Tag Archives: change

THE SUMMER TRIANGLE

Our stars mock us.  I realized that this morning when I read about the Summer Triangle which will appear tonight in the eastern sky just after dark.

There are three stars in the Summer Triangle and while they appear to look the same… they are not even in the same constellation.  Altair is 17 light years away.   That means, in the parlance of astronomers, that the photons of light that strike our eyes tonight actually left their source back in 1994.  Seven years before No Child Left Behind launched our present preoccupation with accountability (and the madness of interminable testing)… Altair issued light.

Vega is some 150 trillion miles away and it’s light left 25 years ago—just after A Nation at Risk called out our schools for their extraordinary mediocrity.  It is also the year that President Reagan decided that he would honor teachers by sending one up on the space shuttle.  We all regretted that decision:

“…they slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God”

On the final vertex of the Summer Triangle sits Deneb.  At a distance of 9,000 trillion miles, we are seeing light that has actually been traveling through space since the 6th century.  And yet when we look at Deneb, the untrained eye will merely see a twinkle… and wish upon a star.

So here’s the point.

For decades we have been in search of stars.   We call them “exemplary” schools, “break-the-mold” schools, “distinguished” schools, “blue ribbon” schools, “award wining” schools.  We mine them for their essence and too often discover one disappointing commonality:  their commonality.

I wonder which “stars” you follow.  I wonder whose light you take your inspiration from.  I wonder why there are so many stars flickering and fading in the cosmic panorama of public education— like heavenly bodies whose light is owed to the by-gone genius of some other era.  Like 1994.  Or 1986.  Or 1886.  Or the 6th century.

Stars are not as they appear.  They are inspired by old and even ancient energy.  They are romanticized and gazed upon and dreamers set their sails by them.  But while they are universally regarded as a metaphor for excellence; for champions and models and promising performers and the best of the best– they are quite literally, a portal to our past.

My charter school is in perpetual orbit in search of new and different results.  There are at least three constants:  our kids keep coming, every one is unique and different, and we can’t live on your star.  We survive on our wits and creativity and courage to change.  On leaning forward.

In “The Myths of Innovation”, Scott Berkun writes  “By idolizing those whom we honor we do a disservice both to them and to ourselves… we fail to recognize that we could go and do likewise.”

Like right now. In the next few stress free weeks– in the shower or kayaking or stargazing on a summer break—fresh ideas will incubate.  We will find our own inspiration.  Our own solutions.

So tonight I am going out to look for the Summer Triangle just because I talked about it here.  (Without my Pocket Universe Ap I won’t be able to tell Deneb from Vega and all their light will look the same.)  I’ll admire its symmetry, but not its wisdom.  The rest is up to me.

“It is an achievement to find a great idea,” writes Berkun.  “But it is a greater one to successfully use it to improve the world.”

(Cross Posted on Leadertalk)

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Filed under California charter schools, El Milagro, innovation and change

TWO AMERICAS, ONE STORM

NOTE:  It’s been kind of hard to keep up with my weekly blog entries lately… so thanks for staying with this site for the last few weeks. I am working on final edits for my second book (“Fighting For Ms. Rios”… and managing the blog for my class at University of San Diego (check out some excellent posts from my students there).  We are also making advance preparations to launch a little revolution… which will itself be the subject of the next few posts.  Stay tuned!

There is another “Achievement Gap” in America and it is gathering on the near horizon like a storm cloud. Mark my words. That storm will come and we will see our future as a nation engulfed in another predictable catastrophe that didn’t have to happen.

I want Arne Duncan and our President to hear me. I am not in Washington DC or the halls of the state senate in Sacramento. I am at El Milagro and we are fending off foul weather.

Here’s a gap that’s deep and growing deeper by the day:

It starts in schools that struggle to keep pace. For whatever reason. Maybe it is the leadership, maybe it’s the teachers, maybe it’s the kids or the parents or the books or the pedagogy or the water or the facilities or the lack of light. In the end, it doesn’t matter. Because schools that don’t keep pace with AYP have to circle the wagons and teach harder. More reading. More math. Then more reading still. More math still.

And while reading and math crowd out the rest of the curriculum– as schools eliminate science and social studies and the arts and physical education to make way for more focussed/rigorous/aligned instruction in basic skills (aka “test prep”)– something big goes missing:

Creative thinking, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, application, play, self-discovery. Joy. Learning.

…the skills our kids need to compete for jobs. For economic growth. For America. For global survival.

So in communities where kids struggle against artificial goals enshrined by NCLB… they fall further and further behind in the very skills and attributes that prepare them for the 21st century workplace. Basic skills are critical… but Facebook and Google and Apple and Amazon did not become giants on the strength of the standardized test scores of their employees. They rise or fall on their ingenuity.

