Tag Archives: charter schools

BEYOND YOUR SCHOOL’S TATTOO

A few years ago The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology released a study on the trend of tattooing. In it, they estimated that 24% of the population between the ages of 18 and 50 had at least one tattoo. But that was five years ago. It is likely much higher now.

And the most popular tattoo? It is the tribal band, a sun or butterfly, or some Chinese script that one can only hope means what you think it means when you commit to wearing it for the rest of your life.

A tattoo is all about commitment and communicating your “brand”.

So I wonder why our parents and our teachers don’t routinely get tattoos of our school logo. Come to think of it, I see all kinds of tattoos every day at my school, but I have never seen even one that promotes our brand.

That’s troubling. Not because I want to see a bunch of tattoo designs of our school, but because tattoos are the the ultimate expression of a customer’s faithfulness to a product. The single most powerful indicator of customer loyalty is when clients willingly share their positive experience with family and friends and urge them to see for themselves. It is the concept of “net promoter”.

And how do citizens of a capitalist and democratic society express their product loyalty? Through their frequent patronage. By word of mouth. By wearing a tee shirt (Hard Rock Cafe-London?) Through Twitter and Yelp and Facebook.

And by affiliating oneself to an idea… symbolically captured in a tattooed brand: the mercedes benz hood logo, the channel interlocking “c’s”, the nike swoosh, the flirtive persona of the playboy bunny, the venerable “NY” of the New York Yankees.

If you were to Google tattoo designs for Harley Davidson you would find pages and pages of them and no shortage of examples carved into every conceivable body part. It is a small price to pay for attaching oneself to the notion of raw power, independence and engineering excellence. Tattoos are, among other things, metaphoric.

If you Google tattoo designs for your school, on the other hand, chances are you won’t find any. You won’t find my school either and that’s the problem. Our stakeholders would sooner ink images of automobiles or household appliances or tobasco sauce to their forearms than their neighborhood school.

There may be some reasons for that:

• Product brands are familiar and reliable and often represent an attribute that an individual is willing to “advertise” for the rest of his or her life. It is less about the product and more about the metaphor. And our schools don’t make good life-long metaphors.

• When schools do show up as tattoos they are logos for universities like USC or Notre Dame or the bright red “A” of the Crimson Tide. But don’t be mistaken. These tattoos are not in tribute to the math department or to the fine services rendered over in accounting. They represent football teams that win more than they lose. Teams with history and swagger. We all like a winner. The Trojans may be on probation but they certainly aren’t in Program Improvement.

• Perhaps most importantly, if someone is willing to tattoo the icon of a business or product to their body, it is because that brand is incontrovertible and well defined. There is no going back. There is, for example, no debate about who (or what) the Apple or Target icons represent.

The neighborhood elementary school? That’s a different story.

But if people have a positive enough experience in the marketplace, if they are so passionate about a product that they feel it in their bones, if they are willing to shout from the rooftops, to at least buy the (Ferrari) tee shirt until they can afford the car– then you have a brand that works.

And if people are willing to compromise their career aspirations for a visible tattoo, to endure the stinging pain and fuss with the healing process, to brook the criticism from mom and the in-laws, to say nothing of their jealous friends’ incessant chiding–it is only because they believe so deeply in what that brand represents.

And, sadly, that is why there aren’t a lot of public schools represented in tattoos. Neither for metaphoric value. Nor for the sake of sentiment.

When it comes to our experience in public schools, there simply is no “brand” identity that invokes the kind of passion required to allow some 19 year old to carve a Chevy monster truck with Bridgestone tires into your ribcage. We forfeited that responsibility to the marketing genius of politicians who chose instead to brand public schools in a far less generous light: as ineffective, archaic, moribund sinkholes that waste taxpayer dollars.

Time for a different brand. Time to promote the extraordinary capacity of teachers and schools to not only engender amazing academic results in whatever test you want to gives us… but to simultaneously prepare students for a future that they will actually inherit– one that will no doubt require them to think, create, innovate, problem solve, communicate (in multiple languages) and work effectively with others.

