Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dr. King not playing nice in the sandbox...

For anyone following the news in New York State this past week, the Commissioner of Education, Dr. John King, apparently had a run-in with opposition, frustration, angst, and the never-ending temper of parents. Under the guise of holding a dialogue with parents, teachers and community leaders to sell  New York State's efforts to push the Common Core Standards, he was thwarted from completing the "dialogue" due to this opposition from the parents, teachers, and community.  For details on the event, and the aftermath of public opinion asking for his resignation, see Diane Ravitch's blog  (Ravitch, 2013). 

I met Dr. King once, when I was superintendent of schools in the district where he lives, and his children do not attend in favor of a Montessori School about 20 miles away. He seems like an affable individual, and well-intentioned, but misinformed on many levels. First, he takes his orders from the Board of Regents, who have been driving this initiative of standards-based education since Richard Mills was Commissioner. Second, his desire to provide a quality education for every child through this standards-based curriculum is driven by textbook corporations, such as Pearson, CTB McGraw, and others, creating a financial windfall for big business rather than the children of the state. Thirdly, his definition of a dialogue with parents is warped when the audience only had a 20 minute window for the conversation and expressing of opinions. Furthermore, "dialogue" implies listening and constructive conversation. Dr. King was not interested in listening to feedback or opinion, and the opposition wasn't either.  Finally, Dr. King is not a school administrator. He is a bright, scholarly, young man that was promoted too "fast and furious" to be a true school administrator, and he never had been in touch with the public schools and the children and parents who send their kids to these institutions.

In a real way, Dr. King does not know how to play nice in the sandbox with his critics. In fact, he is so upset he has taken his toys and stomped back to Albany, NY canceling his scheduled community "dialogue" sessions across the state. A local, Capital Region newspaper sums it up wonderfully, regarding a key education piece that Dr. King may never have been exposed to....the concept of teaching kids about "play.

"Play is how humans learn. Unstructured play is arguably the most important thing human children do- at young ages pretend play teachers them abstract thought. As they grow, play is how they learn to interact with others constructively, solve problems, deal with difficult emotions, and face their fears...The absence of play leads to absence of what many people are calling '21st Century skills'- creative problem solving, group work, taking the initiative." (Axel-Lute, 2013)

That being said,  allow me to opine that there is nothing wrong with unifying the curriculum alignment across content areas, among school districts, and throughout the country. The problem is the call for intense accountability, and the assumption that all students will be attending college. The desire to be positioned globally, as the definition below describes, is arrogant, and foolhardy since it assumes that we were not interested in these things before the common core. Education in this country has a long history of creative invention, initiative, experimentation, student achievement, and great things. Let's not baffle ourselves into believing these things never existed before Dr. King or his predecessor.

So, when you look seriously at the definition espoused by the Common Core Consortium, be cognizant that the best of intentions are insinuated, but balance the vision with practical, and non-threatening procedures that will not frustrate children, parents, and others.

Common Core Mission Statement
"The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. with American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy."(Common Core Mission Statement

Axel-Lute, M. (2013, October 10). Who gets to play?.Metroland, p. 4.

Ravitch, D. (2013, October 14). [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Mission statement: Common core. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Everything changes, nothing remains the same...

People become seemingly frustrated when they do not understand something. This sentiment usually appears when they are confronted by a threat to their personal or professional hold on life. In the education field, this is a reality that has confronted many students of the 21st century learning movement. There are still teachers that proclaim "What has changed? Why must we acknowledge things are different just because the date has changed?"

As Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 - 475 BCE) stated:
"Everything changes and nothing remains still... and you cannot step twice into the same stream."(Heraclitus, n.d.)

According to the, students have changed due to the environment they are in, and the tools and toys they are confronted with. "Today's students, digital natives, were born into a media-saturated world, and their lives are immersed in technologies from cell phones, iPods, handheld gaming devices, PDA's, and laptops they take everywhere, to the computers, TV's and game consoles at home." (21st Century Schools, n.d.).  Confronted with the image of students such as this description, the content and delivery of instruction has remained the same, but the audience has changed. The students are capable of doing more, creating more, synthesizing more, and in many cases they are still being lectured to boredom.

I remember a high school classroom teacher complaining to me that 21st century learning was nothing more than technology, and gimmicks. This teacher totally misses the point, that it is not about the tools, though the tools or technology students have are filled with potential for great learning. It is about teaching style, and delivery of instruction. Sardone and Devlin-Scherer (2010) point out that "attitudes toward technology predict how one will behave with technology." Needless to say, nothing changed in her classes.

