Calling a State of Emergency: American High School Dropouts

Over the course of this school year I have seen a steady stream of articles touting improvements in graduation rates. As the school year began, one article that caught my eye was from the Chicago Tribune. Since I started my career in CPS I was curious to see how much dropout rates had improved (or declined). When I moved to Chicago at the start of the 80s everyone was concerned with recent increases in dropouts, which held steady for a few years at around 43%. I remember being shocked that the education system was failing so many kids in Chicago, and that city and state officials weren’t treating it like a national emergency. I quickly found out that Chicago was not alone. The same thing was happening in urban centers across the country. My hometown school district of Detroit, for example, was even worse, posting about a 50% dropout rate during the same time period.

So how does that compare to current rates?

I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the numbers in the Tribune.  The graduation rate last year in CPS was just over 73%, and it has been steadily rising for the past 5 years.  A 30% increase is obviously a tremendous improvement. It wasn’t until I was looking at the Detroit numbers recently that I started to question things. If you have been on a school board, or part of a school’s administration, you already know that there is a difference in how dropout rates and graduation rates are calculated. You may have also questioned this if you added the two in a given year and realized they don’t add up to 100%. Also, the way these rates are calculated, reported, and verified has changed several times over the years, which makes it difficult to compare.   Even if you accept the most optimistic numbers school districts provide at face value, the issue remains devastating to our nation. Let me try to illustrate my point with some visual aides.

In 1963 the civil rights movement came to a head as people from all over the country marched on Washington to protest injustice, and to hear Dr. Martin Luther King speak. The National Mall was overflowing with supporters. As a child I remember thinking I finally understood what the expression “A sea of people” meant. Here is a picture taken that day that I found through Creative Commons from the National Museum of American History.

King Speach

So what does this have to do with dropout rates? “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.” Dr. King spoke so eloquently that day about the American dream, and the inalienable rights of all Americans. Although we have made strides in helping more students achieve those dreams, the fact remains that 5 times as many students in America dropped out of high school last year, than were in attendance that glorious day in 1963. That equates to approximately double the entire current population of Washington D.C.

king speech x 5

I was shocked when I realized that 1,200,000 students dropped out of high school in 2015-16, and that is in just one year. When multiplied over a generation the numbers become staggering. At the rate students are currently dropping out of high school – the rate lauded by many districts recently – the number of people who drop out will exceed the total population of New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and the rest of the top 20 largest American cities combined!

I need to take a quick bird walk here to set something straight. I have learned that the U.S. sometimes has a hard time facing reality.  I did some fact checking yesterday. An article I read stated that “The United States had some of the highest graduation rates of any developed country,” but now ranked near the bottom of the 27 developed nations. Since there was no citation in the article I wanted to track one down so I could include the comment in this blog post. I spent several hours yesterday looking for the statistics showing that the U.S. lead K-12 education worldwide at some point in our history. The reality is that the United States has never scored well in math and science compared to other developed countries, and comparative testing has not been happening very long. The Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) conducted one of the first popular studies of mathematical achievement in 12 countries in 1965. Israel and England scored the highest with a mean score in the high 30s. The United States scored the worst, with a mean score of 13.8.

We are currently ranked 22 out of the 27 countries that are considered developed. We may have improved dramatically since the 1980s, but we continue to fall further and further behind the rest of the developed world. One-point-two-million students dropped out of high school last year, and we rank 22nd out 27? Should we really be patting ourselves on the back?

We need to declare a State of Emergency on the scale of the response to hurricane Katrina. That storm ultimately devastated whole communities and displaced around 400,000 people. These Katrina victims, however, are equivalent to only 1/3 of the students that were displaced from our nation’s high schools last year. For months after Katrina there was a never-ending stream of news, commentary, and support. The American people were outraged that the governments response to the disaster, and in particular, to the inhumane treatment of people from poor minority neighborhoods.

Where is the outrage for the drop-out crisis?

Most people would probably not be surprised that facing very poor job prospects, and almost inevitable poverty, that dropouts commit about 75% of the crimes in America. It’s not Mexican immigrants, and it’s not Muslim terrorists. Most crime is being committed by our disenfranchised former students – kids that grow up to be adults without any viable path to a better future.

Where is the outpouring of concern and volunteer support?