High performing schools and districts and communities have the luxury of ignoring the inherent threats of high stakes testing. They don’t have to panic and fire their music teachers. They can sing and dance. They can prolong their analysis of world events and enter the local science fair. The can critique good art and celebrate the natural giftedness of their students. They can provide a comprehensive and enriched curriculum for all.

So the Gap widens. Can you see it? Low achieving schools, with their disproportionately large number of low income students, English language learners and other children of color, pressured to turn their fate around, are forced to abandon the very skills their students need the most– the ability to create a new world. While their counterparts in high performing schools think and invent and find their wings.

That white and asian children consistently outperform Latino and African American children in reading and math on standardized tests is a problem. But that is not the only problem. And it certainly isn’t the most urgent.

There are two Americas. For the past 50 years public education has been a primary force to eliminate the distinctions between rich and poor; between our many ethnic and racial differences. But we are the unwitting force now dividing the chasm anew. Two Americas. One storm. One nation falling like a house of cards.

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Filed under charter schools, children at risk, El Milagro, innovation and change, public education, school reform, standardized testing, Uncategorized

A RABBLE OF INNOVATORS ON THE FAST COMPANY LAWN

This week, the publication Fast Company released its annual survey it calls the Top 50 Most Innovative Companies in the world.

Here is the top 10:

#1 Facebook

#2 Amazon

#3 Apple

#4 Google

#5 Huawei

#6 First Solar

#7 PG&E

#8 Novartis

#9 Walmart

#10 HP

That’s just the Top 10.  Disney is #20.  Cisco (#17) and Twitter (#50) are on the Top 50 too.  So is Grey New York (#24), the advertising genius that makes the commercials with the E-Trade baby.  Nike (#13) , Netflix (#12), and the Indian Premier League that televises international cricket matches(#22)– all on the list.

So how do you get on the list?  Fast Company says:

Even in these tough times, surprising and extraordinary efforts are under way in businesses across the globe. From politics to technology, energy, and transportation; from marketing to retail, health care, and design, each company on the list illustrates the power and potential of innovative ideas and creative execution.

There you have it.  Innovative ideas and creative execution.

I noticed that El Milagro was not on the list.  I noticed, in fact, that there are no schools on the list.  Not the KIPP schools or High Tech High or Kaplan University.  In fact, I noticed “education” wasn’t even mentioned in the quote above.  Education is rarely mentioned in the same breath as “innovation”.

Politics… technology… energy… transportation… marketing… retail… health care… design… that is where Fast Company goes for examples of innovative organizations.  And rightly so.

This past week there were protests across the state of California and around the nation to shine the light on inevitable  budget cuts in schools.  I stood on the lawn of the capital building in Sacramento and watched.  There was a rabble of a couple thousand activists with hand made placards and signs and hippies playing percussion instruments trying to resurrect some of the energy of the 60’s.  Good luck.  I assumed that many in the crowd were educators who had called in for a sub in order to be out on the lawn protesting about the loss of funding to public education.  $100 per sub.

In the comments section of the Fast Company blog on their 50 Most Innovative Companies I was struck by this quote:

“In times of economic crisis, chaos, and rising strains on system designs, innovative organizations have the edge.”

And this one:

“Changes create movement. Movement create action. Action creates Innovation.”

And finally… this one:

“Innovation is not the result but the way we act. The result is a consequence of our acts. If you keep doing it the same way, we will get always the same results. The companies that are shaping and will shape the future are the ones that are not afraid to try different things, different actions. Those actions are the ones that will shape our future.”

Instead of innovating, the rabble was chanting on the Capitol lawn while the governor was off speaking to the Charter Schools Conference.  But no worries. Even though he missed their presentation, he can pick it up on Hulu (#11) and enjoy it at his leisure… maybe over a bowl of Fritos (#28).

For our own part, at El Milagro we are going to navigate through the crisis and get on next year’s list of the Top 50 Most Innovative Organizations.

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Filed under California budget, El Milagro, innovation and change, public education

THE LAUREATE

Hope

I woke up to news pulsing through Twitter that President Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Really?  He won it?  He’s not just  “a candidate in the running”… but he actually won the thing?

That’s extraordinary!

Just last week it seemed the White House was licking its wounds because Chicago had been passed up as an Olympic host– when the IOC picked the other high-crime, high-poverty, high-partying city– Rio.  The right wing nuts that used to demand patriotism from every American in support of “their president”– now applauded America’s (and Obama’s) embarrassing failure on the world stage.  This was exactly the kind of stumble that the haters envision when they say “I hope the President fails.”

