Monday, November 30, 2009

Brutal Heavy Lifting (DO the RIGHT Thing)


En route to the ‘Top’

The carrot is tantalizing: a share of $4.3 bil lion set aside in federal stimulus money to help a handful of states revamp failing schools.

But some in Michigan’s educational estab lishment are balking at the stick: more charter schools, expanded alternative teacher certifi cation, and teacher reviews tied to student performance.

If Michigan is going to win, or even compete for, the federal Race to the Top dollars that are being dangled in front of states, it will need to embrace reforms that have confounded the state in the past.

It’s well worth doing, no matter whose hide gets a little tanned in the process.

In a way, Race to the Top is a shrewd fol low- up to the No Child Left Behind reforms rolled out by former President George W.

Bush. He believed his landmark education act would incentivize states to embrace reforms through the enforcement of tough standards.

He learned pretty quickly that the education establishment could be bullheaded in its recal citrance.

Enter President Barack Obama and his administration, which puts the proposition more bluntly: Enact reforms, or be left out of key federal funding.

Race to the Top requires states who even apply for funds to align their schools with fed eral guidelines. It’s an attempt to change pol icy in a lot of states in a short time.

In Michigan, as in most states, the primary opposition is expected to come from teachers’ unions, which have opposed most such re forms in the past.

But Michigan Education Association presi dent Iris Salters says her organization hasn’t decided whether, or how, it might oppose changes to help the state qualify for the federal money. Her union, Michigan’s biggest for teachers, is working with the governor and the Department of Education to figure out what the state needs to change to compete.

Some of Salters’ concerns are reasonable and ought to help shape the state’s efforts. But if MEA leaders are primarily interested in preserving the status quo, state policymakers will have to move forward without them.

Salters, for example, points out that open ing up broader alternative certification might make it even harder for the 9,000 teachers the state graduates each year to land jobs here.

That may be so for teachers in some fields, but many districts have trouble recruiting good math and science teachers, and alternative certification might help there. Salters cautions that those who’ve mastered specialized con tent areas can’t be presumed to have mastered teaching them, as well. But no one proposes putting wholly untrained instructors in class rooms; reformers simply want to rethink the requirement that every teacher have an educa tion degree.

Salters also says the Race to the Top re quirement to tie teacher performance to stu dent performance is limited to a single test (in Michigan, probably the MEAP), and she ques tions whether that would serve educational purposes. But nothing in Race to the Top pre vents the state from going further. Michigan could create more sophisticated ways to mea sure student achievement. The MEA would do better to help shape those measures than it would to oppose the idea.

The MEA has historically opposed the ex pansion of charter schools. One of its objec tions has been lax oversight. Race to the Top could be seen as an opportunity to tighten that oversight, a long overdue reform, so the expan sion does not come with a downside.

If the MEA is savvy, it could use Race to the Top as a way to help put its own mark on re form.

If it doesn’t, state officials should stiffen their spines to oppose union obstruction. The federal money, and the reforms that are tied to it, are too important to Michigan’s future.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Discovery Channel (Be the Future) (John Iras)


-- Discovery Education Boosts Effort to Fuel STEM Education with Compelling New Digital Content and the Launch of a National STEM Professional Development Program for Educators Nationwide-- 

Silver Spring, Md. - - Underscoring its commitment to leading in science-related programming and education, and answering President Obama's call to action to encourage science literacy, Discovery Communications today announced a new multimedia, multi-year nationwide initiative called "Be The Future." Over the next five years, Discovery will launch a programming block, education curriculum and tools to inspire student learning and careers in the sciences and support the White House's efforts behind science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.  

“Lifting American students from the middle to the top of the pack in STEM achievement over the next decade will not be attained by government alone,” said President Obama. “I applaud the substantial commitments made today by the leaders of companies, universities, foundations, non-profits and organizations representing millions of scientists, engineers and teachers from across the country.” 

“The exploration of science, technology and the natural world is central to the mission and DNA of Discovery Communications and we are incredibly proud to put the full muscle of our content and resources behind this critical White House initiative,” said John S. Hendricks, founder and chairman, Discovery Communications.  

“Through ‘Be the Future’ we will spark the innate curiosity in school-aged viewers and people of all ages, help drive interest and leadership in science-related careers and inspire a lifelong interest in how science shapes our everyday lives.”

A sweeping, multi-platform initiative, "Be the Future" will be built on two primary Discovery businesses: the Science Channel, the only nationally distributed television network devoted entirely to celebrating the wonders of science, and Discovery Education, the leader in digital media for the classroom. Offering services in more than half of all U.S. schools, Discovery Education's standards-based digital media services are scientifically shown to improve academic achievement. "Be The Future" also will reach across other Discovery platforms including, Discovery Channel and other television and online services. 