If one were to put aside quality of life issues, and just focus on the impact the disenfranchised will have on our economy, the numbers are staggering.  At lifetime cost to taxpayers of $292,000 per each dropout, the financial burden we will have to bear from just the students who dropped out in 2016 will be $350,000,000,000. For those having trouble counting up all the zeros, that’s 350 billion, yes, with a “B,” and we are already on the hook. But this goes on year after year, decade after decade. In just one generation it could add up to as much as 8.75 trillion dollars!

Where is the avalanche of government, corporate, and private financial support?

Some of my friends and family say that students who drop out are just lazy, or angry, or have bad families. The reasoning goes that since dropping out is a choice, it’s different. They think that the issue is that simple, and is not their problem. Ask Community in Schools (CIS) if it is that simple. They are one of the few organizations that has documented success. They are different than other programs because they take a systems approach. They conduct assessments to understand the community and the students’ needs. They are committed to change over time as demonstrated by their embedded coordinator. And they are able to rally all of the non-profit and for-profit providers in the community that can meet essential needs within the community. The National Dropout Prevention Center/Network at Clemson University has a vetted database of programs and services dedicated to dropout reduction and prevention. Organizations in the database that are rated with 3 graduation caps by NDPC, like CIS, are rated as having “Strong Evidence of Effectiveness.”

CIS’ limitation, however, is that they deal primarily with community-based systems that surround the school (e.g., healthcare, after school programs, etc.), but they don’t address the systems issues within classrooms and schools (e.g., curriculum, pedagogy, distributed leadership, etc.) that need to be addressed for optimal learning to take place.

One-to-One Institute also takes a systems approach to transformation, but focuses on 7 system categories that directly affect learning, culture, and the efficient administration of schools. Our co-authored Project RED research identified key factors that lead to higher student achievement and cost effectiveness. Technology plays a key role in the transformation, but the focus is on learning and empowering students.

In Project RED Phase III we worked with 20 districts we labeled “Signature Districts.” To become a Signature District they had to commit to adhering to the Project RED Design as we tracked their progress over three school years. We are currently in the process of publishing a series of briefs on our findings. We believe that if a district follows the PR Design, students could potentially double their academic achievement, and it could be revenue neutral for the district.

There are a growing number of non-profit organizations and for profit vendors that have developed and tested learning products, and have documented results for their piece of the puzzle. There is no longer any excuse for implementing things that don’t work. The research is clear. It is possible to completely eradicate high school dropouts.

  • With so much at stake, we all must take action and build from each other’s best practices.
  • We need to find ways to help others understand that we must make this a national priority.
  • Use research, like Project RED, and visit NDPC to find other research to inform your opinions.
  • Insist that your government and education leaders utilize programs that have documented results, and can integrate their solution into your new digital systems.

It is possible to completely eradicate high school dropouts, but it won’t happen until we all commit to making it a national priority.

Michael Gielniak, Ph.D

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Mosaic of Best Practices

The Onion is a US news satire organization.  It features a newspaper and a website with articles on international, national, and local news.  My husband and I winter in Florida.  We walk miles along beaches from February through April.  I gather up lots of shells.  The Onion’s article, “Report: All Good Seashells Taken” (http://www.theonion.com/articles/report-all-the-good-seashells-taken,26337/), comes from Coral Gables, FL, not far from where we stay. The piece pokes fun at a host of human behaviors and beliefs.  It’s supposed ‘environmental’ research about why there are no more ‘good’ seashells.  They have all been grabbed up by ‘aunts with homes along the shoreline and 14 year olds with no friends’.

It is a ridiculous conclusion- every Onion article has one.  There is one ‘hopeful’ statement that helps the reader turn the corner from supposed despair about the seashells…. “When pressed, however, Coates (researcher) acknowledged there might be enough bits of good shell left to be assembled into a serviceable mosaic.”  The same can be said about schools.  Most have ‘bits of good shell’ that contribute to a serviceable system.  I mean schools with high student achievement, personalization, effective technology implementation, high quality teaching, community/parent/caregiver engagement, generative leadership, etc., etc.  Data-wise these are arguably difficult to find. But they do exist.  And if we assemble those ‘bits of good shell’ into a ‘serviceable mosaic’, we can inform and lead real school transformation.

