The Mathematics of Dance

Following up on my post yesterday of the long division "bullshit" moment my son experienced, today at STEAM we were dancing to mathematics, for real. (The teacher, Mr. Tyler Waters, is the one filming). 

And, it wasn't all just the fun (and they were clearly having a lot of fun) of creating a new dance, there was real geometry at play as students documented and graphed all the geometric movements in their particular dance pattern and the different geometric patterns at play.


This is what Math can look like. It doesn't need to look like long-division worksheets and students frustrated to the point of exhaustion. It certainly doesn't look this way every day at STEAM, but damn this looked great to me after long-division this weekend.  



I've been waiting for the moment when it happened to my kid ... The "school is bullshit" moment of the opening to Most Likely to Succeed. So, it is happening in general, but this moment will go down as that moment for me with Matthew. It is a long-division worksheet. He crumpled it up, threw it across the room, screamed, cried, and ultimately came to this position of utter frustration in the picture. So, yeah ... It's personal to me. 

More Sophisticated Data for Kids & College Readiness

Looking at some of the recent data on College Readiness in Kentucky I was struck by the lack of sophistication in the data. A single standardized exam is used to determine who is and is not ready for College success. While this approach might have been in a step forward helped schools focus on raising ACT, I'm still concerned. It also seems to be against the growing tide of elite colleges moving away from ACT while P-12 might be increasingly swindled. Below is the chart that we use in Kentucky, including with the ACT cut scores (the most prevalent although our internal test KYOTE gets used a decent amount too). 

 Full chart with footnotes available at: 

Full chart with footnotes available at: 

What strikes me is that this is so, so very little information about a given child. It says almost nothing meaningful about either a child's current abilities or a child's future potential. It does say something, but what we should all realize is that the "something" that it says is so far removed from the reality once you get to know the kids.

Of course, that standardized tests tell us very little is nothing new. We have known that for a while so what really concerns me is that we are still doing the same behaviors. Of course, if the definition of "college ready" had little impact on the child, that would be annoying but fine ... but it actually has a massive impact on the child even beginning in high school where students without a 20 Reading ACT, for instance, cannot take dual credit courses to get a jump start on college at low rates. So, to that child, it has both a time and financial implication. When the child graduates high school and tries to enter college, again, the student is set back by this somewhat arbitrary number by having to take remedial classes (that they have to pay for) without obtaining any credit toward graduation. Setting children back like this at the end of high school, of course, is a really good way to set children back in life generally and I think that is pretty much what is happening. If there is a big barrier to entry ... then less students will enter. 

I'm not advocating that remedial courses are unnecessary or that we do not need structures to determine college readiness, but if we are going to make these massive decisions about children then our metrics for informing that decision should be as strong as possible. I think we can make better informed decisions in at least 3 ways in the near term and 1 in the long term that we should start planning for now. 

  1. Tap into more of the data currently available on a student. Already, datasets within Infinite Campus here in Kentucky contain a lot of additional information about a kid. How often they come to school. How many, and the types, of disciplinary events. Grades, of course, with varying degrees of detail and consistency. Beyond Infinite Campus, other datasets, like the student's ILP, contain additional information some of which is actually supplied by the kid themselves. Of course, there are also other assessments like MAP and EOC (both of which also have their flaws, but like polls can work better together). All of this makes for a messy mass of data, but making sense of this data seems possible to give a richer understanding of a child's readiness (or merits for graduation, whatever). 
  2. On the grading front, another near term opportunity is helping high schools provide more standardization not in the curriculum but in the systems of assessment. Right now, few people put stock (outside of parents, perhaps) in any individual letter grade at school because it doesn't really contain any descriptive meaning of what a kid can do. A kid might have an exceptionally scientific mind, but miss a couple of assignments and get a C in a biology class. The "C" tells us little and is actually misleading about that kid, which is why I think most college metrics put little stock in high school grades. But, right now, a moment is afoot led by Tom Guskey at UK (this book is a good entry point) to make grading a more informative practice. In the near term, it would make a lot of sense for us to begin pilots with schools engaging in standards based grading to determine how predictive, and which metrics predict most accurately, from the vastly richer dataset of grading. 
  3. Again, near term, why don't we just ask teachers which kids have which skills that we deem relevant to graduation/college? Let's build a smart rubric that asks teachers about kids' skills and ask them only to answer for skills they personally seen demonstrated and for which they could provide evidence. Let's then run mass surveys to collect the data at some point (end of junior year, whatever). Then, to keep it honest, let's follow up with a few random spot checks when we ask teachers to show their evidence of their rubric scoring. Each school could assign a teacher (preferably the Advisory teacher) to complete the rubric for their small group of students. Not only would this encourage proliferation of Advisory models and portfolio systems across P-12, but it would provide a rich external assessment of each child from a skilled educational professional. I'm not sure why we don't do this already, actually. 
  4. Now, long term, we need to begin preparations for the inevitable transition of learning to digital platforms which provide big, big data (like, a LOT more). Soon (hopefully within 10 years), all high schools will be digital in their learning management (some already are). In fact, some states have already taken big steps in this direction. At STEAM here in KY, we use the LMS Canvas for every single course. It worked so well at STEAM that Fayette is now going district-wide and similar LMS solutions are emerging throughout the state. We even have our own Ed. Tech. LMS startup here in Lexington. For a child, nearly every learning activity throughout the whole of high school is digital in a single platform. While this is not perfect data, but it is exponentially more data about a child than we have now. How quickly students complete things, how many times it takes to get it right, how collaborative they are, how much time they spend on their readings, and, of course, their performance on various assessments (hopefully graded with a standards based system). This is already MASSIVE data that mostly just washes over us, but it is only going to exponentially expand over the next data. Honestly, it is hard to fathom how much data we could have. We need systems that talk to each other, we need algorithms that make sense of the data, we need informatic data displays, we need to know which variables have what predictive value ... whew.

If all of this seems like a lot of work ... well, it is. Absolutely it is a lot of work and, obviously, I get the attraction to a single test and a single metric. It is simple and clean. But, kids are not simple and clean. They are complex with messy lives spinning off messy data. They have good days and bad. They have projects they ace and projects they struggle with. Teachers that click and teachers that don't. They are kids and they are all beautiful and intelligent in entirely different ways. A "21" is not in any way an accurate representation of their beauty, intelligence, or potential. We can do better and we can start now.       

As a baseball guy, we are clearly already in an era of Moneyball for public education in terms of data, but it is like we are ignoring most of it and still making decisions about kdis based only on 1 metric in 1 game. We have more data, we are just not using it. And, we are going to have a LOT more data very, very soon. 

This needs to be a pretty high priority. 

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