Archive for August, 2007

Running without Opposition

August 31, 2007

I learned this afternoon that I will not be opposed for the school board vacancy.  That certainly makes the campaign easier.  As I have joked to people, I will feel bad if I lose.  But all joking aside, I am sorry for the school district and for the community.  I also understand that no one filed for the seat currently held by Robert Auman.  That means that six people – the six board members – will choose a person to fill that position – hardly the democratic process for which one hopes.

I believe that one of the potential virtues of a campaign is that it can foster a conversation.  In an ideal world, campaigns would be a time in which the community talks about the directions we would like to see our schools move.  We would talk about what is working well and what we should be doing more, better or differently.  After a conversation of this type over a couple of months, the community has the opportunity to vote and offer support for the candidates who they believe will best represent the community’s aspirations.  I hope that we can still have this type of conversation as a community.  It will take more effort without the incentive of a competitive election.

I still intend to be active between now and November 6.  I already have visited four schools.  I have two more school visits scheduled and four more pending.  I plan to go door-to-door on my own and with groups on October 7 and 14.  I have two community conversations scheduled for September and hope to do more in October and November.  My goal is to broaden and deepen my understanding of the community’s aspirations for public education and public schools so that, as a member of the school board, I can be mindful of what’s important to people.

I am looking forward to the opportunity to serve.

What is core? What must change?

August 25, 2007

I originally wrote this article for the Daily Times-Call.  It was published in October of 2005.  The content still reflects my opinions.

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Great organizations preserve their core purposes and simultaneously evolve in response to a changing world.  This is one of the lessons taught by organizational guru Jim Collins.

Public schools should head this wisdom.

I am among those who believe public schools are one of our most essential institutions.  There is no better bellwether of our community and nation than the health of our public schools.

I also believe public schools must fundamentally evolve. The timeless values of public education, which should never change, boil down to three things for me:  access, accountability and community.

Access is important on many levels.  A quality education, more so today than ever, is the only way to gain access to the American Dream.

Beyond education’s utilitarian value, ensuring access to all public schools (distinct from a public school) is a testament to the kind of society we want for our children.  For instance, do we want our children to live in a society built on a commitment to equity or privilege?

Institutions that receive public funds should answer to the community.  For me, this means school board members should ensure access to, set standards for and monitor the performance of schools receiving public funds. We must take care, however, not to confuse oversight with operations.  In other words, a school board should not micro-manage schools.

Public schools are one of the best and few places we have to nurture democratic skills and build community.  Indeed, few institutions embody our interdependence like public schools.  It should always be an express purpose of public schools to bring together diverse groups and help them learn to forge one community.

What must change?  Here are a handful of changes I believe should be priorities.

We should create what leading education thinkers call a “portfolio” of schools that offer families distinct choices.  It is arrogant to believe there is one best way to educate children.  In our pluralistic society, ignoring demand for choices is a sure way to erode support for public schools.

There are many successful school models.  Some families prefer Core Knowledge, others believe in International Baccalaureate.  Some want dual-immersion language schools.  Still others prefer a Montessori approach.

I don’t profess to know the best mix for a St. Vrain portfolio.  The community must be involved in making setting priorities.  The point is we should provide options so that as many families as possible can find a place in our public schools.

Today, we need public schools to meet an unprecedented challenge.  Our schools must prepare every student for higher education rather than just a fraction.

The only way for schools to respond in a way significant enough to meet this challenge is if we rethink how teachers, administrators, students and parents work together.  Our schools must become organizations in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

We must respond as a community, too.  We can begin by funding schools commensurate with the expectations we profess to hold.

Beyond dollars, we need community members to take an active role in schools greater than we’ve imagined.  We need public schools to truly be community schools.

A key to changing a system often is changing the incentives, as a friend recently reminded me.  Currently, there are strong incentives for schools to superficially comply with laws and regulations at the expense of the needs and interests of the school community.

As Howard Gardner writes, “The fatal limitation of a carrot-and-stick approach… is that this behaviorist tack ignores what motivates human behavior: a feeling that one is engaged in something of consequence… to the community, to the students, to oneself.”

We must create incentives that will unleash the energy and serve the unique needs of each school community.

Today, the very franchise of public schools is at stake.  The choices we make about what to preserve and how to evolve will determine public school’s fate.

