Archive for the ‘Change & Future’ Category

Mental Exercise

January 27, 2009

I had my blood drawn today. When I registered, I was asked to confirm my home telephone number.  I had to stop and think for a moment.  I couldn't quite remember.  I never dial that number.  The only time I call home I use my cell phone.  I click on favorites and then my wife's name.  The phone automatically dials the assigned number.

I can remember a dozen phone numbers of friends from my youth but not my own.

I often wonder how technology changes how we use our minds and what the consequences are for learning, education and schools.

When I was six, I started bowling with friends on Saturday mornings.  We all learned to keep score using pencil and paper.  That was my first practical application of addition.  There's no need to learn how to keep a bowling score now because a computer does it automatically.

When I was 10 or 12, I worked at my brother's concession stand at the local ball diamond.  We didn't have a cash register. We kept a pencil and paper at the check out stand to figure out charges and change when we couldn't do it in our head.  Modern, inexpensive cash registers make these calculations for you.

My friends and I had an APBA baseball league (a forerunner of fantasy leagues) for three or four years.  We created our own box scores and standings.  Countless websites now crunch all these numbers for the fantasy sports aficionado.

The list goes on and on.

We are exercising our minds when we use technology but different parts than when we do things manually.  For instance, a Silver Creek math teacher told me that a calculator stimulates the linguistic side of the brain not the mathematical portions.  I have not fact checked that claim but I can imagine it is true.

What parts of our brains are stimulated by technology? What parts of our brains are less stimulated now that we do less manually? What are the consequences for learning and development?

I know there is research that speaks to these questions.  I know that popular books such as Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind and Steven Johnson's Everything Bad Is Good for You have been written on this type of topic.

From a board and district perspective, there is one more question: What changes are needed to account for these new realities?


Political Will, Social Rituals and Systems

January 13, 2009

As I read education articles, several themes recur.

  • Flexible learning time. Education should move at the student's pace not the school's. It may take some students 10 years to complete a k-12 education and others 14 years.
  • Extended instruction time. The 180 (174 in St. Vrain) day school calendar is inadequate. See National Center on Time and Learning. The United States is on the low end of instruction time compared to other nations.
  • Personalized instruction. Providing students with the specific learning experiences they need when they need them.

  • Emphasis on creativity as well as skills. Many, not all, jobs in the United States are going to gravitate toward design rather than production.

These are good ideas but are not necessarily easy to implement. The first hurdle is political will. For instance, there is not strong public demand – even among parents – for a longer school year. I attended one meeting in which the idea came up and parents were unenthusiastic.

Another hurdle is that to make many of these ideas work, we will have to give up or change some of our social rituals. High school graduation is analogous to a barmitzvah – an age based right of passage. It may or may not be indicative of a student's preparedness for what comes next. If we are going to implement flexible learning time this right of passage will become obsolete – or at least different than it is now.

I believe age based rights of passage play an important role in society and a person's life. But is high school graduation as we know it now important to retain? As Nel Nodding wrote in "Schooling for Democracy" (Phi Delta Kappan, Sept 2008), "There is nothing sacred about the custome of finishing high school in exactly four years."

Which leads to another hurdle – our education systems and policies. Take school funding for instance. School funding is still tied largely to head counts in specific schools for a specific amount of time. How would funding work if some students attend school for 210 days a year and others 190? How would it work if some students spent 14 years in "k-12" and others spent ten?

There are many other examples of hurdles to clear that have little to do with schools themselves. Education operates within the context of society. And, in many cases, society has not caught up with what we're learning about best education practices.

So, the question I would pose to us all, (rather than how do schools need to change, which is important and much discussed), how do we need to change to so that students and schools may succeed?

Schools with Poverty

July 18, 2008

All evidence suggests that it is bad policy to concentrate children in schools with high rates of poverty.  It’s not good for the students.  It’s not good for educators.  And, it’s not good for the community.

The only schools with high rates of poverty that consistently outperform peer schools require students to attend school 50% more a year – long days, weeks and years.  That takes resources.

This is something that our school district – like most school districts across the country – must confront.  But a school district cannot face up to the issues of poverty on its own.  A community must get behind and support school district leaders and managers.

Here are a handful of reports/books on the topic.  I have not yet had the opportunity to look at the Pew report in depth.

Pew Hispanic Center, The Role of Schools in the ELL Achievement Gap.

Piton Foundation, The Case for Economic Integration.

Piton Foundation, Mixed Income Schools Gaining Favor.

Richard D. Kahlenberg, All Together Now: Creating Middle-Class Schools through Public School Choice

Learning to Change

May 13, 2008

Our schools, our approach to education is going to change significantly in the coming years.

It won’t happen fast enough for some people and it will happen to fast for others.

The process of change will be clumsy at times and happen in a mysterious, organic way at times.

We need to be paying attention, preparing, taking steps toward a different future.

Consider this view of the future (some would say now); a link sent to me by fellow board member Rick Hammans:

Another Glimpse Into the Future… Present

April 23, 2008

I have been corresponding with a friend recently regarding online education.  There are a growing number of online education options in the state of Colorado.

Perhaps the best known in Colorado is the Colorado Virtual Academy.  Douglas County School District has an online option.  In the St. Vrain Valley School District, Carbon Valley Charter Academy has the CVA Online Program.  The St. Vrain School District also allows students to take a small number of classes online – Mandarin Chinese is one example.

There are many more examples of online programs in Colorado and across the country.

