible that I am not the best person to be speaking about the concept of new.

However, to certify my "new" chops, so to speak, and to demonstrate that I am not necessarily anti-new, I am also the person who has owned an Apple Newton (the first PDA that had limited success), a Palm PDA, and a Palm Pilot phone. I am on my third iPhone.

I download books using the Kindle app on my iPad. I'm an Amazon Prime member.

Once upon time in the 1970's I tried to talk my parents into buying me a Nehru suit (James Bond had one - come on).

I got my hair permed once or twice.

So I am not necessarily anti-new.

Still, in the grand scheme of things, it seems that something new is typically valued and the "old," the "reliable," the "tired and true," or the "traditional" is not valued.

This seems to be especially true with public school. There has been a rush of late to suggest that the "traditional" public school is an anachronism - outdated, a relic, fit for another time and place.

What we need, we are told, is something new. Virtual schools are the new thing. Learn online.

The state of Michigan has been on this bandwagon for some time. In 2006 the then new Michigan Merit Curriculum required on online learning experience. While somewhat ground breaking at the time, it seems relatively tame today.

To be clear, I am not opposed to expectations that students can and should be expected to learn online. In fact, much of the learning that I do is done using online materials.

However, the state legislature pushed the requirement for online forward with section 21f of the FY2013 School Aid Act (see page 2 number 2 - Online learning). As a follow-up, on August 1, 2013, each school Superintendent in Michigan received a letter informing them that the state legislature in the State School Aid Act 2013 approved a provision that would allow "any pupil in grades 5 to 12 to enroll in up to two online courses during an academic term, semester, or trimester." Schools are required to publicize the online offerings beginning January 1, 2014.

Again, I am not opposed to new. I am just wondering why.

Opening this up creates a whole series of additional questions. Now that 25% of each teacher's evaluation is comprised of student data, what happens to the data for an online student? If a student takes a math class online, the student growth math data for that student should be assigned to the online company - but will it? The MEAP/MME test scores for a student who receives their content online should have to be eliminated from a school's or a teacher's evaluation - but will it?.

If a student wants to take an online class during the school day, who monitors that student? If  the student is assigned to the computer lab is the school required to staff the lab?

Will students in my district have an online experience? I believe that they will. But I believe it makes more sense to let the district and the school figure out how to implement it rather than mandating it from the state.

It seems to me that passing legislation like this is akin to mandating that everyone must wear a Nehru jacket.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Forcing failure: Why stacked rankings are absolutely the worst way to evaluate schools

"Stacked rankings" are the business equivalent of education's bell curve for grades. A few "A's" and "F's" and a whole lot of "C's".

Microsoft has used stack rankings. Some argue that it led to Microsoft's "lost decade"; a loss of collaboration and creativity. 

Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft.
Kurt Eichenwald
Vanity Fair, August 2012

HB 5112 (page 14), recently introduced in the Michigan state legislature, requires the following:

  1. No more than 10% of public schools are assigned a grade of A
  2. Approximately 28% of public schools are assigned a grade of B
  3. Approximately 31% of public schools are assigned a grade of C
  4. Approximately 28% of public schools are assigned a grade of D
  5. and at least 5% of public schools are assigned a grade of F

Stacked ranking - enshrined in state law.

Microsoft thinks so much of it that they have abandoned it. Brustein says that "corporate America has largely lost confidence in management programs that jam employees onto bell curves."

Yet, HB 5112 requires failure.


The cynical side of me is inclined to believe that it is because those opposed to public schools want to ensure that there will be failures. 

This model refuses to accept that all schools could be doing well. 

Why not create a real system that honestly evaluates what is occurring without mandating that there be failure? 

Public schools are doing good work. Instead of mandating failure let's create a system that honors the hard work and the success is occurring in public schools. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Forced retention in 3rd grade: Bad practice, bad policy

As a former reading teacher I understand the value and importance of reading. Readers who struggle early will have an increasingly difficult time as they progress through school.

The Michigan state legislature has proposed legislation that would force retention of 3rd grade students based on their performance on the state assessments. 

However, retaining students based on their performance on just one state assessment in 3rd grade is bad policy and bad practice.

In Novi we have four different assessments of third grade students.

The MEAP test, given in October of the third grade year, provides an initial assessment of his/her achievement as a student enters 3rd grade. Given proper instruction this performance is likely to improve over the course of third grade. There are still 8 months of instruction left before the student is ready to leave third grade. Basing their retention on this metric alone is inappropriate.

We also give the NWEA – a nationally normed assessment – in September and May for students in grades K-10. This assessment provides a growth measure which gives us a tool to identify if a student is making growth over the course of the year.

For third grade students this provides us with a tool to see if they are growing and if they would be ready to continue moving ahead.

What if a student is showing growth on the NWEA by the end of 3rd grade but was not proficient on the MEAP at the beginning of third grade? Is it appropriate to retain them even though they were showing growth?

Also, consider the scenario where a student is not proficient on the MEAP but is proficient and at grade level on the NWEA. How would we explain to a parent that their student is being retained even though a nationally normed assessment indicates that they are on grade level?

We also use a literacy based assessment called Fountas and Pinnell. With this assessment students actually read to their teachers and teachers can identify if students are where they need to be or not. Additionally it is a measure that is used multiple times throughout the year.

Again, a student could not be proficient on the MEAP but is at level using the Fountas and Pinnell. How do we explain to a parent that the state is requiring us to retain their student?

Finally, our fourth assessment, is the ongoing work that teachers do with students throughout the year. Good teachers do not need a test to know if a student is performing at grade level or not. Assessments help confirm what good teachers see every day. If there is a discrepancy between performance and assessment the teachers judgement needs to be part of the discussion. 

What is proposed is bad legislation.

If legislators feel the need to do something, I would suggest that an alternative would be to state the following:

“Students must be assessed in a variety of manners to determine their achievement and growth. The state will allow districts to determine these multiple measures. The multiple measures must be communicated clearly to parents. If a student is not proficient on multiple measures school personnel, parents, and the students must work together to identify appropriate intervention strategies.”