The cornerstones of Discovery Communications’ commitment include:
    · Commercial-Free Kids' Science Block:  Science Channel will create and launch a new, commercial-free science education programming block, which will air Monday-Saturday on the network. Geared toward middle school students, the block is scheduled to launch in 2010.
    · STEM Connect: Offered by Discovery Education, this new curriculum-based and career development science resource is a module designed to fuel teacher and classroom engagement by helping students link science, technology, engineering and mathematics to the real world.  Through a collection of rich media educational content, career exploration tools, interactives and hands-on activities, STEM Connect makes science concepts come alive. STEM Connect is available today.  
    · The Siemens STEM Academy: Partnering with the Siemens Foundation, Discovery Education will create a national STEM education program for teachers.  Designed to support educators in their efforts to foster student achievement in STEM, the program will include the first online shared repository of STEM best teaching practices, a National Teacher Academy bringing together science educators from across the country, and an ongoing webinar series featuring leading scientists and experts in their fields.  The program will launch on January 1, 2010.
    · "Be the Future" PSA: Discovery Communications will create a “Be the Future” public service announcement and campaign, featuring well-known personalities from Discovery’s networks discussing the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in everyday life and encouraging students to pursue careers in the sciences.  Kicking off the campaign will be a PSA from the hosts of Discovery Channel's hit series “MythBusters,” available in 2010 across all of Discovery’s U.S. television networks and websites.
    · Yearly “Be the Future” Programming Events: Major science series and specials will be developed for Science Channel, Discovery Channel and other Discovery networks, including innovative science-specific episodes of the landmark 60-part Curiosity series.
    · Science Education Research Study: Discovery will spearhead a comprehensive research study to understand the critical role media can play in the quest to inspire students to pursue STEM opportunities. 
    · Discovery Education Annual Student Science Competitions: STEM initiatives also will be woven into Discovery’s annual nationwide middle school science competitions, the Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge and the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.  
“With the launch of ‘STEM Connect,’ Discovery Education is providing educators another tool with which to meet this nationwide challenge to support learning and achievement in science, engineering, technology and math,” said Bill Goodwyn, president, Domestic Distribution and Enterprises and president, Discovery Education.

About Science Channel
Science Channel is broadcast 24 hours a day and seven days a week to nearly 58 million U.S. homes and simulcast on Science Channel HD. We immerse viewers in the incredible possibilities of science, from string theory and futuristic cities to accidental discoveries and outrageous inventions. We take things apart, peer inside and put things together in new and unexpected ways. We celebrate the trials, errors and brinking moments that change our lives forever. To find out more go to

About Discovery Education
Discovery Communications revolutionized television with Discovery Channel and is now transforming classrooms through Discovery Education.  Powered by the number one nonfiction media company in the world, Discovery Education combines scientifically proven, standards-based digital media and a dynamic user community in order to empower teachers to improve student achievement.  Already, more than half of all U.S. schools access Discovery Education digital services.  Explore the future of education at

About Discovery Communications
Discovery Communications (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK) is the world’s number one nonfiction media company reaching more than 1.5 billion cumulative subscribers in over 170 countries.  Discovery empowers people to explore their world and satisfy their curiosity through 100-plus worldwide networks, led by Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, Science Channel, Planet Green, Investigation Discovery and HD Theater, as well as leading consumer and educational products and services, and a diversified portfolio of digital media services including  For more information, please visit

Participatory 21st Century Digital Media Learning Laboratory's and Game Changers

$2 Million Competition Seeks Ideas to Transform Learning

November 23, 2009
(Chicago, IL) — As President Obama called for new efforts to reimagine and improve education in science and math, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced a $2 million open competitionfor ideas to transform learning using digital media. The competition seeks designers, inventors, entrepreneurs, researchers, and others to build digital media experiences – the learning labs of the 21st Century – that help young people interact, share, build, tinker, and explore in new and innovative ways. Supported by a grant to the University of California at Irvine, the competition was planned and announced in partnership with National Lab Day, a movement to revitalize science, technology, engineering and math in schools that was highlighted at a White House event today.
Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA), in cooperation with the Entertainment Software Association and the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, will team with MacArthur to support Game Changers, a new component of the competition. Game Changers will provide awards for the creation of new game experiences using PlayStation’s popular video game, LittleBigPlanet™. SCEA will also donate 1000 PlayStation®3 (PS3™) systems and copies of the LittleBigPlanet™game to libraries and community-based organizations in low-income communities.
“Lifting American students from the middle to the top of the pack in STEM achievement over the next decade will not be attained by government alone,” said President Obama. “I applaud the substantial commitments made today by the leaders of companies, universities, foundations, non-profits and organizations representing millions of scientists, engineers, and teachers from across the country.”
“MacArthur is pleased to team with Sony and National Lab Day to encourage the next generation of innovators to focus on science, technology, engineering and math. Digital media, including games, are the learning labs of the future and this open competition encourages people to consider creative new ways to use digital media to create learning environments that are engaging, immersive and participatory,” said Connie Yowell, MacArthur’s Director of Education. “This competition will help ensure that the new and highly engaging approaches to science, technology, engineering, and math find their way into schools, libraries, museums, and other spaces for learning.”
“This challenge truly embodies what’s possible when you place the learning tools and the opportunity into the hands of creative and imaginative minds,” said Jack Tretton, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America. “When leveraging the innovative technology of LittleBigPlanet and the PS3 system, both advanced and novice gamers have access to an open canvas to learn, build, and explore entirely new kinds of gaming experiences. They can also share their creations with millions of gamers around the world to play, rate, and review their levels. There’s no better training ground for anyone interested in digital media.”
The competition is designed to promote “participatory learning,” the notion that young people often learn best through sharing and involvement. Participatory learning, as defined by the competition, is a form of learning connected to individual interests and passions, inherently social in nature, and occurring during hands-on, creative activities. Successful learning labs and games will exploit all of these elements. Awards will be made in two categories: 21st Century Learning Lab Designers and Game Changers.
The competition includes three rounds of submissions, with public comment at each stage. The public will also be invited to judge the final candidates, including the selection of People’s Choice awards in each category.
“Learning labs are digital media projects that promote hands-on participatory learning,” said Cathy Davidson, Duke University Professor and David Theo Goldberg, Director of the University of California Humanities Research Institute, HASTAC co-founders. “They promote learning together with others, by interactively doing, trying, sometimes failing. When we think of laboratories, the image of beakers and microscopes come to mind, but learning labs help us reimagine and expand our understanding of learning across all domains of knowledge.”
Competition winners will join an existing community of 36 awardees from 2007 and 2008, including a video blogging project for young women in Mumbai, India; a cutting-edge mobile phone application that lets children conduct digital wildlife spotting and share that information with friends; a project that leverages low-cost laptops to help indigenous children in Chiapas, Mexico learn by producing and sharing their own media creations; and an online platform for 200 classrooms around the world that allows young people to monitor, analyze, and share information about the declining global fish population.
The competition is funded by a MacArthur grant to the University of California, Irvine, and is administered by the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory(HASTAC), a virtual network of learning institutions. The competition is part of MacArthur’s digital media and learning initiative, which is designed to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize and participate in civic life. Answers are critical to education and other social institutions that must meet the needs of this and future generations.
Information about the competition, which will begin officially on December 14, 2009, is available at

