Archive for the ‘ Problem Solving ’ Category

Curious

I have been reading Pasi Sahlberg’s book on the lessons to be learned from Finland’s successful education program. Dominant in the PISA assessments since their inception in 2000, this Scandinavian country which set out deliberately to improve its educational system in the 1970’s is used by reformers and politicians alike as the exemplar of high academic standards. And yet, we have largely failed to learn from their experience and methodologies. Increasing the competition among schools, assigning letter grades to schools based upon high stakes testing for a handful of subjects, and denigrating the profession as a group of inadequate part-timers is neither productive nor factual.

Ifinnish lessonsf we cannot learn from Finland’s success, then we should not use the PISA scores as evidence that our educational system is in need of reform. If you decry our mediocrity in international testing, then learn from the international leaders. Emphasize the importance of all subjects, not just those that are tested. Treat our teachers as professionals and compensate them accordingly. Do not hold back those students who have mastered the content. Apply special education as a resource to all students who have difficulty and apply it immediately. Personalize the delivery of learning to each student, not simply through software, but through empathetic personal connections to caring adults.

It’s time to offer practical help and solutions, not just criticism. Take Finland as an example. Take it to heart.

Questions, not many answers.

Here is an example in The Atlantic of how data is used for analysis that changes strategy. Sabermetrics correlates statistical data to outcomes and has been used for strategy in baseball since Billy Beane began using them in Oakland (Moneyball). It is now as unthinkable in baseball to build a strategy without using this tool as fielding a team without a pitcher. The current controversy is about who should really get credit for the win. What if the pitcher didn’t have a single strike out for the entire game? What if the catcher made every close pitch look like a strike? Does it matter? Only if you are responsible for outcomes.

How do we develop sabermetrics for education? Do we measure outcomes for teachers or students? What’s the educational equivalent of winning the World Series? What’s the equivalent of winning a division title? How about the equivalent of winning one of the 162 games in a season? How about the outcome for each inning of each of those games?

I love baseball, the great American pastime, and the correlation of data to outcomes that sabermetrics has brought to the game make all the more effective and exciting.

More importantly I also love education, the great American ask time. A time of inquiry and discovery. The current correlation of data to outcomes is that a child’s family income is a good predictor of their test scores. Is that as deep as we can go? And once we have the data, can we use the information to change outcomes?

The Stigma of Asking for Help

Asking for help requires a healthy dose of maturity and emotional intelligence. In her article in the New York Times seven years ago, Alina Tugend, award-winning columnist and author of the book Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong, wrote about why it is so difficult to ask for help. I can hear many of you in leadership positions saying, “Oh that’s not hard, after all I ask for help from my direct reports all the time.” But there is a difference between asking for help and delegating tasks to your direct reports. The difference is your vulnerability. If the person you ask to help is in your chain of command, there is little or no likelihood of a refusal and therefore no vulnerability on your part.  No one expects a leader to know everything, least of all do everything, but the stigma of seeking expertise from outside your organization may cause some to stick with the usual suspects.

What is worse, the stigma or a bad decision?

 

Useful or Old?

The date of manufacture is a pretty poor indicator of useable life. Many of the district staff I have met with recently are senior staff with significant experience. Like me, these professionals have seen a lot of action and created a lot of value for their organizations. If school districts treated their staff accomplishments like the military, the combat ribbons would fill the left side of the uniforms of their senior staff. More than anyone, you would expect that these individuals would realize that “old” doesn’t mean useless. In a recent article in Talent Management magazine seasoned professionals were called the “moneyball play” for human resource departments because their value to an organization far exceeds their cost.

So why is it then that when it comes to roofing materials, the same senior facility managers tend to discard and replace serviceable components based upon their date of manufacture, rather than their condition?  The collective wisdom seems to be that once a roof reaches a certain age, it is time to plan for its replacement. I guess part of the reason is that up until now, it took a substantial amount of time and money to accurately forecast the remaining life of a roof in place. It was much easier and less risky to discard useable material, than to restore an older roof. New technology and better roofing materials make that task much easier than it was in the past. For just a few cents a square foot a national asset management organization that I have found can not only predict a roof’s useable life, but can also pinpoint the areas of roof that require attention. This firm is not your typical roof consultant. In fact they don’t see the preparation of bid documents as a core business, preferring not to profit from their recommendations. Their work is state of the art and comprehensive – the moneyball play for roof asset management.

As you can imagine, the implications of this are huge. It means that for the cost of replacing just a few roofs every year and risking the failure of all of the others,  you can put your entire roof inventory under warranty and into an annual preventive maintenance program. This is a far more effective approach to a component of the building envelope that carries significant risk for facility managers.

You can’t fix what you don’t know about. It’s time to take your roof management program into the 21st century.

 

“Not My Department!”

I am a strategic planner. If you tell me what you intend to accomplish, then you need to tell me how you are measuring your progress toward that goal. If your vision and mission statements talk about a goal of student “success”, shouldn’t you measure how many of your graduates acquire post-secondary degrees? A high school degree alone, unless accompanied by skills training for a trade, is not a guarantee of a living wage – clearly a threshold measure of “success”.

In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education Beckie Supiano analyses a report from the Pew Research Center on “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College”. The economic disparity between younger workers with a college degree and those without is growing. The number of college graduates with career building jobs is also much higher than for those with a high school diploma.

I know that as a superintendent with less than five years in the job, you are measuring the success (or lack thereof) of your predecessor. Nonetheless, if your vision is the success of all of your students, one measure must surely be how many of those students graduate from college. If your graduates are not making a living wage, how can you claim they are successful?

Remember the 1965 Tom Lehrer satire?

Once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down?

That’s not my department, says Wernher Von Braun.

Aren’t we subject to a similar satirical criticism by claiming success is just high school graduation?

 

Ten for Ten?

Lots of talk recently in the Ed Press decrying the high turnover rates among education professionals. If you add the number of teachers who leave the classroom for administration, the numbers are horrific.

Liz Ryan in her recent post in Forbes talks about the ten ways companies drive away talent. Is your district ten for ten?

Matthew May’s Three Hour Vision

Matthew May has it right. We no longer can afford to wait until the annual offsite retreat to react to the latest innovation in the education business. His three hour vision meeting is a good alternative. Perfect? No. But if you build some flexibility and interim decision points into the key projects in the last step, you will be miles ahead.

Educational institutions are notoriously risk averse. What if you get it wrong???

You have still learned much more about the problem than if you did nothing. Still worried? Don’t bet the house, use Peter Sims tactic of Little Bets.