This alternative probably won't be adopted because it honors the judgement of professional educators.

However, simply retaining students based on their performance on one assessment is not good practice or good policy.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Let's focus on students not the noise

The world is a noisy place. But it's not the noise from cars, trains, airplanes, construction sites, buses, cellphones, air horns, or traffic that concerns me the most.

No, the noise that concerns me the most is the noise from critics of public education.

The latest noise comes from those who suggest that we are failures!

The latest PISA results - the international test of  15 year-olds  - confirms that we are failures.

It says so here - US teens lag behind - and here - American schools: Expensive, unequal, bad at math - and here - PISA tests results are sobering.

Yet, this morning in Novi Middle School I sat with students who students who were talking about math in ways that I never talked about math. Mrs. Grant's 8th grade Algebra I students seemed to understand more about the topic of solving equations and inequalities than I did. Mrs. Brown students were discussing exponential functions. And Mrs. Deroo's students were explaining and exploring graphs.

These were 14 year-old students who sooner than they realize will be compared to other students from around the world. How will they stack up?

If I listen to the noise I might begin to believe that they will not stack up well.

But my job is not to listen to the noise. My job is to focus on the students who actually sit in the seats in the classrooms in my district. When I focus on the students in my district I understand that my responsibility is to prepare them to be successful.

That means I must have a school system that will provide them with academic skills. They need to learn. Content is important.

But I also must help them develop tenacity, grit, and determination. I must have a system that helps them learn to be empathetic, learning to listen to and care for others. I must encourage the development of creativity and problem solving.

Does the PISA, the TIMMS, or any international assessment test for those skills?

The "noise" focuses on the relative performance of our students when compared to students from around the world on a narrow bandwidth of skills. The "noise" does not trumpet the limitations of its assessment. International assessments have been around for a long time and their track record of identifying who is better than students in the US in the long run is not stellar. The countries with the highest test scores in the 1960's, for example, had the lowest scores on national success decades later. I don't hear much noise about that.

So what does this all mean?

It means that I need to focus on the students in my schools not the noise.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What do educators have to be thankful for?

The last few years have been difficult for those who work in Michigan's public schools. Laws were passed that forced both administrators and teachers to implement a new evaluation system. A whole series of previously negotiated rights for teachers were classified as "prohibited subjects." Bus drivers, custodians, and food service workers have either been privatized or forced to accept steep concessions in many districts.

School districts have seen a series of "accountability" systems. A top-to-bottom system ranks all districts in the state. A color-coded accountability system was implemented in which over 95% of districts in the state were rated yellow or red. It is safe to assume that yellow and red are not the preferred colors.

So as Thanksgiving rolls around it is fair to ask, what do those of us who work in schools have to be thankful for? Let's make a list.


They challenge us, they frustrate us, they even ignore us. But they also inspire us. They ask of us our very best. Every day they arrive and expect that we will provide a safe place for them. They expect that we will help them be prepared for their world. They expect us to help them understand the complexities of a future that they - not us - will spend most of their lives in.

We can be thankful for our students. We see them grow. Our job is to help them. For that we can and are thankful.


They challenge us, they frustrate us, they even ignore us. But they also inspire us. They ask of us our very best. We share with them our frustrations and our successes. We ask them questions. We answer theirs. We are vulnerable and strong, depending on the day and the student.

We can be thankful for our colleagues. They help us grow. We help each other survive. For that we can and are thankful.


They challenge us, they frustrate us, they even ignore us. But they also inspire us. They ask of us our very best. Every day they trust us to treat their children well. Parents believe that we will help their children prepare for a life to be lived well beyond the walls of our schools. Parents are willing to listen to us because they believe that we, like them, want the best for their children.

We can be thankful for the parents in our district. They support us. They challenge us. They want the best for their children. For that we can and are thankful.

It's Thanksgiving. There is a lot for which to be thankful!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Public schools and the power of mental frames

Simon Singh has an interesting talk on the power of mental frames. His discussion relates to the larger issue of the big bang, something that I am clearly not an expert on, but I think his point is valid in another arena as well.

Singh's point seems to be that sometimes people see and hear things that are not really there. He also suggests that there are those who intentionally try to shape what we see and hear. This is especially true in situations where there seems to be a lot of noise or interference. Because our minds seek meaning we sometimes make connections and fill in the blanks with patterns and organization that is really not there.

In conversations about education there is a lot of noise. There are many conflicting opinions about the state of education - especially public education. There are those who are trying to get us to make connections that I do not believe are there. There are those who are planting ideas in the hopes of convincing us that public education is broken.

But public education is not broken.

Yet, there are those who continue to fill us with the idea that public education is broken. When Governor Snyder took office he started a dashboard to report on what he considered to be key indicators to measure success. One of the measures that he chose to highlight was the ACT college readiness benchmarks. According to this benchmark only 18.1% of Michigan high school graduates are ready for college.

But this is a classic case of what Singh was talking about  - planting ideas in the hope of creating meaning that is not there.

If one looked further one could find on a state of Michigan website evidence that for the graduating class of 2012 (switch the view to percentage) over 60% enrolled in college.

The cynic might suggest, "Yes those students enrolled in college, but how many were actually prepared for college?"

The cynic might believe that only 18% of the graduating class of 2012 was actually prepared for college. After all that is what Governor Snyder and the Michigan education dashboard would have you believe.

But that is not the case. (Switch the view to percentage) Only 17% needed remediation in math, only 11% needed remediation in writing, and less than 10% needed remediation in reading.

Governor Snyder could have highlighted these numbers on the Michigan education dashboard. But he didn't. Instead he chose to highlight a number that he hoped would create and reinforce a mental frame that would have us look at public education as a failure.

But public education is not a failure.

Can public education get better? Absolutely!

But public schools meet the needs of students and prepare students for the next step in their life. Instead of listening to those who want to persuade us that something is wrong, we should instead look at the data and listen to those who will help us see that public schools are doing good work and preparing student to be successful.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Going too far: One parent's confession about helping too much

When my son was in 8th grade he earned a "C" on his first English paper.

