pathways to hope

Quick story then a link for something you should read from Kentucky. 

A couple years back a veteran school leader was analyzing Next Gen and after speaking for a bit and experiencing it himself ... he said to me something akin to "you are dealing in hope at Next Gen." 

He said it in a way that felt like we were "selling hope"  so at first I cringed. I want to sell learning or growth or better experiences for kids. He sensed that and clarified that giving people hope is not a bad thing, indeed it is one of the best things. In systems that might feel hopeless or situations that cause a teacher to lose faith, pathways to hopefulness are crucial. In public education these days, especially when talking large scale change, it is easy to find hopelessness and difficult to discern hope. 

I've pondered this a lot since that moment and I've come to the place where providing pathways to hope is just part of the leaders job. In fact, it is critical to culture and growth of a school. 

So, that struck me again as I read the story of Knight Middle in Louisville, a school that is part of Next Gen this year but has been on a growth journey for a few years. Their principal, Cathy Gibbs, said: 

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We hired teachers based on our collective belief that the overwhelming majority of our students want to engage, belong and be successful, and if WE built that school together, then Knight would see success. We were HOPE dealers, setting out on a journey to rewrite a school’s story and looking for people who had the fire in their belly to make it a reality.
— Louisville Courier Journal

Cathy strikes me as just such a hopeful leader. When you take the reigns of Knight Middle clearly a person has internal hope (or they probably would not take the job). But, the more difficult leadership question is whether they can provide external hope. Can you provide a vision, backed with execution, that goes from hopeless to hopeful? Being a "hope dealer," as Cathy says, is not something to cringe at it is something to celebrate. In today's world, it is too rare. 

Please give the whole article a read and if you want to chat with Cathy about it her twitter handle is @cathygibbs1 (she is awesome and would welcome the interaction).

This is how it works. Leaders, hope, culture, student voice, execution, persistence ... over time, everyone adjusts and raises their game. You don't get all of what you hope for, but what you do get changes kids' lives. Remember, leaders don't really make change happen. Teachers, kids, and families are the change agents within school systems. But, stories like the one at Knight Middle start with a leader and a pathway to hope. 

College Affordability = Dual Credit

Today I spent time at a great Prichard Committee event here in Kentucky focused on College Affordability. There were a variety of speakers sharing a variety of data points. It was very good stuff. Really professional. The best part, even, was that the Student Voice Team released their new report (which you should read ... proud does not begin to capture it). Great day. 

But, let me summarize.

  • State support for higher education is flat to negative. Indefinitely.
  • College tuition and, particularly, housing costs are going up. Indefinitely. 
  • Pell grants help poor families a lot. Kentucky state support helps too, but less. 
  • Lots of kids don't think college is for them & don't go. Cost is an increasing concern. 
  • Lots of kids who do start, don't finish.
  • Rather few kids finish community college. 
  • Some, especially those that don't finish, default on loans and ruin their credit.
  • High schools are not doing enough to advise, especially because of the lack of guidance counselors. 
  • And, inequity is still rampant throughout. 

Let me also summarize the number of serious plans articulated to address this in structural ways ... nada. 

That's not an indictment of anyone. Everyone honestly is well meaning in this space and I enjoyed all the conversations today. But, we seem locked into a pattern here and nothing I heard today (outside of seriously listening to students more which policy folks seem to applaud but not really grasp) seemed to have a real chance at changing the pattern. Some folks I spoke with today, including critical folks with state agencies, even seemed resigned to this unchanging reality including the indefinite inequity.  

Enter dual credit (or dual enrollment, or early college, middle college, etc.). It came up a couple times today but mostly just in passing. That missed the mark, unfortunately. 

In my work innovating in education the past 10 years, few things seem to have the screaming potential that dual credit does ... and few things are harder to actually implement, let alone change. I spent 3 years trying to build a dual credit program at STEAM and it is still not that great. But, it is the key. I'm convinced of that now more than ever before. We need to get serious about implementing large scale models across Kentucky and resetting our expectations around the space between high school and college (i.e. there should very little). 

Jobs for the Future has a summary of the research

The What Works Clearinghouse also recently took a look and concluded ... it works (image at left). 

REL Appalachia even did a serious study of Kentucky dual credit last year. Some of their findings: 

  1. Dual credit programs are an important feature of college readiness efforts.
  2. Program implementation and costs vary wildly. 
  3. Key challenges include
    1. limited availability of high school teachers with appropriate credentials,
    2. limited access to courses and instructors in isolated rural districts,
    3. limited student readiness for college coursework,
    4. financial burden for students and families,
    5. inconsistent standards for ensuring course quality, and
    6. lack of dedicated staff to manage dual credit programs.

