Thursday, March 24, 2011

The future of big box schooling

This is a repost from Goran Kimovski, I thought he really captured the historical nature of schooling and the design flaws or intentional construction of our current school system. Enjoy!

I recently posted my thoughts on Schooling the World, an important film that takes a look at the value of bringing Western-style education to sustainable indigenous cultures and beyond. I personally -- and as I mentioned in my post, it seems Sir Ken Robinson too -- believe the film raises many important questions which are not limited to either communities of indigenous peoples or the developing countries, but have much wider implication on schoo … Read More

via Cooperative Catalyst

Monday, March 21, 2011

School Redesign vs School Reform

This is a repost from the Cooperative Catalyst

Reform: To return to a good state. Redesign: A plan for making changes to the structure and functions of a system so as to better serve the purpose of the original design, or to serve purposes different from those set forth in the original design. I look at the reform movement in education and see a form of insanity that boggles the mind. It is as if the past education structure was good and all we need to do is bring it back to its previous glo … Read More

via Cooperative Catalyst

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Budgets have two sides: Revenue and Expense

Background: For the past two years, parents from a homeschool group in Cornucopia, Wisconsin, have been working on getting our local school district to approve a charter school. It is a parent driven initiative and we have all volunteered our time with no desire ever to be compensated. Our sole purpose was to provide an alternative choice for parents and kids, but along the way we learned so much more. We learned that existing systems are resistant to change even if not changing may cause the system to collapse.

Tonight our concept of a charter school fell on deaf ears to a resounding vote of no by all board members of the South Shore School District. Instead they voted yes on the implementation of an online learning program because this year 13 of their own students decided to open enroll out of the district choosing online learning programs elsewhere.

The problem with this implementation of online learning in a small rural district is that they are trying to become the middle man in a field full of gigantic providers that already have a large portion of the market share. Online learning is not going to save this district from closing. They are too late in getting into game. Why would you re-create what already exists? Parents don't need the South Shore to enroll in online programs, there are plenty of other providers in WI who have much more experience delivering that kind of programming (See Wisconsin Virtual Learning).

Quaking Aspen Field School's concept was fresh and innovative unlike the delivery of content/worksheets through the Internet. Its concept incorporates the solid foundation in research based theories that promote 21st century learning and human development concepts in motivation. Added to the equation was the ability of Quaking Aspen Field School to thrive on 10K per kid. The current cost to educate a kid on the South Shore is 17K (See Blog Post

This brings us to the title of my post. Budgets have two sides. On one side of the equation is revenue, the other is expenses. Currently South School spent 200K more that it took in this year. If the levy doesn't pass I have been told that that amount will exceed 400k next year. Adding insult to injury, 13 more students decided to leave the school district next year for something different. Which means more revenue loss. If I was an ER doctor; diagnosis of South Shore: Volume shock through hemorrhaging and they can't stop the bleeding. When a patient goes into volume shock (loss of fluid) one answer is to pump more blood into the body. Raise money through a levy. This is a perfectly good solution if you stop any further blood loss i.e. plug the holes. Yet South Shore is unable to find the holes in their programming because they are so focused on the wrong side of the equation.

Instead of finding a permanent fix to their problems they are focussing all of their efforts on pumping more money (blood) into a damaged system. Remember Revenue is supposed to equal Expenses. This will only stabilize the situation temporarily.

Another way of fixing the problem is to attract new people to the school - which will in turn raises enrollment and increases revenue. Still focusing on Revenue. To do that the school needs to develop programs that attract new consumers or bring back old ones (they lost 50 kids last year to open enrollment). Their solution is online learning, which is an uncertain cure. Yet this procedure is very attractive. The cost for implementation is 30% for delivery, with the school district being able to use the other 70% generated to keep the other patient (the current model of school) on life support. Can you say online learning = organ transplants for the day school?

What the South Shore School district has failed to look at is the other side of the budget: Expenses. South Shore refuses to look at changing the way school is delivered to off set the rising cost of education combined with the decreases in enrollment. They have told us that the school runs on a skeleton crew, I know that this is not the case. They have too many specialist doctors, and nurses providing care for too few students. They need General Practitioners, providing holistic care.