Friday, November 27, 2009

From WHY to HOW (Disruption 101)

"Disrupting" High School Failure

Can you legislate graduation rates?  Today, the Washington Post editorial board called on the state of Maryland to raise the compulsory age for school attendance, essentially using state law to require students to stay in Maryland high schools until the age of 18 (it is 16 now).  The move, following on the heels of a similar policy adopted by the Montgomery County Board of Education is in direct response to the latest data showing a growing dropout rate in Maryland.  The full editorial can be found here.

Eduflack is all for any measure designed to improve high school graduation rates, but can you really legislate the problem away?  And if so, why just raise the dropout age to 18?  Why not require by law that every student stay in school until they earn a high school diploma or reach the age of 21?  Why not mandate a high school diploma in order to secure a driver's license or buy a beer?

We don't take such steps because such a "stick" approach to high school reform simply doesn't work.  Despite the best of intentions, requiring an intended dropout to stay in school for two extra years rarely results in that "a-ha" moment when he finds his calling in high school, puts himself on the illuminated path, earns his diploma, and leads a successful life.  It leads to two more years of resentment, coupled with two years of wasted resources at the school and district level.

Talk to anyone who has succeeded in high school improvement efforts, and you will hear that the secret to true high school transformation is not about maintaining the current course.  To boost high school graduation rates, we need to make classroom learning more relevant to at-risk students.  We need to personalize courses, connecting directly with students.  We need to bring real-life into classroom learning, through internships, speakers, and any other means that link high school with life.

As part of its efforts to invest in meaningful high school reform models, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has regularly touted the successes of the high school reform model offered by Big Picture Learning.  While the Gates model for high schools has shifted over the years, its praise for Big Picture has been unwavering.  But the Big Picture model has been one of those "best kept secrets" in education policy.  Those intimate with the details are true believers, but many are unawares of what the Rhode Island-based organization is truly doing in schools across the world.  (Full disclaimer, Eduflack worked with Big Picture's founders on their October policy event.)

Last month, Big Picture held its coming out in Washington, DC, educating the policy community on how the Big Picture model fits with the current call for school improvement and innovation.  Touting the need for "disruptive innovation" in school improvement, Big Picture leaders focused on the importance of a student-centered curriculum, a close relationship with teachers, and real world internships to best serve those students at greatest risk of dropping out.  And working in more than 130 schools, Big Picture knows of what it speaks.  More than eight in 10 BPL schools receive Title I funding, while 66 percent of their students are eligible for free and reduced lunch.  Such measures are usually the early markers of dropout factories and graduation problems.  But at Big Picture schools, more than 92 percent of students earn their high school diplomas (compared with 52 percent nationally).  And 95 percent of their students are accepted into college, the first step toward achieving the President's college-educated Americans goal by 2020.

The true measure of Big Picture's effectiveness, though, may best be found in what others were saying about them in DC a few weeks ago.  According to Congressman George Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, "Big Picture is engaging students in discovering the level of context they understand, and how they apply it, and how they appreciate it, and how they can connect it to the next task in education, life, and experience."

And Harvard Business School Prof. Clay Christensen, the author of Disrupting Class and the godfather of the concept of "disruptive innovation" said: "I think that the Big Picture schools are about as great an example of integrating opportunities to feel success with the delivery of curriculum as exists in America.  By knitting together the delivery of the content they need to learn, with projects that allow them to use that they learn and feel successful, they've just done a wonderful thing; and I think it is a beacon for all of us."