This should have been discussed today in more detail. We need serious attention here, especially with the Kentucky Secretary of Education announcing last week that he wants all students to do a dual credit experience while in high school. Kudos to Hal for having a broad vision here. That's the kind of vision we will need to reset the status quo ... followed up with a great deal of leadership to make the vision a reality. 

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Ultimately, if we are serious about resetting the status quo we could just make the Associates Degree the end point for high school (rather than, or in addition to, the high school diploma). At first blush it sounds crazy, but it is less crazy than you think. Both the money and the time required for this are largely already within the P-12 model. If we made it a P-13 model, we could get a majority of kids to the Associates. A lot would have to change to make it happen, but mostly it is changing norms rather than markets, laws, or architectures. In short, if we wanted to do that for Kentucky kids, we could reasonably achieve it within a moderately short period of time. Certainly, the kindergartners of today could be in a P-13 system that gets them an Associates if we wanted to do that. Even if we missed the full target here, we would still get lots more kids to College and more would finish. I do not see the downside to trying.  

If we just keep having the same discussion we had today simply acknowledging the patterns, however, those kindergarteners tomorrow will face the same (or worse) situation than our college entrants today. Thus, if we are discussing making college seriously affordable and changing the current patterns, we necessarily must be discussing dual credit programs.

#StopHittingUs

One thing that bothers me profoundly about my home state here of Kentucky is that the Legislature of Kentucky endorses and specifically sponsors through state employees the hitting of children in schools.

State employees physically hit children. Take that sentence in for a moment ... let that roll around your pre-frontal cortex (the same pre-frontal cortex that is not even developed yet in the young children we are hitting).

And, when hitting does happen we don't even bother to track it that well. Teachers in other states would be terminated, their license revoked, a civil suit would be likely, and criminal charges would not be out the question. But, in Kentucky it is "doing their job" as defined by the State.

So, Kentucky, what about that makes sense? Even back in the day 100 years ago ... what about the concept of the government hitting children seemed like a good idea?

That this is protected by government-skeptical, freedom loving, family-values conservatives is even more illogical to me. When does family-values include the concept of the government hitting your children for you? Such massive government intervention in a family's personal affairs is not something one would assume conservatives would support. Yet, here we are ... the conservative chair of the Kentucky Senate (a respected advocate for Kentucky education otherwise) refuses to hear the issue.

I'd love if any of my conservative friends and family, or whoever wants to jump in, are comfy with the government doing this and can explain why you think the government is well-positioned to make this choice for your family?

My only hope is that the kids themselves will stand up to the adults who are hitting them (not just the principals, but school boards, superintendents, and most specifically state legislative officials).

 Image Source:  Kindred Media

Image Source: Kindred Media

Children of Kentucky, my advice to you if you care about your fellow children and the future of your own Commonwealth, please ask the Legislature to #StopHittingUs. Send emails, send tweets, stand on the capitol steps or better, stand on the steps of their local offices ... right out by the road where everyone can see you with big posters with 14 characters ... #STOPHITTINGUS. Don't argue policy. Don't even engage them. Simply ask them, time and time and time again ... to #StopHittingUs. Make them have to explain that to the newspaper. Make them explain that to your parents. Make them explain that to local businesses. They can keep doing this to children because they don't have to personally own it ... but you can make them have to own it ... and, if you do, I'm confident they will just cave.

Kiddos ... the government is yours just as much as it is theirs. Make it happen.

"Deliberate Indifference" & Broad, Slow Harassment of Children in Schools

I'm a huge fan of Will Richardson's thinking and earlier this year he did an exceptional job of articulating educational elephants in the room that everyone simply wants to ignore. I find it hard to argue with each of the 9 elephants that he identifies, but see for yourself

 
Lately, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with our unwillingness to acknowledge these “elephants in the (class)room,” if you will, because the new contexts for modern learning forged by the networked world in which we now live are creating an imperative for new ways of thinking about our work in schools. I’ve been collecting a list of these “things that we don’t really want to talk about in education” in hopes that it might challenge us to bring those elephants out into the open and ignite some much needed conversation about how to deal with them. — more (read the 9 elephants) ...
— https://medium.com/modern-learning/9-elephants-in-the-class-room-that-should-unsettle-us-8335b2cef9aa#.4aw5zli9w

I can't tell you how many meetings I've been in across various components of the education system over the last decade where there is an almost willful ignoring of these elephants. In law, we have a term for this behavior ... "deliberate indifference." It comes mostly from the field of harassment law under Title IX where on occasion school officials consciously ignore harassment occurring within schools. The Davis case from the Supreme Court is seminal. 

