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 😀

Tales from the trenches: The testing debacle

I have no idea where this school is but I like their thinking....

I have no idea where this school is but I like their thinking….

It’s spring, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, (it is snowing in MN) this means testing season is upon us. If you work in schools or are a parent you probably are with me when I say I dread this time of year.

I have dealt with testing in the schools for years and may not enjoy it but have managed to survive it. This year at the elementary level it just seemed to be absolutely horrific.

It started with all online testing. The system was up, then down. They said stop testing, then start testing. Then emails came in stating to test if you aren’t experiencing any problems….We had students who were not able to pause their tests and therefore where clicking just to fill in the bubbles to get to the bottom of the screen to pause the test. We had trouble getting the system to pause for days. We called the help desk, repeatedly (and then some more). Some people who answered seemed to be very empathetic to our situation, others referred it as ‘glitches’ in the system.

Regardless, I want to know how in the world these tests results would be considered valid. We had kids crying and others  so frustrated with the starting, stopping, and issues trying to pause for breaks I just can’t imagine they were in a frame of mind to actually perform on the tests.

To that end, how can it be right to attach funding to tests that should at the very least be considered compromised due to the many MANY technical errors or ‘glitches’ as they called them???

I have witnessed our students tested on the state assessments, the NWEA MAP’s and now the DRA’s all within the last few weeks. Our poor students are tested too much. If only we could put our trust in the educators who already use diagnostic assessments like the NWEA”s and the DRA’s &  not mandate additional tests (which they don’t’ receive the results from for months….)

Students don’t learn anything from tests. They learn from passionate educators who know them and can help guide them through the learning process. I say, step out of the way and let teachers do what they do best-Teach!

 

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….

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. 🙂

Thank a Teacher

Seeing so many tweets about teacher appreciation week I felt compelled to “Thank a teacher” myself. As I began to think about this I realized how many teachers had a great impact on my life. Of course there are many teachers whom have had an impact but a GREAT impact is what I was seeking, (and positive of course).

I can remember the names and faces of many of my teachers all the way back to kindergarten; however, as I think about those I have had more recently their names and faces escape me. Those teachers I had in my undergrad and my masters program had to really stand out for me to remember a name and a face but there are a few from higher ed that I put in that ‘great impact’ category.

As I  ponder those people and recall the wonderful memories I laugh because it seems that their impact on my had very little to do with academic content. I learned MORE than subject matter and had a connection with those teachers which wasn’t correlated to my grade in the class.

So I must thank those great teachers.

Miss Olson not only Thank Youtaught me how to play the violin, she taught me patience, persistence and the important of practice. Mrs. Reed who cared so much and were so loving and caring for a frightened 1st grader. Mrs. Moreng who brought a whole new language and culture into my life. Somehow I remember the Spanish I learned in 3rd grade and I still have the book she gave me. Mrs. Benson taught me it is OK to show emotions and be true to myself. Mr. Helgeson taught me a bit about myself as a ‘social butterfly’ as well as sparking an interest in history. Mr. Gora helped shine a light on my creativity giving me confidence in myself. Mr. Hoff taught me that I can do things even when I don’t want to. I will forever credit him for my public speaking skills, (thanks to impromptu speeches in Jr. High). Ah, and my foreign language teachers, Frau Sweden and Frau Olson-you are awesome. I had sooo much fun in all of those classes. You taught me that learning can be fun even when faced with challenge, (and yes, I can still speak and understand some German). Doc Skewes taught me I can do anything I set my mind to. Mr. Hohenthaner taught me how a teacher can make even the toughest subject interesting, (Oh and to trust no one and assume nothing). Mr. Kinney showed me patience like I have never seen in a teacher. No matter how much I struggled in his class he was always wiling to help without judgement. Mr. Anderson taught me autonomy and self-direction. Mrs. Schmidt taught me so much I can’t fit it into a paragraph. The connections I made in that class, the skills and tools I gained are immeasurable.

The Prof’s I had throughout my BA and MA were good but there were a few that were great! The ones that I could go to their office and they knew my name. The ones that were approachable, kind, and helpful. Al Ramirez and Dick Carpenter were two amazing professors that were just that. They had a wealth of information to share and had great rapport with students (myself included) that made learning from them wonderful.

It was these great teachers that inspired me to become a teacher to impact the lives of others the way they impacted my life.

Thank you amazing teachers! You’ll never know what a tremendous impact you have on the lives of your students. And I’ll close with a quote from an amazing teacher who happens to be a colleague of mine (Mr. Keven Kroehler), “Thank you for doing great things for kids!”