What would that brand look like? And would you be willing to tattoo the icon to your body if it all lead to extraordinary results?

(This post also appears on LeaderTalk)

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, innovation and change, public education, school reform, teaching

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)

Leave a comment

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

A RACE TO THE TOP

tour djpegAfter the 10th stage of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong sits in third place.  Amazing.  What an athlete.  The Tour de France has to be one of the most grueling events in competitive athletics and he continues to put himself in a position to win in that legendary bicycle Race to the Top

Now that has a ring to it: “The race to the top.” And evidently President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan think so too.  In fact, they have set aside BILLIONS of federal dollars as part of a stimulus package to encourage states to “race to the top” in school reform.

At this point in the race, however,  we don’t have many details.  For example, no one seems to know what the rules are for the race or where exactly  the “top” is.  There definitely is a “Race to the Top Fund” that is a component of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that Congress approved in February, but there are no guidelines to tell you when you win or when you lose or even when you can climb off  your freakin bicycle and have a cold gatorade.

arnejpegPundits seem to think there are some clues in Duncan-speeches that suggest that the states on the inside track in this epic Race to the Top  are those who 1) are committed to improving low performing schools; 2) states that are lifting caps on charter schools; 3) states that are big on improving teacher quality; 4) states that are moving their data systems into the 21st century, and 5) states that are on board with the whole “national academic standards” drive.

Given that description, states that are in the back of the pack about a small French village away from the leader group, include: 

• Alaska, Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas—because they don’t want to play the national standards game.  

• Indiana and Maine because they  are considered “unfriendly” to charter schools.  Shame on them.

• California, New York, and Wisconsin who are all guilty of constructing “firewalls” between student and teacher data.

• Illinois because, in general,  their school system (even under the leadership of Arne Duncan) just suck.

The current leaders… that is, those who are vying with Lance Armstrong for the yellow jersey include:  Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, and Louisiana. (Nearly 70% of the schools that re-opened in New Orleans after Katrina are charter schools!)

up hillSo I wonder…  as the facts and the details of the Race for the Top Fund come to light, what kind of pressures will individual states bring to bear on their schools?  California is facing a $26.5 billion deficit and while the federal money won’t bridge that gap, it would certainly encourage re-investment into the system.  It would suggest we are headed down (or up) some positive path and maybe that we have a half a clue of how to catch up with the race leaders and sprint to the finish.  

I wonder if Arne Duncan is prepared for the kind of innovation that the lure of $5 billion can buy.

Billions of dollars on the table.  Bragging rights.  A poorly fitting yellow jersey that nevertheless looks pretty nice on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  New standards and expectations. 

I suspect that high stakes testing is about to get higher stakes.

lance

1 Comment

Filed under California budget, California charter schools, charter schools, President Obama, public education, school reform, standardized testing

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

Leave a comment

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

EL MILAGRO AT A CROSSROADS

crossroadsThis is the anniversary of my first blog.  I have now been blogging for a full year.  59 posts, 147 comments and countless hours and caloric expenditures of creative energy later… here I am.  Somewhere.

But this week I had an epiphany.  

On Thursday  I contributed a comment to Scott McLeod’s blog called Dangeously Irrevelevant, and somehow I think it got deleted.   He is a professor in Iowa and a frequent critic of public education and his own children’s schools. Blogs are good for asking challenging questions and he usually asks some tough ones.  But I took exception to this:

Does anyone think that we were doing a fine job of meeting the needs of underserved populations before ‘the tests?’ Have we all forgotten that school has been boring for generations?

It’s not ‘the tests.’ It’s our unwillingness and/or inability to do something different, something better.

It’s not ‘the tests.’ It’s us.