We’ve learned through Project RED and the work of One-to-One Institute that there are few places that have it all pulled together in an effective, well running system that is producing expected student and organizational outcomes.  But there are places that are well greased in certain components that lead to success.  We could create a motif using each ‘showcase’ site’s special effects as part of grand picture for ‘how to’.

That is exactly what we planned to do with Project RED II and the seventeen Signature Districts.  The recently launched Project RED III findings put that package together.  We captured results-oriented best practices into robust media tools that can be virtually accessed by educators.  Highlighted will be effective leadership, meaningfully planned education technology integration, student achievement measures, revenue-positive and return on investment strategies, strategic visioning and planning for short and long term objectives and ways of creating capacity and sustainability.  Professional learning and communications also makeup the content of our new research.  You can find all here.

A major finding from Project RED III is that even in the most optimal environments that capture what we know for sure about implementing successful one-to-one programs, it remains a daunting task to reach desired outcomes.  Implementation systems must work in tandem at high quality levels, be consistently led by skilled leaders, and focused on transforming teaching and learning models through ongoing, embedded professional learning.  Unforeseen circumstances are reality.  Systems and leaders must figure out how to navigate those waters to keep the program safely on course.  It’s challenging work.  And we’re making progress.

Leslie Wilson
Chief Executive Officer
One-to-One Institute

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Breaking the Cycle of Failed Innovation

I recently sold my house and started packing last weekend. As I was going through my books I found one from 2008 called “The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It.” It started me thinking about the reactions I have witnessed in many of my teacher friends when I talk about the potential of technology to enhance the learning process. To be fair, I do understand much of the resistance. When I was in the classroom it seemed like the administration was always jumping on the latest educational fad bandwagon. One year it was Multiple Intelligences and writing across the curriculum. The next year those initiatives seemed to vanish, and we all had to focus on Differentiated Instruction and how to use the state test score data to raise math and ELA scores. All of these initiatives may have merit, but it was never clear how each fit into a bigger vision for learning, or within the curricular areas outside of math and ELA.

The biggest issue for me in adopting any of these so called innovations was that I felt like they were being done to me, not with me. I was a successful teacher with exceptional student outcomes, and awards to prove it. I thought at the time, “Why am I being forced to figure out how to retrofit my curriculum to be compliant with the district mandates, especially when the mandates didn’t even make pedagogical sense within the learning I was facilitating?” What incensed me even more, though, were the hours and hours I had to sit with the entire staff going over the analysis of our school’s state math test data, even though there was no middle or high school level math in my curriculum.

I was fortunate that I was befriended by a 35 year veteran teacher shortly after I started my first assignment. He was great at sensing my frustration, and would say with a big smile, “This too shall pass, Michael, this too shall pass.” He was right. All of the experienced teachers in my building knew that if they didn’t make waves, and just looked compliant for a year, the winds would change, and the district would be blown onto the next greatest educational innovation.

Adopting technology, for me, was different. In my 6th year of teaching, the district gave each staff member a desktop computer. Teachers who needed basic training were able to sign up for classes like “Compact Basic Operation,” or “How to use Word and PowerPoint,” but that was about the extent of the support. The district did not demand we use the computers at all. When, after two years, teachers were still not using the computers, principals tried strategies, like only communicating about meetings through email, to force teachers to use them.

Only a few early adopters experimented with ways to use the device to benefit learners. I appreciated the district not forcing the usual compliance. I was excited to have found a remediation app and was working on an efficient way to circulate struggling students through the program. Four years later, students were using computers on a regular basis in the visual arts, in a website design class, and in journalism/yearbook, but there were many teachers that still didn’t even know how to use their email.

Looking back, I can see several change leadership strategies the district and principal could have used to engage teachers and change behaviors, but why were teachers so reluctant to change?

There is an old saying that is attributed to Confucius that “No man can be rightly taught until he feels a real need in his life or in his work.” When I think about how I manage my personal and professional life now, it seems unimaginable that I didn’t purchase my first cell phone until 2001. Today all of my work is done through a laptop or smartphone. I no longer have a conventional workplace I go to each morning. Everyone I worked with during the past year, outside of school district personnel, had similar circumstances. In the corporate world we definitely feel a real need to use technology in our work. We couldn’t function without it. The efficiencies experienced in my work, as well as the ability to communicate, collaborate, and create, led me to start using the technology in my personal life.