According to Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe, and Terry (2013), "given the rapid pace of technological change, it seems shortsighted to base the education of the 21st century on the tools available today!"Yesterday, we had tablets and laptops. Today, we have Google Glasses, or smart watch. How will our teachers approach learning with students in possession of all of these changing tools?

21st century learning is not about the tools, but, about creativity, innovation, and collaboration while continuing to cover the major disciplines of instruction. This is the sole argument that many have been trying to impress upon the field, today. We are no longer educating the rank and file for industrial age work. We are required to begin developing the future work force in dealing with a rapidly changing world.

Be a part of the change, or get off the bus.

21st Century Schools (n.d.). What is 21st Century education? Retrieved September 10, 2013 from

Heraclitus. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Kereluik, K., Mishra, P., Fahnoe, C., & Terry, L. (2013). What knowledge is of most worth: Teacher knowledge for 21st century learning. Journal of Teacher Learning in Digital Education, (29)4, 127-140.

Sardone, N. & Devlin-Scherer, R. (2010). Teacher candidate responses to digital games: 21st century skills development. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 42(4), 409-425.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

To Boldly Go Where Few Have Gone...

It's the beginning of a new school year, and for many teachers and students there is a curious mix of moods, such as apprehension, excitement, and focus, especially as the demand for accountability and core standards reaches a heightened level. No matter what delusions of accountability our elected leaders throw at our schools, and our students, the desire to continue moving our schools, and our students into 21st Century learning is more crucial, now, more than ever. It will take responsible leaders making this jump to hyperspace possible, despite the wreckage and stray asteroids of political criticism and reactive attacks that prevails.

How bold will you be, as a leader in moving your school forward?

In a wonderful research study by Barbara Levin and Lynne Schrum (2013), they remind us that "leadership matters for promoting the integration of technology in schools, and that administrators need to be increasingly involved in technology projects in their schools to model and support their use." I reiterate, school leaders need to walk the walk, and talk the talk of what they expect their school community will become. As a school superintendent I had a wonderful principal who challenged me to model the way for the rest of the school administrators, and start using social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogging. Well, I took up her challenge and found a responsible way to utilize social media as a school leader, encouraging faculty and administrators to do the same.

Levin and Schrum (2013) determined as a result of their research, that leaders of award-winning schools and districts focused their efforts on characteristics of systems leadership required for successful technology integration and leadership: vision, leadership, school culture, technology, planning and support, professional development, curriculum and instructional practices, funding, and partnerships.

Of all of these characteristics, the three that stand out the most are what would be called expectations that come from the role, mannerisms, and actions of the school leader.

Vision: leaders must communicate "a clearly articulated vision" on the use of technology in the schools (Levin and Schrum 2013).

Leadership: leaders need to encourage people "to find their niches and lead from their strengths, working as a team, building teams" to make the work of moving forward viable and owned by the faculty and staff (Levin and Schrum 2013).

School Culture: expect everyone to "plunge right in" the excitement of using and developing technology in the schools (Levin and Schrum 2013).

Regardless of the position and setting, school leadership that challenges and inspires will have a lasting benefit in the future for our students in the future.

Levin, B. B. & Schrum, L. (2013). Using systems thinking to leverage technology for school improvement: Lessons learned from award-winning secondary schools/districts. Journal of Research on Technology in Education46(1), 28-51.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Quality of Decision-making

The game of life is like the game of poker. You strategize, analyze the odds, match your ability against others in the same arena, make a play and take a chance you made the right decision. It sounds like an oversimplification of a game, but being in a position to lead others requires people to make decisions about themselves, the group and the organization. I had a professor who felt that decision-making and management of issues and scenarios in managing organizations could be compared to the arena of poker (Wiles, 1988).

“Poker theorist David Sklansky once wrote that you should consider yourself a winner as long as you had the higher probability of winning the hand when all the money went into the pot. This attitude is consistent with the underlying mathematical reality of poker, and it can smooth out your emotional reactions to losses and wins. What matters is the quality of your decisions, not the results that come from them.” (Chabris, 2013)

I love that quote: what matters most is the quality of the decisions.

            Think about the number of decisions that are made each day in an educational organization that have an impact on student learning and achievement. You might think that many of those decisions might be insignificant in the bigger scheme of learning, but I would contend that if a school leader is mindful of how that decision will impact one child, greater care and focus might be made to bear in one’s mind. These could be decisions that are seen in class placement, teacher hiring’s and firings, resources, textbooks, technology, health services, cleaning the hallways and the cafeteria, lunch schedules,as well as landscaping and grass cutting on the playground. And, believe it or not, there could be hundreds of others as well.

            A good poker player practices mindfulness activities to prepare his/her decision-making in a game. An excellent school leader practices mindfulness in creating a vibrant and exciting culture that nurtures and supports the education of every child.