High praise from two who know a little bit about the topics of school improvement and comprehensive reforms.  So how does it translate back into what our states and school districts are looking to do through Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation to improve our schools and reform those so-called dropout factories?  Big Picture co-founder Elliot Washor summed it up best as part of their October event: "In our quest to improve public education, we often overlook the importance of the student perspective.  Based on our experiences, students thrive in high school when they see the relevance to their current interests and future plans.  Every student can earn a high school diploma with the right classroom and practical instruction."

The data is there, and folks like Bill Gates and George Miller have recognized the benefits and impact.  Perhaps there really is more to high school improvement than increasing the compulsory age for school attendance.  Relevance and an increased focus on the students surely can't hurt.

MOVING the INNOVATION NEEDLE! (Threading the Eye Informs our Understanding)

Elliot Washor

Elliot Washor

Posted: October 28, 2009 11:50 AM

(Click on Elliot Washor for More Innovative Insights)


The president has indicated that "dropping out is no longer an option," signaling his intention to ensure that all young people obtain a high school diploma so they can earn higher wages, contribute to society, and lead happier lives. He is right to be concerned: About one million students leave school every year without a high school diploma, mostly because of academic problems, disinterest, behavior, and family issues. So, how do schools have to change to reduce dropouts?
One of the most significant changes actually runs counter to a growing trend in education. In order to keep students in school, schools must provide experiences where students learn out of school. Students don't have enough opportunities in the daily school routine to pursue significant and enduring learning where they are treated like adults by the adults they will soon become.
Many students -- even those with good grades -- are bored and disconnected from what goes on in schools. They do not see schools as the place where they can do the learning they want and need to do when and where it makes sense to them. Robert Epstein, former editor in chief of Psychology Today has observed, "In America, most teens face a level of restriction in their daily lives that would not be tolerated for hardened felons. As a matter of fact, a recent study demonstrated that teens today typically have 10 times as many restrictions as adults, twice as many as active duty Marines, and twice as many as convicted felons." It is these restrictions placed upon youth while they are in school that prevent them from having the productive learning experiences that past generations have had.
To understand this view on the dropout crisis, consider what essential conditions need to be in place for all youth to experience productive learning. Here are the questions students might ask about those essentials:
~ Relationships: Do my teachers care about my interests and me? Can I work with and
learn from adults who share my interests?
~ Relevance: Do I find what the school is teaching to be relevant to my career interests?
~ Choice: Will I be able to choose what, when, and how I will learn?
~ Challenge: Do I feel sufficiently challenged in doing this learning and work?
~ Practice: Will I have an opportunity to engage in deep and sustained practice of those
skills I wish to learn?
~ Play: Will I have opportunities to explore and to make mistakes without being chastised
for failing?
~ Authenticity: Will the learning and work I do be regarded as significant outside of
~ Application: Will I have opportunities to apply what I am learning in real-world contexts?
~ Time: Will there be sufficient time for me to learn at my own pace?
~ Timing: Can I pursue my learning out of the standard sequence?
Unfortunately, schools are not designed to offer these essential conditions for learning that youth crave and which figure in nearly every decision to drop out, including those students who stay in school but drop out psychologically. These essential conditions for learning are much more easily provided if schools take advantage of the world outside of schools, where young people can find adults who are doing the work they wish to do in order to develop the habits and practices they will need as thoughtful and productive adults. When students learn outside of school, time is more abundant and flexible. Practice and play focused on relevant and authentic work comes more naturally.
So, what are schools to do? Schools need to engage students with adults in and outside of school as a core part of the student experience. They need to treat students like adults who make real choices about their lives. Young people need to "drop back in" with the understanding that their teachers and mentors are with them, supporting and monitoring their learning when they are out learning.
The variety of ways to engage and bring students into the adult world include internships, service, shadowing, travel, courses on a college campus, field trips, obtaining a certification for work, entrepreneurial and social ventures, and taking a year off to work. These experiences can also be supplemented by connecting youth virtually to people and places around the world.
So, while we absolutely agree with the spirit of the president's statement, we would like to advocate for a focused effort to change schools so students can engage with adults outside of school throughout their high school experience in order to obtain the kind of learning -- and conditions for learning -- they see as essential while also staying connected to their schools. Dropping out, of course, should never be an option, but pursuing great learning opportunities should be, and schools should energetically support these choices and engagements as part of every student's learning portfolio.
Elliot Washor, Ed. D., is Co-Founder of Big Picture Learning, a global leader in education innovation with more than 80 highly successful schools throughout America, the European Union, the Middle East, and Australia. Washor is working on a book about leaving to learn.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

HEAVY LIFTING: No MISDEED HOWEVER SMALL shall escape our scutiny!

DPS: Teacher pawned school laptop for $60

A teacher at Mc Coll Elementary has been suspended without pay after being accused of pawning a school laptop for $60.

The teacher told investigators that the cash was needed for a car repair, Detroit Public Schools officials said.

The incident follows a rash of thefts of more than 500 computers from the school district over the last six months.


DPS teachers contract nearly ready for vote

In an announcement with Detroit Public Schools emergency fi nancial manager Robert Bobb on Tuesday, Detroit Federation of Teachers union President Keith Johnson said negotiations are 99% complete on a contract that expired in June. Both said negotia tors could have a final contract next week.

Johnson is scheduling a contract vote for Dec. 5
 or 6 at Cobo Hall. Neither Bobb nor Johnson would discuss particulars, including the possibility of wage and benefit changes.