I have had many, many hours of conversations with parents and teachers about education here in the St. Vrain Valley.  People are not clamoring for online programs.  It is only a small fraction of people who raise this topic.  People do think it is important to integrate technology into instruction but people are not anxious for more online instruction programs at the k-12 level.

Having said this, I am convinced that online instruction is going to transform education as we know it today.  It holds tremendous potential to help students accelerate their learning and to leverage teacher time.  It holds the potential to reduce costs for capital infrastructure (i.e. building school buildings) because students will be able to learn anywhere.

People are not clamoring for online instruction now but they will.  People did not did people clamor for laptop computers or in-car GPS systems, either.

How quickly will demand for online instruction grow?  How quickly will it transform education as we know it?  When I think about questions like this, I’m reminded of a Bill Gates quote regarding the internet.  He remarked about a decade ago to the effect of, “All the predictions about how the internet will change the world in 5 years are overblown and all the predictions about how the internet will change the world in 10 to 15 years are understated.”

I am equally convinced that there will always be demand for physical places – school buildings – that bring together students and teachers for face-to-face interaction.  I do a good deal of professional development.  More and more of it via web and phone.  But, there is just no way to replace face-to-face interactions.

What’s more, young people need opportunities to come together with peers as part of their development process.  Young people need opportunities to escape the controlling influence of their parents so they can stretch and grow.  It is an essential part of growing up.  And, parents need time away from their kids.  I’ll let parents tell you why.

Too often we allow ourselves to get bogged down by the tyranny of the “or.”  We think the world has to be this way OR that; rather than this way AND that.

Education in the future will be “online” much of the time.

Education in the future also will continue to be a physical place.

Other school districts are ahead of St. Vrain when it comes to offering online programs.  We need to become more diligent in investigating and implementing possibilities.  The good news is that many teachers already are experimenting with the possibilities.  The time for a bold step forward is ripening.

I’m not overly concerned that we’re not doing more yet with online instruction.  But we can’t be tentative for too much longer.

We won’t move quickly enough for some people within our school district and they will go elsewhere.  Many other people we will have to cajole to move forward each step of the way.  That is a normal part of the process of change.

I am excited and uncertain about what the future holds for education.  I imagine the possibilities our children have to learn anywhere, anytime to be enthralling.  At the same time, as Joe Mehsling said to me recently, “We have no idea what we’re doing to our kids.”  That’s because we’ve never done this before.

Not every generation must deal with the transformational change that we are experiencing today.  It’s unsettling.  But isn’t that the fun of it?

A Glimpse of the Future… Present

April 23, 2008

Earlier this month, the school district adopted new math curriculums and text books for middle and high school.  The teachers who were part of the process are enthusiastic about the new materials.  Part of the conversation with the school board revolved around the use of electronic resources.

I was struck when the math teachers described having “electronic lectures” on various subjects that students can use when they need more support on a particular topic and/or when they miss class due to an absence.  This is a glimpse at the future, which already is here.

Long term, we need to achieve productivity gains in education.  That is difficult in a people driven enterprise.  Electronic lectures is one way to leverage teachers’ time.  In effect, increasing the number of students a teacher can reach so their time is freed up to provide one-on-one or small group support to those students who need it.

I am scheduling meetings with people who know a lot more about how to use technology to leverage teacher time than I do.  This is part of my summer learning agenda.

Kudos to the Calendar Committee

January 29, 2008

The Calendar Committee is asking that the board approve the school calendar for the next two years.  The board will vote on February 13.  This will provide the committee with more time to do a long term examination of the school calendar.  For instance, the committee can consider extending the school year to build in more time to examine data, prepare and design differentiated learning strategies; examine the possibilities and implications of a year-round calendar and other possibilities.

Taking a fresh look at the calendar is long overdue.  I appreciate the calendar committee’s efforts to make this possible.

Investing Limited Resources – Questions

December 21, 2007

By definition, a public institution such as public schools has limited resources.  That’s especially true in Colorado given our caps on how much revenue government can collect and spend.

That raises the question about how should we direct those dollars in an equitable manner.  Do at-risk students deserve more dollars?  Or, should high achieving students be given extra funding to accelerate their learning?  Or, should every student receive the exact same amount of financial support?  Where we will get the most return on our investment as a community and society?  Or does ROI matter in education?

Inherent in every funding and policy decision are questions such as these.  These are the questions I will ponder over the next few weeks.

Creating Focus Schools

December 20, 2007

There are some threshholds that school districts must meet to be considered up to date – not to mention exemplary.  One of those threshholds is that a district must have a portfolio of focus schools – e.g. IB, Montessori, Dual-Language, Math &Science.

This drives some educators nuts.  A school does need to have a highly focused curriculum to provide the best education possible to students.  But, many educators, believe this can be done in a traditional school setting.  And, it can.

But, the reality is that people have different preference for education philosophies and practices.  They want to choose the approach that they believe works best for their child.  Fort Collins, Boulder and many other districts provide such options.  The increasing demand for charter schools reflects this desire.

St. Vrain must respond.  If we want to continue to attract primary employers – such as Xilinx or Amgen – to our communities, we must have a school district that is attractive to potential employees.

A portfolio of focus schools is part of the basic package in a modern school district.

Prepare Children for Their Future…

November 15, 2007

Fellow school board member Rick Hammans heard David Warlick speak recently.  David Warlick is a person who thinks a lot about the future of education.  I recently watched Warlick’s keynote speech to the K12 Online Conference.  Rick cited one of David’s maxims that will stick with me.

We must help children prepare for their future not for our past.