If it were easy…

Today, I have to write a more light-hearted entry. One that has a little fun.

I was having lunch with a dear friend and top-notch marketing/branding expert to discuss SocialSmarts, how I am personally and professionally trying to make our public education system something to be proud of -- somewhere we are PLEASED to send our children.

In the midst of our brainstorming she says to me, "Have you thought about approaching the Gates Foundation?"

Well, duh. Tell me who among us who are trying to do great things and change the world haven't thought about getting connected with the single-biggest private foundation in the world?  Particularly if you are Pacific Northwest based?

But, it's not as though it's an original thought.  It's not as though I can just pick up the phone, call and ask for an appointment to present.  I mean, do you realize how many other people are wanting to do the same thing?

It's like Oprah. Again, can I tell you how many times I've been told, "Corinne, you need to get on Oprah!  You're PERFECT for her!"  Got it.  Will just pick up the phone, call and ask to speak to Miss O, 'cause we know she's just been waiting by the phone to talk to little 'ol me! (Ok, well, maybe she hasn't YET, but she SHOULD be, if only she knew, right <wink>).

Point is, it sounds so simple, but it's not.  If it were easy, anyone could do it. And, frankly, if I had a nickel for each time I have heard those twin phrases, I wouldn't need to be working at helping schools develop better cultures.  I would just have my moment in the sun at Gates or on Oprah, and could become another one of those "legends" that had success drop in their laps after they were discovered.

Again, it's not that easy.  Trying to change the world takes work -- lots of it.  And, while I'd be more than appreciative of a break, there's nothing that replaces good old-fashioned elbow-grease. That, in of itself, is a great lesson we can all benefit from; working hard is the best guarantee of a reward. And the reward is so much sweeter when you've done something to earn it.

Having said that...if any Gates-ers or Oprah-ites are reading...I MIGHT be waiting by the phone in case you have an open slot:  866 485 4089.  We'd be happy to take your call!

Did you like this? Share it:

What if schools were run like a business?

Lately, there's been a lot of discussion again of school funding, expenditures, stimulus dollars and "sacrifices" schools and districts have to make because of the economy.  While I recognize that there are many factors that go into decisions made by district and school administrators, sometimes the choices and tradeoffs that are made seem arbitrary and questionable.  I have this unfortunate tendency to views these cuts and expenditures through the eyes of a business-person and I often ask myself, "Why?  How does this contribute to the overall mission of the school or district?"

Children are our future.  What they learn today, they use tomorrow as adults.  They represent our future doctors, engineers, researchers, skilled labor, service pool, lawyers, politicians, and even our future teachers.  What we teach them today provides rewards to us tomorrow as they mature and replace today’s adults in the workforce.

It is for this reason that I wonder why we as a society do not put more energy into improving our schools.  Yes, I know we pour $Billions into our education system each year, and on a per capita basis, no country in the world spends more on each student to provide an education.  It is therefore discouraging to me, and should be to all Americans, that there is no direct correlation between money spend per child on education, and the value of the education they receive (if you doubt this, check out my previous post, "Underfunded" for more).  Nearly all schools would be “out of business” if they were held accountable “like a business.”  They would all be bankrupt because the “product” produced would be inferior to the expectation, if traditional commercial "value paid for value received" measures were use.  The shareholders (taxpayers) would have pulled the plug on their failing operations decades ago.

If only it were true.  The cost of educating our children would be reduced, the quality of the education they received would be considerably higher, and our future workforce would be properly prepared to compete in a competitive global marketplace.

I think it's an interesting argument to consider how things might be different if you ran schools like a business.  Here are some examples to ponder. 