TARGET Success!

At-risk students targeted



School officials across Michigan have taken a crucial pledge to keep struggling stu dents in school.

The goal? Keep these kids from giving up and worsening already troubling statistics that show a quarter of Michi gan students fail to graduate on time and 15% drop out.

Nearly 1,100 schools across the state — including all 172 schools in Detroit Public Schools — have signed on to a dropout challenge, according to information released this week by the Michigan Depart ment of Education.

But signing up is one thing. Actually doing something about the problem is another. The state has asked the schools to identify 10 to 15 stu dents who are at risk of drop­ping out.

The schools must then pro vide interventions and sup ports to those students that are proven to work. Among the steps being taken across metro Detroit: extra instruction for students who are behind, as signing mentors to students so they have positive relation ships with adults, easing the transition from middle school to high school, and improving teaching methods.

Though just 30% of the state’s schools signed up, the challenge has the potential to reach more than 16,000 chil dren who might otherwise drop out. And many educators say they won’t stop at just 15 kids.

“We’re not going to say to the rest that we’re not going to worry about you. We’re going to work with everybody,” said Keith Wunderlich, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for L’ Anse Creuse Public Schools

HEAVY "Sifting and Winnowing" (Governor Granholm on Reform Frameworks: Race to the Top and More)

Governor Granholm on Race to the Top

Flashpoint Governor Granholm on Race to the Top 11-22-2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pontiac Schools Community Meeting 11-18-2009 (WOW! A True Learning Organization Experience)

Executive Briefings

Published November 2009

The Role of Curiosity in Learning

Dr. Bea Carson

When was the last time you asked a truly curious question? A question to which you had no idea what the answer was, a question that made the recipient say “hmm”? For many of us, the last time we were truly curious was when we were 5 years old — a naturally curious age.

Institutional Learning

Institutional learning begins with our education system and has much to do with silencing natural curiosity. We send curious 5-year-olds to school, and the first thing they hear is “sit down and be quiet.” Soon after that, we stick a piece of paper in front of them and tell them “know the answers or you fail,” which is repeated for the next 12 to 16 years. Then they enter the workforce and are told “know the answers or you’re fired.”

Institutional learning is a traditional means of learning, where experts have knowledge that they dump into the heads of the students, and the students are expected to regurgitate it. The problem with this type of learning is that it creates a dependent state.

Because most leadership training happens in a classroom — away from the real issues — it can only be a discussion of leadership, not a true learning experience. Individuals learn much faster from experience than from lectures.

Individuals feel anxious when they learn something new. It is critical for these feelings to be part of the learning experience. By including the feelings, the student gets to the meaning of the learning and makes it a part of their being. The student must be empowered in order to survive work and life experiences.

It’s no wonder most of us have forgotten how to be curious — forgotten how to ask truly great questions. There are no rewards for asking great questions — the rewards go to those with the answers.

With the rewards going to those who know the answers, why would we want to be the one asking the questions? Why would we want to go back to being as curious as a 5-year-old?

But for an organization to become a learning organization, it needs to break out of the rut of doing things the same way. It needs to be open to learning and exploring the possible. The first step on the road to becoming a learning organization is to encourage a culture where it is safe to ask questions, a culture where employees are free to question everything.

The Power of Questions

The power of questions is multifaceted. By asking questions, we can:

  • Uncover information about the things we do not know.
  • Express an interest in what another person has to say.
  • Draw another person into a conversation.
  • Make it clear that we are not making assumptions and are open to possibilities beyond our initial reaction.
  • Allow us to uncover underlying causes rather than simply looking at the symptoms.
  • Encourage multiple perspectives.

When we ask someone a question, we force him or her to listen to us. It is only through listening that he or she will be able to respond to the question. Because questions indicate that we care what the other person has to say, trust and openness increase. Perhaps most importantly, questions help us reach a common truth.

What raises the bar from a question just being a question to being a great question?

Great Questions

Many times when a great question is asked, there is a pause in the conversation, followed by the statement, “good question.”

Great questions come from a place of great curiosity. They come from a place of being open to the possible. Great questions make us think more deeply about a situation, uncovering the truth behind what was previously taken for granted.

Great questions can be very difficult to ask because they take us outside our comfort zone. Great questions do not need to be complex.

One of the keys to being able to ask great questions is to listen. To pay attention to what is not said — the nonverbal signals — as well as what is said.

When structuring any type of learning, organizations should harness the power of questions to allow individuals’ natural curiosity to uncover every aspect of the knowledge being imparted and to maximize communications.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Fly Me to the Moon!"

Posted: Wednesday, 18 November 2009 3:38PM

Metro Airport Explores Wind Power

Detroit Metropolitan Airport will further reduce its consumption of fossil fuels by producing its own wind energy at two locations on opposite ends of the facility.

The Wayne County Airport Authority Board approved a contract with Michigan-based Southern Exposure Renewable Energy Co. to install five wind turbines at the airport entrance on Rogell Drive and at the South Cell Phone Lot on Eureka Road.

Unlike the traditional, towering, three-blade, windmill-type turbines, the Windspire units, manufactured by MasTech Manufacturing of Manisee, are cylindrical, vertical-axis wind turbines that operate quietly while generating electricity for immediate use regardless of wind direction. At only 30-feet in height, they easily fit within DTW’s airspace height limitations.