So whose schools are we talking about?  His kids go to school in Iowa for God’s sake– hardly the crucible for school reform.  Yet this is the kind of statement I see made all the time, especially from university professors who have little room to question the quality of instruction at the K-12 level. So I said, in effect, “I disagree.  We are doing something different at Mueller Charter School and it certainly isn’t boring.” And I cited our partnership with the Chula Vista Nature Center as an example.

Maybe citing Mueller Charter School is considered self-promotion on somebody else’s blog.

Maybe my objection was deleted because I used my own school, as I often do, as an example of a public school that works.

Maybe the critics of the K-12 system don’t like to acknowledge “isolated examples” of schools that work– even though charter schools exist to serve as innovative and sometimes “isolated examples” of courageous change. The way I see it, one example from El Milagro is as valid as criticizing the entire K-12 system on the basis of a single school in an Iowa cornfield.  

So whatever. Dangerously Irrelevant has to live up to its name.  My blog merely needs to live up to El Milagro— the miracle.

All I know is that I am investing too much time commenting and debating in this medium; I’m expending too much creative energy on trying to be a participant and build an audience for my blog.  

I have a school to run.  I have students and staff who need my creative energy to be devoted to them. I have several book projects winding their way to completion.  And we have two extraordinarily promising projects on the drawing board that could profoundly transform our school (and any other school that pays attention to our work.)  

So this is as good a reason as any to steer my blog (and my blogging) in a different direction.  I’m just going to document the transformation from Mueller Charter School into El Milagro and leave the debating to the critics on the sideline.

As for the two projects… stay tuned.

2 Comments

Filed under California charter schools, El Milagro, environmental studies, public education, teaching, Uncategorized

MUSICIAN’S VILLAGE

dsc_0070

Spring Break just ended and I have now gone the longest I have ever gone between posts.  It is bad practice, no doubt,  to miss my weekly publishing day (which is normally Saturday!).  But I have a good excuse.

dsc_04111Anne and I have just returned from New Orleans where we volunteered for service with Habitat for Humanity and helped build homes in Musician’s Village. That is, we helped in the way that volunteers help when they have limited experience with actually building, using power tools, climbing ladders or hanging from roofs. But we helped. 

And as always, the ambiance of New Orleans was amazing.  

But so is the heartache. And so are the wonderings.

And so I wondered, 4 years after Katrina, why there are still hundreds (thousands?) of homes with holes in the roofs and boarded up windows and debris piled in the yard.

dsc_0376_2I wondered why so many  of those uninhabited houses still bore the crimson “X’s” spray-painted by search and rescue teams and framing the cryptic code for the number of  victims still inside.  And I wondered how those search tattoos worked on the psyche of children and adults alike.

I wondered why in some neighborhoods, all of the properties are restored, while in the poorer, more segregated neighborhoods, entire block are still abandoned. (Actually, I didn’t really “wonder “why this is happening at all.  These are the same people that were abandoned from the day the hurricane hit. They were left on bridges and rooftops and dumped into sports arenas.  And they still aren’t getting much help.)

So I wondered if the guy they keep trotting out as “the next Republican contender for president, the governor of Louisiana, has been in the Lower Ninth Ward lately.  I wondered how you can approach the problems and challenges of the presidency if you can’t tend to the needs of your own community.

I wonder how many people moved back into homes that they shouldn’t have moved back into.  Homes where the walls are filled with mold and the cockroaches prop up rotting foundations on their backs.

I wondered why so many schools still aren’t operational yet and how much longer it is going to take.

But then again, I wonder what we can all learn from a resilient city that has bet the majority of its waterlogged educational system  on the promise of charter schools .