            Remember: what matters most is the quality of the decisions.

Wiles, D. (1988). Practical politics for school administrators. New York: Allyn & Bacon.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Leading from the front...

In a recent article in Forbes regarding leadership and management, it is curious to note the following excerpt that encapsulates the spirit of this idea. “Managing in any organization is no cakewalk but when you are responsible for the lives of those you lead, you had better do more than manage. You need to lead them. And that starts with your example.” (Baldoni, 2013)

            I am often asked what steps do school leaders need to model this example, and having recently read a wonderful book on the subject I share the steps Morgan & Lynch (2006) describe on this very topic:

1)             Meet and exceed the standards you ask of others- lead from the front.
2)             Make timely decisions- find 80 percent solution
3)             Seek to take responsibility before you begin to place blame
4)             True leaders dedicate themselves to service- take care of those you lead
5)             Think before you act- especially before you overreact
6)             When faced with a crisis- aviate, navigate, communicate
7)             Courage + initiative + perseverance +integrity = success
8)             Don’t cry over something that won’t cry over you
9)             Say you’re sorry only when you’re at fault
10)          Always lead as you are. (Morgan, 2006)

All of these steps are worthwhile to consider in following a revitalized perspective in order to lead others. They should be a guide for leaders to consider in managing the day-to-day cares in nurturing a positive and constructive environment that support the education and instruction of our future.

Baldoni, J. (2013, July 29). Values: Live them and others will follow. Forbes, Retrieved from

Morgan, A. & Lynch, C. (2006). Leading from the front: No excuse leadership tactics for women. (p. 6). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Running Toward the Chaos or Opportunity?

There is a commercial for the United States Marine Corps showing Marines running towards a conflict or the chaos of the moment rescuing and leading the way for others. I believe that is the perfect theme for what some believe  is happening in education. The chaos or the dragon in the distance is the oncoming approach of change in 21st Century Learning methods. 

"Google announced Wednesday that its Play store will offer digital textbooks through partnerships with several major K-12 publishers. Laura Hazard Owen at GigaOm reports that, beginning in early August, students will be able to buy or rent textbooks from Google Play..."1

The headline above is typical of the push to capitalize on the digital textbook phase of transitioning to 21st Century Schools. This fall more and more schools are moving to 1:1 learning models distributing tablets, netbooks, and computers for students to actively use in their classrooms. Online Learning Systems will be the way for the future, not the oneway instructional model so many have advocated in the past. 

Learning will become more experiential, more active, and classrooms will be flipping faster than hotcakes on a breakfast griddle. There is a storm brewing on the horizon of public education, and while more and more schools are actively pursuing this mode of learning and instruction, others will still be wrestling with the efficacy of such a change in learning. 

While these schools and states ruminate on the fate of to go digital or not, other schools will be leading the way because of visionary thinkers in the classrooms that are reading the writing on the wall. 

Kudos to those teachers and school leaders paving the way for the others.

1.    K-12 Publishers Will Sell Textbooks via Google Play. (2013). Retrieved from

Monday, May 27, 2013

School Leaders Need to Be NICE

Being a school leader is a challenging role to play. The  change and vision we desire most for our school organizations may take years if not a career to truly achieve. The frustration for being a place holder and not an innovator can be extremely demoralizing when the best of intentions are at the forefront of your progressive thinking and intentions. 

Leaders that attend to their organization with the philosophy of "It's my way or the highway." may tend to create faster change, but at what expense? School organizations are human service companies. They cater to the needs of people, whether they are students, staff members, parents, or administrators. The "bottom line" in these companies are people, and to effectively lead change, school leaders need to shepherd people.

From Doug Johnson's May 2005 blog in Head for the Edge he writes a wonderful list of suggestions focused around the theme of niceness, something that is truly missing in our schools due to the crunch to test, test, test.

"Here are some traits I admire in others and try to cultivate personally.

1. Having great listening skills.
This is tough for guys. (We are, after all, guys.) I can offer advice even before I know the dimension of the problem. But I know that hearing people out is sometimes even more important than being able to help. Harvey Mackay, a business columnist states:  “You’ll know you’ve attained your goal (of being a good listener) when you can utter two sentences in an hour-long conversation, and the other speaker thanks you for input and adds, ‘You always have so much to say!’” That’s my goal.

2. Being empathetic.
A former principal who had been a guidance counselor had this system for dealing with people who were upset. He would paraphrase their statements and ask if what he just said was what they meant until they would respond with, “Yes, that is exactly what I mean.” It was only then that he knew the other person was listening and there could be a conversation. Try it sometime – it works.

