By Ted Kolderie
Almost unheard of, in all the talk about the more conspicuous issues in K-12 education today, is California's decision to stop trying to control and regulate its school districts so tightly.
For 40 years or more California has tried to run public education out of Sacramento. The state selects the textbooks; approves the districts construction plans; tells the districts what to do and how to do it. The education code, the education statutes, fill about seven volumes; run to about 5,600 pages.
Now Gov. Jerry Brown and the (Democratic) Legislature have decided this does not work -- and so are on their way to devolving financial flexibility and greater autonomy back to California's roughly 1,000 districts.
This dramatically new approach was described in discussions here November 21-23 with Eric Premack. A Minneapolis native, graduate of Washburn High School, Eric has been working in California education policy, close to the policy-making, for about 20 years. He formed and runs the Charter School Development Center which has as members about 40 percent of the schools in the nation's largest state charter sector.
His visit to Minnesota was organized by Education|Evolving; one in a series intended to broaden the discussion about education policy in Minnesota.
Eric also talked about the conflict between California and the U.S. Department of Education: As the state of California withdraws from excessive regulation, Washington appears to be moving in.
By Lars Johnson
Innovative Quality Schools, a Minnesota charter school authorizer, has again this year issued a Request for Proposals to start new chartered schools in Minnesota.
Highest priority will be given to proposals which (a) propose new and innovative models of school and schooling; or (b) draw from a demonstrated research base. IQS recognizes the need to both try new things, and to replicate what's been shown to work.
IQS provides an interesting example of a new breed of "proactive authorizer" -- actively seeking out proposals for high quality schools.
Letters of intent should be submitted by January 31, 2014. Application deadline is March 1, 2014. Read more about the RFP.
Education Evolving invites you to a discussion with a leading national actor and analyst on education policy. Eric Premack, a Minneapolis native, will be here November 21 at 3 pm in the North Klas room at the Anderson Center on the Hamline University campus.
California is the largest state in the nation. What happens there is often a harbinger for what will likely spread further. Premack has lived and worked there for more than 20 years; he runs one of the largest charter school development organizations in the country. He’s become a trusted adviser to the state board and the governor there.
Eric will have great insights into what’s coming next—with the advent of the Common Core, the next wave of efforts to close achievement gaps, the surge in schools using digital electronics, the growing tension between the forces of centralization and the aspirations for more local control. He’s sure to have something to say about the standoff brewing between federal orthodoxy on waivers and states’ desires for more diverse strategies. That tension could also play out soon in Minnesota.
While Premack will make some remarks to get us going, we’re serious about this being a discussion – no long lectures, no boring panels. There’s no charge, but we need to know who’s coming, so let us know by confirming with Andrew Rockway (email@example.com). A light reception will follow the discussion.
Stay tuned. We’ll be announcing additional speakers for the winter season soon.
By Ted Kolderie
The growing desire to 'do something' about education is paralleled by a growing uncertainty about what exactly to do. A project organized by the Harvard Graduate School of Education concluded: "If we keep doing what we're doing, we're never going to get there". It concluded that the basic K-12 system will have to be changed in some fundamental way.
Jal Mehta at HGSE wrote the book setting out its five possible 'futures for school reform'. The project neither chose among the alternatives nor explained how to implement any of them. The thinking it produced is, however, a major contribution to the nation's policy discussion. October 24-25 Education|Evolving brought Mehta to Minnesota for discussions about its conclusions. Here are notes from his presentation and from the discussions with individuals and organizations around the Twin Cities.
By Ted Kolderie
It's time to start reconsidering the old institution of 'adolescence'.
Have a look at this Commentary that ran in the StarTribune in Minnesota, October 13, 2013. It was intended to provoke a discussion about that curious, and particularly American, notion: the "artificial prolongation of childhood past puberty".
That was done, 100 years ago, with good intentions; in the interest of 'child welfare'. But the question today is whether adolescence has now become harmful -- to young people and to our society.
Clearly, in the past and today, we see some young people doing remarkably adult and impressive things at a surprisingly early age. So that capacity to achieve is there. But: Are we developing those talents, accomplishments, as far as we could be? Why do we continue this inter-generational conflict: adults trying to suppress the teens behaviors they don't like; teenagers in response not-liking adults?
Is it possible that young people have today become the most systematically discriminated-against class of people in our society?
Why, for heaven's sake, does the whole effort to improve student learning go on with nobody even questioning what psychologist Robert Epstein calls the 'infantalizing' effect of adolescence?
Think about it, will you? Let's see if we can start a productive discussion about this country getting so much more from its young people. We'd very much like to know what you think -- and what you suggest.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan raised eyebrows August 6th when he agreed to grant waivers to eight California school districts on the most controversial accountability provisions in the federal “No Child Left Behind” law. The districts – including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento – serve more than one million students or about 20 percent of California’s overall K-12 student population.
The Obama Administration’s decision to grant waivers directly to school districts has been both criticized and downplayed in importance by California state officials, including Governor Jerry Brown. At the national level, the Council of Chief State School Officers called the district waivers “an unprecedented shift in the federal role in education – clearly usurping state leadership.”
