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Education How: The Education Evolving Blog

E|E members to speak at Innovative Schools Network conference in Wisconsin

By Lars Johnson

E|E Associate Tim McDonald will give the keynote address at the pre-conference kickoff for the annual Wisconsin-based Innovative Schools Network (ISN) conference on April 29 in Wisconsin Dells. Senior Associates Curt Johnson and Bob Wedl will join a virtual panel to discuss the Split Screen concept and its essential role as a policy tool.

Tim’s book Unsustainable has become a strategic resource for ISN. The ideas, developed by Education Evolving and applied through this book’s focus on actionable policy, are serving as guide for creating environments hospitable for innovation to flourish in Wisconsin and the broader region.

In addition to the keynote and panel, the day will include sessions to discuss putting the book’s ideas into practice – whether for school leaders or policy makers. The day will be a kickoff to some core aspects of ISN’s work this coming year and shouldn’t be missed.

Details for the event and related sessions may be found on the conference page here.

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Lessons on accountability from experiences in the Army

By Lars Johnson

Last week I was on a call with the leader of a teacher-powered school. She told us candidly about her struggles with “collective autonomy.” On the one hand, she said, she fully wants to let teachers call the shots at her school. On the other hand, she is still formally the principal in the eyes of the district (per state and district rules, many teacher-powered schools are still required to have principals, even though those leaders are usually elected by the full teacher group). It’s hard to let others be in control, she said, when if something goes wrong she could, as principal, lose her job based on their decisions.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard these concerns from leaders in teacher-powered schools. And in talking to policy makers and district administrators, it’s clear why they often want schools with distributed leadership to still designate a single principal. “How does accountability work,” they say, “if there’s no single person in charge? How can a group be held accountable?”

As I was describing this dilemma to my colleague Ted Kolderie, he recounted the following story from his time in the Army. I think it illustrates well the advantages of “group accountability” over “single leader accountability.”

I spent about 10 months stationed at Fort Churchill, on the west shore of Hudson Bay in Canada. We were quartered eight to a room. Discipline was lax. We routinely slept in, got up just in time to catch the last few minutes of breakfast. One morning Sergeant Colley came in about 7:15 and found us all in bed and shouted, “I want you all down in Captain Botdorf's office in five minutes!" We dutifully dressed and went down. Captain Botdorf was very angry. He demanded an explanation. Before any of us could confess our guilt, apologize, and plead for mercy, one member of our group—a street-smart high school dropout from Detroit—said, "Sir, the room leader did not wake us."

Officially, formally, it was not our individual responsibility to get up on time. Formally, the ‘Charge of Quarters’ was to wake the room leader, and the room leader was to then wake the rest of us. But the CQ hadn’t done so. The captain and the sergeant knew perfectly well they were trapped. Captain Botdorf's face grew redder and redder. Finally he exploded, "Get out of here!" Which we did; unpunished.

Because we could blame failure on 'the leadership' we evaded accountability.

Earlier on in basic training I was at Fort Bliss, in the desert outside El Paso, Texas. Here we were quartered in six-man huts; shacks, really, each with a gas-fired stove for warmth. There was a coveted weekend pass available, which we all devoutly desired. Word passed down about The Italian Kitchen, a family-run restaurant in El Paso that served a great chicken cacciatore for, as I remember, $1.65. If you had a pass.

The weekend pass depended on good behavior. The deal was that if any single individual screwed up nobody in his hut would get a pass. The effect and I assume the intention was to make all of us in the hut responsible for everyone's good behavior. And for sure, nobody wanted to be the guy whose screw-up kept his hut-mates from getting out for the weekend.

In the entire time I was there we didn't have a single problem getting weekend passes, and I don't recall hearing of any other hut that did. Group accountability had worked.

The world beyond education is replete with examples of group accountability. Any time people form a “team” of any sort, success (or failure) falls on the group as a whole. Think of runners in a relay, partners in a business, secretaries in a political administration, or coauthors on a paper. Accountability should work the same when it’s a team of teachers running a school.

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E|E Response to Proposed Federal Charter Grant Regulations

By Ted Kolderie

There is now a live question what priorities the U.S. Department of Education should use in its program of grants to the states for the start-up of new schools in the states' chartered sector of public education.

The Department put out a proposal for comment. Education Evolving's response was not to the specifics in the draft; was general with respect to the policy questions involved.

Essentially we urged that the national government respect and conform to the state's decisions about what it wants its chartered sector, their schools, to be.

That would be consistent, we noted, with the decision by the Department and the Congress in creating the first program of support for new schools in 1994 . . . when the decision was to accept state policy decisions about what entities would be eligible to start a school and what entities would be eligible to authorize a school.

See the text of the E|E response here.

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Individualization, failure, and fun: A student's experience

By Curtis Johnson

Most commentary about learning methods comes from adults, and most of those are professional educators. What's missing is what the students think. So, to see how learning can be both effective and fun, check this short video of a TedX talk by a 10-year old, Cordell Steiner, telling what it was like being in Ananth Pai's 3rd-grade class in the White Bear Lake (MN) school district.

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Why innovation is critical

By Ted Kolderie

Just too late . . . just after my book arrived from the printer's . . . I came across Paul Kennedy's Engineers of Victory. I would love to have been able to include what he wrote about the critical role of innovation in winning World War II: It is so on-point with what I was trying to say about the need for innovation in education. I did pick up the story in a Commentary I wrote for Education Week, that appeared September 24. Here's an earlier, somewhat different, version of that commentary, or see the first few paragraphs below.