3. Assuming any request is possible.
I love people whose automatic response to an idea is “anything is possible.” Now the following conversation might involve the nitty-gritty details about while although that idea may be possible it may not be advisable or describe some of the implementation challenges. But I appreciate the positive attitude. (I also like being treated as though I have a functioning brain and being given the respect of a good explanation when something can’t be done. Citing “policy” does not qualify as a good explanation.)

4. Responding in a timely manner.
We coach our tech staff to always respond to e-mails and phone calls in as timely a manner as possible. Even if it is only to say, “I got your message and I will be there on  _________” or “I don’t know the answer to your problem, but I am working on it.” Putting off responding to people never makes things better, only worse.

5. Looking for the win/win solution.
This is still the best of Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” As he reminds us, a good course of action is never giving in or even compromising, but continuing to talk it over until both parties agree that the action is a “win.” Keep searching for the “third way.”  It is always there.

6. Giving the benefit of the doubt.
Library media specialists who give kids the benefit of the doubt have a special place in my heart. The response to the assertion “I brought the book back last week” should be a trip to stacks, not a dirty look. I’ve found too many books that somehow failed to get back checked in to suspect the veracity of any student.

7. Passing on compliments.
The teacher, the administrator or parent who lets me know when one of my staff did something nice for them puts the person offering the compliments on my list of nice people.

8. Analyzing before emoting.
I’ve found that a short temper has never worked in my favor – ever. In fact, when somebody gets me mad, they have “won.” Diligently practice the common definition of a diplomat: A person who thinks twice before saying nothing  - and then tells you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip."1.

1.Johnson, D. (May 2005). A Secret Weapon- Niceness. Head to the Edge. Retrieved May 27, 2013 at

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Four different cups...Four different learners

There is a Buddhist story of a young zealot desiring to learn everything he can about Zen. He reads many books, and articles and desires nothing more than to learn everything he can. He reaches an epitome of sorts when he requests a meeting with a Zen priest of renown and knowledge. He meets with the Zen master and proceeds to tell him everything he has learned about Zen Buddhism. The Zen master gazes and listens intently to the young man, espousing all he knows. Finally, the young man asks the Zen master, what else can he learn. The teacher offers the young man tea, and performs a patient and delicate tea ceremony where the young man watches and observes intently the actions of the teacher. The Zen master offers tea to the young man, at which the eager student bows in humble acceptance. The Zen master pours tea into the cup in front of the young man, and when the cup has filled continues pouring the libation, flowing over the cup and onto the table and eventually flowing to the floor. Finally, the young man screams "Stop! Stop pouring! The cup is full- no more will go in!"

The master stopped pouring and said: "Just like this cup, your mind is full of your own opinions and preconceptions. How can you learn anything unless you first empty your cup?"

Sound familiar? How many people does this sound like in your organization? Many experts, and still no solution to the problem? School learning organizations are filled with the experts, and few genuine learners willing to understand the core issues and apply sound logic to solve a problem.

There is another Buddhist parable about four cups that symbolize four kinds of students. One cup is upside down, representing the student who is there to learn, but pays no attention. Pouring tea (which symbolizes knowledge) over this is wasted and lost. The second cup is right side up with a hole in the bottom. We hear what's being taught, but we forget it all too soon. The third cup is also right side up and doesn't have a hole in the bottom, but is covered in dirt. When the tea is poured into this the instruction is cloudy symbolizing the manner we distort what we hear, interpreting, and editing it to fit into our preconceived ideas or opinions. The fourth cup represents the ideal way to be a student. Upright, receiving what is taught. Clean and open to learning something new. 

Which student are you, and how do you promote learning in your environment?

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Well Taught Child Can Move Mountains

Michelle Rhee is a very interesting young lady. She is a public figure dedicated to improving urban education, at the expense of any people that get in her way. Her aggressive manner of management created a battleground in the Washington, DC schools, to the point where in-fighting, dirty politics, and shocking rates of student failures never really improved. She is part of the current education culture of testing before anything else, which feeds my notion that some people look for ways to promote the best, shoot the rest rather than educate to the learner's ability.

In a recent story about her presentation in South Carolina where she lambasted and put down teachers, the following comments were made by her:

"The bottom line is: 
the system did not become the way that it is by accident.
It operates exactly the way it was designed to operate,
which is in a wholly unaccountable, dysfunction manner.
So, when you seek to change that dynamic including going
after low performing teachers 
you're gonna have a whole lot of unhappy 
people on your hands. When you stop that gravy train,
somebody is going to be unhappy." (1)

The interesting thing about this attack on teachers and teacher unions is that it is indeed hypocritical of her very comments since she was paid $50,000 for the presentation. So, speaking of a gravy train, she has hooked an audience of "Kool-Aid" drinking political bigots into accepting her brand of educational change at the expense of their pocket books. 
The fact is, politicians should remove themselves from attempting to run schools as corporate machines with bottom-lines and "zero" tolerance for mistakes. Schools are learning environments about children,  like a perfect stew, need time and quality care to become a successful contributor to the future.
I would put my money behind the teacher that gets poor test scores, yet inspires children to move mountains!