“We have calculated that the two units at the South Cell Phone Lot will, on average, generate 60 to 70 percent of the power needed for the lot’s overhead lights and to illuminate the sign,” said WCAA Director of Facilities and Infrastructure Ali Dib. “On windy days and during daylight hours, we will be feeding electricity back to DTE Energy’s grid.”

The wind energy project is one of many environmentally friendly initiatives at the airport. DTW has been the world leader in recycling aircraft de-icing fluid for eight of the past nine years. The new North Terminal is programmed to harvest daylight and to automatically reduce lighting and cooling in terminal areas not in use. The North Terminal also supplies pre-conditioned air, 400hz power and underground jet fuel to each gate which reduces the need for aircraft engines to be idling and excess vehicles on the ramp. This is expected to reduce emissions of various air pollutants by more than 1,300 tons over the expected life-span of the building.

The airport has installed a solar panel and LED lighting prototype at the North Cell Phone Lot and established more efficient electrical fixtures in the parking structures saving $79,000 in energy costs annually.

In 1999, Detroit Metropolitan Airport received international acclamation for the creation of Crosswinds Marsh, a 1,000-acre wetland preserve constructed in Sumpter Township to replace airfield wetlands disturbed by runway and terminal construction. Described as “Michigan’s showcase wetland,” the preserve continues to provide spectacular habitat for a variety of wildlife and offers public access and educational opportunities for children.

“Many other such initiatives are under way or planned for the future,” said WCAA CEO Lester Robinson. “We continue to look for opportunities to be a friend to the environment while maintaining one of the most operationally-capable airports in the world.”

Pontiac Schools Community Meeting 11-18-2009 (WOW! A True Learning Organization Experience)

Sunday, November 15, 2009


HEAVY LIFTING of the MINDSET (Daniel Pink)

NATIONAL Heavy Lifting MEET the PRESS (Arne Duncan) Sunday, November 15, 2009

ON EDUCATION begins at 19:30 of Video (PATIENCE PLEASE)


Gov. Jennifer Granholm shakes hands as people gather at the state Capitol on Tuesday to rally for increased school funding. (ROD SANFORD/Associated Press)
Posted: Nov. 15, 2009


Education cuts put recovery at risk

Disinvestment in schools will discourage employers


This past week, superintendents, teachers and parents journeyed to Lansing to demand that the Legislature raise money for the School Aid Fund to prevent the deep cuts that will begin impacting our schools within weeks. I strongly support their efforts to prevent these cuts from happening. You don't need to have kids or grandkids in public schools to know that funding for education is vital to Michigan's economy.

Michigan is undergoing an unprecedented, historic economic transformation. The global manufacturing economy has shifted, and Michigan must accept the change and adapt. There's no time for denial, blame or finger-pointing; we must face this new reality head-on. What is the fundamental strategy for success in overcoming this challenge? Education, education, education.

An educated work force is the single most important asset we can have if we want to attract new investment and new good-paying jobs to our state in this knowledge-driven economy. Without action by the Legislature now, schools will have to disinvest -- laying off teachers and increasing class sizes. It has been estimated that these cuts could eliminate three thousand to five thousand jobs in our schools. The Legislature would justifiably do back-flips to bring a major employer with that number of jobs to our state. But so far, with an equal number of jobs at stake in our schools, the Legislature appears to be sitting on its hands.

The cause of this financial crisis in our schools could not be more clear. When our largest employers go bankrupt and citizens lose their jobs, state budget revenues plummet. It's particularly true for the school budget, which is funded in large part by the sales tax. When people don't shop during a recession, money for schools disappears. That's why our School Aid Fund is in deep trouble. Both of the state's nonpartisan fiscal agencies have issued warnings: There is not enough money to fund schools at current levels. The law mandates that when the money is not in the bank, school funding must be cut. But the story doesn't have to end there.

I have asked the Legislature to do two things. First, pass an immediate solution now. Second, work with me on long-term solutions to stabilize funding and reform our education system. In the short term, the Legislature can pass three targeted revenues to soften the blow to schools: freeze the personal exemption on the income tax at this year's level ($55 million), reduce special interest loopholes as much as we have reduced state government departments ($150 million) and tax loose tobacco and flavored cigarillos as we tax cigarettes ($35 million). These three, narrow measures would be a small price to pay to prevent devastating mid-year cuts to our schools.

Schools understand that they will have to accept some cuts this year. They will have to share services and consolidate. Teachers and administrators all must have skin in the game to channel every available cent to the classroom. But the additional deep cuts the Legislature is forcing on these schools cannot stand.

In addition to closing the gap in our School Aid Fund, the Legislature must act now to restore the Michigan Promise scholarship. In order to move our economy forward, we set an audacious goal of doubling the number of college graduates. The Michigan Promise scholarship, promised to almost 100,000 college students this year alone, has been a key part of that strategy. The Legislature eliminated it in the budget, making it much harder for Michigan students and Michigan families to afford higher education. I am asking the Legislature to raise the funds to keep that Promise. It is not too late.

Whether it's in our K-12 schools or in our colleges and universities, we must commit Michigan to educational greatness, not mediocrity. Every economist agrees that if we want a vibrant, diverse economy, we must have a skilled, educated workforce.