Previously, the Obama Administration has granted NCLB waivers only to states – through their Departments of Education (SEAs) – that agree to develop alternatives accountability mechanisms that achieve overall NCLB goals and that are supported by major education stakeholders in each state. California’s earlier waiver request had been turned down for not meeting these requirements.
In response, the eight large districts decided to seek an NCLB waiver on their own. Although the waivers are technically made to each district, they – and two others – have been working together on testing, teacher evaluation and student accountability measures through a non-profit consortium – the California Office to Reform Education (CORE).
The big “trade-off” in the waiver for the U.S. Department appears to be the increased flexibility the districts will have on spending millions of dollars in Title I funds on tutoring and transportation costs for schools not meeting their AYP targets each year. The districts will also be able to continue development their own student accountability measures, as long as they are “higher than those established under No Child Left Behind.”
And, Duncan said, the waiver presumes the districts will continue their work to “improve instruction, promoting continuous learning and joint professional development and support for teachers” Presumably, this is in lieu of state statutory requirements the U.S. Department has been pushing that require student test results to be used to help evaluate individual teacher performance.
In exchange, the districts have agreed to increase accountability and transparency for improving academic achievement of racial, income and other subgroups by reducing the size of “subgroups” – that each have their test results reported – from 100 to 20 students per school.
With the lower student threshold, the eight districts must now report school-level progress on standardized tests for an additional 150,000 African American, Hispanic and low income students, as well as English learners and students with disabilities.
It remains to be seen whether this latest action by the Obama Administration – with its assumption of previously held state and legislative branch authority – will spur Congressional action on ESEA. Or, if Congressional gridlock continues, the California waivers could encourage hundreds of urban and other districts to seek similar flexibility.
Have you ever wanted to see, hear, and feel what happens inside a school where teachers call the shots? Now, thanks to filmmakers Tom and Amy Valens, you can experience A Year at Mission Hill as a 10-chapter series of 5-7 minute videos. They are soon releasing a full-length film, Good Morning Mission Hill: The Freedom to Teach.
Mission Hill K-8, a Boston Public School, is a pilot school where teachers have authority to collectively make the decisions influencing their school’s success. It is one of the schools Edward Dirkswager, Amy Junge, and I wrote about in Trusting Teachers with School Success. (Speaking of which, the Center for Teaching Quality is hosting an online summer book discussion of Trusting Teachers. Join the Collaboratory and dive in!)
I have had the pleasure of writing about each chapter of A Year at Mission Hill on Sam Chaltain’s Education Week Blog, which is named “Of, By, For: In Search of the Civic Mission of K-12 Schools.” Sam invited me to help fill-in the back story. What are the policies and arrangements behind what the teachers and students do at Mission Hill? Do other groups of teachers who call the shots create similar environments and make similar choices? What can the larger world of American education take away from these experiences?
The following is a round-up of my posts, with the corresponding chapter from A Year at Mission Hill embedded in each. Please pick a few that interest you, and allow yourself to soak up these captivating short films!
Is Teacher Autonomy the Key to School Success? (Chapter 1, Why We’re Here)
In the introductory chapter, Mission Hill teachers unassumingly drop a bombshell. They attribute their school's sustained success to a democratic governance structure in which teachers have "freedom and autonomy." Not just classroom autonomy, but the authority to collectively make decisions that influence whole school success.
What if Teachers Ran the School? (Chapter 2, Beginning the Year)
Watching A Year at Mission Hill, we come to understand that the school's teachers see the "3-R's" as important. But that's not all they see as important. They expect students to leave Mission Hill with far more knowledge than reading, writing, and math.
Seeing Curriculum Through a Child’s Eyes (Chapter 3, Making it Real)
(This post was selected as ASCD’s Top Story of the week.) After hearing the students' voices, the sounds of hammers and drills, and the talk of regularly watching bees, my seven-year-old daughter Ruby snuggled up with me to watch Chapter 3. I told her I was learning about an elementary school in Boston. Within 30 seconds of watching, her jaw dropped. "That's really a school?" she asked. "Those kids are so lucky!"
Trusted Teachers Nourish Students as Unique Individuals (Chapter 4, Love and Limits)
Like other teacher groups who are trusted with autonomy to collectively make the decisions influencing school success, Mission Hill's teachers have decided that acknowledging and accommodating students as individuals is the cornerstone of their shared purpose.
Give Teachers Autonomy to Arrange Schools So Students Want to Learn (Chapter 5, The Eye of the Dragon)
Teachers who call the shots often seek to nurture students' engagement and motivation via learning programs that put students in a position to be active learners… [They place] strong emphasis on helping each student figure out their sources of motivation, and how to tap into those sources in order to learn and graduate.
To Make Communities Safer, Trust Students (Chapter 6, Like a Family)
Teachers who call the shots are showing how we can design disciplinary practices to demonstrate to students that the adults in their schools respect them, want to listen to them and address their individual needs, and trust them with the responsibility of co-creating and co-enforcing community norms.