My 9th grade daughter was born in 2001, just after I purchased that first cell phone.  For her, technology has always been “ubiquitous.” When she was around 3 years old, I remember waking up one Saturday morning, and wondering where she was. I found her in my office. She had booted up my old desktop computer, loaded one of the CD-Rom educational games I was asked to review, had set her achievement goal, and was monitoring her progress. When I asked her what she was doing she said she had seen her older sister play this game and had to try it. In Sophia’s mind, she felt a real need in her life.

Today Sophia has her own YouTube DIY Channel. She uses Facetime to gather her study group, and to collaborate with friends on a variety of personal projects. She communicates with her soccer coaches and receives automated schedule reminders through TeamSnap, and uses iPhone, iPad, Chromebook, and Windows apps to communicate, collaborate, and create in dozens of other ways. Sophia has never had any formal technology training. She simply has something she wants to do – like share the cool DIY things she comes up with – and looks for the best tools she has at her disposal to do so. In effect, she takes a DIY approach to share her DIY approach.

As the available tools change, or the popularity of certain apps dwindles, Sophia seems to migrate to new apps seamlessly. The device doesn’t seem to matter much to her, nor do the apps. It is as if she knows the technology will change, and that other companies will come up with better solutions that address issues her and her friends had with the old technology. This phenomenon is not unique to Sophia. All of her close friends have the same attitude toward technology and use it flexibly…at home.

Sophia’s flexible use of technology versus the rigid perception and usage I see in most schools is often labelled as digital natives versus digital immigrants. I don’t dispute that there is some of this going on, but there is something else at play. I’m noticing that a person’s attitude and approach to change seems to align with his/her perception of the world, and that these perceptions fall into two categories:

  1. People who view life as continuously evolving; and
  2. People who view the world as static.

In education we call these growth mindset and fixed mindset. Carol Dweck has done important work on mindset psychology traits if you want to learn more about this topic. Growth mindset, unfortunately, seems to be one of the latest buzz words in education. It is not that I think growth mindset is unimportant. To the contrary. The issue I have is that schools are trying to address growth mindset within a fixed mindset environment. Almost everything in secondary schools across the country reinforce a fixed mindset view of the world:

  • The command and control leadership style
  • The importance we place on standardized tests
  • Teachers feeling like they just need to get through the curriculum
  • The value placed on right and wrong answers
  • The amount of memorization teachers require of their students
  • The predominance of direct instruction used in classrooms

This seems to be the never-ending story in education. We try to retrofit our traditional system with a new innovation, it inevitably fails, and then we move on to the next hot innovation. Ask any 20 year veteran teacher and they will provide you with a laundry list of initiatives they have seen come and go during their career. Until we stop applying new programs like Band-Aides to fix education, and fundamentally change the way we do schooling, we will continue on this treadmill of failed innovations.

Michael Gielniak, Ph.D.

Check back in May for my next blog on the importance of teaching and how to embrace change as a core principle in schools.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sprout or Restrain – Leaders Have the Power

A while ago, I moderated a panel of education and industry whizzes who discussed successful education technology implementations.  My task was to summarize the quintessential findings from Project RED regarding the keys to successfully integrating technology in schools.

During the Q & A segment, two teachers stood up and asked the question, ‘What do we do?  We’ve begun a one to one teaching and learning program and we haven’t done any of the things you report are required to be successful.  Our principal is not providing guidance or support.  Many teachers are abandoning the effort.’

To respond was daunting.  My experience, and my answer, had to be truth as I knew it.  The fact is that without that principal’s support, planning for professional growth, etc., they would not be able to grow or essentially create a success quotient for the one to one practice.  I gave a lot of other kinds of ‘scenario’ advisements – create a community of practice with the teachers-carve out time to collaborate, debrief, share research about others’ best practices/strategies/lesson plans, etc., request regular meeting times with the principal to discuss the program, challenges and successes and needs for professional development; seek out other educators and create a virtual network of support and guidance.

Finally, I told them that my personal, professional experience is that when the leader didn’t ‘get it’ there was little I could do as the non-decision maker to do what I deemed the ‘right, moral and necessary work’.  I changed teaching and administrator jobs numerous times because the leadership in my then present environment was a deterrent to using my skills and passion for serving young people. After describing my journey, there were applause from the audience-much to my surprise. Obviously, my comments resonated with a lot of people. We have a leadership crisis!!