I reassured my son that was OK. He could review the comments from the teacher, make the necessary corrections, and do better next time.

I will never forget his response.

"That won't happen Dad," he said. "Whatever you get on the first paper you get the rest of the year."

I was stunned. How could that be? That's not fair I thought to myself. It also obviously cannot be true I reasoned. A teacher would never do that to a child.

So I did something that I am not proud of. I wrote my son's next paper.

I rationalized that I was doing it to prove a point. I was going to show my son that he was wrong. A teacher would not take the easy way out and give grades based on the first assignment of the year.

Now, with the wisdom that time instills, I realize I went too far.

Why didn't I just call the teacher and relay what I had been told?

If I was worried about the teacher's reaction I could have gone to the principal and shared what my son had said.

I also could have reviewed the paper he wrote to see if it was a "C" paper. Perhaps I could have helped him see how the teacher was right and he could improve his writing.

No, instead of doing those proactive and positive things, I determined the right thing to do was show my son that he was wrong.

My son could have learned lessons about review and revision. Lessons about working hard, reflecting on current performance to improve future performance, and taking the time to do your best were lessons that I short-circuited for my son.

Immediately after he took the paper to school I realized how foolish I had been. He was supposed to learn in 8th grade. He did not need me to write his papers.

Let's say that he was right. Let's say that teacher really did base the entire year's assessment on the quality of the first assignment.

Instead of writing the paper I could have taught my son to advocate for himself with the teacher. I could have helped him learn how to discuss his writing and talk with the teacher about how he had improved.

Instead, I took the easy way out. I decided I would write the paper and show him that he was wrong or at least ill-informed about this teacher.

He let me, of course. Why would an 8th grader reject a father's offer to write the next English paper?

Technically I was the adult in that situation. I should have known better. I could have taught my son lessons that would prepare him as he grew about taking ownership for his work, advocating for himself, and standing up to those who were being unfair.

But, I didn't.

Parents make mistakes. This was one of mine. Thankfully I never wrote another paper for my son. It was a lesson I needed to learn.

By the way, I earned a "C" on the paper I wrote as well.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Lessons learned from middle school students

Well, it's almost over!

Not the world or the Lions Super Bowl jinx.

No, the Novi Middle School 8th grade Washington DC trip is almost over.

We left the Novi Middle School parking lot last Wednesday night on seven buses. It's now late Saturday night (or is it early Sunday morning) and the seven buses are headed back. We have six hours - more or less - to go.

In the last 72 plus hours we've seen national monuments, museums, and statues. We've seen places and scenes from history that broke our nation's heart. We've seen how men and women sacrificed for others and for something bigger than themselves.

We've also seen middle school drama. To middle school students the drama was real. There were real tears and real emotion.

To the adults, who years ago lived through middle school, the drama did not approach the drama that adult life has to offer. But the adults recognized that our job was to offer counsel and help these young people live through the drama so that they could look back one day and laugh at middle school drama.

What did I learn on this trip?

I learned lessons that I already knew.

I learned once again that Novi Middle School has an incredible staff and the city of Novi has an incredible police chief.

I learned that the world is full of adults that care about kids.

I learned that Novi Middle School has some amazing kids. They were polite and respectful.  They laughed. They (occasionally) said please and thank you. They listened - most of the time.

Yes, these middle school students had their faults. They never could walk on the right side of the sidewalk. However wide the sidewalk was they would fill the whole space. Their hotel rooms after twelve hours looked like a clothes bomb had gone off. They occasionally had a hard time focusing in museums. They griped - just a little - about walking over seven miles on day one and five miles on day two.

But these middle school students from Novi made me proud. They learned a little history. They learned a little about themselves.

Not a bad way to spend three days.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bus #3: Lessons learned with middle school students

I don't really fit on Bus #3. The other 45 people on board - 24 middle school boys, 18 middle school girls, and three adult chaperones - all attend Novi Middle School. The chaperones are teachers. The boys and girls are students.

Boys are in the front. Girls are in the back. Chaperones sit in the middle - the demilitarized zone if you will.

I'm the Superintendent and, on this bus, a bit of an outsider.

There are seven buses all told. Over 300 students and 27 chaperones. We are bound for Washington DC. The 8th grade trip.

It's late. After midnight. We left Novi at 8:00 PM and will drive all night. We will get to our nation's Capitol in time for breakfast. We will spend three days in a whirlwind of activity.

But right now it's quiet. Everyone has settled down nicely.

Two rows ahead of me a young man squirms trying to get comfortable. Behind me two girls whisper and giggle.

Middle school students can be a handful. All hormones and emotion. Decision making is not a strength.

Yet tonight, as I sit on this bus and look at the students who surround me, I can see their innocence. They have so much to learn about the world.

Oh, I know, they probably know more than I do about the world. Yet, they lack perspective. These young men and women can teach me a lot. Yet, they need me as well.

The world they live in is sometimes rough and cruel. They are confronted by rudeness and inappropriateness every day. Adults model behaviors for these young people that, as the Superintendent, I cringe at.

Yet, tonight on a bus somewhere in Pennsylvania on the way to Washington DC, I realize that these young people need our best effort. They need adults who care. They need adults who will lead. They need adults who will help them learn. These young people need adults who see the potential in each and every one of them.

The world moves fast. These young people need adults who will help them find their voice so that they can keep up.

I'm glad I'm on this bus. I'm glad I get a chance to interact with these young people. I hope I can help them find their way.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Who knows what's best for students who struggle?

The Michigan State House has introduced legislation (HB 5111 - here is a summary) that would prohibit Michigan school districts from promoting 3rd grade students to 4th grade if they did not pass the 3rd grade MEAP reading assessment.

As a former reading teacher I understand the value of reading. Reading is central to learning. Students who struggle to read are going to struggle to learn.

Yet this bill does not make sense.

