Guest Post: Christy, Chrysler or Chrysalis

I think that how we look at students has a huge impact on how we treat students.  Let me give you three examples to get your thinking started.

Are students widgets?

This would be a Chrysler, as in a car is a widget.  People design cars, design processes for making cars, selling cars, and fixing cars.  Once a car is designed we can work on a better design, once a process is in place we can design a better process.  Marketing changes to accomplish more selling.  It is an interconnected process from start to finish that has many opportunities for revising, improving, changing.  In some ways students look like widgets.  Each student enters the assembly line in Kindergarten and is put on the track to graduate at the end of 12th grade.  Along the way certain Carstandards must be met, if the standards are not met the student gets pulled off the line, reworked a bit, hopefully brought up to standard and then put back on the line to keep moving toward that graduation date.  We rate schools on how many successful widgets they produce.  We define success from the corporate offices at the state or federal level and refine the “success determining process” so that millions of students can easily be coded into success or non success categories.  With students as widgets schools need to manage objects, sort, organize and maintain quality control.  Principals manage teachers as assembly line machinery, if one is not working we just switch it out with a working one, boards manage schools as factories seeing which ones are producing the most widgets.  Management centers on those numbers that define success.

Are students employees?

We can also look at students as employees.  Employees are hired by a company to get a certain job done and in return receive a fair compensation.  Along the way they need to be managed, pointed in the right directions so to say.  They need some inspiration at times, other times they need some controlling.  Employees can take on many different forms customerfrom the assembly line type employee being very compliant to the process to a Google employee with significant leeway to define his/her process.  Employees are there to get the work done that is under the umbrella of the company.  Students are “employed” to meet the standards, put in the time, and in the end we will pay you with a grade, a diploma, and give you a recommendation for your next place of employment.  That recommendation will vary depending upon your performance.  With students as employees schools need to manage people as part of a large human resource process.  Teachers manage the students under them, principals manage the teachers, superintendents manage the principals, school boards oversee the entire process as a large corporation.  Treating students as employees makes for a very different organization than treating students as widgets.

Are students customers?

What if schools treated students as customers?  Customers have money to spend to get what they need and want.  In the US customers have a myriad of choices in front of them, they need to investigate, shop around to find the best deal.  They talk to each other about the deals they got, or the high quality product they found, or the piece of junk they just paid for.  Customers get to choose how to allocate their spending, sure getting groceries is a high priority, but even with Chrysalisthat how much fruit do you buy, how much ice cream?  Stores cater to the needs and wants of customers and work to be just a bit better than the other guy down the street.  Products that are no longer needed are no longer produced or even supported.  Schools that treat students as customers realize that students can come to their school or go to another one but also realize that with the student comes the revenue.  Teachers work to meet the needs of students and find ways to support each student.  Principals work to support the teachers finding out what the teachers need to better support the students.  Success comes when the customer is pleased with the product s/he purchased, not when the company is pleased with the widget it produced.  The students end up “owning” their education because they bought it.

In the end teachers, principals, and schools get to pick their point of view.  But I think one of the problems in education is that the corporate board thinks students look like Chryslers.  As you move down the ladder to individual interaction between student and teacher students look more like Chrysalides with each student growing and developing quite differently and uniquely from each other.  These are extremely different viewpoints and I would argue that an organization living in both worlds will have tensions – possibly extreme tensions.  The customers desire an individually hand painted picture by an artist of his/her choosing.  The company board wants to produce many prints of one picture and produce it on time, in quantity, and at a certain level of quality.  To help increase the tensions the company board also has trouble finding the one picture it should produce.  To further increase the tensions the board usually picks a new picture to produce even before the “factory” has time to complete very many of the previous pictures.

So with all the politics around education and the seeking of the silver bullet solution, maybe we should start by deciding who these students are?

Keven  Kroehler is a husband and busy father of four who is very passionate about education reform. After 24 years in the classroom in addition to administrative roles he shifted gears to have a larger impact on education as the Executive Director of the national non-profit EdVisions Schools. Keven has a wealth of experience in both charter and traditional schools including project-based learning, technology, school finance, & school leadership. Follow Keven on Twitter @KevenKroehler .

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Collecting Dots vs. Connecting Dots

Connecting the dotsWhy is it that we still put the teacher at the center of learning rather than the student? – This has brought forth some great discussions for me. The conclusion I came to (after getting some amazing input) was that we as teachers have grown up in the education system following the rules and have been trained to continue following the rules. There you have it folks, we are rule followers [we’ll at least the majority of the time…there are definitely some mavericks out there;)]

As rule followers we do what we are told and don’t question it. When the latest curriculum comes out or the next piece of sweeping legislation changes those rules we adjust accordingly. The interesting part is sometimes following the rules doesn’t help us to win the game when it’s as complex as the US educational system.

We all want our kids to have a bright future. We want an educated citizenry, we want our kids to be smart, happy, healthy, well adjusted individuals. Right? I mean am I completely off base here? I’ll assume we are good and move on…

With that said, under our current state of affairs the rules ask our students to collect dots so our educators are busy helping students to do just that-collect dots. They are busy putting those dots in the content standards buckets and then being tested like crazy about those dots.