I wondered, with the return of so many musicians to New Orleans, could the city’s full revival be far behind?

dsc_0249

dsc_02661dsc_0305

 

 

 

And I wondered how the children are since Jazz Became Hope.

dsc_0256

2 Comments

Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, resiliency, spiritual intelligence, Uncategorized

ALONE FROM EL MILAGRO AND INTO THE BORDER WAR

trolleyjpegWhen the bright red San Diego Trolley pulls into the San Ysidro station at 4:30 on a weekday afternoon, it opens its doors to thousands of people coming or going into the early dusk.  This is the Tijuana border crossing.  The busiest international port in the world.  Mexico’s day laborers silently shuffle across the footbridge to the caracol.  Their heads bowed.  Their eyes, darting nervously.  No matter how many times they have made this crossing in the past five or twenty or fifty years, this is no time for complacency. 

carsJust moments ago they were in America.  They were tending the landscape or working in fields or changing hotel linens or cooking in restaurants or cleaning homes.  Service, labor, business. They are cogs in the wheel of an ailing international economy.  As they cross into their homeland, they are no doubt welcomed by the unmistakable aroma of Mexican gas, street corner taco stands and open fires.  There are miles of choking cars and buses and taxis.  And there are too few police.  

It is no comfort to the border crossers that two more police officers turned up dead this morning. They had been bound, gagged, tortured, and executed. And even more chilling, they had been warned by the drug cartels in a brazen threat broadcast over their own police radios to the beat of narcocorridos.  Tijuana is a war zone.  Tijuana is out of control.  

And if it is no place for adult citizens who have made the silent journey to their jobs in America every day for decades, it is certainly no place for Jorge.

Just an hour ago he was leaving Mueller Charter School– El Milagro—  by way of our back gate. When the three-fifteen bell dismisses a thousand kids into the afternoon, there is an explosion  of energy.  There is running and boys chasing each other into the grass. Parents line their cars up all the way to Broadway to pick up their children.  And the parents will wait because God knows they don’t want them walking home alone.  Too dangerous.

running1

But Jorge carves his way through the playful chaos.  Quietly.  Silently.  As if to mirror the faceless adults who have been his anonymous companions on his daily commute.  He walks down the back driveway of the long apartment complex.  Passed the trailer park.  Across H Street and into the Trolley station.  Every fifteen minutes another trolley stops and he looks for the Blue Line running south to San Ysidro.

Jorge may be Mueller Charter School’s most resilient child.  And we are filled with resilient children.  We grow resiliency.  We study it and foster it and promote it and we have teachers and counselors who are authorities on it.  We are frequent conference presenters on resiliency.  Ryan is focussing on “resiliency in immigrant children” as a potential doctoral dissertation.  I am writing a book about it.

But nothing prepared us for seeing the very personification of resiliency in the dark eyes of Jorge. We had him on our radar screen.  We had discussed him a few weeks earlier at our quarterly Resiliency Monitoring session with his classroom teacher.  We categorized him as a “Quadrant 1”. In our system, that means Jorge is facing dire life crises.  He is in immediate need of urgent care. gunmanjpegHe is in our version of ICU.  There had recently endured unspeakable family tragedies including the decapitation of relatives in the border war.  

But now America’ imploding economy was closing in on him even more.  He and his mom had recently been evicted and they had to return to living quarters somewhere in the squalor of Tijuana. She couldn’t ask for help because she was afraid that Jorge would be disenrolled if we discovered they were living back in Tijuana.  California law is clear.  Not even charter schools can serve children living across the border in Mexico.

So every day, Jorge climbed the trolley and made the trip to Tijuana alone.  He struggles in math. He struggles in reading and writing.  He struggles with English.  But he never misses school.  He finds a way to get here, even if he has to step over bodies piling up on the border to do so.

And that is resiliency.  Jorge is 8 years old.  His story brought tears to our eyes when we talked about him in our staff meeting on Friday.  

We will be able to get his mom relocated and help them with housing and other basic needs. Our efforts will not be reflected in our API because Jorge will tank on that test.   But we owe him for what he has taught us about ourselves.   About how children, even as young as eight, are willing to rise above adversity for this opportunity to learn.  Jorge is a child worth fighting for.  Regardless of his standardized test score, he is one of our most gifted children.  It is called the spiritual intelligence.

silhouette

Leave a comment

Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, resiliency, spiritual intelligence