  1. Let’s start with money received being tied directly to the product produced.  “Ship” a great product, expect to get top dollar for it.  Ship a poor product, expect that few will be buying.  Those responsible for the production would be held accountable for the quality of their work.  There would be no tenure – the best at what they do would be recruited, and rewarded, for their work output. They would be expected to continue to output good product, and if they didn't, would be expected to improve, or find other employment.
  2. Budgets would be carefully scrutinized, and wasteful practices would be reduced or eliminated.  One of the first budget items to get the ax would be top heavy management.  Too many managers managing too few teachers is currently a norm in most school systems.  Management would be reduced to the minimum level required to effectively maintain a quality work product.  Facilities would also be scrutinized, and instead of continually asking for more and smaller classrooms, teachers would be rewarded for being able to manage larger classes, in fewer classrooms.  Commercial companies do this all the time, continually looking for ways to produce more, at a higher quality, with fewer expense dedicated to overhead.  Those managers who are successful in making that happen get promoted, and get rewarded.  Today, however, it appears "success" in public education is measured by how big the budget is, and how many sites are being built and managed, how many teachers are employed, or how large the school is.  The priority is 180 degrees out-of-sync and makes little sense.
  3. Continuous improvement techniques would be in place, and weekly, monthly and quarterly scrutiny of data would confirm that all students are progressing as expected.  In the manufacturing world it's a known fact that the earlier you find a flaw in the “raw materials” used to produce a product, the less costly it is to fix the problem before final production.  How often do we just move the product (the students) down the production line without ever putting in the corrections that would assure a quality product at the point of shipment (graduation)?  In Washington State, during a recent re-election campaign, the incumbent State Superintendent of Public Instruction boasted that "92% of our high school seniors graduated 'proficient.'" Imagine if our airplane, automobile, medical equipment, or food suppliers just “passed the product along” even though they were aware that 8% didn't meet quality requirements?  We would be outraged.  Yet we allow the school system to move our kids from grade to grade, and even graduate students without their learning even the most basic math, English, civics or science to be able to succeed in the workplace.  That SHOULD be unaccepatable and we should all be outraged
  4. If we ran schools like a business, all employees would understand who they work for, and would be required to provide excellent customer service.  In addition, they would be required to know just who the customer is, and it is NOT their union, their Principal or the school district.  A focus on the student’s welfare and education would be of prime concern. The recent strike in Kent, WA was proof that the "customers' welfare" (the students) was not first and foremost. Regardless of whose side you were on -- district's or teachers' -- the reality was that the kids were the ones suffering because of the strike.
  5. Prior to making ANY changes -- whether additions or cuts -- there would be a tough analysis of how this would contribute to the mission of the "business."  For example, the custom school-branded planner that parents are "required" to purchase for their students -- how does THIS improve the students' education over a $5 generic planner they can buy at the local office supply?  Will cuts in transportation truly add money back into the system that can be used to improve education, or is it just a line item to be reduced at the potential risk of student safety? You have to be willing to examine everying with the perspective of how it supports the objectives, and when you look at the "penny-wise but pound-senseless" changes that are being made, it makes you wonder whose objectives are being met.
  6. Finally, there's one more important difference between schools and businesses.  In business, when you see reductions in revenue, you start analyzing expenses.  While both schools and businesses DO cut expenses, there appears to be one significant difference: businesses generally don't beg for bailouts (I say, generally, because this has become an alarming trend in too many businesses of late).  The most common practice for businesses experiencing budget shortfalls is to take a hard look at where money is going and seeing first what can be cut and second, where you can decrease waste or increase efficiency.  It takes a very enlightened district to look at areas of waste and really take pro-active steps to increase productivity.  That doesn't mesh with the "more money, smaller classrooms" paradigm.

Ultimately, if schools were being run like a business, there would be true accountability for successes and failures, and rewards for exceptional work would be readily meted out, instead of finger-pointing or excuses for why "we can't achieve our education objectives." We're not talking about merit pay only for teachers, but for everyone in the educational food-chain. Everyone would have a vested, direct interest in the outcomes of the students and continuous product-line improvements would be encouraged, regardless if it was "within the cycle" to consider new options.

If only it were true.  The cost of educating our children would be reduced, the quality of the education they received would be considerably higher, and our future workforce would be properly prepared to compete in a competitive global marketplace. And our schools would be something to be proud of, where parents looked forward with confidence to sending their children, and the end product was the best it could possibly be.

Did you like this? Share it:

“Education is not indoctrination” – Obama’s Address to Students

Those were the words spoken by Michael Medved at the end of Hour 3 of his show yesterday.  By some strange coincidence, I happened to catch the intro to his broadcast as I was driving to pick up my kids from school. What I heard left me chilled.