Five teachers came to me after the panel. They said that they didn’t want to leave their current positions. They loved the students, community and school. They wanted to find another way.  My guess is that this wonderful group of teachers will find a way to do their one to one work effectively in this setting.  It would be even better if a new leader for the school emerges who provides what is needed for these teachers to flourish with their students through the use of education technologies.

Back at home office, I sent them a lot of resources and content regarding steps needed to be successful.  They plan to share with their principal.  I wait each day for a follow up.  Keeping my fingers crossed a plan will materialize.

The panel scenario is one we witness across the country.  There are educators who have leapfrogged into integrating technologies with teaching and learning.  They thirst for more resources, support, guidance – frequently creating their own communities for learning and sharing.  When the latter happens in tandem with focused, change leadership much can be accomplished for moving the needle ahead for today’s learners to be globally and productively connected to achieve at higher rates.

Leslie Wilson
Chief Executive Officer
One-to-One Institute

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Respect: The Foundation for Personalized Learning

Last Thursday I happened to be in the kitchen getting some coffee when my 9th grade daughter came home from school.  Sophia was in a really bad mood, but I just figured she needed a snack.  She is one of those people (like me) who can get pretty crabby when hungry.  I asked her how her day was, and she sort of mumbled something about leaving her alone.  I brushed it off and went back to work knowing she would probably be fine once she had something to eat.

Dinner time wasn’t much better.  Like lots of teenagers today, Sophia is binge-watching a TV show on her phone.  I don’t mind as long as she finishes her homework and isn’t neglecting the other things she has to do.  That has never been a problem with her.  I think she is actually the most driven, disciplined, and organized person I know.  If anything I am a little concerned that she expects too much of herself.

After asking her to shut her phone off at the table, I noticed that her attitude was the same as after school.  I asked her if something was wrong, and she had the same retort as before, but this time with a lot more emphasis!  Most people with teenage daughters know what it’s like.  It wasn’t until we were on our way to soccer practice that she began to open up.  There is something magical about a long car ride with some good music that seems to prime great conversations between my kids and me.  Out of the blue Sophia blurts out, “My school is so stupid!”  I asked her what she meant, and she started in on a 20 minute rant about her day.

“I hate having to get up so early in the morning for school.  If I want to have time to actually eat a good breakfast and take a shower I have to get up like at 5:30 am.  That’s just crazy!  When we got to school today the bus was actually a little bit early so they keep us in this one area like a bunch of penned in animals.  It’s like they think we are going to destroy the school if they actually let us go to our lockers and get ready for class.”

It was at this point I realized her story might make a poignant statement about secondary education in our country, and I wanted to capture it so I could use it later.  I asked her if she would mind if I recorded her story on my phone, and she said she didn’t care, and added “Maybe if you write about it, Pappa, my teachers might read it and actually change.”  I sort of laughed at the thought that my little blog could yield such power.  Without missing a beat she started back in.

“I wish they would let us take our backpacks to class.  I can’t possibly carry everything, so I have to go back to my locker between every class – and get to be yelled at for the privilege!  You know, sometimes my locker is on the opposite side of the school, and God forbid I have to go to the bathroom.  There is no way I could get to my locker, put my stuff away in my backpack, get all the right stuff out for the next class, go to the bathroom, and get to my next class on time.

So anyway, on Friday I put my stuff in my locker and I am sort of skipping and singing down the hallway to class, and I get yelled at to “cut it out, and get to class!”  I wanted so bad to say to him, “Cut what out? Being happy?”  It’s like some teachers I believe really think that we are not supposed to have fun at all in school.  So I get yelled at, and I’m not even doing anything.  It’s not like I was even doing anything wrong.

So then there is first hour.  I hate first hour!  We had a math test today and the teacher gave us the review sheet yesterday.  We spent the first ten minutes correcting the review sheet, and then he wouldn’t even answer any questions because we had the test.  What’s the point of giving us a review sheet if we are going to correct it the day of the test?  Aren’t we supposed to be able to study from it??

So that was the start of another wonderful day at school. Spanish class was ok.  The teacher shares things from her personal life and we do some projects, so it isn’t all just sitting there.