The 3rd grade MEAP is given in October. School promotion decisions are made the following spring. Are we really going to retain a student based on an assessment that is eight months old?

In my district we have very few students at the 3rd grade who do not pass the MEAP assessment. Of those who did not pass the 2012 MEAP assessment in 3rd grade 72% of them were identified as ESL or Special Education students. Is it appropriate to use one assessment to determine if they should be promoted or retained?

The MEAP does not measure growth. Shouldn't the growth that occurs between October, when the MEAP is given, and the following June, when decisions about promotion or retention are made, be factored into decisions about promotion or retention?

Finally, students who struggle need support. In our district we attempt to create a variety of supports for students who struggle. This bill suggests that the only thing that students who struggle need is to be retained. Yet I believe that what students who struggle need is support. Will there be a companion bill that identifies how the state will support these struggling learners?

This bill attempts to fit a simple solution to a complex issue. In doing so it takes away from local school districts - who work with students every day, who communicate with parents on a routine basis, and who understand issues related to motivation, student background, and interest - the ability to determine what is right for a student.

This bill suggests that the state legislature knows what is best for struggling students in every district in the state.

I would disagree.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Building a community of learners

This week in my school school district I saw one principal doing this:
I saw another principal doing this:
I saw a whole staff doing this:
You might ask why?

Mr. Ascher, the man in the trash can, was participating in his school's Halloween Parade. Mr. Brickey, the Michigan Wolverine, was cooking hamburgers and hot dogs for his staff to celebrate the Michigan-Michigan State football game. The Village Oaks staff was dressed up for Halloween in their bootcamp theme.

You might ask is this the most important thing a principal or a staff can do?

I would say yes - with a caveat.

Students learn best in schools where they have a connection. Connections are created when we, the adults in the building, communicate that they care. These staff members went out of their way to communicate to the students in their building that they care. This fosters relationships, which in turn can foster an environment for learning.

If this was the only thing that happened in these schools I would be upset. But it is not. I have walked the hallways and sat in the classrooms in these buildings. I see students who are engaged. I see teachers and administrators who set high expectations. The message is clearly sent that our schools are places where students learn.

But the foundation for these students is built upon the quality relationships that are built when principals dress up as trash cans and when principals cook lunch for their staff and when staff show their students a different side of their personality. These acts help to build relationships.

And relationships matter in education.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What's a parent to do? Read and talk to your children

What can parents do to help their children succeed in school?

Read to young children.

Talk to adolescents.

In her book "The Smartest Kids in the World," Amanda Ripley talked about the survey of parents associated with the international PISA tests, assessments that form the basis of international student comparisons. She states:

When children were young, parents who read to them every day or almost every day had kids who performed much better in reading, all around the world, by the time they wee fifteen (p. 108).

I then went to the PISA test site and looked at their report, Let's Read Them a Story, and that report, in chapter one, said:

Reading books to children when they are just beginning primary school and talking with adolescents about topical political or social issues are shown to have a positive impact on children’s learning. Even just reading at home benefits children, because it shows them that reading is something that their parents value.

Amanda Ripley sums it up nicely:

Parents who read to their children weekly or daily when they were young raised children who scored twenty-five points higher on PISA by the time they wee fifteen years old. that was almost a full year of learning.

What's the take away?

Read to your children!

Talk to your adolescents!

Start today!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Detroit Tigers stir passion. Does School?

My Detroit Tigers are killing me!

But before we get into that, let's start on a positive note.

The Tigers made the post-season. They won their first-round divisional match-up. They have had three pitchers start a game and not give up a hit for at least five innings. They are playing for the American League championship and a chance to go to the World Series.

But still they are killing me!

I was fortunate to be able to attend the game on October 15. The Tigers lost 1-0. In the 8th inning the Tigers had runners on first and third with one out. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder were coming to the plate. Surely one of these men would drive in a run to tie the game. They did not.

The Detroit Tigers are killing me!

On October 13th the Tigers led 5-1 when I gave up and went to bed. It was late. I get up early. Surely a 5-1 lead in the 8th inning is safe. It was not.

The Detroit Tigers are killing me!

On October 12th the Tigers starting pitcher gave up no hits for seven innings but walked six batters. Boston's first hit came in the 9th inning. Surely this was one of those "easy" games, probably a runaway victory. It was not. Detroit won 1-0! The game lasted took almost four hours to play.

The Detroit Tigers are killing me!

But, truth be told, I am happy about it. The Detroit Tigers are my team. I root for them. I watch them on TV. I attend their games (when I can). The Tigers make me care.

During that ill-fated 8th inning on October 15, Austin Jackson stood on third base and Torii Hunter stood on first base. Miguel Cabrera strode to the plate and the crowd rose to their feet waving their towels hoping for, if not a miracle, at least a base hit. The crowd was electric!

The enthusiasm, the passion, the collective will of the crowd was fun and energizing.

On my ride home from the game, I asked myself, "What is the corresponding school experience? What stirs our passion? What generates this collective enthusiasm in our schools?"

It is easy to say nothing. There is nothing about education that stirs our passion like - in this case - playoff baseball.

But is that true?

It is true that schools do not have edge-of-the-seat, white knuckle, extreme joy, crushing disappointment experiences like play-off baseball.

But I have seen passion in schools.

Today I saw it in Ms. Zimmerman's kindergarten classroom as she engaged her students around the daily calendar. Students laughed and smiled, they sang and cheered.

Yesterday I saw it in the orchestra class at Novi Middle School. Ms. Rais was introducing a piece of music from the Harry Potter movies that she wanted her students to play. Students were reading along with the music as Ms. Rais played a recording of the song. At the end of the song a student blurted out, "That was awesome!"

I have seen passion in art class, in English, in physics.

In physics? Yes! In Mir. Didio's class at Novi High School students were running experiments on acceleration and velocity, I think, and there was genuine interest and passion about the results.

Schools may not have the white-hot, edge-of-your-seat passion that playoff baseball does. (The events that get recorded where people are screaming at school board meetings don't really count either. Those moments are not really about positive energy and, at times, have little to do with actual teaching and learning.)