Before you assume that this is a "liberal vs. conservative" discussion or is a rant about political positions, it's not.  I can tell you that I would have problems with what's happening regardless of who was behind it, what their political leanings are...or agenda.

Mr. Medved was interviewing a teacher who was resisting her district's "encouragement" (pressure) to suspend her normal class activity and lessons so all her students could participate in President Obama's planned Address to Students scheduled for September 8, 2009.  This planned address coincides with many schools' first day back on campus.  While I don't have the details of the exact content of the address, per the White House press release (you can find a public copy of it at http://service-learning.blogspot.com/2009/08/president-obama-to-deliver-nationally.html) indicates that Pres. Obama plans to talk to students about the importance of staying in and succeeding at school.

Sounds like a good, positive message.  Problem 1) The release is dated August 21st, and yet no one really seems to know much about it.  I've talked to several parents whose kids are already in school for the year, and they don't know anything about it.  Schools generally have trouble getting any extra-ordinary programs sanctioned by their administration or districts that take away from learning time; suddenly we have time for ALL kids to cease what they are normally doing to get a message from the White House? What will be covered? Is it appropriate for students in grades Pre-K through Grade 6(target audience for this message)?  But, there even appears to be a lesson plan developed for teachers to work with their students before/during and after to "explore" the topic of the President's message (http://www.docstoc.com/docs/10582301/President-Obama%E2%80%99s-Address-to-Students-Across-America-September-8-2009). There are several teachers across the country who are choosing not to include their classes in this planned televised event, and apparently those teachers are being called un-American and "non-conformists."

Further issue:  as a parent, I like to know what my kids are being taught when they're in school. I'm led to believe that schools want this, too, because we are always hearing how "parents need to be more involved in their kids' education."  Yet, last year, my middle daughter was shown Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" in school under the premise that this was a documentary proving the fact of Global Warming.  We had no idea it was going to be shown until after our daughter came home and told us about the horrific scenes of drowning polar bears. Parents need to and SHOULD be told what's being shown/taught in schools.

But, that's off point -- somewhat.  Let me get back to it.

While this issue of the Address alone is worrisome, this is only the latest in what seems to be a push to indoctrinate our young people at earlier and earlier ages.

Some of my comments were featured last week in the US News and World Report article on the DLC's plan for "A Kindle in Every Backpack" -- the second time I've been asked to share my views on this topic in the media. Along with other issues I raised, part of my concern is the ability and potential, with such a device, to manipulate or tailor the content students will be consuming electronically. I'm not saying this will happen, but what does it say when we are looking to obsolete the printed word in favor of dynamic-content devices -- and claim this is for "budget" reasons.

This comes on the heels of the recent push for a national set of curriculum standards, and the linking of Obama/Duncan's "Race to the Top" funds to schools that agree to embrace specific federally-encouraged initiatives such as charter schools and merit pay for teachers. Now, today, you hear that California is suspected of changing their education objectives just to make themselves a more attractive candidate for education funds through "Race to the Top."

None of these incidents, in isolation, are of significant concern, but when you examine them as a whole -- and consider these are all sprouting up in the last three months -- you have to wonder what's REALLY going on. At the same time, why do schools/districts continue to pump money into initiatives that don't work, won't work this time (like Capital Gains) -- rather than actually doing something to make things better?

Again, I don't KNOW what's behind this -- is it a drive to infuse a certain political agenda or position on our young people? But I worry whenever it appears that the Federal government is overstepping its bounds.  Education is supposed to be the responsibility of the States, with support from the Federal Government, sure. But not to issue edicts from "on high" that say, "We will be addressing the young people of America at such and so time and we expect everyone to drop everything and watch."

If this is about improving education, as the release says it is, then don't TALK about it...DO it.  These kids are really too young to understand the speeches that are being made, but they aren't too young to see the results of bullying, harassment, and schools that don't have regular textbooks, never mind the fancy Kindle that is out of reach for most of the students in this country.  Actions speak louder than words -- they always have. And, the action I DO see is making me uncomfortable.

Did you like this? Share it: