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Leading to Reform: September 16

This week’s letter highlights the ongoing saga of wasted energy in Wisconsin,the Chicago teacher’s strike, a John Dewey perspective on higher education, how best to invest in technology to really impact student learning and traits of good bosses. We link as always to an array of columns and pieces spanning the ideological spectrum on leadership and reform.

Learning as Freedom
In March, a Council on Foreign Relations task force tried to reframe the problems of the nation’s public schools as a threat to national security. Michael Roth writes that “Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy.”

While the report focused on K-12 education and called for better college preparedness, its instrumentalist rhetoric has remarkable affinities with that of critics who see higher education as outmoded. Learn more about John Dewey's Vision of Learning as Freedom...

Students Over Unions
Nicholas D. Kristof wrote this powerful editorial this past week about the Chicago teacher’s strike. By the time you read this, the strike may well be over, but Kristof article captures why we need to be leading to reform. If the Chicago’s Teacher’s strike isn’t over … shame on the adults.

The most important civil rights battleground today is education, and, likewise, the most crucial struggle against poverty is the one fought in schools.

Inner-city urban schools today echo the “separate but equal” system of the early 1950s. In the
Chicago Public Schools where teachers are now on strike, 86 percent of children are black or Hispanic, and 87 percent come from low-income families.

Those students often don’t get a solid education, any more than blacks received in their separate schools before Brown v. Board of Education. Chicago’s high school graduation rates have been improving but are still about 60 percent. Just three percent of black youth in the ninth grade end up earning a degree from a four-year college, according to the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

America’s education system has become less a ladder of opportunity than a structure to transmit inequity from one generation to the next.

That’s why school reform is so critical. This is an issue of equality, opportunity and national conscience. It’s not just about education, but also about poverty and justice -- and while the Chicago teachers’ union claims to be striking on behalf of students, I just don’t see it.

From the Sunday Papers:

Madison Judge Throws Out Governor Walker’s Union Bargaining LawAppeal Likely
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's law repealing most collective bargaining for local and school employees was struck down by a Dane County judge on September 14. The ruling likely sets up another showdown in the Wisconsin Supreme Court. You can read judge's full decision here: http://t.co/TUytXVLF. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has been on this story since Friday afternoon. The newspaper recognizes that local school districts are now facing budget challenges to pay teachers instead of focusing on better teaching and learning.

For now, it appears school districts and local officials will have to return to the bargaining table with their workers in a much more significant way. The decision raises a host of unanswered questions about the significant changes in pay, benefits and work rules that have taken place over the past year in schools and municipalities around the state while any meaningful bargaining was essentially dead.

Under Act Ten law, both state and local governments were prohibited from bargaining with their workers over anything besides a cost-of-living salary adjustment. Other issues, such as health benefits, pensions, workplace safety and other work rules, were strictly off limits. Teachers who didn’t want to belong to the union weren’t required to by state law.

For local workers, all those issues can now be bargained. The ruling also restored local unions' ability to reach so-called fair share deals that require all workers within a given bargaining unit to pay union dues, even if they choose not to join. Many districts have close to half of their employees opting out of paying dues. Under this decision, the revenue will flow to the union and all staff will be mandated by law to pay dues, even if they don’t want to. In some districts, union dues approach $700 a year. Given many choose not to pay; this will pose leadership challenges for school and union leaders.

The ruling also appeared to strike down for local workers a requirement that they pay half of the contribution to their pensions and, for workers within the state of Wisconsin health insurance system, pay at least 12% of their premiums. Those cost savings have been crucial for local governments and schools in dealing with the more than $1 billion in Reverting back to Pre Act Ten means school districts that balanced budgets with the provisions of ACT Ten -- will now have to find the money if a court doesn’t issue an order to stay the decision pending a ruling by the Wisconsin Supreme Court – or hold the line in bargaining and own the decisions in their local communities. School leaders will shift their focus from improving teaching and moving ahead in a state struggling with reform back to finding money in tight budgets to pay insurance and retirement for staff.

Wisconsin is a local control state and school boards own the budget and education issues in their community. They can hold the line or fold up. Time will tell which boards and leaders will put the kids ahead of the adults. The time for local boards and leaders to blame the state is past. Local control means just that, controlling the destiny of kids or managing the needs of adults. There isn’t enough money in the schools now to do both and school leaders leading to reform will put kids first. Most, will compromise, a few fold and buy labor peace.

The ongoing fight in Wisconsin moves the spotlight again from reform for better schools to union rights, who decides education policy, and adults. No one is thinking about the time, energy and creativity school leaders and board members will spend figuring out how to deal with this Dane County judge’s decision – in state where public school achievement is falling on most measures – except one, that the needs of adults seem to come first.

Lessons From Four of the Best Bosses
Here are some lessons learned from some highly regarded Bosses. Trust trumps everything and everything flows from trust – learning, creditability, accountability, a sense of purpose and a mission that makes the work even bigger than oneself. Good bosses remove obstacles, show staff how to remove challenges, provide opportunities and took the blame while giving them credit.
Read the four Lessons learned here...

Investing in Technology? Smart School Leaders Ask These Questions
School Leaders and Board Members when making Investments in technology need to question the true impact on student achievement. They rightly wonder if the money is really finding its way to impacting learning. I know that most school leaders and most board members do not have a clue on how much they are spending on technology and how those funds could be used differently; maybe for better results.

Steve Anderson spent some time talking with the Administrators in his district about technology, about their vision for where they want to go and how they play a key role in the development of technology practices that can have a huge impact on student learning.

Here are several questions, which I think are some of the most important. These questions are adapted from the Principals Technology Leadership Assessment from Castle. These by no means are the only questions to consider, but by answering these you can get a feel for the direction that technology integration will take/does take in a school or district. Learn more:

Here are your links of the week:

“Musical appropriation is part of the folk tradition”
Bob Dylan

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