(1)     Thomas. @TheChalkFace, "Rhee's "Gravy Train" of Hypocrisy." Last modified April 14, 2013. Accessed April 15, 2013.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"Be All That You Can Be..."

Years ago, before the US Army was "Army Strong", there was a recruiting commercial that was popularized that went something like "Be All That You Can Be." It was a motivational theme that encouraged fulfillment and achievement on your terms as a human being, and not according to the dictates and mandates of a higher authority. Now, we all know that's not possible in the Army, with a drill instructor or bureaucratic governance of individual rights being so prevalent. But, nonetheless, the message was clear: be all that you are capable of becoming. What a wonderful motto to use in our schools.

The State University of New York had a similar battle cry: "Let each become all that he is capable of becoming." Beautiful, optimistic, inviting.

My high school in Schenectady, NY had a similar theme: "Enter to learn, go forth serve". It was emblazoned over the massive stage in the auditorium. It made you consider the purpose of this endeavor, we call education.

The current trend for our public schools has changed this stream of optimism to threats:
"Be all that you can be, after you take the test that evaluates your abstract thinking, and then conform to our plan of global competition."!!!!!!!

 Where are the optimistic messages that will invite learning, exploration, and service? Are they hidden in the standardized tests children are forced to take each year? Are they subliminally sent in the actions of wayward governmental authorities dictating how we must teach, and how they must learn?

This week, I applaud the state of Florida for reversing its decision from 2007 of "one-size-fits-all" graduation requirement on all children, to adapting more of a "be-all-that-you-can-be" model for future generations.

       "Florida lawmakers on Friday sent Gov. Rick Scott a sweeping education bill that rolls back graduation standards that just three years ago were hailed as reforms that would help students compete globally.
         Instead, college-bound students could opt to take tougher courses and earn a high school diploma that includes a "scholar" designation. Students would also be allowed to take career education courses or enroll in work-related internships."1

And this movement is also being seen in Texas (2), as well as other states attempting to  reexamine the question "Does one size, really fit all?"

As a retired school superintendent, I can still see the faces of disenfranchised students that wanted out because they saw no future in struggling with Algebra, or reading Shakespeare and taking assessments that affirmed they were poorly prepared for the world. Their focus was not on succeeding on tests and going to college, but doing other things, such as learning a trade, exploring the world on their terms, and learning as you go. No doubt, there are those that condemn this way of thinking, but when you need a mechanic to fix a car, would you rather have someone who knows trigonometry and calculus, or someone who can work with their hands to solve a mechanical problem? When your plumbing backs up in your home, would you rather have a scholar that can recite Chaucer and Shakespeare, or a plumber that can analytically think through a structural problem that involves getting your hands dirty?
This is not to say some tradesmen are not capable of pursuing abstract thinking, but as researchers have stated, every individual learns at their own level of motivation. Ramming mandates for global competitiveness down the throats of all children will not support and maintain a free society. 

1.     "Florida Legislature passes sweeping education bill." The Daytona Beach News Journal, April 12, 2013. (accessed April 14, 2013).

2.     "Texas Considers Reversing Tough Graduation Requirements ." Headline Bug. (2013). (accessed April 14, 2013).

Friday, April 12, 2013

Tools for Success as a School Leader

I've often been intrigued when a successful person has attained their goals and achievements. They possess the characteristics of success that are unparalleled with others. I found this wonderful slide presentation that summarizes these attributes. I hope you find it interesting:

Best wishes for your success...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Standardized Madness