But schools do generate passion. I've seen students genuinely enthused and excited about what they were learning. They had to talk about it. They had to find out more. They blocked out distractions to focus on learning.

My Detroit Tigers play tonight and I will be wrapped up in their game. But tomorrow I know that in my school district there are teachers that will inspire students to engage in learning in powerful and passionate ways. I believe that school stirs passion. I have seen it, felt it, and enjoyed it.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Homecoming 2013

Who are these people? They are high school teachers at Novi High School waiting patiently at today's pep rally to perform their hip hop dance in front of the student body.

Why would high school teachers willingly agree to perform a hip hop dance in front of the student body?

Who is this? This is one of our high school teachers and would-be dancers ready to perform. Why would a high school teacher dress up like this and be willing to perform a hip hop dance in front of the student body?

The answer to these questions is the same. These teachers understand that relationships matter. When students connect with teachers learning improves.

Dr. Joe Clark (@DrJoeClark) in a tweet earlier this year said the following:

Not one rule your make the first day of school will cause good behavior in May. 
But every strong relationship you make will.

Teachers can connect with students in a variety of ways. These Novi HS teachers are willing to connect during our per rally. Other teachers connect by making sure they say hello as students enter the classroom. Some teachers attend football games. Some teachers coach. Some teachers call students at home. Other teachers open their rooms before school or stay after. 

Teachers also connect by ensuring that they create engaging lessons. They don't waste students time. They communicate that they respect students but making sure that every day in their class is meaningful. 

Every time a teacher takes the time to communicate that a student is important the relationship is strengthened, students are more engaged, and student achievement improves.

I appreciate our teachers and our staff who take the time to build relationships. 

I'm just glad they did not ask me to dance!  

Friday, September 13, 2013

It is time to change the dominant narrative

Dominant narratives are powerful.

Dominant narratives are the stories that we believe to be true. Sometimes the narrative is true. Others times the narrative is not, but we act as if it is because it is the dominant narrative.

I recently came across this article that captures the power and the danger of dominant narratives. The article tells the story of a basketball player whose "raw talent" is "exceptional," "precocious," "formidable," and the like. Yet, he never became a star.

The dominant narrative was that he was an exceptional player. Yet he never proved it.

I see a similar narrative taking place with our public schools. One current dominant narrative is that public schools are a failure.

I am here to say - they are not!

But this narrative is so pervasive that people believe it even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Let me explain.

Many schools in our state are doing wonderful things. Yet the state's new accountability system places the vast majority of public schools in our state in the yellow category. Venessa Keesler, Deputy Superintendent for Education Services with the Michigan Department of Education, said that yellow rating is a "warning."

The dominant narrative is that over 80% of the schools in Michigan should come with a warning.

That's ridiculous! Yet, that's the dominant narrative.

The dominant narrative says that only 25% of high school graduates are prepared for college. Yet, according to the state of Michigan's own website, only 27.55% of students who graduated in 2010 (the last year for which they have data on their website) took a remedial course in college. Broken down it shows that only 10% took a remedial reading course, 12% took a remedial writing course, and 21% took a remedial math course. So how can it be that only 25% of students are college ready yet 63% did not need any remedial course in college and 90% did not need remediation in reading and 88% did not need remediation in writing, and 79% did not need remediation in math.

The dominant narrative is trying to say that public schools are a failure.

They are not.

It is time to change the dominant narrative.

Public schools are successful. Public schools educate successfully the students who come through their doors.

Can public schools improve? Of course.

But the dominant narrative should be that public schools are working and they are getting better.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Does school still mean something?

School starts Tuesday in my district.

As I look forward to Tuesday, I wonder does school really have a place anymore?

After all, students can learn online 24 hours a day.

I see billboards advertising the virtues of virtual schools as I drive to work.

Many districts in Michigan have opened their borders and accept students from different communities.

So is the local public school still something that is important?

There is a passage in Ivan Doig's book The Whistling Season that has fascinated me and stuck with me since the day I read it many years ago.

Out beyond the play area, there were round rims of shadow on the patch of prairie where the horses we rode to school had eaten the grass down in circles around their picket stake . . 
Forever and a day could go by and that feeling will never leave me. Of knowing, in that instant, the central power of that country school in our lives.
Everyone I could think of had something at stake in that school.
We all answered, with some part of our lives, to the pull of this small knoll of prospect, this isolated square of school ground.

Do schools still have that "central power?"

Do community schools still mean something in the year 2013?

I think they do.

As I sit on this Thursday afternoon in my office, the girls high school swim and dive team is competing in its first meet of the season.

The Novi HS football team plays its first game tonight.

Teachers have been in all week working with each other, talking about lesson plans and students.

The high school marching band had its camp over three weeks ago.

Parents visited our elementary schools last night to meet teachers and talk to principals.

Our cooks and bus drivers and maintenance staff have spent countless hours getting our schools ready for the start of another school year.

Even with all of this activity I still ask myself, do schools still mean something? Do schools still ask of people to give something? Do schools still pull communities forward?

Again, I answer yes!

Schools connect a community. Teachers connect with students. Students connect with adults outside of their family. A love of learning and a passion for learning are passed on from one generation to another. Students begin to see, through the lives of the people in their school, that there are things to be passionate about.

For a student, schools become places where they learn that they are important. The adults in a school communicate to the students who attend that they matter. Teachers who take an interest in a student help that student understand that they are important.

Schools create places where students learn to fit in. Some students fit in with the athletic teams, others in the band. Some students connect through Quiz Bowl or Student Council or Safety Patrol. In community schools places are created and opportunities are presented for students to learn life lessons by connecting in a club or school activity.

Oh schools can falter. Schools can be places where students are bored or where they feel bullied or ignored or left out.

But community schools work hard to be places where students understand that they have a place, they have an opportunity to learn, and that they have adults who care about them.

Schools do mean something.

As this school year starts in my community, my hope is that we can continue to make schools mean something to every student who attends and to every family who trusts us enough to send us their children.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How do I explain?

