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