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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Tales from the Trenches: As the Charter World Turns…

As the charter world turnsI have heard that some folks refer to those of us in the charter world as a daytime soap; more specifically,  “As the charter world turns” because we have so much drama. I find that very interesting as we don’t seek out the drama but rather we are treated as second-rate school by many, (cough, Dept of Cough, cough). 😉

Case in point, charter schools are expected to keep our finances in the black. If we run in the red we would be shut down. I think we could really come up with a nice list of traditional schools are able to stay open while well in the hole. They just go to the tax payers and ask for more money when they want to balance their budgets…running in statutory operation debt isn’t all that uncommon…

Charters are constantly under attack whether it be finances, test scores or governance.

If one bad thing happens in a charter school all of the sudden we are all thrown out with the bath water and labeled as bad. If one bad thing happens at a traditional school people say, oh, that is just one person who made poor choices at that school. The others are just fine…you know…, “My kids school is better than that…” we’ve all hear it..

We report to our school board just as a traditional school does, we report to the state dept just like the traditional school does AND we report to our authorizer. We have 3 entities keeping CLOSE tabs on us. We are mandated to test our kids just like all of the other schools, we exchange some funding for flexibility on our focus, calendar, etc., but overall, we have plenty of oversight. Despite all of these oversight we are still put in the corner time and time again.

How is it that concept of charters (which by the way were born here in MN) has gone from a school for piloting new and innovative teaching, learning and professional development practices has come to this??

Why is it that so much in education is NOT about kids but rather about politics, money and power? Charter schools are schools too. Charter schools are filled with kids just like other schools. When talking about students with disabilities I always refer to it as students with disability NOT disabled student because the student comes first. Maybe rather than calling us charter schools we should be called schools with charters. Would that put the focus back on the school and less on the piece that makes a different? Who knows. But for now, it makes me feel better.

To those in traditional schools- I don’t mean to attack you, I just would like others to know how it feels when some groups treat us as ‘less than.’ I am sure you endure many of the same hardships as we do. To those in charters- You are not alone. Keep pressing on. The students and families you serve desperately need you. Remember it’s about the kids.

And now I’ll temporarily step down from my soap box 😀

The Walmart Complex Applied to Education

The other evening I was doing what I always do (three or more things all at once…) as I was doing this I had a bit of an ironic epiphany.

SO I was reading someones thoughts on education and how the U.S. educational system demands everyone hit every standards to a specified degree and concluded with the notion that everyone doesn’t need to be good at everything and rather it’s important that everyone have their own unique expertise/talent. While reading that I had the T.V. on and there seemed to be many commercials for for big box companies and a few tech commercials both of which triggered an ‘ah-ha’ for me.

I typically get irritated when stores get what I refer to as ‘the walmart compex’ which is when they try to be all things for all people, (i.e., selling everything from mayonnaise to men’s underwear to crown molding.) Seeing these advertisements giving that same message not only about their company but about people too really hit home.

As I sat there reflecting I began to question it all. Why is it that we shifted from mom-and-pop stores where companies did one thing and did it well to giant corporations that do everything (and we’ll, I’ll let you decide how well they do all that they do). Why is it that we have shifted from having an expertise or niche to trying to do it all and fooling ourselves into thinking we are good -no- great at all of it? Why is it that in education we have moved from starting with a general base of knowledge in primary school with a gradual shift to areas of interest in secondary school to that of everyone must know every single standard to the exact same level? (Yes, I do know the history of why the factory model of education actually came to fruition but just follow my rant…)

Can we really do it all and do all things that we do well? Studies have proven those who multi-task more are actually must worse at it than those who rarely do it. Is it the media telling us we can do it all? Is it the market telling us that is the way we can make the most money? Is it because we are willing to sacrifice expertise for convenience? (And is that a good direction to head?)

Regardless it’s something to ponder. And if you are anything like me you try hard to do it all and in some cases shove ‘ten pounds of potatoes in a five pound sack’ which if you do the math doens’t end well. Ultimately, something’s gotta give.

Do we want the future to be filled with people who are mediocre and lots of things or people who have been exposed to many different facets but have honed their skills on just a few things? Does the Walmart approach to education really work?

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see….