The next thing was at lunch.  First, it’s crazy that I have lunch a 10:30 in the morning.  Then I’m not supposed to eat anything until after school?  Lunch is like a prison.  We get yelled at to sit down, we get yelled at to stay in line, and we get yelled at to clean up.  It’s like they think we are a bunch of wild animals.

The food is horrible.  There isn’t anything fresh, and about the only good thing is the Ice’s (sparkling water), but they cost twice as much as in the store.  Anyway, so I finish my lunch and I am leaving when the teacher stops me because I have half a bottle of water in my hand.  He tells me I can’t take it out of the cafeteria, and that I have to throw it away.  I said to him “Are you serious?” and he threatened to give me detention.  I mean, come on…we’re not even allow to drink water?

I thought my day couldn’t get any worse, but in science the teacher was explaining some stuff about the periodic table.  I pulled out my phone to look up something about the charges and he walked over and took it away.  He didn’t ask me what I was doing, he didn’t ask me to give it to him.  He just took it out of my hand and put it in his desk.  It made me so mad, the only thing I could think about the rest of the class were arguments for why he is a horrible teacher.  He didn’t seem to notice.

Then in my last class I started to get a bad kink in my neck.  I tried to sit up, but that didn’t last long.  I started rubbing my neck and tried to push the corner of the hard plastic part of the top of the chair back between my shoulders, but it was hard to get into the right position in those stupid desks.  The teacher stopped what she was doing and asked me if something was wrong.  I started screaming at her in my head that “yeah there is something f$%&1#$ wrong.  I am paralyzed because I have been chained to these f$%#&@#$ seats all day.”  I didn’t actually say anything, of course, because everyone knows what she really meant was to stop messing around and pay attention.

So you keep asking me why I am in a bad mood.  I’d like to see how you would feel at the end of my day.  Knowing you, you wouldn’t even be able to get through the first class without being sent to the office!”

I chuckled and said she was probably right, but I wanted to dig a little deeper. “Ok, I get why you would be crabby, but if you could change things, what would you do?”

“Well, for starters I would let kids move around more, and go outside. We have this beautiful courtyard at school, but nobody is ever allowed to use it.  The only time I was in it was last year when a teacher made us pull weeds.”

Sophia paused for a second to collect her thoughts, and then continued.

“It’s like the teachers don’t respect the students at all.  They’re always yelling at you…they take your stuff if they think you’re doing something you shouldn’t be, without bothering to find out what was going on…they tell you to sit down and pay attention.  Like, could you imagine if I commanded a teacher to “sit down and pay attention?”  I have heard teachers say we should respect them.  Well, how can I respect them when they don’t respect me?  Just because they can make me do what they want doesn’t mean I respect them.”

And then there was a long pause.  I couldn’t believe that school is really this horrible for her all the time.  It must just be that she had a really bad day.  I decided to follow up with a positive question.  “So, what do you like about school?  There must be somethings you like?”

“My friends, and seeing what all the other kids are wearing, and what they’re doing.  I also like watching what they do, like, who they hang out with, and being able to see the different patterns and stuff.”

“OK, that’s normal”, I confirmed.  “Human beings are social animals, we learn through social interaction.  I think if you asked most students in America what they like the most about school, their response would include something about friends.  But isn’t there anything else you like about school?”  Her comment defines my whole point in this blog.

“Well, there are a couple of teachers I like.  They are nice, and they tell us things about their lives that I can relate to.  Other than that, I am told what to do all day, I don’t get to eat when I need to, I don’t get to drink when I need to, and I don’t even get to go to the bathroom when I need to.  Would you want to have to spend your whole day there every day for years?”

Obviously, no adults would tolerate another adult talking to them the way Sophia described.  The lack of respect seems obvious when you’re thinking of it in those terms.  What bothers me the most is that I think every adult in the country can relate to some of Sophia’s experiences, and unfortunately, I see these type of behaviors, and systems of command and control in almost every secondary school I visit.  The country seems obsessed with Personalized Learning right now.  It has become the latest and greatest answer to all of educations woes.  What I am often seeing in the name of personalization, however, is the implementation of a set curricula that can be adjusted for individual students, within the same old command and control structure.

I say, if you really want to help students personalize learning, start with building a culture of respect for each student.  Until that has been established, it isn’t even possible for the student to engage in the meaningful ways it would take for them to truly personalize their learning.

