Plan the Work…and Work the Plan(ner)

Mixed Media from Patricia Steele Raible

Think of the Possibilities Patricia Steele Raible

I am amazed how many organizations large and small do business without a planner. There is a reason that planes aren’t allowed to take off without a flight plan! Yes, we all joke about building it while we are flying it, but you still have to know where you are going. Of course many organizations publish their vision and mission and goal statements. Some even display them on their web sites. Still it comes down to who is measuring progress? The CEO/Superintendent cannot be expected to do it all and keep everyone on course.

If you haven’t already, designate someone to measure your organization’s progress toward your goals. And then call them a chief Planning Officer or Chief Strategy Officer or just a Planner. Send them up to the crow’s nest to see what is on the horizon. You might be surprised at what’s ahead!

Educational Moneyball

  1. Although they require a living wage, teachers unlike baseball players are not motivated by money; if they were, they wouldn’t be in education.
  2. The real measure of a high quality educational organization should be how many of their minor league teachers can they turn into major league all-stars. Hiring effective teachers that someone else has trained is cheating. Buying the Red Sox just before the World Series, doesn’t make you the world champion. 
  3. Most educational organizations put their rookies into the starting lineup from day one. Most baseball organizations carefully cultivate their minor league players make sure they are ready for the big dance.
  4. Even the best professional baseball player doesn’t win the world series every year, and the best teacher doesn’t dramatically improve their students’ test scores every year. In fact some excellent teachers don’t even teach tested subjects!
  5. You can’t predict the winner of a baseball game by knowing which team had the highest income. And yet, academic performance and a students’ family income are very closely correlated. You can even predict ACT and SAT scores based upon this.
  6. Just like in baseball, disruptive innovation in education will not come from the big money organizations.  There are thousands of highly capable general managers (public school superintendents) in this country with low-budget educational teams in small revenue markets just like the Oakland A’s. These educational leaders will be the source of innovation. Not because they are flush with cash from grants, but precisely the opposite. There were no baseball teams using sabermetrics until Billy Beane came to Oakland.
  7. Baseball is now a statistically rich game, education (though surely more important) is statistically anemic – almost all of our performance conclusions are based upon the annual results of three to five standardized tests. This too shall pass.

I’m not sure what it is…

Charter schools were originally proposed as schools run by innovative teachers to test experimental pedagogy. They were intended for students that had difficulty learning. In fact, the enabling legislation in many states for charter schools includes that explanation. These schools are created to try new things and share what they have learned to improve and inform the practice of education.

Today’s charter school students do no better or no worse than public school students. And the good idea of experimental charter schools has been co-opted into a profit-making entrepreneurial opportunity, or a way to reinforce our society’s socioeconomic  prejudices, or one of the government-sanctioned punishments for those schools that are unable to change the predictive nature of poverty. The most recent ACT and SAT scores still correlate precisely to family income. If charters are experimenting, shouldn’t they be experimenting with that? With a few exceptions (one or two here in Charlotte), they are not.

Many charter schools exclude students by offering no transportation, or access to free and reduced lunches, or the timing of the open house experiences, or school location. If a charter school’s enrollment does not include students of all abilities and family incomes, then it is  really not a charter school is it? It is clearly not experimental. It is clearly not available to all of the public.

I am not sure what it is…

What goes around…

My assigned project for my MOOC from Stanford University’s “d. school” recently was improving the school-to-work continuum. The school to work continuum for teachers’ education is actually a circular relationship – K-12 schools provide the human capital (high school graduates) to the universities to the universities provide the human capital (teachers) to the K-12 schools. I have heard both post-secondary and K-12 institutions complain about the quality of the product they were receiving. Bill Keller in a recent New York Times opinion says improving teacher training is an urgent priority. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/21/opinion/keller-an-industry-of-mediocrity.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0&ref=billkeller

I am a firm believer in constructive dialogue. IF (and that’s a big IF!) we could get the K-12’s and the universities to provide constructive feedback to one another, we could change the outcomes…and produce better students and better graduates along the way (which is really the point).

How about a Get Satisfaction https://getsatisfaction.com/corp/ dialogue for K-12 schools and universities? It could be restricted access due to personnel issues, but the aggregate reviews (80% of consumers say they are influenced by customer reviews) could be made public, like GPTW and Forbes magazine do with great companies. This would provide organizations the incentive to participate.

Timing is everything. All of our educational institutions must re-invent themselves in the next ten years or lose market share to the disruptors and die. I believe a mutually beneficial digital dialogue about improving the quality of the outcomes will yield some amazing results.