Quaking Aspen Field School was a proposal that would allow a 1:15 student to staff ratio, provide high technology, and give students 21st century skills on a budget of 10K a kid. How do I know this can work, because I run a school for the same amount in MN: Northwest Passage High School (NWPHS). Disclaimer: I have no intention of leaving. We have been running this school for 12 years and have won the finance award numerous times from the Minnesota Department of Education.

I know that change is difficult. My purpose is to provide an outside perspective to the desperate situation. Whether the school district approves the charter is not the issue. I see a body in shock. South Shore needs a comprehensive redesign to continue to function. Online learning is a bandaid, and in my opinion will not stop the bleeding. The way I see it, they are placing all their hopes in a levy that is unlikely to pass, and online learning which they are too late to implement.

Sometimes the only way to save a body, is by cutting off a limb. To delay jeopardizes its very life. Just like rural clinics don't have every speciality, rural schools need to embrace the same concepts. Quaking Aspen Field School was that concept.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

My ANNIE Experience at Stage North

My ANNIE Experience
By Charlotte Steckart, a Choral Orphan


It seems like a century ago that I was waiting for my turn in tryouts. The part that I really wanted was Pepper, but it turned out that I got a choral orphan part. But it was fun anyways. I was feeling very nervous. I think Annie was too (her real name is Emily). We had to do some choreography, we had to do some vocals, and then we had to do the acting for the parts we wanted to try out for.

Here I am at Stage North for tryouts.
I got called back a second time. I had to sing "Tomorrow" on the stage for the director, with some kids watching. On that day my vocals teacher made us sing very loud because it was a small theatre, because there isn't any echo. And then, I got the big news in an email. My part in the play was a choral orphan. At first, I was like, "A choral orphan?" and then thought, I can do that anyways, and I'm glad I did, because it turned out to be a blast!!!

At choreography, at first I thought this was boring and hard. Especially stretches. My dance teacher named Allison pushed my back down while doing kind of like the splits, only you sit with your legs spread out, but not fully spread out. Then we had to lay on our back with our legs up and spread out the same way, only in the air. She pushed our legs down. She said I would hurt the next day, and she was right!

Then we started with the dance for the "Hard Knock Life". If you saw the play, it was very hard for Allison to make up her mind. We changed it a couple of practices. For example, we were going to stand on the beds, but then the beds were too small and it was very hard to do that. She called us, the ones on the bed then, Beddies. Then there were some Broomies. I ended up standing on a bed and the principles were on the floor scrubbing in an arrow. For our other song, "Never Fully Dressed" actually got to do free dancing in the middle of it. I was in front for most of that song.

My teacher was Liz and she was there for tryouts. For warmups we would be at the piano at the bar. What we did for warmups, we would say, ma ma ma ma ma ma ma, or la la la la la la, or ze ze ze ze ze ze ze, or moo moo moo moo moo moo moo. We learned not to scoop, which is going up and down again with your voice and hitting the note hard. A high note is a C and it took a lot of practice to get to a C. I learned that when I sing a high note, that I have to sing from my forehead. I liked all the songs and dances I was in.

Blocking is when the director tells you where to stand and what to do while the acting is going on. Sometimes it took a really long time because there was a lot of stops and starts to make sure everything was perfect.

This was kinda the same thing like blocking. Stops and starts and starts and stops. They would say HOLD. And we would have to stay in character in our place on stage so they could fix the lighting and make sure everything is perfect.

The orchestra was in the pit in center stage. We could see Jamie's head sticking up out of the pit. He was the orchestra director. We had to make our dance go together with the music. At first we rehearsed to music on a CD but then we got the orchestra. It was hard at first because it was the same as the lighting. If the orchestra didn't get the tune right, they would say HOLD. The last show was the BEST show! We got our director Heather on stage, and the set crew and the orchestra. It was so much fun.