Michael Gielniak, Ph.D.
Chief Operating Officer
One-to-One Institute

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Talent: Must Develop and Deliver

I recently participated in an event sponsored by numerous automotive industry leaders in the Detroit area.  They invited superintendents from Michigan to collaborate with them on how to develop the talent needed to fill the thousands of ‘new’ manufacturing/auto/tech jobs that are emerging across sixteen state counties.  The event organizers presented data and profiles about these jobs.  They discussed different avenues of preparing high schoolers for these positions.  They sought the district leaders’ ideas regarding the same.

I learned a lot about how manufacturing jobs have been transformed.  To be employed in this pathway one needs to be highly technically skilled and experienced. This includes knowledge of content, technology application, and systems integration.  These are highly complex jobs that require expertise not only in core standard curricula but in relevant uses of technology tools within the same.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently released a policy briefing underscoring the very message as outlined above (http://www.oecd.org/employment/emp/Skills-for-a-Digital-World.pdfP)

And there is a void of talented candidates in MI to fill these jobs. Across sixteen MI counties, the bedrock of high tech development and engineering jobs, the companies are struggling to find talent to fill positions.  Many have instituted internships and co-op work that are fed by local school districts.  The profile of career technical schools has shifted dramatically. Where there exists high caliber, rigorous applied learning programs focused on integrated disciplines and the fusion of technologies, they are producing ‘ready to go’ employees. They are being placed immediately in top notch positions that posture them for continued career growth and opportunities.

The Early College program (TEC) exists across the country.  The original initiative, as I understand it, was launched in 2002 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Since then many Early and Middle College programs have emerged.  What I need to do is re-engage with the industry leaders who are seeking talent and make sure they are aware of the TECs that exist in Michigan.  Based on the TEC curricula, they should be able to pull graduates and current students from these settings into the work place.

There were only three TECs in MI a short time ago.  Today they have expanded into more state counties.  Nexus Academy of Lansing will join TEC at Lansing Community College.  Here’s an overview of the program.

“The vision of The Early College at Lansing Community College is to provide mid-Michigan high school students the opportunity to earn up to sixty college credits as part of their high school learning experience. We will promote innovation and best practices in education. Our students will have a personalized learning experience within a small learning community, a positive school experience and the social and academic tools to successfully continue their education or career.” (http://www.lcc.edu/earlycollege/documents/annual-report-2016.pdf) 

The program creators are committed to a nontraditional ‘school’.  Their goal is to ensure learners develop a zeal for continued growth and are prepared to be successful in our globally competitive world.  The development of students’ creativity, problem-solving, experiential learning and flexibility are embedded in the curricula.

TEC in Lansing is a three year program for students entering grade 11 in the fall. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are the basis for the curricula. These disciplines prepare learners for an array of careers and ensure a strong base for many four-year college majors.

Learners start the program via core high school courses and participation in learning success skill training to be prepare for the rigor of college work. “In the middle of their first semester, students may become eligible to be credentialed for taking college classes to obtain at least 60 transferrable college credits or a minimum of 30 credits in a certificate program. Students also receive extensive career readiness and exploration learning experiences.” (theearlycollege@lcc.edu)  TEC’s standard core curriculum meets Michigan Merit Curriculum requirements.  Learners also have the opportunity to receive transferable college credits that pave the way to an Associate Degree or Certificate program.

The illustration below profiles LLC’s Early College class of 2016.

untitled

The Principal at Nexus Academy of Lansing has met with a number of teachers at the county’s career and technical center.  Quite a few of his students participate in programs at the center. Each teacher with whom the principal spoke told him that Nexus sends the most premier students to their programs.  They are head over heels beyond the students from other high schools because they actually know how to effectively use technologies within their skill/content areas.  The teachers noted that with the other schools’ students, they have to teach them how to use and integrate the tech tools as well as master the content.  It’s double duty for the teachers and most significantly for the learners.

Schools like Nexus Academy and other successful 1 to 1 settings are providing students with technology skills that are crucial to successful matriculation into a global workplace.  There are pools of talent being developed in these and the Early College setting.

