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Leading to Reform: September 24

This Week’s letter highlights that innovation means walking away from what is in place, the impact money will have on Wisconsin’s reforms, and if you want to understand education visit schools. We link as always to an array of columns and pieces spanning the ideological spectrum on leadership and reform.

Innovation Means Walking Away
Moving from leading a school district to leadership development boosts time spent with consultants. Weekly, I am pitched by consultant or as I call big thinker talking about innovation. It’s probably the most widely used word in education reform today. Chris Kennedy writes about how innovation permeates education reform conversations. The innovation label applies to all manner of things -- ideas, methods, programs -- and pretty much anything that differs from current practice. Usually there is a price attached too.

Most ideas, interventions, courses or programs have a shelf life after which effectiveness disintegrates. The world is constantly changing, and we need to reflect that process of ongoing change in all that we do.

This is particularly true of initiatives intended to encourage the use of technology and digital literacy. Last week, “Leading to Reform” focused on how little monitoring goes into investing in technology. We do not need to teach K-12 students how to use computers. School curriculums are overburdened making it difficult to make room for programs encouraging that integration.

Most school leaders are better at starting initiatives than ending them. Teachers complain about having too much on their plate but rarely will they ever scrape some of it off. Even when existing programs no longer connect with students, they protect them because our investment of resources, public pressure; some vague fear of conflict, dissuades us from abandoning them.

Holding on to these programs limits the development of new programs and learning experiences for students.

From the Sunday Papers...

Money Gets Top Billing in Wisconsin Education Drama
State money's impact on school reform won't be denied. Alan Borsuk writes this Sunday on money overruling Wisconsin’s reforms. Here are four recent events that may change Wisconsin education when other states surge.

Act One, in which a judge throws out much of Act 10, but no more money is added to the system: Unions and Boards of Education must return to the bargaining table, but there is any more money for them to deal with unless they cut programs impacting kids. What positions will the unions take? In Greendale, the union is taking a wait and sees position for now while others unions are headed to the table. How long will the wait see position last if school boards start giving in to union demands?

Act Two, in which the Wisconsin budget for medical programs threatens to drive out talk of increasing education spending: Wisconsin’s biggest problem is raising medical costs. This need may consume any money available for education. Not to mention, the public will to put more state money to schools – which is questionable at best. I don’t think most boards and many school leaders realize the pickle they are in.

Acts Three and Four: Milwaukee & Chicago Public Schools are giving away money they don’t have. To balance budgets class sizes in high schools go over 40 – (I have seen this every week in schools I am in). Increasing accountability and budget shortfalls, safely predict more chaos as kids and families lose out. The only lifeline both districts have is the State, and MPS’s – I can’t speak for CPS credibility with outstate leaders and residents is below zero. Working conditions deteriorate for the adults who demand more the kids suffer.

As I say, the beat goes on in school reform and as along as the adults needs come first, kids and families are on the outside looking in. Good School Leaders need to find a new path on this troubled trail.

To learn more, read Mr. Borsuk’s article.

Eugene Robinson Stands Up for Teachers
Portraying teachers as villains doesn’t help a single child. Eugene Robinson writes about standing up for teachers. Ignoring the reasons for the education gap in this country is no way to close it.

According to
figures compiled by the College Board, students from families making more than $200,000 score more than 300 points higher on the SAT, on average, than students from families making less than $20,000 a year. There is, in fact, a clear relationship all the way along the scale: Each increment in higher family income translates into points on the test.

Sean Reardon of Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis concluded in a
recent study that the achievement gap between high-income and low-income students is actually widening. Detractors of schoolteachers would have us believe that most of the teachers in low-income, low-performing schools are incompetent -- and, by extension, that most of the teachers in upper-crust schools, where students perform well, are paragons of pedagogical virtue.

But some of the most dedicated and talented teachers he has ever met were working in “failing” inner-city schools. And yes, in award winning schools where, as in Lake Wobegon, “all the children are above average."

It is reasonable to hold teachers accountable for their performance. But it is not reasonable -- or, in the end, productive -- to hold them accountable for factors that lie far beyond their control. It is fair to insist that teachers approach their jobs with the assumption that every single child, rich or poor, can succeed. It is not fair to expect teachers to correct all the imbalances and remedy all the pathologies that result from poverty.

Mr. Robinson considers himself an apostate from liberal orthodoxy on the subject of education. He doesn’t object to
charter schools, as long as they produce results. Many charter schools are public schools. He is committed to his belief in the centrality and primacy of public education, and is clear that it’s immoral to tell parents, in effect, “Too bad for your kids, but we’ll fix the schools someday.”

Instead of talking, reading or watching a documentary about schools. Robinson rightly recommends. Visit a school instead.

Here are your links of the week:

“Being positive in a negative situation is not naive, it is leadership.”

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