Families, Not Just Children

August 24, 2007

If you spend much time around schools or educators, you will be sure to hear someone say, "We need to do what’s best for the children." Asking what’s best for the children is an essential touchstone. But, I would like to challenge everyone involved in education to broaden that perspective just a bit. We should also ask, "What’s best for the family?"

We will do our best at educating children when we keep the child in the context of family. Schools can’t succeed without families.  What’s more, educating our children is the most intimate (deeply personal) thing families do.  We must not strip away that intimacy.

When we narrow our focus to children alone, we can inadvertently leave out parents and guardians. Nothing infuriates parents more than when decisions are made about their child’s education without their consultation.

Considering children in the context of family is a challenge for educators because some parents do not fulfill their most basic responsibilities – for instance, making sure their children are rested and fed when they arrive at school. That’s infuriating and it’s unfair to our teachers. Too often we expect teachers to pick up parental duties.

At other times, parents are unwilling to consider the needs of any child except their own.  All they do is make demands.  Principals and teachers are required to consider the needs of many children, not just one.

I understand the challenges involved with thinking of children in the context of family life. But, just because it’s challenging to do, I won’t give up the conviction.

And, to be fair, I know many educators in the St. Vrain Valley who share and act on this conviction every day. One goal I have if I am elected to the board is to support policies that enable our educators to work with families in meaningful ways.

Schools Will Change

August 23, 2007

One thing is certain to even the most casual observer of schools and education. Schools are going to change. The past 10 to 15 years of reform will pale in comparison to the next 10 to 15 years. One challenge facing every community in America (the world really) is how to keep daily operations running smoothly and prepare for the future. It’s challenge we must embrace.

Van Schoales, an education program officer with the Piton Foundation and former public school teacher and principle, wrote a provocative editorial in the August 18 edition of the Denver Post. It was accompanied by an article written by Tony Lewis of the Donnell-Kay Foundation.

Here is an excerpt from the Schoales article:

The design of classrooms, daily schedules, the nine-month school calendar, age-based promotion and the role of adults remains mostly fixed. We built a system 100 years ago that was designed to educate a few for college and send the rest to low-skill, middle class jobs.

And, the conclusion from the Lewis article:

Students, teachers, principals, parents, business leaders, foundations, and the greater Denver community must support the district as it enacts real and meaningful change. As a district and as a community, we need to say, "We can do better."

What I find useful about these types of articles is that they can help spur constructive dialogue in the community – if we resist the temptation to shout each other down and focus on exploring the ideas.

Constructive dialogue is essential because that’s how we are able to set directions and muster the political will for change. And, as Mr. Lewis notes about Denver (which applies in the St. Vrain Valley), change is the community’s business.

So, let’s explore.

How Should Business Best Invest?

August 22, 2007

I was asked a question today I could not answer off the top of my head. I was asked, what are the best ways for businesses to invest in public education and schools? Most of us could create a laundry list of possibilities. There already are a number of businesses that do invest in our schools – with time, resources and dollars. That’s fantastic and we should celebrate those efforts. But, as the St. Vrain School District strives to work in partnership with the business community, what is most strategic? How do we achieve the best return on investment? I’m sure there are more than one or even two good strategies. But, without focus – and just a desire for partnerships – we run the risk of doing things of marginal benefit in dribs and drabs.

I must confess that this is an area in which I need to do more homework and talk to people with more experience than mine. It’s on my agenda.

Broadening My Perspective

August 22, 2007

One of the things I think I will enjoy most about being a candidate for (and voters willing a member of) the school board is learning. We all are prisoners of our own perspectives. We know best that which we have personally experienced. That’s fine in a lot of instances. But, when you’re asking for the public trust to make decisions on behalf of others it is far from sufficient. That’s why I am trying to make an effort to learn from others – especially people who have experiences and perspectives different than my own.

I have had the opportunity recently to meet Andrew Moore, mayor of Erie, and Wade Carlson, mayor of Dacono. It was great chance to learn about issues from the perspective of their communities. I also have had the chance to visit with a number of current school board members as a way to benefit from their experiences. Tomorrow, I will make the first of what I hope are many visits to school. I will be taking a tour of Columbine Elementary School. Next week, I will be visiting Altona Middle School and Eagle Crest Elementary School.