It was so busy that we had two Grammas to come over and watch my brother and sister when my mom took me to my performances. The schedule looked like this:
Tuesday 2-15 Dress Rehearsal 7:30, Wednesday 2-16 Preview 7:30, 2-17 7:30, 2-18 7:30, 2-19 2:00 & 7:30, 2-20 2:00, 2-24 7:30, 2-25 7:30, 2-26 2:00 & 7:30, 2-27 2:30. On the days I had two shows, I was at the theatre for 11 hours!

The dressing room was filled with a bunch of girls, the choral orphans and the understudies. One girl was named Ki-Lin and we had lots of fun. We would play on a DS, some would draw, and some would play "Honey, I Love You" and other fun games like that.

Once the big girls dropped a paper clip chain on some string with an envelope attached to it down to the bar tender and asked for some candy. He sent up a bag of popcorn and a couple candy bars. It was very funny.

Our costumes were very cool. We hung our costumes on a costume rack. Our shoes were lined up neatly (my mom did that) under our costumes. Terry made our costumes and the bags that we would put our stuff in.

Performing was the greatest thing of all, because you knew everyone was enjoying the play so much. You knew they loved it. When I was waiting for my turn back stage, I was so excited like "Let's do this thing!" and then also tired at the same time. I want to sing on stage again, a lot! I will always be open to any play there is.

Location:Stage North, Washburn, WI

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Innovative Educator: Fix Boring Schools, Not Kids Who Are Bored

The Innovative Educator: Fix Boring Schools, Not Kids Who Are Bored: "When I came across The Best About Me Page You’ll Ever See on my Twitterfeed I expected to see some funky ideas I could use for my own rather..."

Friday, March 4, 2011

Rural School Districts, Design Flaws, and the Need for Change

This is a repost of mine from Cooperative Catalyst

As a child of the late 60’s, I grew up watching Little House on the Prairie. The idea of a small one-room classroom where all ages of children learned appealed to me then and now. I happen to live in a small community on the South Shore of Lake Superior. Some of you may have heard of the names of the towns, all located in Northern Wisconsin: Herbster, Port Wing, Bayfield, Cornucopia, Washburn, and Ashland. What some of you may not know is that this area of Wisconsin is the location of the highest percentages of home-schooled children. Between 10-20% of all school age children are home-schooled.[1] My wife, and I home-school our three children and made this decision before we moved up here.

Some people often scratch their heads when we tell others of our home-schooling decisions. The conversation goes something like this, “But you are both licensed teachers. You both spent years in the public school system teaching kids. Jamie is the Director of a public charter high school.[2] If public schools aren’t good enough for your own children, why do you work there?”

I realize that for a lot of parents home schooling is a challenging choice. There are economic aspects, ability issues, fear, and family issues to name few. I do not advocate that we should abolish the public school system, BUT the current design of school systems is exactly why I choose to home-school my own kids.

As a school administrator of a small charter school in Minnesota, we have carefully considered how our school is designed to meet the needs of children and adolescents. Taking the amazing research from Paulo Freire, Alfie Kohn, Deb Meier, Daniel Pink, Wayne Jennings, Jon Holt, William Glasser, Kurt Hahn and Tony Wagner. We designed a school that gives students real choice, which meets their individual needs. My wife always says, “Northwest Passage is a home-schoolers’ paradise.” In fact we have enrolled many home-schoolers whose parents educated them until 8th grade and for what ever reason have decided that they want their kids to get a high school diploma. You see I believe that students should be encouraged to move from one learning experience to another without penalty. Maybe they home school for awhile this year, next year they take a 5 month service learning expedition with their peers or family. As they get older maybe part of learning happens in an internship. Their learning and growth occurs with the concept that content is “just in time” delivered versus “just in case” delivered.[3]

How does this relate to Little House on the Prairie? Where is the rural connection; the need for change? Let us go back two years. My son was having a great time at his Harry Potter Birthday party. I dressed up as Hagrid and sorted the kids into houses for the scavenger hunt my wife and I set out on the property. 20-25 kids ran around the property searching for prizes. While the chaos commenced, I had a conversation with a parent, about schooling. I told him I ran a charter school. He asked if it would be possible for one to start a charter school up here.