That's why I am joining with students, parents, educators and citizens across our great state to fight for a stable stream of revenue to ensure that goal is met. There's no more important issue in our state today if we want to promote economic recovery and more good-paying jobs in Michigan.

Jennifer M. Granholm is governor of Michigan.

LOCAL Heavy Lifting FLASHPOINT Sunday, Novmeber 15, 2009


HEAVY LIFTING: New Information on "Success Factors!"

School Districts to Be Big Players in Race to the Top Contest

By Lesli Maxwell on November 12, 2009 12:45 PM | No Comments | No TrackBacks

It's clear now in the final rules for the Race to the Top grants that states will have to guarantee some big time buy-in from local school districts if they want to snag a slice of the $4 billion prize.

A state's "success factors," which include securing commitments from local districts, is worth 125 points of out of a total of 500. That's second only to teacher and principal effectiveness, worth 138 points. And of those 125 points, 65 are connected to how well a state can guarantee that local districts will carry out whatever reform agenda it proposes.

As Michele McNeil writes in her story today, the support of local school districts is so key that if there's a tie between states, and not enough money to award both of them, then the strength of the districts' commitment is the tiebreaker.

So, just how will a state's school district commitments be judged? According to the rules, states will have to show that districts, through binding agreements, have committed to "implement all or significant portions of the work outlined in the State's plan." On those agreements, Race to the Top judges will be looking for signatures of superintendents, school board presidents, and local teachers' union leaders, as well as "tables that summarize which portions of the State plans [local districts] are committing to implement and how extensive the [local district's] leadership support is."

I scoured the rules to find more on this, and, on page 223, found language explaining that once a state wins an RttT grant, its local districts will have three months to detail how they will implement the state's chosen reforms by completing "specific goals, activities, timelines, budgets, key personnel, and annual targets for key performance measures."

And if you look on page 768 (yes, I said page 768) of the full lineup of rules, you will find a "model" Memorandum of Understanding that the department would consider to be a strong agreement between states and their local school districts.

Judges will also be looking at not just how many districts have bought in, but how broad an impact they will have on student outcomes, which is probably good news for a state like California where it would be next to impossible to corral agreement from more than 1,000 school districts.

If California can get a few of its massive districts such as Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Long Beach, Sacramento, and Fresno to commit, the potential statewide impact would be broad indeed. Those six districts alone educate roughly 1 million of the state's 6 million public school children.

But would that be looked on as favorably, say, as a state like Colorado, where more than half of the 178 school districts have already signed letters of intent to indicate that they are on board?

Heavy Lifting: Underpinnings and Tent-poles


Two years ago, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Center for American Progress, and Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute came together to grade the states on school performance. In that first Leaders and Laggards report, we found much to applaud but even more that requires urgent improvement. 

In this follow-up report, we turn our attention to the future, looking not at how states are performing today, but at what they are doing to prepare themselves for the challenges that lie ahead. Thus, some states with positive academic results receive poor grades on our measures of innovation, while others with lackluster scholarly achievement nevertheless earn high marks for policies that are creating an entrepreneurial culture in their schools. We chose this focus because, regardless of current academic accomplishment in each state, we believe innovative educational practices are vital to laying the groundwork for continuous and transformational change.

And change is essential. Put bluntly, we believe our education system needs to be reinvented. After decades of political inaction and ineffective reforms, our schools consistently produce students unready for the rigors of the modern workplace. The lack of preparedness is staggering. Roughly one in three eighth graders is proficient in reading. Most high schools graduate little more than two-thirds of their students on time. And even the students who do receive a high school diploma lack adequate skills: More than 33% of first-year college students require remediation in either math or English.

We think of educational innovation not as a fad but as the prerequisite for deep, systematic change, the kind of change that is necessary--and long overdue.

But we also believe that reinvention will never be accomplished with silver bullets. Our school system needs far-reaching innovation. It is archaic and broken, a relic of a time when high school graduates could expect to live prosperous lives, when steel and auto factories formed the backbone of the American economy, and when laptop computers and the Internet were the preserve of science fiction writers. And while the challenges are many--inflexible regulations, excessive bureaucracy, a dearth of fresh thinking--the bottom line is that most education institutions simply lack the tools, incentives, and opportunities to reinvent themselves in profoundly more effective ways.

By "innovation" we do not mean blindly celebrating every nifty-sounding reform. If anything, we have had too much of such educational innovation over the years, as evidenced by the sequential embrace of fads and the hurried cycling from one new "best practice" to another that so often characterizes K-12 schooling. States and school systems, in other words, have too long confused the novel with the useful. Rather, we believe innovation to be the process of leveraging new tools, talent, and management strategies to craft solutions that were not possible or necessary in an earlier era.

Our aim is to encourage states to embrace policies that make it easier to design smart solutions that serve 21st century students and address 21st century challenges. The impulse to either dictate one-size-fits-all solutions from the top or simply to do something--anything--differently will not address our pressing needs. Instead, this report seeks to foster a flexible, performance-oriented culture that will help our schools meet educational challenges.