Learning this I thought about the auto industry leaders’ pleas for talent development.  I thought about the mission of well implementing 1 to 1 technologies in schools that I’ve supported for 15 years.  Back then this was a new, often ballyhooed frontier. Most school leaders avoided implementing technologies because of cost and their lack of understanding and prognosticating what the world would expect from students in ten short years.  Today, we see an uptick in schools’ acquiring technologies.  Those acquisitions must be accompanied by vision, strategy, high quality leadership and a focus on learner outcomes to best ensure the talent needed for today’s and tomorrow’s jobs.

Leslie Wilson
Chief Executive Officer
One-to-One Institute

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Change Leadership: A New Focus for Administrator Preparation Programs

One-to-One Institute’s newsletter this month focuses on the role higher education can play in the transformation of learning and teaching in the K-12 system. When discussing higher education programs the bulk of the conversation, rightfully so, tends to focus on teachers. We learned, however, through our Project RED research that principals play a paramount role in whether or not a 1:1 implementation is academically successful and financially sustainable.

We have been investigating the beliefs and actions of principals for the past couple of years, and the effects these beliefs have on teachers, students, and learning. When I started formulating my ideas for this article I decided to match the course content being taught in a couple of popular graduate programs for school administrators with the list of Key Implementation Factors, and other essential elements and best practices we have gleaned from our work. I found that there are pieces missing in the area of pedagogy and instruction, but there are two areas that seem to have been completely left out, namely change leadership, and project management.

Change Leadership

The education landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade. The number of students in charter schools instead of traditional public schools more than doubled, from 3.1 to 6.6 percent. Enrollment has also continuously increased in online courses during the same period. According to the Online Learning Consortium, “The number of students taking online courses grew to 5.8 million nationally (2015-16), continuing a growth trend that has been consistent for 13 years.” In order to combat enrollment lose, and to provide an educational experience more personalized to an individual student’s interests, most public schools have initiated magnet programs within the district. According to the NCES database there were approximately 1.2 million students enrolled in magnet programs. By 2015 that number grew to more than 2.5 million.

There have been many other changes even within the traditional public school system. Schools have experimented with ideas such as Personalized Learning, Inquiry-based Learning, Design Thinking, Flipped Learning, and Blended Learning, to name but a few. More content area digital programs become available every day, as well as content and platforms designed for students that fall into other specialized categories such as special education, ELL, and credit recovery. Change is all around us in education, and doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon.

Since change seems to be the new normal, principals need to develop the requisite skills to lead change. It is simply not acceptable, or effective any longer to be a building manager. College programs seem to be doing a reasonable job of emphasizing the importance of the principal as instructional leader, but they must also help aspiring administrators understand the principles of change leadership. Developing an understanding of human motivation, for example, can lead to developing strategies for the co-creation of a new vision for learning and the learning environment. Through their college experience students may also need to challenge their beliefs about control and authority. Students need to explore the concept of organic growth, and systems of continuous improvement, and investigate the research on the effects of command and control mechanisms.

Project Management

Understanding how to lead change, and develop systems of continuous improvement are both extremely important for administrators to learn, but without the skills to manage the implementation of an innovation, it is highly likely that the implementation will flounder, and ultimately fail. I’ve noticed that very little importance is placed on professional project management in schools. When a district decides to build a new school, however, there are a number of outside professional that are hired. A project manager (title may vary) is always one of those professionals, and acts as the liaison to the district, as well as managing the details of the construction. On the other hand, when a district spends large sums of money on technology they seem to misunderstand the complexity of proper implementation, and therefore, fail to see the need for the investment in a trained project manager. They may appoint someone in the central office to oversee the project, but in these instances much of the fidelity of implementation fall to the principal. I’m not suggesting that schools of education should provide every administrator candidate full project management training, but making them aware of the basic principles, and the importance of the position could lead them to advocating for a project manager, or seek the help they need if the job ultimately falls on their shoulders.

It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone in education that the principal is often tasked with managing the implementation a several new programs at the same time. They wear many different hats, and often play the role of the fireman, cop, counselor, and the human resources director, all in the same day. With the number of duties assigned to principals, and their hectic daily schedules, it is highly unlikely they will find the time to focus on developing project management and change leadership skills on their own. Therefore, college graduate programs must embrace this content within their programs. To a great extent success in any field in the future will hinge on a person’s ability to facilitate and manage change. We know clearly from our Project RED research that if principals don’t have these skills, the learning environment will not change, and even the best new programs will ultimately fail.

Michael Gielniak, Ph.D.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment