Posts Tagged ‘ Success ’


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?

“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.

10,000 hours of Leadership Practice?

There has been a great deal made of the 10,000 hour rule to accomplish mastery discussed in Gladwell’s Outliers and Colvin’s Talent is Overrated. Unfortunately, most of the references neglect the other part of the research that says that 10,000 hours must be spent on deliberate practice.

There is a great discussion of the Anders Ericsson research regarding deliberate practice in the book, Influencer. The authors apply it to the practice of leadership.

Granted, business schools typically offer a course in giving presentations and speeches where the performance components that students are asked to practice are so obvious. but this is not the case with other important leadership skills, such as addressing controversial topics, confronting bad behavior, building coalitions, running a meeting, disagreeing with authority figures or influencing behavior change – all of which call for specific behaviors, and all of which can and must be learned through deliberate practice.

OK, so how many of you have practiced those crucial conversations? Think it might be time for some role play? Your executive staff could probably use some practice as well.


From Anne Lamott’s latest book, Stitches:

People who teach others to read or to navigate a library, who don’t give up on slow or challenged students, will get the best seats in heaven. I don’t know a lot, but I know this to be true.

My brother teaches special education at a local high school. I think he will be seated near the Godiva chocolate fountain on the other side of eternity.