Archive for February, 2010

Hasta Luego

For years, I’ve been saying I was going to learn some Spanish.  Recently, Hutchinson Community College advertised an evening class in Community Spanish, using  Command Spanish so I decided to enroll as did one of my sons.  He actually took Spanish in high school and believe me after one night of class, I can see that he will have a real advanatage over me, even though he says he didn’t learn much in his high school class.

I’m very interested in the approach to our instruction.  Essentially, the focus is on learning to speak and understand functional phrases.  To that end, we will be focusing on phrases that either give simple directions such as “sit over there, come in here, wait…” or we will be asking questions that elicit simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses.  Because the focus is not on learning to read or write Spanish the phonetic spelling and pronunciation is key to our instruction.

I’ll close this blog post with an example of what how we are learning.  The  title of this post means, “Until Later.”  In our books we focus on reading AHS-tah/LWAY-goh.  (Caps inidicate where the emphasis is placed.)


February 28, 2010 at 10:31 pm Leave a comment

Consolidation–The Dirty “C” Word

It appears there is no relief in the short-term for the financial woes that schools in Kansas and many other states are feeling. An article in today’s edition of The Hutchinson News summarizes the results of last year’s legislative post-audit. In a nutshell, it points to School Consolidation as a viable means for saving money. In fact, the report has two scenarios–one would reduce the number of districts in Kansas from 293 down to 266 districts. The other scenario would reduce the number of districts to 152.

The first scenario would result in an estimated $18 million dollar savings by closing 50 school buildings and reducing teaching and administrative staff by 230. The second scenario purports to save $138 million by reducing staff numbers by 1500 and schools by 304. However, the researchers clearly state the savings wouldn’t be realized all at once.

Patrons, school officials, and even some students rebuff the idea of consolidating with neighboring towns. If you’ve never lived in one of these small communities, it is probably difficult to understand the emotions tied to the matter. It’s definitely not just a simple dollars and cents issue.

For many of these small communities, the school district is the last piece of identify for the town. People fear if the school closes, all hope is lost. They worry their little town will be destined to completely dry up and cease to exist. For others, it’s a matter of tradition. Many generations in their families graduated from the district and they would like to see that carried on.

Many arguments are made. Kids would have to ride buses too far and for too long. Kids learn better in smaller classrooms and this will be lost if we consolidate. While both (or all in some cases) communities have more building than what is needed for the kids currently being served, they aren’t suitable to accommodate the increase in population that would be realized with consolidation. It would be a waste to let buildings deteriorate from lack of use over time. You’ll mess up our winning football, basketball, volleyball etc. You get the idea…

When all is said and done, a town/school district is often willing to entertain the idea but ONLY if that means their community school won’t close, but instead will get to be the site for the delivery of educational services.

I’ve watched districts live through consolidation. My own children grew up and were educated in a district that was consolidated shortly before we moved into the area. It is a painful experience for the adults in the communities. The kids seem to adjust fine. It is the adults who carry baggage.

As unpopular as it is to write, I fear that consolidation may be the most appropriate option in SOME instances. However, I do question if a report built around efficiencies can do justice to other factors that should be at the heart of educational decisions. For example, just because a high school has some empty classrooms doesn’t mean it would be a great idea to move elementary students into those spaces.

My bigger fear is this will be another lost opportunity. Instead of capitalizing on the permission inherent in a crisis moment to look beyond the current way of doing business, we continue to look for ways to hang onto the past. Consolidation is probably only an issue if you plan to continue to operate in the same way as we always have.

February 28, 2010 at 9:52 pm 1 comment

Dirty Little Secret in Education

I attended the monthly ESSDACK Curriculum Director’s meeting this morning and was quite moved by an analogy shared by Richard Soash. (He credits Jane Stuart with recognizing the analogy to education.)  Richard referenced a scene from the movie, “Flags of our Fathers” in which a man falls overboard as the ships sail from the U.S.  The crew on deck frantically rush around trying to save the man by throwing him a lifeline.  The rope is too short and fails to reach the overboard man.  For a moment the crew speculates whether or not the ships that are trailing them will pick the fallen man up.  To their dismay, they come to the conclusion, he is just lost at sea.  I wish I could find a clip for this portion of the movie, but unfortunately, it is not one of the clips shared on the official movie website.

