constitution day discussion w/ STEAM student Trace Williams

Trace and I took some time on Constitution Day to talk about what that document means today and a few related topics. This is the extended cut (about 20 min) and the shorter version (just the first 5 minutes) can be accessed here

Trace Williams and Dr. Bathon dive into a deep discussion on Constitutional and related issues.

kentucky & the "super schools" we need

Today, the ultra high profile XQ America "super schools" were announced. None were in Kentucky, including here in Fayette County Public Schools of course.

But, Lexington and Kentucky already has a "super school" ... it is called STEAM. When we looked at the Super School priorities ... we were already doing most of those things but because we were an existing, homegrown school, we could not apply. Now, obviously there is no existing facility so maybe on that front we are still a startup. (If only the district would invest in a "super" facility for their "super school').

In fact, Kentucky already has a developing group of super schools spread throughout the state and I'm proud that our work in the University of Kentucky Next Generation Leadership Academy helped in that. There is the Owensboro Innovation Academy, the ILEAD Academy, the work in Trigg County High School, The Boone County Schools, Eminence Independent School District, Taylor County Schools, Paris Independent Schools-Paris, KY, Marshall County Schools, Shelby County High School, the work of Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative, the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative, and I could go on for quite a while and that is just big projects. Teachers across the Commonwealth in groups like Hope Street Group, JCPSForward, Edcamp Kentucky are moving individual classrooms toward developing Modern Learners. Together, these local super schools and classrooms are already transforming education in Kentucky.

What we do not have in Kentucky, though, is a collective sense of this transformation and a collective, sponsored effort to get the #NextGenHS we all seem to want. Where is our "Super School" coordinated effort like XQ? Top flight educators are doing what professionals do and trying to move the work forward, but there is no coordinated effort. Groups like Kentucky Department of Education, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, Kentucky Association of School Administrators, Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky, Kentucky Education Association, KSBA (and more) need to help. Perhaps we need a new entity, such as the Ohio STEM Learning Network (OSLN) or the NC Friday Institute for Educational Innovation or the Oklahoma K20 Center (many states have coordinated approaches). Maybe some existing unit can make it a huge priority. It is a huge priority for us at University of Kentucky College of Education but we are maxing our capacity to support this work. I'm open to ideas. Is there an existing group that I am missing?

The lesson is, though, that the seeds of innovation have already been planted and they are already growing all over the state. But, those efforts need watering (ahem, building please for STEAM), those efforts need to be evaluated, those efforts need to be networked more tightly, and the seeds from these efforts need to be spread formally and systematically. There needs to be collective expectations (and deliverables) for #NextGenHS redesign all over the state. To expect that though, we have to help them get there at scale. We need to produce start-up guides and transitional supports. We need large scale professional development to retrain our education workforce. We need support in tough meetings where issues like dual credit are not just tweaked or incentivized, but fundamentally rethought. There are a thousand things to do, but we are not embracing the task head on. At best, we are playing on the edges.

Now, Kentucky knows how to reform ... at least I hope it still remembers. And, generally, Kentucky is great (not just good) at working together to solve problems. For these reasons, and because of our work to already sow the seeds of innovation, we have been specifically targeted by national reform leader Ted Dintersmith as a place where magical things might be possible. He will be in Kentucky in 2 weeks to help us start some of these conversations, so please find a showing of Most Likely to Succeed and hear what he has to say.

Kentucky, while XQ drops millions on a few "super schools," without any major financial support we have already developed our own homegrown examples of what the schools we all seem to want look like. We can continue to exceed outsider expectations and continue to be a global leader in education reform ... but we need to take the next step. I'm open to any feedback to help us do that.


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) ...

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? 

Research on Deeper Learning from AIR & Hewlett

I want to give a huge shout-out to a large series of research that has been conducted by the American Institute of Research funded by the Hewlett Foundation. Hewlett has supported a move toward deeper learning for a long time, but this series of research has really advanced the discussion in a meaningful way. A recently updated summary of the findings is a useful place to start. Also, a recently updated research publication looks at college enrollment and persistence, finding that students in deeper learning network schools were more likely to enroll in college but persisted in college at similar rates to all students. 

The story painted by this research is not the silver bullet by any means, but it shows solid and likely somewhat better results for the deeper learning schools. Minimally, it shows that students in a deeper learning school focused on PBL, mastery, life skill development, etc are not harmed by being in those schools against being enrolled in a traditional school. 

I encourage you read the entire effort. It is really enlightening. 

And, just for fun, a few year old video from Hewlett on the "why" of deeper learning. All of the deeper learning video series at The Teaching Channel is worth a view, of course. 

Charter Schools and the Difficulty of Operating Schools

It turns out, opening and operating a school is really hard ... and then it is even harder to make it successful. Unfortunately, as this episode shows, there is a lot of schools that do not make it and kids, who have no choice, get caught in the middle. Political types who have no understanding of schooling, simply have no idea. A school is not like a business in any way so using business models to try to govern school models is ludicrous. So funny in fact, that it is actually funny in a really sad satirical way. 

Now, as my buddy Wayne Lewis has convinced me and I've seen for myself, there are also a lot of really poor public schools and some great charters. Thus, I am open to Charters as an option to help kids, but it must be an intensely controlled option with lots of fail safes and backup plans and overseen by actual top flight professional educators who know what they are doing. If all that sounds costly ... that is because it is. 

By the way, John Oliver gets satire right (and most American comedians don't) ... Malcolm Gladwell can tell you why. The first time you watch a video like this, you should laugh ... the second time ... not. 

Recent Book Recommendations on Recoding (Transforming) School

I am traveling abroad in South Africa talking about Recoding Schools and was asked which books I might recommend to see more about the kinds of transformative changes that a recoded school system might implement (this is not my book list underlying my ideas on schools as a technology). This is just a short list, but a place to get started. There are also lists from other great thinkers in this space and I'd recommend their lists (and blogs) as well: Chris Lehmann, Scott McLeod 

Big Picture Oriented


Topical / Detail Oriented


Stories of Transformation

how does one of the most innovative public school districts respond to the most innovative education documentary

like this ... 

Inspired by the documentary Most Likely to Succeed, leaders at Albemarle High School have rapidly adopted progressive approaches to education through integrated learning and real world application with impressive results.

This is how a school district should respond to Most Likely to Succeed. Huge kudos to the team at Albemarle County Public Schools under the leadership of Pam Moran and specifically to the principal Jay Thomas for making it happen. For us in Kentucky, I think only Marshall County had an immediate, similar response as a district (and I am proud of them also) and a few schools like Royal Spring in Scott County might also be in that group. But, for almost any school leader that watches that film and then returns to school the next day to face those 9th graders they know will struggle (and to those in high schools, they know what I'm talking about) ... well, Team 19 should not be exceptional, it should be normal. 

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.”
 Robert Gorden. Photo by Andrew Brennen of Student Voice --

Robert Gorden. Photo by Andrew Brennen of Student Voice --

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.

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.