The state of Michigan released their latest version of the school accountability scores today. It is color code!

  • Green
  • Lime green
  • Yellow
  • Orange
  • Red

My guess is that you know exactly which color is better than the other.

Here are scores from two middle schools in Michigan. One is orange (bad) and one is yellow (caution). Guess which school is which.

Group % Proficient
All 85%
Bottom 30% 50%
Asian 97%
African American 59%
White 83%
Economically Disadvantaged 56%
Students with Disabilities 55%
Group % Proficient
All 59%
Bottom 30% 10%
Asian 70%
African American 37%
White 62%
Economically Disadvantaged 48%
Students with Disabilities 39%

Can you guess which is which? Which school has a lower rating than the other?

That's right! The school with 85% proficient overall and which had 50% of its bottom 30% proficient was orange.

To make the point clear, the school with the higher test scores overall and higher scores within subgroups - some significantly - was rated as less effective than the school with the lower test scores.

Now the state would argue that the new "color coded" system is not designed to compare schools. The state would argue that it is based on goals met and goals not met.

But each school has different goals based on subgroups. If you have few subgroups you have few scores. Each school has different goals.

There is a nuance to the system that clearly will be lost in translation.

The colors evidently have very little to do with actual performance.

The state system expects you to stand on land that you cannot stand on. Each parent is now, as we speak, looking at the color of theirs school and comparing it to the color of other schools. Parents will assume incorrectly that schools with orange are worse that schools with yellow and that schools within yellow are all the same.

Here is another example.  Two yellow schools. According to Vanessa Kessler, a deputy superintendent at the Michigan Department of Education, yellow doesn’t mean a school is average. Yellow, she said, “is caution.”

Group % Proficient
All 81%
Bottom 30% 37%
Asian 96%
African American 54%
White 78%
Economically Disadvantaged 56%
Students with Disabilities 43%
Group % Proficient
All 66%
Bottom 30% 9%
Asian -
African American -
White 68%
Economically Disadvantaged 53%
Students with Disabilities 34%

One school has 81% of its students proficient; the other has 66% of its students proficient. One has 37% of the bottom 30% of its student proficient and the other school has 9% of its bottom 30% proficient. Yet both schools are rated the same. Both schools are yellow.

It is not true. These schools are different. One school I would suggest has higher achievement and is more successful than the other. Yet the state rates them both the same.

Now some may argue that I am biased. Some may argue that I disagree because the schools in my district are rated poorly.

The schools in my district can improve. The schools in my district can get better.

To have a system that so fundamentally miscommunicates to the public, to parents, to school staff suggests that the system is broken.

The system is fatally flawed.

Monday, August 12, 2013

My private heresy: I don't care about the state "scorecard"

Any day now my state (Michigan) will release its latest "school accountability" report. This year's version is called the "scorecard." Calling it a "scorecard" suggests that the state has the capacity to identify school winners and losers. After all, the only reason you keep score is to see who wins.

When the state reveals this year's scorecard, I will, as Superintendent of Schools, be asked how I interpret the results.

My answer, "I don't care."

That is probably not entirely true, but let me explain.

I don't care what the state "scorecard" reveals because the results cannot tell me anything that I do not already know.

We have great schools in my district. Students learn. Teachers and principals care.

We have National Merit Semi-Finalists and Finalists every year. We have Advanced Placement Scholars and International Baccalaureate graduates. We have Siemens Award winners.

We have state Quiz Bowl champions and state debate champions. We have students who do well on science fair projects and math league competitions.

We have an award winning theater troupe. Our bands and choirs earn the highest marks at solo and ensemble festivals.

Our athletic teams are competitive and, at times, the best in the state. We have coaches who challenge students to improve but more importantly care about each student.  

On the objective measures that the state seems to care inordinately about we do well. Results from the MEAP and the MME rank us among the highest performing districts in the state.

On the NWEA, which our district uses to measure growth and achievement, students perform remarkably well. They perform at a high level and they consistently hit their growth targets.

We have one of the highest graduation rates in the state. Our student attendance rate is exceptionally high.

We have wonderful diversity in our district. We have students from a wide range of backgrounds and countries. This diversity provides an opportunity for our students to experience the world that they will live and work in and gain experiences that will give them confidence as they go off to college and enter the world of work.

We have achievement gaps. Some of these gaps are quite large. We have put in place a variety of supports to address these gaps. We have created smaller classes for students who struggle in math and reading. We have math and literacy coaches. We have reading support teachers. We have created an Academic Advisory at the high school and an Academic 20 at the middle school to connect students in smaller groups with a teacher who cares and who can help focus them academically.

We have teachers who run a Math Boot Camp and who come in early and stay late to tutor. We have teachers who call parents and encourage students every day.

I know our schools. They are wonderful, rich, vibrant, and exciting places to learn. Our district goals challenge us to help each student make a year's growth in a year's time and perform at a high level. We accept that challenge and together we are working hard to ensure that each student is challenged to reach their potential.

We are creating a robust, internal accountability system. This will allow us to us to focus attention not only on the state measurements but also our own internal assessments to give parents a clearer and more accurate picture of their son's and daughter's achievement.

So do I care about the state "scorecard?" Not really. Because I know my schools. I know the teachers and the principals. I know that we are making progress and that a state "scorecard" cannot truly capture the good things that happen in my schools every day.

The only reason I care about the "scorecard" is that I have to answer questions about what the "scorecard" means. So when the state "scorecard" is finally revealed, I will let my community know that I believe in our schools. I believe that we are great and getting better.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Teacher evaluations: So soon old, so late smart

The old adage - so soon old and so late smart - seems oddly appropriate as the conversations continue to swirl around how to evaluate teachers.

It seems as if the conversation has been raging for years - so soon old.

But it also seems that we are no closer to deciding how to evaluate teaching and what characteristics we should see in classrooms - so late smart.