The unfortunate part of this dot theory is that life doesn’t ask graduates to show them their bucket! They are not selected for jobs based on how full their bucket is or how well they sorted their bucket of dots. Life asks them to connect the dots!

Connecting the dots can be messy, time consuming and learning how to connect them may differ from student to student. This is only one of my theories as to why we don’t approach teaching and learning this way. Another theory I have is that it doens’t make teacher evaluation any easier or clean cut either. (Apparently Scantrons with tiny bubbles to fill in resulting in a concrete test score does). I will also throw out a guess that politics plays a large roll in this too but that is a whole different blog. 🙂

What do we do with this then? We’ll, do what you can when you can. If you are parent you can support your child in helping them to connect the dots and see the big picture in all that they are learning. If you are an educator guide your students as they fill their bucket…help them to see what they can do with those dots..how they are all connected and most importantly HOW TO CONNECT THEM so that they can continue to visualize how things connect and connect them on their own long after they leave your classroom. If you are someone outside of the education sector volunteer  in a school or at an after-school program and offer your time & talents to help kids see how all of those dots they may be learning can connect and why that is so important.

So often we hear that the future needs thinkers, do’ers, engineers, creativity, etc. A world full of people with buckets all filled up won’t get us there. People who can use the contents of their buckets can! Don’t just collect, connect!

Throwing out the baby with the bathwater….

It’s been some time since my blood as been boiling due to educational darts being thrown between the charter and traditional school supporters but I guess it’s time to step up on my soapbox to get a few things off my chest.

I am fairly sure I’ve said (or written) this before…for whatever reason it seems you have to pick a side; Charter or Traditional, there isn’t any middle of the road. I may work at a charter but that hasn’t always been the case and my kids currently attend a charter but again, that hasn’t always been the case. Having said that I am not ‘pro charter’ or ‘pro traditional’ I AM PRO STUDENT & pro choice in education.

Cap Family Photo

So, when I read a recent blog citing that choice is a terrible idea and how it is ruining public education I got more than irritated.

Another sentence I use very frequently is “If you have seen 1 charter school then you have seen 1 charter school.” The same goes for traditional schools. There may be some things that are similar or even the same about those schools but ultimately every school is different, has different students, families, and learning environment.  Putting out a blanket statement that all charters are bad/good or all traditional schools are bad/good is ludicrous.

Is there some form of competition with choice in public education? Yes.  It allows parents/guardians/families to select a school that best fits their family and works best for their child. A blog I read recently mentioned that just the idea of parents having to ‘shop’ for their child’s school is bad idea. I disagree, REALLY disagree. Just as we choose where to buy our groceries, gas, or coffee we should be free to shop (select, choose) where to send our kids to school. If I want to have someone else to bag my groceries I go to a grocery store that offers that service. If I prefer to purchase organically grown produce I would seek out a store that provides such produce. Similarly, not every school offers the same services, the same mission/vision/values, etc., & why should they? Students are people and are all so different. They are people-not products and need to be treated as such. Finding a school that ‘fits’ your child/family is freedom I feel very lucky to have. (Especially considering we live in a small rural area)

I don’t hold any ill will to those who prefer, attend, work at or support traditional public schools. (Although I do feel the factory system is flawed as you may have guessed by that last paragraph) I support everyone who is in the business of educating our youth. It is NOT an easy job and working with kids, prepping for school outside of school hours, etc., leaves little time to defend what we do for and with kids everyday.

So I plea with you not to see students as dollar signs to fight over between the charter and traditional ‘sides’ but rather children seeking a world-class education regardless of what type of school they attend. Lastly, if you see one school you don’t like (charter, traditional, or private) don’t write off that entire type of school because of that one experience. Teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, etc., don’t go into education for the high salaries…we do it for the kids…we do it to try to make the world a better place……we do it because we want to help.…we do it to make a difference. If you think you can do better and solve all of the problems and or flaws in the US educational system-join us. We could use more good people. 🙂

The Principals Protest

As an avid user of social media I tend to follow various news articles and trending topics so it is no surprise that I read the New York Times article on education entitled “Principals Protest Role of Testing in Evaluations.” This, as well as other articles, seem to dominate the tweets I was reading last week. After having read it I can’t say I disagree with the protest. If I was in their shoes I would be outraged as well. (Then again, that is one of the MANY reasons I have chosen to leave the traditional school system for a different and more innovative public school system which allows for more autonomy.) Having said that, I find it ironic. The very same high stakes standardized tests were deemed acceptable to evaluate students but now that they they are proposed to evaluate the teachers and administrators there is a protest. Like I said, I don’t disagree that is is wrong to use these test scores to evaluate the teachers and administrators. I just wish this protest would have started years ago when the high stakes testing era began. We as educators and parents should have been protesting the use of high stakes standardized tests to evaluate the students. In my experience research shows that test scores predict future test scores not what kind of person the child will become. Many kids score poorly on exams (for various reasons) and overcome the obstacles to become very successful and amazing people as adults.

Teachers and administrators shouldn’t be evaluated based on a snapshot of their students on one particular day and neither should the students. Students, teachers, and administrators should ALL be evaluated with a more comprehensive approach.