A friend of mine in Florida wanted to become a real estate agent. He followed all the directions from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations. This included taking a 60 hour course in real estate law, practices and procedures. He had his fingerprints cleared and approved and all he needed to do to be certified was take a state exam. The state exam was created by the Pearsonvue corporation under the approval of the Florida legislature. After taking the test, and failing miserably, he was undaunted, studied harder, and tried again.  In fact, after 5 attempts at taking the test, he has decided that the exam has defeated him, and he will not become a realtor, after all. 
After speaking with him in depth, he described the fact that he knew the material, inside and out. He practically memorized, verbatim, the Florida real estate laws, and still, he was unable to pass test. Probing further, I asked what the test was like. His description was of a standardized, norm referenced examination of a multiple choice variety. He felt the answer choices for each question were like different shades of white. The clear choice for the answer was not even close to what the presumed correct answer was. Thus the problem of standardized testing, that one size does not fit all, and the only people benefiting from the exam are the test makers, themselves.
I have never been a big fan of this type of testing. It forces people to think within a box of information only, and not out of the box. It negates the hands-on practical application of experiential learning in favor of one possible answer only to a question. The anxiety and frustration experienced by my friend was evident, but he was in his 60’s. Can you imagine the torment and pain an 8 or 9 year old deals with?
It is great to hear that some schools are attempting to stand up to the test makers, and the government groups demanding this kind of accountability. Actions across the country are showing this movement getting stronger. Children should not be placed in this type of educational experience for any reason, whatsoever.
“Are standardized tests capable of measuring anything more than how well one is able to pass that particular standardized test? Might it not make more sense to test the student using the same medium in which the student will be required to perform? After all, the test required for one to obtain their driver’s license is a test where they get in a car and actually drive. The United States Air Force has flight simulators at its disposal which provide a sufficient likeness to actually flying a plane to train the pilots-to-be.” 
Edcuation discussion: The history and evolution of standardized testing. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Saturday, April 6, 2013 edition of the 21st Century School Leader's Gazette is now online:

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

21stCenturySchoolLeaders: The Three Little Pigs... Why Standardized Testing ...

21stCenturySchoolLeaders: The Three Little Pigs... Why Standardized Testing ...: "Once upon a time there were three little pigs…" I sometimes wonder if the example of these three pigs is an accurate analo...

The Three Little Pigs... Why Standardized Testing is a Scam

"Once upon a time there were three little pigs…"

I sometimes wonder if the example of these three pigs is an accurate analogy of the debacle of standardized testing. While we live through the tragic downfall of well-meaning educators in the Atlanta Public Schools, it begs to ask these facetious questions of absurdity and allegorical aggrandizement.

We have three pigs with limited resources and each has an opportunity to build a domicile for their well being.  One pig builds with straw, one with sticks, and the other with bricks. We all know how the story ends. The last pig. building with bricks, is most successful in developing a home that will endure despite the hot air from the wind-blowing wolf (Federal and State Government?).

I see this allegory as a convenient representation of the standardized testing situation in this country. You have three types of schools, with varying levels of economic support and need. The school district of straw (big urban centers such as Atlanta with huge populations of underprivileged children and great levels of poverty). These districts collapse under the pressure from many different corners of society, while fighting to maintain a quality of educational support. 

The school districts of sticks are not as bad off as the straw districts but eventually succumb to the pressures from outside the educational community seeking change and reformation.

And finally, the you have the districts of brick, the wealthy, affluent populations that will weather the abuse of outside mandates requiring testing and reform. No matter what happens, they will survive. 

The sad part of this story is the inequity that exists, and the increasing mandates for change that only 1/3 of the school districts in this world can hope to meet. 

The moral of the story is biased against many children. And, as we are learning from the Atlanta Public Schools, it is a virus that will consume our nation if we do not put the brakes on this test focus culture, above everything else. 

"The primary corrupting agent in the actual education process is the standardized test. It is the collateralized debt obligation of the education "reform" scam. Using standardized testing to measure anything, let alone using it as a basis for whether or not people can keep their jobs or not, is an open invitation to chicanery of all kinds, but especially that which involved massaging the numbers."  (Pierce, 2013)
Pierce, C. (2013, April 01). Yet another education reform scam. Esquire, Retrieved from

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

21stCenturySchoolLeaders: Atlanta Public Schools and the Kobayashi Maru...Th...

21stCenturySchoolLeaders: Atlanta Public Schools and the Kobayashi Maru...Th...: For Star Trek enthusiasts across the galaxy, the heralded exploits of Captain James Kirk and the famed Kobayashi Maru simulation is somet...

Atlanta Public Schools and the Kobayashi Maru...The No Win Scenario

For Star Trek enthusiasts across the galaxy, the heralded exploits of Captain James Kirk and the famed Kobayashi Maru simulation is something never to be forgotten. This simulation is the final assessment for a Star Fleet cadet in the command track to become an executive office on a starship in the 23rd century. 

The simulation takes place on a replica of a starship bridge, with the test-taker as captain and other Starfleet members, officers or other cadets, in other key positions. In the scenario of the 2280s, the cadet receives a distress signal stating that the Kobayashi Maru has struck a gravitic mine in the Klingon Neutral Zone and is rapidly losing power, hull integrity and life support. There are no other vessels nearby. The cadet is faced with a decision:
  • Attempt to rescue the Kobayashi Maru's crew and passengers, which involves violating the Neutral Zone and potentially provoking the Klingons into hostile action or an all-out war; or
  • Abandon the Kobayashi Maru, potentially preventing war but leaving the crew and passengers to die.