Nonetheless, this spurred a conversation about the reality of education today.  Despite the “No Child Left Behind” legislation, the truth be told, there are countless children who continue to be left behind,  waiting for the right life preserver every day.  As we pondered the reasons, we continue to fail to meet the needs of every child, we voiced the unthinkable.  The dirty little secret is that not every educator TRULY believes it is possible to educate all children at high levels.  Some will even tell you that, but most won’t.

Those who don’t believe it is possible to educate all children at high levels often deflect the responsibility by asking something to the effect of, ” But, what if you throw a life preserver and the student won’t grab onto it?”  I can tell you this for sure.  If that is my child bobbling in the ocean and they fail to grab onto the life preserver you threw, you darn sure better throw them another one and another one and another one etc.  The problem is, you can’t just keep throwing the same life preserver.  If the rope wasn’t long enough to reach the child the first time, it certainly isn’t going to reach them when the ship continues sailing away.  While most students may have been able to grab onto the life preserver you first threw, a few students may need a different preserver (intervention.)  I think this is at the heart of the Kansas Multi-Tiered System of Support.

February 28, 2010 at 6:55 pm Leave a comment

How Does Consolidation of School Districts Impact Student Learning?

There is no doubt, the post legislative audit released last week in the State of Kansas provided a lot of ‘fodder’ for discussion. I, too, ‘pawed’ over the report looking to see how realistic the proposed consolidation seemed, and like many, I see a lot of problems. However, I also found myself asking, what the educational outcomes of such moves would be for student learning. After all, isn’t the real question, “How can we best use our resources to provide the HIGHEST quality education for ALL kids?”

Below is a link to a research study which evaluates the impact of consolidation on factors beyond efficiencies, which of course is at the heart of the recommended course of action noted in the report above. It is quite interesting.

February 28, 2010 at 5:49 pm Leave a comment

Rural Schools: The New Inequity in Education?

I’ve been pondering some comments I recently heard at a meeting attended by Superintendent of Schools.  At the heart of the discussion was the idea of leveraging technology to expand educational offerings and to share exemplary teachers/resources between and among districts.  As you might imagine, there are many challenges to making this happen, not the least of which is the variety of bell schedules.

However, the idea for sharing resources was not the take away for me.  For me, I had a new appreciation for the vast difference in educational experience for students in very small rural schools when compared to their counterparts in more populated areas.  I’m not suggesting that teaching practices are better in one setting or the other.  Rather, I’m pointing to the limited  educational opportunities (classroom and extracurricular) which is a function of not enough students.  Oh, some will argue that it’s about money, and certainly money plays a role, but even if you had an open pocket book, you could never replicate the offerings available in larger schools in a small school setting, because at some point, you run out of students to take advantage of the offerings.

One superintendent made a very passionate plea to the group and even offered a note of condemnation when he added, “Shame on us for allowing this to happen!”  The jist of his message was that educational practices and the systemic design under which education currently operates has created an environment in which the quality and breadth  educational experience is not equal for all students.  He further editorialized that a child’s educational experience should not be dependent upon who your parents are, where you live, or how much money your family makes.  But the reality continues to persist.  All of these factors continue to impact the educational opportunities. In fact, a recent news story indicated that Beverly Hills’ schools in California have decided to deny access to any student not living within the legal district boundaries despite past practices which allowed ‘outsiders’ to seek special permission to attend.  I’m jumping to conclusions, but it is my guess that the parents who live outside the Beverly Hill’s District Boundaries, believe their kids have greater opportunities in those schools operated in more ‘affluent neighborhoods.’

So what is the answer.  First of all, it’s the wrong question.  As we have done so often in education, we are looking for the single right answer–the silver bullet.  The reality is, there are likely multiple solutions, each of which should be applied judiciously to the factors at hand.   Leveraging technology to share resources is one obvious potential solution.  As politically incorrect as it is to write, the dreaded “C” word, (consolidation) is probably the most appropriate option in situations where schools are small ‘by choice’ not by geographical factors beyond their control.  Additionally, it may be time to rethink the whole role of education.  In this information rich world, should schools continue to be the ‘givers of knowledge and information,’ or should the role be morphed into ‘facilitators of learning’ and/or ‘validators of learning.’  I suspect the answer is ‘both/and.’

February 28, 2010 at 2:59 pm Leave a comment

Financial Literacy in Schools

Recently I overhead a debate about whether schools should teach ‘financial literacy’ or not.  On the one hand, it was being argued that it is not the school’s responsibility, that this should be done in the home and we need to stop pushing parent responsibilities onto school personnel.  On the other hand, it was suggested that kids are not learning about money at home so schools need to take it on.

I would argue that kids ARE learning about money at home.  They can’t help but learn as they observe what their parents (or guardians) do, and what they say about money.  It would probably be more accurate to say that some kids are not learning how to make ‘middle class decisions’ about money.

What in the world do I mean by ‘middle class decisions?’  I’m going to draw from the work of Ruby Payne, who is probably the foremost authority on the mindset of the various classes in many matters–money, relationships, survival, time, destiny etc.  By the way, if you are an educator, her book, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” is a must read, unless you are teaching in a private, very influential area with no chance that poor kids would ever cross the threshold.  Even then, I would argue that the book would help you understand much about the mindset of the wealthy population you are serving in the context of a world whose rules are predominantly centered around ‘middle class’ ideas.

Back to the topic at hand–financial literacy in schools.  I’m certainly in favor of Americans becoming more literate about their finances, becoming more responsible for their financial decisions, and taking the lead in planning for their retirement.  I’m not opposed to public education as a conduit for valuable information such as personal financial decision-making and financial literacy as a whole.  However, I think we are trying to leap the Grand Canyon if we believe that knowledge about finances naturally translates into a change of behaviors where money is concerned.

I have a good friend and colleague who has really helped the work of Ruby Payne come to life for me.   He truly was raised in an impoverished home, and it is clear that his experiences as a child have lead to a very different ‘relationship’ with money than what I have as a product of a middle class family.   He intellectually knows a lot about managing money, but there is no doubt that the enculturation process into ‘poverty thinking’ as a child continues to be a pervasive force in his thinking.

I suspect that part of the drive to require schools to teach financial literacy is an attempt to ‘fix’ what Middle Class America would deem to be poor decisions and poor money management by a faction of citizens.  However, if you begin to understand and put yourself into the shoes of a family living in poverty, you can begin to see how the decisions they make seem logical in the context of the world in which they live.  Let me give you an example to try to  bring this life.

Imagine that you know a family who is constantly behind in their bills.  Kids are on free lunches at school.  They live in a rental and this is the 4th house this school year, because eventually the landlords throw them out because they aren’t paying their rent.   It is not uncommon for the kids to report that the electricity has been turned off again at their house.  You get the picture….

Now suppose that this family comes into a $1,000.  It doesn’t matter where the money came from.  Maybe Aunt Mable died and left it to them.  Maybe they had a winning lottery scratch off ticket.  The point, is they have a windfall of money they didn’t have before.  Now imagine that you learn that the family did NOT use the money to get caught up with any of their bills.  They did not save any of it, and they didn’t use it to buy things like clothes for the kids, to stockpile grocery staples or to buy a used washing machine/dryer set so they could stop going to the laundry mat.

Instead they gave (yes, you read right, gave)  $500 to their cousin who hit them up after learning that they had this windfall of money.  The remainder of the money was used to eat out at fast food restaurants, buy a used 4-Wheeler at a garage sale, and buy games for their Wii.  If you have a middle class mindset and relationship with money, none of this makes any sense.  Why would you give money to another person when you yourself aren’t making ends meet?  Why would you squander money on things you don’t really need when you had so many options for making ‘better’ decisions?