Content or Competencies

In my line of work (the crazy and unpredictable world of education reform) we share our model of education, which utilizes a student-centered approach that requires a systemic change, with many people. The people we meet with always have plenty of questions as to how this works despite the fact it has been successfully serving students for 18 years at our flagship school (The Minnesota New Country School) and the many other replications schools.

The EdVisions model doesn’t include bells, hallways with lockers, a course/classroom curriculum, GPA’s or class rank. This isn’t your traditional middle/high school and wasn’t designed as such.

This model does so many things differently but I’d like to focus on the curriculum. The EdVisions model cites ‘The world is the curriculum.” This is an accurate assessment as students garner the required standards, subjects, credits, etc. via a personalized curriculum unique to each student’s individual needs. This personalized curriculum blends a full-time multiage advisory, student-directed project-baseds, seminars, online-classes, college courses, internships/job shadowing and field experiences.

This tends to cause many traditional teachers to cringe. Why? Many fear they are no longer needed. Others state their concern for how the students will “get all of the standards checked off.” We focus first on the learning then the actual content. Yes, the students still get all of their required standards in order to graduate but that isn’t the end all. It is far more important that students have all the tools required to be able to learn things on their own after they leave the safety and security of high school.

Again, this can be a frightening thought for some people. I can understand their concern when the current US education system is so focused on content and standardized testing to demonstrate mastery of this content. The flaw in this thought process is the assumption that students learn and retain 100% of that content. Let’s use biology as an example…say a student completes all the required biology standards…they probably actually learned 75% of them. Would it have been better for the student to have focused on 75% of those standards to begin with allowing more time to dig deeper into those areas and actually learn all of that 75%?

I would argue YES. Why? Because the process of learning (engaging, discovery, exploration, explanation, evaluation, reflection…) is far more important for life long learning than simply route memorization.

I feel it is far more important that students have skills/competencies such as time management, responsibility, resiliency, persistence, independence, creativity…Providing students the proper tools in an environment most conducive to learning so they can continue to be curious and hungry to learn more.

It is not what in education it’s about WHO….

In the past few weeks something has really gotten under my skin, (And yes I am very aware that I can be easily irritated). I spend plenty of time reading about education on fb, twitter, blogs, and of course old-fashion print. For whatever reason it seems so much of what I have been reading or hearing about has more to do with the adults than it does the kids. It seems to me that many in education spend so much time fighting one another about what education is or should be losing sight of what is most important. It’s not WHAT education is, was or should be but rather WHO is education for? I may be a bit naive but I think if we took a step back to gain a little perspective we might see there are children everyone who are counting on us to do what is best for them. Yes, do what is best for THEM, not any publishing company, research firm, teacher, CMO, union, etc. I understand politics and the actions that drive politics are a fact of life but maybe, just maybe or one minute we can all step back, see those children’s faces and try to work together and do right by the children.

Common Core vs. Common Comprehensive

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are getting more and more attention in the press and are being adopted by states quite rapidly. Like all other educational initiatives you either love it or hate it. We’ll, once again I am sitting up on my white picket fence in Mayberry.

The name “Common Core” sounds as if it would be a list of common basic standards to be accepted across the nation so students have the same basic educational foundation regardless of the state they are in. Pretty straight forward right? Not so. If you take a look at them you soon discover they are not so ‘core’ but rather ‘comprehensive.’ This is where I get up on my fence. I am all for have a basic list of standards for every student to master (not cover). I have a problem when it morphs into a ridiculously comprehensive list of standards.

As always, I’ve got an analogy to explain my point. You are going to go grocery shopping. If you are anything like me you make a list. So, how do you decide what to put on your list? You check the cupboards, pantry, refrigerator and freezer. You put on the this the items that you need. If you are shopping for the staples or basics you’ll probably have bread, butter, milk and juice on your list. Imagine having various produce, canning, and food companies deciding what you need on your list. Kraft Foods would insist that you need Mac-n-Cheese, Green Giant would demand you put green beans on your list and Proctor and Gamble might even chime in requesting you add some of their products to your list too. That sounds crazy right? Of course! This may be a stretch but sounds an awful lot like putting a group of educators with their content hats on together in a room to determine what kids need to know before they graduate. The English Language Arts person will most definitely have an extensive list of poetry & grammar to learn, classic books to read and famous authors to study. The Mathematician will of course have an equally complete list of standards to cover as will the Historian, Scientist, etc.

We all select a content area we enjoy and are passionate about so obviously we will be skewed just as a major company would be interested in promoting their own products.

We need to take off our content hats and think more broadly about what future generations will need. A laundry list of very specific standards sounds more comprehensive than core.

Common Core State Standards have the potential to allow for all kinds of innovation. Common Comprehensive State Standards scream to be made into a nice-neat prepackaged curriculum to be sold by a major textbook and or testing company.

Let’s collaborate & innovate so the future of this world has the ability to think for themselves, loves learning, can be creative and can analyze and solve problems that don’t involve a #2 pencil and a scantron.

We can do it. And when I look into the eyes of my own 4 children I know we HAVE to do it!