Thus the no-win scenario. 

James T. Kirk's back-story defines that he took the test three times while at Starfleet Academy. Before his third attempt, Kirk surreptitiously reprogrammed the simulator so that it was possible to rescue the freighter. This fact finally comes out in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, as Kirk, Saavik and others appear marooned, near death. Saavik's response is, "Then you never faced that situation...faced death." Kirk replies, "I don't believe in the no-win scenario." Despite having cheated, Kirk had been awarded a commendation for "original thinking."

Time warp back to the 21st Century Century, the year 2013, NBC news reports: "A grand jury indicted a former superintendent and more than 30 other educators Friday in one of the nation’s largest cheating scandals that rocked Atlanta’s public schools.
The indictment named the former Superintendent Beverly Hall as well as several high-level administrators, principals and teachers. Hall faces charges including racketeering, false statements and theft. She retired just days before the 2011 probe was released, and has previously denied the allegations.

A state investigation in 2011 found cheating by nearly 180 educators in 44 Atlanta schools. Educators gave answers to students or changed answers on tests after they were turned in, investigators said. "

Seems as though the idea of the no-win scenario is more of a reality than a science fiction TV plot. Cheating is wrong. It is a moral concept drilled into our human fiber since we were young. But, just because that is the case does not mean it is not happening. We are told then by experts that there is bad cheating and good cheating, just as we would assume there are good lies and bad lies. Now we have the no-win scenario, which I feel applies here in Atlanta. 

The Federal government in their meddling in the operations of running education in the US created a mania of testing over instruction at all costs. If your district demonstrates adequate success or improvement in their testing benchmarks, they may qualify for more funding. If not, they will lose funding. In the end the school district would be forced into a Kobayashi Maru scenario tantamount to "Damned if you do, damned if you don't." 

In the Atlanta School System situation, dollars for school funding were on the line. Government leaders and school board members were coercing the administration to improve or else. Administrators pressured faculty and staff to improve or else, and instead of improving something that could not be improved easily, given the socioeconomic issues of the student body and the community, the records were falsified to keep the dollars flowing into the system to prevent people from losing their jobs. Right or wrong? 

It's too easy to condemn the educators who were trying to keep the flow of precious funding from dwindling in their schools. The blame should be on the federal and state governments for creating impossible no-win scenarios that place educators between a rock and a no-win scenario. 

Retired Superintendent Beverly Hall and Retired Captain James T. Kirk were in command situations on their respective ships, so to speak. But, reality dictates that cheating is wrong in any situation. Worse yet, is forcing people into no-win scenarios where they are tempted to subvert the system to begin with. 

Brumback, K. (2013`, April 1). Ex-superintendent indicted in Atlanta school cheating scandal. The Grio. Retrieved from

Kobayashi Maru. In (2013). Wikipedia. Wikipedia. Retrieved f

Friday, March 29, 2013

Weekly Updates for School Leaders, 3/29/2013

Here is a summary of some interesting articles for school leaders. Hope you have a great weekend.

1)    "7 Habits of Highly Effective School Administrators"

        An interesting article that promotes the basic patterns of effectiveness for school leaders. A must read.

2)     "What a school designed for your brain might look like"

        A 21st Century facility and learning plan that all leaders need to consider.

3)     "10 quotes from people who made a difference"

       Advice from 10 outstanding people whose lives made a difference in the world. Inspiring wisdom for school leaders.

4)     "5 Tools to Help Students Learn"

5)     "Why we have our best ideas in the shower: The science of creativity"

6)     "Are we too busy to imagine"