In teacher evaluation, school administrators have played a large part in bringing us to where we are today. For many years, we allowed a system to be created that did not honor teachers. It was a system that looked for minimal compliance then rated almost everyone as satisfactory. Satisfactory was seen as excellent by many. We allowed this perception because we, the school administrators, were not willing or able to have deep and meaningful conversations about teaching and learning with teachers.

That is not to suggest that we have a host of teachers who are incompetent hiding beyond public view in our schools. Quite the contrary. the vast majority of our teachers are effective. A smaller subset of those teachers are very effective.

To be honest, and fair, teachers have also been complicit in our old teacher evaluation system. Teachers, in my opinion, were hesitant to be singled out as exceptional or above average and settled for the "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory" rating system. Less turbulence in a system such as that.

Many teachers also rightly pointed out that the evaluation system needs to be more robust since judging teacher performance on just one or two hours out of a whole school year does not really give a well rounded picture of a teachers' talent.

Now, we have entered a new era. Now, thanks to legislation and changing perceptions, teachers must be rated. We must also use student data as a piece of evidence. In Michigan, 25% of a teacher's evaluation will be based on student growth during the 2013-2014 school year. The next year that increases to 40% and the year after that to 50%.

I am still not convinced that these changes will significantly change teacher evaluation. If a principal has been unwilling to have deep and meaningful conversations about teaching and learning in the past a new system will not change that. Administrators need to have the courage to do the job that they have been hired to do. The most important job of an administrator is to make sure that high quality learning environments are created in classrooms everyday. In order to do that an administrator needs to be in classrooms, talking to teachers, having conversations with students, and monitoring teaching and learning experiences.

That is not because the teaching and learning experience is poor. In my district good things happen everyday in the schools. But we can be better. We can be more reflective on what is working and what is not. We can be more reflective on how we use, or waste, time. We can be more reflective on what the student data is telling us about what students are or are not learning. We can be more reflective on if our students are engaged and interested in what is going on.

Teaching and learning is important. If we can use teacher evaluations as a way to elevate the conversation between administrators, teachers, and students about what is going on in classrooms then we will create the classrooms that we need to educate the students who show up in our classrooms every day.

Then we will not feel old and we will find ways to be smarter about the most important thing that we do in schools - teaching students.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Student success: Two ends of one road

There are two significant ends of a continuum that as a Superintendent I have yet to understand how to embrace.

On one end of the continuum are the good things we do as a district. I want to promote these good things. I want to give our community confidence that we are helping students and that we are making a difference in their lives.

The most recent example comes to us courtesy of the just released Michigan Merit Exam scores. Novi High School has among the highest scores in the state. We should be proud of that fact. Many of our students demonstrate a high level of achievement and the majority of our students are in the advanced and proficient categories.

When results like these are released, districts send out press releases concentrating on the positives. Local newspapers promote these achievement like here and here and here and here. The state even gets into the act with press releases promoting the upward trends.

All this is done with the best of intent. We want the public to have confidence that schools are doing the job.

But there is an opposite end of that continuum. While the majority of the students in Novi do exceptionally well, the truth is there are students that we have yet to figure out how to help. We don't like to talk about it in public because it is uncomfortable, but it is true.

So, often, we hide behind composite scores and we talk about "as a group" or "on the whole" our students are doing well. That way we - the state and districts - can report that things are going well without having to embrace or publicly discuss the things that are not going well.

But for certain students in our districts and in our schools things are not going well.

So how can I - the Superintendent - embrace the two ends of this continuum?

First, celebrate success.

Honor the work that our teachers do and celebrate the success of our students.

Second, don't hide the fact that we have some students who struggle.

When we try to hide those numbers we unintentionally devalue the students in those positions. We need to communicate clearly that we honor those students as much as we honor those that achieve at a high level. Additionally, we need to communicate that we will find ways to support and help those students succeed.

Third, recognize that some of the success that we have in school districts can be traced not only to our staff but also to our parents and community. Many of our students are successful because our parents provide the environment and support they need to be successful. The scores that are reported reflect, in some way, the efforts of our parents and community. As a district we have to be humble and grateful for the support that we receive.

Finally, as a district we need to focus on each student. Every student - whether he or she is the student who excels or the student who struggles - deserves to be in a challenging instructional environment. We cannot let those students who are successful just coast because they already know the curriculum just as we cannot let the students who struggle sink because they take extra time and effort.

Every student is important and deserves to be challenged.

So, what is a Superintendent to do? How can I celebrate the good we do while at the same time clearly express that the students who struggle are important and that we have plans to help them succeed?  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

FISA courts, national security, and student testing: What's the connection?

What follows may be a stretch but hang with me. I think there is a connection.

Recently on NPR author Tim Weiner was interviewed about our national security program, the FISA court, and the recently revealed government surveillance program.

While interesting, none of what he said really related to my world until he said the following:

"Our capacity to collect (information) far exceeds our capacity to analyze and act."

Bells and whistles went off in my head. This is part of the problem in American education. Everyone it seems wants to collect information. However, collecting information is not the most important part of what we do. The critical act for us is analyzing information, figuring out what the information is telling us.

In our district we have tried to streamline the information that we collect. We do benchmark assessments with the NWEA twice a year only. Aside from state assessments we try to limit other more formal assessments. The informal classroom based assessments are meant to provide more timely, focused information.

Some of the teachers, and most likely the principals, in my district might argue, some rather passionately, that we test students too much. In the first month of school we give both the NWEA and the MEAP (state required) assessments. We also administer the Fountas and Pinnell assessments. Throughout the year we also administer unit pre/post-tests, end of course or end of semester exams. We administer the MME (state required) assessments to 11th grade students that includes the ACT assessment. We also use the EXPLORE and PLAN assessments with our 9th and 10th grade students.

While that seems like a lot of assessment, the total time for the standardized assessments is less than 2% of student hours over the course of a year. Honestly, we use about the same amount of time lining up students at the end of the day.

I would not disagree that the best use of classroom instructional time is for instruction. However, an important component of effective instruction is understanding what students know and can do. That requires assessment. So at some level assessment needs to be given some time to occur over the course of the year.