It is impossible to completely break free of our own world views. These views are built upon a lifetime of experience and learning. When someone says they are always "objective," I’m suspicious. We all hold biases. The best we can do is try to understand our own and understand perspectives different than our own so that we can explicitly account for our own perspectives and those of others when we make judgments.

The Future of Education – Map

August 20, 2007

The KnowledgeWorks Foundation, in collaboration with the Institute for the Future, has put together an interesting "map" about the forces that will influence the future of education.  It’s intended as a discussion starter.  It’s definitely worth a look.  http://www.kwfdn.org/map/map.aspx

First Day of School

August 19, 2007

Our youngest daughter starts kindergarten tomorrow.  I’m sure my wife and I will be fighting back a few tears when we drop her off.

My wife and I were ambivalent about kindergarten.  Our first priority for our daughter is that she could continue one more year at Glen Oaks Farm, a great preschool with dirt, ditches, chickens and castles.  We decided to look for a kindergarten option that would make this possible.  We wanted a schedule that is offered at some schools – 1/2 day Monday, full days on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  This way she could continue at Glen Oaks on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays.

Central Elementary, where our older two children attend, did not provide this option so we chose Alpine Elementary.  This is where our daughter took speech therapy last year so it is a familiar place.  We have a lot of respect for Paige Gordan, the principal of the school, and have been impressed by the energy of the school.  Our daughter will be back to Central for first grade.  We’re hopeful the plan works out.

This is an example of why we need choices of schools.  Families’ needs and interests are different.  I believe St. Vrain needs more choices of focus schools and focus programs – as well, perhaps, of school schedules (why not one year round school) – to meet the needs and interests of our community.

We are behind other school districts on the front range in providing these types of options.  It is one of the reasons, I believe, that their is demand for charter schools.  If people can’t find a place for themselves in our public schools, they will go elsewhere – and rightfully so.  We need to offer more reasons to stay.

Campaign Flyer

August 19, 2007

Here is the campaign flyer we will distribute when we go door-to-door.  Feel free to print a copy and give it to friends.  If you do share it with friends, let me just say thanks!

Download creighton_campaign_flyer.pdf

Do standardized tests lead to a more vibrant society?

August 18, 2007

Here is one of my questions, which some people might consider heretical to even ask.  Is there any correlation between high scores on standardized tests and thriving societies?

Here’s the reason I ask.  In 1983, the Department of Education issued a report titled A Nation at Risk.  The report began with these two sentences: 

Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world.

It’s 24 years later.  First graders in 1983 are now 30 years old and many have first graders of their own.  Our progress on standardized test scores has been nominal at best.  You would think that America would have had to close up shop if we’ve gone so long with so little progress on standardized tests.

Yet, our standard of living, by almost any conceivable measure, is better than it was in 1983.  Our economy has run circles around Europe and Japan.  Unemployment in some European countries has been double the U.S.’s for at leat a decade.  Japan’s economy has been in the doldrums beginning in the early 1990s and through the first part of this decade.

The United States is recognized as the world leader in creativity and innovation – the engines that drive the new economy.

Asian students continue to beat the pants off American students on standardized tests.  Yet, Asian leaders are trying to figure out how to instill a sense of creativity into students.  They know that’s where the future of commerce lies.  Consider this, from Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind.

Japan, which rose from the ashes of World War II thanks to its intense emphasis on L-Directed (analytic) Thinking, is now reconsidering the source of its national strength.  Although Japanese students lead the world in math and science scores, many in Japan suspect that the nation’s unrelenting focus on schoolbook academics might be an outdated approach.  So the country is remaking it vaunted education system to foster greater creativity, artistry, and play.

I believe in high expectations and high standards for students.  I believe that many of our students need to be more fully engaged, inspired and challenged.  I believe that many of our schools are falling short of their potential.  I think it is more than reasonable to expect accountability from teachers and schools.  And, I’ve had personal experience with a school that has been less than accountable.

I heed the warnings of businessmen and scholars with far more international experience than my own when they say we need to pay attention to what is happening in Asia and India.

My question is simply this:  How do standardized tests, as they are used now, serve our purposes?  Will all this standardized testing help shape the society for which we aspire?

What do you think?