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What We Learn from a Pig

In the television movie, “The Gathering Storm”, about the pre-war years of Winston Churchill, we learn that this once, noble, and dignified future leader of Great Britain, was susceptible to moodiness, anxiety, paranoia, and depression. In a poignant scene in the movie, after being ridiculed for a position he took on the floor of Parliament, he is seen sitting in the barnyard of his rural estate watching an adult pig “wallowing” and eating from a pile of grounded, and rotten apples. The scene itself is curious, but quite descriptive of the mood Churchill is in. He remarks in a calm, and sullen tone, while observing the pig as follows: “Dogs look up to you, cats look down on you, and pigs treat you as equals.” (Ramin, 2002)
There is something poignant and heartfelt about that scene appealing to our blogpost today. We as school leaders, to be effective and impactful on our organizations, must use the example of the pig in creating effective learning organizations. I am not suggesting the imperious, denigrating or disgusting image of a pig, but rather the curiosity, and uninhibited ability to dig in and “wallow”, which implies an attitude of being devoted entirely to something, and taking pleasure in it.
In the Journal of Animal Behavior, researchers document that pigs learn quickly how mirrors work and “will use their understanding of reflected images to scope out their surroundings and find their food.” (Angier, 2009) They use their uncanny ability to sniff, dig, and ply their way around their surroundings to understand and learn from the traits therein. Shouldn’t leaders be doing the same?
For those people who have been following my previous posts, you already know how I feel about the "closet" leaders that hide in their office, behind closed doors, leading from behind a desk. The example of the pig being a creature that “wallows” and is enveloped in a curiosity of learning about its environment is the kind of leader we need to become to make a difference for our school organizations.
Leaders such as former GE CEO Jack Welch have advocated a similar approach to running organizations by suggesting: "You have to wallow in it. Take time to get to know people. Understand where they are coming from, what is important to them. Make sure they are with you." (Comstock, 2013)
Nothing is more frustrating to a school of educators than to know their school superintendent or principal is not visible, among the school and the activities of the culture. The comment that a teacher has never met the superintendent, is a disparaging sentiment that reflects poorly on any leader that seeks to make significant change in their future. 
Leaders have been given a great opportunity to “wallow” in their organization in order to learn from it, understand how it works, appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of the system, and to reflect on a direction that meets the needs of the district and students. Take time from your role to “wallow” and be an active leader of your district.
Angier, N. (2009, November 9). Basics- in pig cognition studies, reflections on parallels with humans. New York Times. Retrieved from

Comstock, B. (2013, February 23). Best advice: What i learned from jack welch hanging up on me. Retrieved from

Ramin, L. (Writer) (2002). The gathering storm [DVD]. Available from

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Future Without a Vision

It was at an eye doctor’s appointment this week that I gave serious thought to this week’s blog. 
There was a unique poster in the examining room over the doctor’s ophthalmic chair which said:
 “Without vision, you will not know where you are going.”

How true that statement is for school learning organizations. Yet, many districts ramble on 
without a focus or vision to direct and govern overarching programs for school improvement.  

Recently, I reviewed a research study from the Journal of Research on Technology in Education 
and could not help but notice an interesting article on a district designed project to implement a 
technology initiative across the organization.

“The Southern Alberta School District in which this study takes place is both successful and proactive with respect to student achievement and satisfaction levels (students, parents, teachers, and administrators). In 2007 the district started a shared visioning process to restate the district vision for the implementation of technology and to integrate teaching strategies (ie. differentiated instruction and assessment for learning) over a 5-7 year span of time.
The purpose of the study was to implement and measure the impact of a district-led initiative regarding 21st century teaching methods, strategies, and pedagogies. Rather than engage in sporadic professional development, a thoughtful and systematic model was deployed over a 3 year period. Technological upgrading, intensive professional development, and strong leadership were central pathways for teachers to meaningfully adopt the necessary components of 21st century learning instruction.” (Gunn & Hollingsworth, 2013).
This district developed vision for implementing a 21st Century technology model for the organization was based on a plan involving planning and management, instructional support, and emerging and evolving technologies. The constituents of the district all had a part in designing the shared vision addressing those areas, which eventually lead to the onward progress of becoming a 21st century school district. It reflects that understanding that Kouzes and Posner have in describing the role of vision development in organizations, namely that constituents want visions of the future that reflect their own aspirations. They want to hear how their dreams will come true and their hopes will be fulfilled. (Kouzes & Posner, 2007).
The true leader of this type of organization needs to remember the key points for creating this drive for vision;
  • View your role as as chief salesperson of the overall vision.
  • Be visible and never be too busy with the project to sell the vision.
  • Break the project into multiple sequential phases.
  • Limit detailed planning to the current phase.
  • Establish review committees and hold frequent meetings.
  • Remember consensus rules. (Fitzgerald, 2013)

As for the Southern Alberta School District, and what they found in their efforts to work with that type of vision:
“By way of strong leadership and administrative support for 21st Century professional development, teachers within a single district were able to embrace the knowledge, skills, and strategies required for future student success in the 21st Century.” (Gunn & Hollingsworth, 2013).

Fitzgerald, D. (2003). Shared vision: A key to project success. TechRepublic, Retrieved March 25, 2013 from

Gunn, T. M. & Hollingsworth, M. (2013). The implementation and assessment of a shared 21st century learning vision: A district approach. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 45(3), 201-208. Retrieved from

Kouzes, J. M. & Posner, B. Z. (2009). To lead, create a shared vision. Harvard Business Review, Retrieved from March 24, 2013