But now, instead of throwing shoes at an American President in full view of the world,  there is this acknowledgment of his quest for peace.  It is a strange and unexpected exoneration of how the world sees America.  Glenn Beck was just crowing about how the IOC decision was a rejection of the Obama ideal. Now he and Limbaugh have to retrench to spew their venomous, hate speech:” I agree with the Taliban… Obama doesn’t deserve the Nobel Peace Prize,” Limbaugh said.  They had to move quickly to de-legitimize the award– just as they have tried to de-legitimize his election, and his citizenship, and his judgment, and his humanity.  And people listened.

Every day I watch this lunacy– the right wing Republican talking points, the hypocrisy, the power of talk radio loons to influence public opinion, the failure of our elected representatives to get along well enough to actually do something about the crises that they themselves have identified: Health care.  Afghanistan. Nuclear proliferation.  Economic collapse.  Global warming.

In Oslo, Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland said:

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. We are not awarding the prize for what may happen in the future, but for what he has done in the previous year. We would hope this will enhance what he is trying to do.

It occurs to me that when President Obama ran on the promise of change (and hope) we underestimated the extent to which change unsettles.  Change scares that crap out of people. It polarizes.

Even the people that voted for change pass through stages of tempered dissatisfaction.  Today, for example,  represents one of the largest demonstrations of gay American activists in recent history, with the Human Rights Campaign and their march on Washington to protest a lack of progress in the Obama agenda for gay rights.

r-BIG-GAY-RIGHTS-SPEECH-huge

Change will be there too.  Like a giant chameleon sitting in the trees and turning whatever colors may be reflected in the surrounding landscape. Blending in.  The eye of the beholder. Participants will no doubt list their disappointments: not enough progress on “Don’t ask-don’t tell”, or civil unions, or gay marriage.  And I am with them.  There hasn’t been enough progress.  And if the Prez is listening… let’s throw in our disappointment over the education agenda.  And the slow closure of Guantonomo.  And the fractured withdrawal of troops from Iraq and simultaneous build-up in Afghanistan.  And jobs are still disappearing. Hell, let’s just replay the Saturday Night Live skit in case he hasn’t seen it.

And then, having gotten all that off our chest, let us join in a collective epiphany:  that if you voted for change…  you already got it.  If you voted for hope— the Nobel Laureate embodies it.  If you voted for President Obama– an extraordinary figure in an extraordinary time– hang on tight.  Change promises a long and treacherous road out of a darkness he inherited.  It will be worth the journey.

t1port.obama.speech.gi

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Filed under innovation and change, President Obama

DANCING FOR FUNHOUSE MIRRORS

playground

I just looked at the calendar on my IPhone and it says I am supposed to go back to work on Monday.  So be it.  I haven’t really left my work anyway… I have been messing with stuff for the past month:  developing our new program at the Chula Vista Nature Center, researching elements of our plan to eliminate grade levels, writing about how we  raise resilient kids, brainstorming strategies to focus our teaching.  Blogging.

money bagsjpegMeanwhile, I noticed that the state of California still doesn’t have a budget agreement and that there is now a $26.3 billion deficit!  The system is broke and it doesn’t appear that we are even structured to fix it

I noticed that the U.S. Department of Education now has $5 billion in special funding set aside to promote  the development of new innovative practices and I wonder if they are really ready for the innovations we have in mind!

I notice that Arne Duncan and President Obama are tweaking the NEA, the national teacher’s union, about the need for merit pay and opening up more charter schools– and that now they are both on the union “list”.

I notice that the NEA has been adamantly opposed to more charter schools… but they would like to unionize the ones that exist and steal their very best ideas! (By the way… the NEA is more than welcome to replicate our best practices!!!)

I notice that there is still some forward momentum around the effort to create one set of national curriculum standards and simultaneously wonder if that is really what is missing.

I notice that there has been no revision to NCLB and that we are still rolling up all our eggs in a very inadequate assessment basket called the California Standards Test.  And since we are not likely to have hit all of our AYP targets for the first time, and since we chose not to spend valuable learning time teaching our students how to take the test... we will have to be prepared to defend our teaching practices and explain why our kids didn’t score at a level that NCLB demands.   And, of course, we will have to demonstrate — to somebody– that we have a coherent plan for whatever ails us.  And the people we will have to answer to are the ones that can’t seem to do their own job… which is to manage the state’s budget and provide for the needs of children!      

IMG_3762As a matter of fact, I notice that the further away you get from actual classrooms where children and teacher live every day, the more delusional leadership becomes– like dancing in front of funhouse mirrors.  

So… much has changed since we sent our students tumbling into a very brief summer recess back in June.  And yet nothing has changed at all.  Real change and innovation still has to come from within the walls of the school.  And that is why I already set my alarm for Monday morning.

alarm

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Filed under California budget, California charter schools, charter schools, El Milagro, innovation and change, resiliency, school reform, standardized testing, teaching