I’m going to be painting with a broad stroke, but generally those of us in the middle class view possessions as things and see money as something to be managed.  Additionally, the future perspective is the most important time frame so middle class persons make decisions that consider future ramifications.  On the other hand, persons of poverty believe that people are all you can really count on and money is to be spent or used.  Their decision-making is based in the present not the future.  Therefore, decisions tend to be made based on feelings or survival.  In the world of poverty, people are all you can really count on anyway and  you are therefore, ‘obligated’ to help each other if you can.  It goes without saying that telling your cousin  ‘no’  is not an option, just as they would not tell you no if the tables were turned.

My point is this.  We all learn about money, what it is and how it should be used, from the significant others in our world.  Providing knowledge to the family depicted in the story above, about how using the $1,000 differently today, could lead to different results down the road will not necessarily translate into different decisions and actions.  After all, the $1,000 will not be enough money to propel them permanently to a new living standard or new social class.  The reality is they continue to be a member of the poverty class and the social norms and mores are well known by all.

I could make a similar argument for those individuals living in more affluent, wealthy settings.  Teaching them ‘middle class decision making’ surrounding money makes no sense.  They have their own set of rules and social expectations.

Nonetheless, are there some universal pieces of knowledge that all parties, regardless of social class should know?  Probably.  I’ll address this in a later post.

February 28, 2010 at 1:33 pm 2 comments

Student Motivation

Teachers who tell that you kids that today just aren’t motivated truly don’t understand much about motivation.  It might, however be accurate to say that some kids aren’t motivated to do the things they being are asked to do in the classroom.  But to say they have no motivation, just isn’t accurate.  We are all motivated.  In fact, motivation is behind everything we do. It is true we can be motivated by the results or we can be motivated to avoid inevitable results, but we are motivated.

In his book and video, The Motivation Breakthrough, 6 Secrets to Turning on the Tuned out Child. Richard, Lavoie does a great job of uncovering the underlying factors that motivate all of us.  He also provides some great tips for teachers who are interested in avoiding power struggles and instead find ways to help kids choose to do what the teacher needs them to do.  I’m not going to highlight these in this blog post as my intent is not to provide an overview of Lavoie’s work.  Rather, I’d like to shine a light on the issue of the work we ask kids to do.

Assuming that a child is capable of doing the work at hand, and assuming their most basic needs (food, drink, safety) have been met, we are left with the question of why some kids just won’t  ‘play’ the game of school.  I would suggest that at the heart of some of the resistance is the disparity kids experience between the learning environment in schools and the world in which they engage outside of schools.

Outside of schools, kids are connected, get to make choices, and have a wealth of information at their fingertips.  They don’t need to memorize data they can easily access, and collaborating with friends isn’t viewed as cheating.  Furthermore, they engage with technology in authentic ways and generally don’t choose to do ‘meaningless’ activities.  The whole issue of meaningless is at the heart of this post.  I fear for many kids, much of what is done in school is meaningless and disconnected from their worlds.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that everything we do is school is meaningless; Rather, I’m suggesting that we are guilty of providing isolated pieces of knowledge and kids don’t see the relevance.

In his book, Inventing Better Schools-An Action Plan for Education Reform, which has been out since 2001, Phillip Schlechty says it best.  He makes the case that learning is not the ‘business of schools.’  Rather, he argues that the business of schools is designing engaging, meaningful learning opportunities. According to Schlechty, learning is a by-product of kids engaging in the learning opportunities.

So why don’t teachers spend time designing engaging, meaningful learning opportunities.  For starters, most teachers haven’t been trained to do this.  Additionally, for many educators, adequate planning time is sorely lacking.  Couple these factors with the ever increasing demands being placed on them and it should be no surprise that planning for most educators means deciding how many pages in the text book can be covered during the next class period.  Think about that for a minute.  All too often the curriculum has been turned over to textbook publishers.  Ever wonder who writes the material included in the textbooks.  Apparently, nobody.  Check out this article on Edutopia, titled, “A Textbook Example of What’s Wrong with Education.”

February 28, 2010 at 2:42 am 3 comments

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