Stress-test Strategy

Always stress-test your strategy. Solid advice from Robert Simons in Harvard Business Review.

http://hbr.org/2010/11/stress-test-your-strategy-the-7-questions-to-ask/ar/pr

I especially love this one…

The debate must be about what is right, not who is right. People should check titles and office politics at the door. You should encourage everyone to take risks, state unpopular opinions, and challenge the status quo.

A tactic is only good as long as it accomplishes what it is supposed to do. Measure the outcomes. If the tactic is wrong, then have the guts to admit it and pivot to create a better one. Nothing worse than riding a bad tactic just to save face.

See You in the Funny Papers

For those of you that don’t get to read the Harvard Business Review, but do read the comics every day, here’s one for you – Daniel McGinn’s interview with Scott Adams, the Dilbert creator.

http://hbr.org/2013/11/scott-adams/ar/pr

It was often the Dilbert post (I subscribed on-line) that got my morning started. It was uncanny…often like he was sitting in my office, listening to my phone conversations or taking notes in my meetings! No, I don’t have pointy hair, but I did work with Alice, The Fist of Death.

And here’s another from Meghan Ennes for those of you that like pictures and words. http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/10/how-dilbert-practically-wrote-itself/

The last time a comics creator got this much publicity, he cancelled on me (Gary Trudeau). Don’t do it, Scott! There’s way too much good material still out there.

The Trouble with Education (Part Two)

If we learned anything from Malcolm Gladwell’s research about hockey players, it should be that grouping children by age puts younger students in the same age group at a significant disadvantage. Parents understand this. Given the choice between putting their child in kindergarten at the earliest possible opportunity, or waiting until the next year, most (given the choice) “hold back” their child’s entry into kindergarten. Why? So that he or she has the advantage of another year of mental and physical development and a better chance of success (at or above grade level) when compared to their “peers”.

Date of manufacture has nothing to do with a student’s intelligence and anyway, lifelong learners don’t have an expiration date.

So why do we continue to move our students through the educational assembly line grouped by age (grade level)? We even celebrate our ability to get students through high school “on time” by reporting a four-year graduation cohort as the graduation rate. But is that really cause for celebration?

Students that are unable to learn as fast as their same-age peers are not less intelligent.  Tossing them on the academic scrap heap in a comparison sort of their grade level, simply because it takes them longer to learn than others of the same age, is a waste of talent.  All 21st century students must learn what we teach. We no longer have the luxury of leaving some of them behind. We don’t have to time and date stamp their acquisition of that knowledge either.

Is combining all students of a certain age into a grade level really the best we can do?

And another thing…

(Stay tuned for Part Three.)

Good Communication (sample)

Every superintendent has a opening-of-school communication and then the follow-up. This portion of a follow-up letter from Dr. Carolyn M. Kossack, Superintendent of Little Silver, is particularly noteworthy. She explains with transparency (and a little bit of humor) why parents weren’t permitted in the schools during the first days of school this year.

We continually re-evaluate safety and security procedures for the district in order to keep your students
safe. Therefore, this year and moving forward, we opted not to open the doors for parents to escort their
children to their classrooms, which has historically resulted in hundreds of adults roaming through the
hallways. Respectfully, this was our best opening ever in terms of students transitioning to their new
routine. This year we did not have any crying students (only tearful parents).

I can see it, can’t you? Dr. Kossack nailed it!

The Trouble with Education (Part One)

Why do we make K-12 education a timed test? In the industrial age when we had to sort the college-bound management material from the trade schoolers, I suppose this was as good a method as any. Those that were “quick” and/or “bright” were identified and eventually sent off to college. It was assumed that those headed to manual labor did not need all that was being taught, since they were to become human machinery (typists, mechanics, plumbers, etc.). The “sort” that the timed test accomplished was about right – 15/85.

Not so today. Sorting the college-bound students from the trades is no longer necessary, nor is the proportion of the “sort” correct.  We need far less human machinery, and far more critical thinkers. (I have heard estimates of the need for college graduates as high as 70/30.) Failure to learn is now the problem, not failure to learn quickly.

When  we measure success as the ability to learn within an annual or semi-annual testing timeframe, we miss the point, All students must learn the material, if we want them to succeed. And most can, just not within our arbitrary number of school days allotted before the test.

And another thing…

(Stay tuned for Part Two)

Clarity of Purpose

It is often very easy to assume that in educational organizations, everyone knows what the target is. Not so in my experience. Victor Lipman in his piece in Forbes says very clearly that  without clarity, management doesn’t work.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/victorlipman/2013/10/01/without-this-quality-management-doesnt-work/?goback=%2Egde_718907_member_5792793493000695811#%21

Do not assume that everyone is headed in the same direction. Make sure everyone on the team knows what is important and how you intend to get there.