That began the journey of organizing parents who were looking for a different choice for their kid’s education. I had an advantage. I have been designing innovative schools and programs for 20 years. In essence, I knew the system.

So fast-forward to today. We wanted to start a field study school, (See our Facebook Page, also you can download our concept handout.) In January, the local school board held a community meeting, to discuss the possibility of a charter school being started. I was at that meeting. During the discussion two things stuck in my mind. I was asked, “Why don’t you want to work with the school district and does this school have to be separate?” I was told, “We are doing a lot of things you have in your proposal at the school.” There is a design flaw in schools that answers both of those questions.

First, it is not that I don’t want to work with the school district. It is that the school district does not have ability to make a holistic change. They deliver their schooling in an age-segregated, course driven, content silo fashion. I see and hear them play homage to standardized test scores as the way of judging quality. They use grades, honor rolls, and competition to reward and punish students. It is a teacher driven model.

I will admit that there are teachers in the school district that are trying to do things differently. Yet the design of the school prevents and hinders these creative forces from truly being free. This answers the second question. WAKE UP people! Times have changed. We are still using legacy systems to educate our kids for future! (See my recent post on Lessons Learned from MAAP 2011)

I want people to know there are caring people on the South Shore. Every one at that meeting cares about kids, even the people I disagree with. Last week the ad hoc committee decided to recommend to the school board that they vote no on our proposal for a charter school.

This is a tragic and ironic vote. Members of the committee loved the concept of the charter school, yet voted against it due to monetary reasons. That makes sense, right? Wrong! To fully appreciate the irony, you have to understand what is going on with school funding in Northern Wisconsin. South Shore School district claims 214 kids are enrolled, and they generate $17,000 per kid through a variety of funding streams (taxes, special education, state aid (See WIDPI Link for independent verification).

The school district is proposing to increase our school taxes to even high levels this spring, without the addition of a charter school. “You must be joking, Jamie!” In Wisconsin, the average per pupil cost is around $12,500. South Shore spends over 17K per kid and still can’t make it on that amount. They have said to the community, “If the levy fails, we will have to close our doors in two years.” Which would result in children of the South Shore being shipped to other school districts. My response is BS! What is tragic and in my opinion unconscionable is that this does not need to occur.

Remember, when I told you I am the director of a small charter school? Well we educated 200 students and our total budget is $2,060,000 around 10K a kid. Our student to licensed teacher ration is 1:15 (Pretty good for a high school). 27% of students enrolled are special education students. Did I mention the school offers 35-45 expeditions a year that cost the student and families nothing? (See our blog: Did I mention that 60% of graduates go on to college? That 30% of our graduating seniors this year attended college while enrolled in high school.

Why do I say all this? Do I do it to make the people at the school district feel bad? No. I do it because I know in my heart that the South Shore School District could thrive and prosper on 15K per kid, because I do it for 5 grand less. Through a comprehensive school re-design not only will the school district survive, and I think it is VITAL for public schools to exist, but also will be able to transform how kids are taught. Our multi-age, project based learning, advisory driven, and field intensive proposal could be implemented for 10K a student. How do I know we could do this? Because Minnesota has examples of these schools that have been sustained for over ten years.[4] This kind of redesign could set the example for rural communities to flourish.

[1] Nationwide the average is 2-3%. This number is hard to obtain, because a lot of home school families choose not to report their activities to the government due to their fear of reprisals from government officials. Fortunately, Wisconsin has one of the best Home-schooling laws in the nation, due to the incredible work of the Wisconsin Parent Association, for a history of Home-schooling in Wisconsin click the following link.

[2] For the past 11 years I have run a small progressive public school in Coon Rapids, Minnesota (Northwest Passage High School: Ironically, Minnesota has the best charter school law, but their homeschool law leaves much to be desired.

[3] For example we are going to learn the concept of a Pythagorean’s theory because we will be using this when we build a house to check for square versus learning it for the test.