Tag Archives: innovation

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

BLAZED

Delaware and Tennessee were evidently the big winners in the Race to the Top dough.  Delaware, which was ranked No. 1 on the competition’s 500-point grading scale, will win about $100 million, while Tennessee, which came in second, will get something like $500 million.  That’s cool for them.  But I read their plans.  I studied the language.  They talk about:

Expectations, accountability, student achievement, test results, teacher evaluation, teacher quality, academic standards, standardized testing, labor and management and consensus and shared decision making…

Then I wondered…

Wasn’t  Race to the Top money awarded  to encourage school reform?  Real Innovation?  A billion dollars worth of fresh thinking?  Transformation? Transcendent change?

Isn’t it true that if you keep doing the same things over and over again… even if you call it something new… you’ll get the same results?

Tennessee’s Education commissioner, Timothy Webb said:  “We believe that if you take all of the technology out of the classroom, … but you leave the highly effective teacher interacting with students, the students will grow.  All those other things are great to have, but we know without a shadow of a doubt that we have to invest in great teachers.”

I get his point and they are not proposing to remove technology from their classrooms ( at least, I don’t think)… but the premise here is that teachers alone are enough to create extraordinary schools.  We know you can’t have extraordinary schools without them.  But what about a “highly effective teacher interacting with students” and using the tools that our students will actually need when they finally escape the gravitational pull of a K-12 public education system and go into the world to invent a new future?

Or at least try to keep up with the one we have.

Arne Duncan, our Secretary of Education said when awarding Tennessee and Delaware the RTTT  prize money:  “We now have two states that will blaze the path for the future of education reform.”  And I hope they do.

But if you are going to”blaze” a new path you have to first get off of the old path.

For less than the $500 million dollars that President Obama invests in racing to the top in Tennessee… there are schools that will be blazing!

El Milagro.

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Filed under California charter schools, charter schools, El Milagro, innovation and change, President Obama, public education, school reform, standardized testing, technology in schools

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

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