Education might learn something, too, from Walter Isaacson's just-released history of 'the digital revolution'. The Innovators offers a fascinating look at the revolution in our system for handling information; everything from computing to communications. Think about how his description of this successful system changing contrasts with what passes for change in our 'learning system'.

As always, I'd be interested in your comments; reactions.


* * *

To reach any goal, the key question is always: How?

How? was the question during World War II. Roosevelt and Churchill had their grand strategy — to supply Britain from factories in North America, to bomb Germany night and day, to open a second front in western Europe. But early 1943 was a dark time. Ships were being sunk, bombers shot down at unsustainable rates. Winning would depend on figuring out how to get ships safely past the U-boats, how to provide fighter cover for the bombers over Germany, how to land an army on a hostile defended shore.

How? is the question, too, for education policy. It’s fine to say we’ll close achievement gaps, make graduates college-ready, raise standards, enforce accountability and draw top candidates into teaching. But stating objectives does not make things happen. There has to be a How. And education policy is still searching for its 'how'.


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Kolderie in EdWeek: Reframing the Vergara Debate

By Lars Johnson

Ted Kolderie has a guest post this week in an Education Week blog: A Little 'Lateral Thinking' Will Answer the Teacher Quality/Accountability Question. He proposes a way out of chronic issues with teachers, unions, and accountability that have been boiling recently, in the wake of the Vergara case.

Kolderie stresses that the solution lies in re-defining the problem and re-thinking the traditional boss/worker arrangement—where teachers are employees managed by administrators. He suggests we shift to a new arrangement where teachers are given the authority to call the shots about learning. Under these new conditions, Kolderie argues that teachers would internalize accountability for the success of their students and schools.

Read more and find out how Kolderie proposes we could get this policy change in motion...

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Today: Teacher-Powered Schools Initiative Launches

By Lars Johnson

This afternoon, at 2pm CT, Education Evolving will launch our new Teacher-Powered Schools Initiative at the Education Writers Association’s 67th National Seminar’s “Teachers Take Charge” panel discussion.

Today’s launch coincides with the release of our new national survey data that that reveal overwhelming public support and teacher interest in a professional partnership model of teacher leadership, or “teacher-powered schools.”

This new initiative is laser-focused on improving student learning and making teaching a better job for teachers. Teacher-powered schools aim to transform K-12 education in the U.S.—not from the top-down, but from the ground up—by cultivating a collaborative school governance structure where teachers, principals, parents, and community leaders are empowered to work together toward a shared vision of what students and schools could achieve.

As an advocate for teachers, I hope you will join us. Here are five ways you can learn more, get involved, and spread the word:

  1. Visit View critical resources for teachers, district administrators, charter authorizers, and policymakers on ways to create a teacher-powered school and get involved.
  2. Read our latest research report: Check out new national survey data that illustrates the widespread public and teacher interest in the concept.
  3. Share this blog post: Share information about teacher-powered schools with those who are interested in issues of teacher leadership and school-based decision making.
  4. Follow and share on Facebook and Twitter: Share the news about the initiative with your social networks! Find us on Twitter at @teacherpowered.
  5. Sign-up for email updates: Simply visit and click the button in the top right corner to receive occasional e-news updates on teacher-powered schools.

Thanks for your support as we launch this new initiative and inspire educators nationwide about the possibilities of the profession through Teacher-Powered Schools.

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Wedl, Garcia op-ed on “New definitions of student achievement” runs in the St. Paul Pioneer Press

By Robert J. Wedl

In our 21st-century global economy, shouldn’t we consider knowledge of world language and skills with digital tools when we define academic achievement? What about persistence and determination? Business communities demand problem-solving and collaboration skills; why are we not including them in our definition?

Take a look at this commentary that ran in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on March 11, by Education Evolving’s Senior Associate, Robert Wedl, and Hector Garcia, Executive Director of the MN Latino Chicano Affairs Council. They assert that we must revamp our definition of “achievement” to include knowledge and skills not being measured by our current standardized tests.

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Event: teacher-led schools hands on conference

By Robert J. Wedl

Save the date: March 20-21, 2014

Join Innovative Quality Schools in Saint Paul for an exciting conference designed for professional teachers.

Conference purposes include:

  • To inform…we will explain the teacher-led schools model
  • To demonstrate …professional teachers using the teacher-led model will discuss how this model is empowering them and their students as well
  • To assist…learn about help available to those interested in this model

This conference is “hands on” with numerous sessions with teachers who are leading their schools. Some of these professionals are in their first year and others have been using this practice for up to 15 years. All presenters are in the public schools sector of education... some district and others chartered. There will be time for direct discussions with teachers of teacher-led schools.

To learn more or to register, please see the conference website.

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Event: introduction to personalized learning

By Lars Johnson

On Sunday, January 26th, Education Evolving's Curt Johnson will keynote an interactive event designed to introduce children and families to personalized learning.

Students will have a chance to experiment with adaptive educational games, much like those used by Mr. Pai in our A Split Screen Strategy video from last year.

From the event's webpage: Does your student fit the mold? Join other parents and educators to explore the possibility for all students to learn to their full potential, not struggle through their education.

The event will be held at AFSA High School (address below), from 2 to 4pm. More information is available on the event's Facebook page.

AFSA High School
100 Vadnais Blvd.
Vadnais Heights, MN 55127

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About This Blog

Much of the education policy discussion consists of continually deploring the problems and reaffirming the goals.

But, the important question is: “How do we get it done?” On this blog we ask and answer that question.

Read more in our intro blog post.