Now, I want to make an analogy, but hint beyond that. Certainly, that over 1/2 of the kids are bored in a given moment (or pick a different elephant) is not the same at all as explicit acts sexual or gender harassment. These are not the same thing, but they are both things that happen to children and the question is how to judge school official's behavior thereto.  My case in this post is that in both of these instances, the behavior of the school official is largely the same. Legally, the full test of school liability for sexual harassment from adult to child is: (1) actual knowledge and (2) deliberate indifference. For school liability for harassment between children we add third component of (3) severe, persistent, and objectively offensive. 

It is a useful legal test that has seemingly worked okay in the field of harassment, so, look back at Will's 9 Elephants and see which of those, if using this test, we could potentially find school's liable? Use either the first two parts or all three parts of the test (your choice). 

For me, perhaps not all 9, but certainly the majority would create at least a prima facia case of school liability for student harassment. Whether a school official can be held to have "actual knowledge" that subjects and time blocks, for instance, are not the best way to allocate information and time is questionable. But, if actual knowledge is established for any of the 9, then certainly deliberate indifference would follow along. As Will points out, we generally know these things and we generally ignore them. Let's see an example. 

Every time a principal observes a fifth grade math classroom of utterly disengaged and bored students, sees and understands what is (or is not) happening, and then walks on with no further action taken ... using our test there would be a case of liability for student harassment. Let's assume this particular math teacher has provided similar observations many times in the past. There was actual knowledge, deliberate indifference, and, if you desire, the treatment of the children is severe, persistent, and objectively offensive. 

Now, I hear you, forcing students to memorize multiplication tables is not harassment you say. Okay, but what if you did that, or something similar, all day long? Is that not harassment? Let's remember what we are doing here. We are legally forcing children to sit in mostly white concrete block rooms, quietly, compliantly, for hours and hours, five days a week. Multiplication tables are not the only activity, there is also worksheets, sight words, quizzes, reading of textbooks, etc.  ... the question is not whether any one of these is harassing to children, it is whether the vast compilation of these rises to something akin to harassment. 

I'm not sure, honestly. But, my sense is that this is something we should think more about. What thoughts do you have? 

students are the real leaders in schools, we should acknowledge them as such

Really nice follow up article from NPR Ed (who is doing great work these days under the leadership of Anya Kamenetz). 

It’s two weeks before graduation, and Gordon seems to be everywhere at once — helping seniors fill out scholarship applications, writing recommendation letters, checking on the arrangements for that night’s band concert, fixing a computer issue for a math teacher, reimbursing a dollar that the vending machine ate, making copies of answer sheets for a practice test.

A typical day for a small-town principal. Only Gordon isn’t the principal. He’s an 18-year-old senior.

I heard about Robert Gordon from Student Voice, a national, nonpartisan student group that’s been visiting high schools all over the country to hear from fellow students. At North, the activists said, the first thing people told them was, “This school should be shut down.” Then, they heard this: “You’ve got to talk to Robert. He knows more about this school than anyone. He should be the principal.”
— http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/05/31/473240474/corridor-of-shame
 Robert Gorden. Photo by Andrew Brennen of Student Voice -- https://medium.com/student-voice/student-i-think-this-school-should-be-shut-down-ac5096ffbfb2#.er9eig7ee

Robert Gorden. Photo by Andrew Brennen of Student Voice -- https://medium.com/student-voice/student-i-think-this-school-should-be-shut-down-ac5096ffbfb2#.er9eig7ee

The Student Voice Team, in particular Andrew Brennen, first brought Robert to light in this fantastic article (which I have shared widely, including with a superintendent friend working in the Orangeburg area): 

There are students like R all over the country. They are the students who have taken it upon themselves to fill the gaps left by adults in so many of our inadequately-resourced schools. We must honor students like R and see them as the assets that they are. And we are also compelled to listen hard and hear their stories. Doing so gives us the chance to better understand the most complex and intractable issues facing schools in some of the poorest regions of our country.
— https://medium.com/student-voice/student-i-think-this-school-should-be-shut-down-ac5096ffbfb2#.er9eig7ee

If you are at a high school, you probably know students like Robert. Students take on all kinds of leadership roles within schools, frequently the unwritten kinds of roles in difficult situations when no one else steps up. Students are the ones that are primarily providing leadership to other students. They are the real leaders in the building. Adults need to more clearly acknowledge and respect those leadership roles but also invite them into the formal leadership structures more often. Every single time we have shared leadership with our students at STEAM we have not been disappointed. We are all learners and we are all leaders. It is nice when students like Robert (and Andrew) help remind us all of that.