The question is, as Mr. Weiner so eloquently put it, do we have the capacity to analyze and act?

I believe we have the capacity. In the case of education, an additional question is do we have the will?

I know that we have teachers and administrators who are willing to and who have the ability to look at data and see what is going on in the life of a child. \

But sometimes it is easier to rely on our hunches or our informal observations or our experience with a child. I would not disagree that those are important and valuable pieces of information. But the information we can gather from more formal assessments is also valuable. It gives us another perspective that can either help us confirm or reject what our more informal data collection has revealed.

Teaching, it has been said, is both art and science. We need to remember that as we try to sort through the data that we collect on our students. We cannot focus on the data to the exclusion of things we see in the classroom. We cannot focus on our classroom experience to the exclusion of what more standardized assessments tell us.

We must be better than those who collect data for national surveillance. They have become quite adept at collecting data. We have traveled a piece of that road. Now it is time to make sure that we are also prepared to analyze and use the data to help students learn.

Monday, June 10, 2013

I am a number, but that doesn't tell the story

I'm a number.

I have an age - 56.

I have a weight - 212.4. That's still high but down from what it was last summer. (It will be down later this summer. Check back for updates.)

I have a waist - 34. At least I tell myself that it's 34. I'd like it to be a 32 but right now it is probably more like a 36.

I have a height - 6'1".

I have a blood pressure - 110/60.

I have a pulse rate - 65 while resting.

I had an ACT test score - 28 - although I am a little unsure how long that is really good for.

I have a shoe size - 11. Although with some shoes I need a half size bigger and with others I need a half size smaller. Don't ask me why - I can't explain it.

There is a number for almost any part of me.

One might argue that I could be defined by my numbers. They, in theory, tell you how healthy I am, how fast I am, how smart I am.

These days there are people who want to use numbers to define our schools. Match a test score with a teacher and whiz-bang you have a number that will tell you if that teacher is doing a good job.

I happen to believe that numbers are a good thing.

But I think numbers are being asked to do things that they cannot do.

Numbers can give you information but they can't give you answers.

People give answers. People figure things out.

So while we have a lot of numbers with schools what we are missing are answers.

Numbers can't define schools anymore than numbers can define me.

Numbers can describe me. They can identify very specific parts of me. But numbers don't tell the whole story.

Numbers can't tell you about why I laugh or smile.

Numbers can't tell you what I care passionately about or what I love to read.

Numbers can't tell you why I love baseball or why I am so bad at golf.

But numbers are easy to find.

So sometimes we invest numbers with magical powers that they do not have.

Numbers give information but people give answers.

So in my school district we are forced to use numbers to evaluate teachers. And we will.

But we will also ask teachers what they know about the numbers. What do the numbers say?

I am not looking for numbers to give me an answer.

I am looking for a teacher, a principal, a person to give me an answer.

The numbers might be able to tell me what a student scored. A teacher will be able to tell me what it means. A principal will be able to help me understand.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Why the world is different and schools must be as well

Boeing, according to the Seattle Times, is now using robots to "wash, apply solvent to remove dirt, rinse and then spray two different paint types. They reach,even into complex spaces inside the open wing root that must be painted for corrosion protection."

It used to take a team of painters 4.5 hours to apply the first coat of paint. The robots do it in 24 minutes.

The inspiration for this change - the automobile industry. 

Jobs that used to be there are no longer there. Those jobs have been going away for a long time. Those of us who live in the industrial Midwest have seen this trend - have lived this trend - with the automobile industry for quite some time. As we continue to move forward the routine jobs, the manual jobs, the jobs that used to pay well will continue to go away. 

They will be replaced by jobs that require students to think more and do less.

Those of us who educate students understand we need to educate students to program the robots instead of educating students to paint. 

The world will always need doers but the present and the future require schools to produce thinkers.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Did I learned anything important in school?

Did I ever learn anything important in school?


But, of course, I'm supposed to think that. I'm a Superintendent.

The question is what?

Neil Gaiman has said:
I've been making a list of the things
they don't teach you at school.
They don't teach you how to love somebody.
They don't teach you how to be famous.
They don't teach you how to be rich or how to be poor.
They don't teach you how to walk away from someone
you don't love any longer.
They don't teach you how to know what's going on
in someone else's mind.
They don't teach you what to say to someone who's dying.
They don't teach you anything worth knowing.

Each of us could add to the list that Mr. Gaiman started.

They don't teach you how to laugh.
They don't teach you how to enter a room and feel comfortable.
They don't teach you how to react when you get
a phone call with terrible news.
They don't teach you how to be a friend.

The list could go on and on. School does not teach us everything. 

But is it true that school doesn't teach you anything worth knowing? No!

School doesn't teach us everything. It is not supposed to. School can't teach us everything. There is just too much to know.

That's where parents, grandparents, friends, uncles, aunts, and others come in.

That's why we develop passions and interests and do our own research. 

But that brings us back to the question that we started with - what did I learn in school that is important?

It's not so much that school taught me specific things that I will remember all my life - although it did. I learned about the periodic table and simplifying equations and the APA method of citations for papers. I learned specific tasks to help me complete specific homework assignments. I learned multiplication tables and spelling words. I learned the classics and the not-so classics. 

I followed the tried and true math trail - algebra, geometry, algebra 2, and pre-calculus. I circled the globe learning about countries. I wrote papers. I completed projects in shoe boxes. 

I learned the curriculum that was taught. And that was important.

The things I learned in school prepared me for college. It gave me a foundation that allowed me to continue learning. 

But I also learned the curriculum that was not taught and that schools on occasion don't want to recognize.

I learned that people are not always nice. I learned that some people turn their backs on you and others embrace you. I learned that navigating the social pathway helps you learn a lot about yourself and a lot about other people.

I learned that looks are not everything. I learned that some people think they are.

I learned that some adults are your advocates and some adults are not.

I'm in a school because I believe in schools. Can schools be better? Absolutely.

Do I believe that schools help people learn things that are important? I believe that they do!