Creating the Capacity for Teachers to Design High-Performing Schools (Chapter 7, Behind the Scenes)
It's time to take a good look at whether a new system design could provide the capacity for teachers to create the high-performing schools we all want. There are many, many great teachers who have the know-how, willingness and determination to take on this difficult task. But why would they without a system design that encourages and supports them?
Young People Want More Exposure to What Professionals Do (Chapter 8, The World of Work)
If we want more students to stay committed to the pursuit of a promising future, then perhaps we ought to consider doing what the Avalon and Mission Hill teachers have done. That is, let the students experience tomorrow today.
Teachers Could Shift the Conversation About Assessment and Accountability (Chapter 9, Seeing the Learning)
Teachers who call the shots are showing that assessment and other learning activities can be in service of students and their individualized learning. Also, assessments that are in the service of students can be used for external accountability.
Teachers – Stop Waiting, and Start Calling the Shots (Chapter 10, The Freedom to Teach)
Teachers, make no mistake - it's not a requirement to wait for permission. If Mission Hill appeals, perhaps this summer is the time for you to start asking yourself what could be for you, your colleagues, your school, and your students - and, eventually for your entire profession and students across the nation - "if only" you would step into the frontier?
By Ted Kolderie
This Commentary, in the StarTribune June 9 has now been circulated pretty widely around the country. It's drawn a good deal of favorable response. Clearly it has also distressed some people.
Raising uncomfortable questions does upset people. When action seems urgent, when people think they see the problem and think the goal is clear, they do get impatient with those who call the conventional wisdom into question.
But good decisions come only out of full discussion. Especially in a time of rapid change it is important to ask if we're thinking clearly about the problem, about the goal and about the method for reaching the goal -- especially when the standard-enlightened view is not proving conspicuously successful.
Certainly in our current discussion about learning it is strange to be . . .
- . . . discussing 'the achievement gap' without defining 'achievement'. Granted that academics -- English and math -- are important, is achievement one-dimensional? Is there no other kind of achievement? If so, then should judgments about student and school success be made on-balance?
- . . . talking about 'closing the gap' without defining 'gap' and without explaining the concept of 'closing' it. (Why not call it the difference between 'proficient' and current-performance?)
It is relevant questions like these that are not being asked. Or asked enough.
Another question not-being-asked is whether aptitudes matter. Few things are more striking than the absence from the education policy discussion of any discussion of aptitudes. (Go ahead: Raise that question in the discussion!)
Aptitudes are real -- as work over the years by the Ball Foundation has shown. And differ. Some are verbal/conceptual/abstract; some are spatial/visual/tactile.
I remember John Goodlad, the distinguished professor of education most recently at the University of Washington, author of A Place Called School, talking at the University of Minnesota College of Education about his two sons. One could understand a clock if you simply explained to him how a clock worked. The other understood only when he took the clock apart and saw, felt, how it worked.
Both were smart. Their aptitudes were different. They achieved in different ways.
A problem, the Ball Foundation saw over the years, is that education, school, tends to attract adults whose aptitudes are verbal/abstract/conceptual, and that they sometimes define that aptitude as 'smart' and feel those whose aptitudes are spatial/tactile/visual are not-smart. This is a subtle discrimination seldom discussed.
Little by little opinion does seem to be shifting toward broadening the definition of achievement. The so-called "21st-century skills' appear in the bills now under discussion in Congress for revising the basic national education law. The National Research Council, it develops, has been working for five or six years on ways to define and assess these skills: critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, communications. Even among those promoting schools designed to generate high scores on state assessments there is now a visibly growing support for adding other dimensions of achievement.
Again: Good policy comes out of good thinking, good discussion. So please do have a look at... think about... this Commentary. Tell us what you think are the answers to the questions it raises. That's what will move this discussion ahead.
By Ted Kolderie
In this Commentary in the StarTribune on June 9th I said we are not having a very intelligent discussion about 'closing the achievement gap'.
I ask what seem to me to be relevant -- practical, and important -- questions. Among them:
- Is is sensible to use a one-dimensional definition of achievement? Is it fair? The late Jack Frymier used to say it is quite unfair for adults not themselves at risk to be imposing failure on young people just getting started in life.
- So far as proficiency in reading and math is a goal -- and it is, for all students -- is conventional school really the only route to achievement for all students?
- And beyond proficiency; beyond elementary school, for high school: What's 'achievement'?
My experience is that questioning un-stated premises -- while likely to upset people -- is a 'must' for good decisions and successful policymaking.
So: Please do think about these questions. How would you answer? Let me know, via comment below.
By Lars Johnson
"Why does our whole discussion about improving learning go on with no one questioning the old institution of adolescence?"
These were Ted Kolderie's opening words in a TED talk at the New Schools Venture Fund 'summit' May 1 in San Francisco. The session topic was: "It's time to give up on _______ and replace it with ______". In the three-minute video below he explains why we should give up on adolescence and replace it with 'adultness'.
Kolderie's assertion that "young people are today the most discriminated-against class of people in our society" might be a bit ahead of its time. We'd be interested, as always, in what you think. We welcome your comments, below.