Today, various organizations are addressing stubborn challenges by pursuing familiar notions of good teaching and effective schooling in impressively coherent, disciplined, and strategic ways. Some are public school districts, such as Long Beach Unified School District in California and Aldine Independent School District in Texas. An array of charter school entrepreneurs are also working within the public school system and seeing encouraging results, such as the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Academies, YES Prep, Aspire Public Schools, Green Dot Public Schools, and Achievement First. Other independent ventures have also devised promising approaches to important challenges, including Citizen Schools, EdisonLearning, The New Teacher Project, K12 Inc., Blackboard Inc., Wireless Generation, Teach for America, and New Leaders for New Schools.

Even these marquee reformers, however, struggle to sidestep entrenched practices, raise funds, find talent, and secure support. Moreover, these highly successful ventures often pale when viewed beside the larger K-12 enterprise. The 80-odd KIPP schools, approximately 130 school leaders trained annually by New Leaders for New Schools, and 2,200 teachers trained each year by The New Teacher Project are dwarfed by the nation's 14,000 school districts, 100,000 schools, and 3.2 million teachers. The challenge is to boost the chance that creative problem solvers will ultimately make a real, lasting difference for our nation and our children.

Fortunately, our report comes at a time when national attention to educational innovation is on the upswing. The new federal Race to the Top Fund has brought additional attention to the need to rethink our system, for instance, while numerous other efforts are under way at the state and local levels. It is far too early to endorse any particular plan or to say which ones will be effective. But now is the time for state leaders to show the political will to pursue reform.

Along the way, high standards, accountability, and sensible progress measures are essential. But care must be taken not to allow familiar modes of measurement to smother reform. Too often, reformers tend to embrace only those advances that we can conveniently measure with today's crude tools, such as grades three-to-eight reading and math scores. The principal virtue of the No Child Left Behind Act, for example--a much-needed focus on outcomes and transparency--has been coupled with a bureaucratic impulse and an inflexible, cookie-cutter approach to gauging teacher and school quality. We must not retreat from the promise of high standards and accountability. But we should also embrace what might be called smart quality control. That means measuring the value of various providers and solutions in terms of what they are intended to do--whether that is recruiting teachers or tutoring foreign languages--rather than merely on whether they affect the rate at which students improve their performance on middle school reading and math tests.

Improved accountability and flexibility, while vital, will not be enough to achieve the changes we seek: Capacity building is also crucial. We define this overused term to mean the need for a variety of new providers that deliver additional support to educators in answering classroom and schoolwide challenges. More broadly, however, this effort must be complemented by giving new providers the freedom and encouragement they need to promote high-quality research and development, and to develop innovative "green shoot" reform ventures that pioneer more effective tools and strategies.

Ultimately, though, the key to improving results will be to help schools not only to avoid mistakes, but to position themselves better to adopt imaginative solutions. In brief, for reform to take hold our states and schools must practice purposeful innovation.

To examine the degree to which states have developed such a culture, we focused on eight areas:
  • School Management (including the strength of charter school laws and the percentage of teachers who like the way their schools are run)
  • Finance (including the accessibility of state financial data)
  • Staffing: Hiring & Evaluation (including alternative certification for teachers)
  • Staffing: Removing Ineffective Teachers (including the percentage of principals who report barriers to the removal of poor-performing teachers)
  • Data (including such measures as state-collected college student remediation data)
  • Technology (including students per Internet-connected computer)
  • Pipeline to Postsecondary (including the percentage of schools reporting dual-enrollment programs)
  • State Reform Environment (an ungraded category that includes data on the presence of reform groups and participation in international assessments)
Our data come from a wide variety of sources, from federal education databases to our own 50-state surveys. We should note that the data limitations we encountered were a significant hindrance to our efforts, even more so than when we prepared our first Leaders and Laggards report.

We received invaluable assistance from an outside panel of academic experts. We shared our methodology with Jack Buckley, professor of applied statistics at New York University; Dan Goldhaber, research professor at the University of Washington; Paul Herdman, president of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware; Monica Higgins, professor of education at Harvard University; and Richard Ingersoll, professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. The panel reviewed our approach and results, and provided helpful feedback. However, our research team takes full responsibility for the methodology and resulting grades.

In many respects the recent troubles of the auto and newspaper industries provide a cautionary tale for today's education policymakers. Analysts predicted structural challenges in both industries for decades. Outside consultants urged major change. Yet altering entrenched practices at businesses from General Motors to the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News proved enormously difficult. And the results of inaction for both organizations were disastrous. The same must not happen to our nation's education system. The stakes are just too high.

The findings and recommendations detailed in the following section cover everything from the need for more thoughtful use of technology to the overarching importance of giving educators flexibility in meeting shared student-achievement goals. In particular, we believe that reform requires a nondoctrinaire emphasis on overhauling the status quo and replacing it, not with some imagined one best system, but with a new performance-oriented culture that may take many forms. In the end, we think of educational innovation not as a fad but as the prerequisite for deep, systematic change, the kind of change that is necessary--and long overdue.

As we observed two years ago in our first Leaders and Laggards report, even as businesses have revolutionized their practices, "student achievement has remained stagnant and our K-12 schools have stayed remarkably unchanged--preserving, as if in amber, the routines, culture, and operations of a 1930s manufacturing plant." Now, as we look forward, our aim is nothing less than to crush the amber. That is the challenge before us.