Skip to content

@NatlHeadStart, early learning programs making a difference!

August 13, 2014

I published a recent post, Investing in birth-to-age-3 #education programs is a great bet!, that referenced an article published in Education Week making the case that investing in early learning programs was a good bet.  In the Ed Week article, there was a reference to a study out of the MIT Workplace Center that also substantiated the correlation between investing in early learning programs for young children and gains later in life.

In my post, I wrote:

Let’s invest now and not be faced with what Schippers suggest might be too little too late.  Every day we wait, more and more children are being left unprepared for school and unprepared for becoming a productive member of society.

In another post, Added value from effective #pre-k programs, reform requires courage, I tried to make the case for continuing to invest in Head Start, a federal program that supports young children and their families so that they are ready for school.  Head Start’s support addresses a variety of needs that poorer families have, which if unmet result in their children being unprepared for their future schooling.  I wrote:

The other program that provides support for early learning is Head Start (click here for Head Start of Georgia). Since 1965 Head Start (click here for national office of Head Start) has provided support to families that otherwise could not afford early learning programs. As indicated, research does point to the value of providing young children with high-quality early learning programs as a way to close the achievement gap that we see in their later school years. Head Start’s approach in promoting school readiness has been to provide wrap-around services to address a child’s cognitive, social-emotional, health and safety needs while supporting a family and the parents’ participation in their child’s education.

In a recent Education Week article, Focus on Youngest, Neediest Endures, written by Christina Samules, she makes a compelling case for why we need to invest in Head Start and the thousands of programs it supports.  Head Start currently costs US taxpayers about $8 billion dollars a year.  The resources reach upwards of 1 million children and their families.  At a cost of $8,000 per child and family that seems like a bargain if the resources are invested in helping the child and family become school-ready.  It seems like a no-brainer.  While there are some problems that Head Start faces, they can be resolved through the efforts of committed and creative educators.

Put Head Start spending into context with regard to spending taxpayer dollars on other “big-ticket items.”  We have little trouble spending money on building and maintaining a nuclear submarine.  We spend about $30 billion dollars over the life of a sub to build and maintain it.  That’s ONE submarine! reports the following statistics.

Buying and operating a dozen new nuclear ballistic missile submarines will cost the Defense Department $347 billion over the life of the boats, according to a memo signed this month by the Pentagon’s acquisition chief.

How many of us actually benefit from the dozen submarines circulating the globe.  Politicians would say that they are part of our national defense.  A vital investment!  I would argue that if we don’t spend the $8 billion dollars on Head Start, resulting in many of the 1 million children getting left behind and becoming disenfranchised from society, there is a greater cost to our national security.

Say we only had 8 nuclear submarines navigating the globe.  We would say about $120 billion dollars which could go towards funding Head Start for 15 years and helping 15 million children and their families potentially break the cycle of poverty.  Not a bad tradeoff!



Ideas from TED provide #inspiration for #STEAM

August 3, 2014

During this past week, I watched a series of TED talks seemingly unrelated to one another.  Only to discover that they all had connections to the thinking I have been doing about STEAM curriculum in K-12 schools.

Schools are now embarking on a journey to define themselves as “STEAM schools” or schools interested in designing STEAM activities connected to their curriculum.  One question educators might ask themselves: why go down this path?  One reason is that when projects, activities or curriculum are designed to illuminate for students the intersection of “ways of thinking” in science, technology, engineering, art and math, they can inspire students to deeply engage in learning.  Another reason is that creative people in the “work world” are exploring the intersection of these disciplines, designing innovative solutions to complex problems or creating wonderful pieces of art that entertain or arouse our curiosity.

Each of the innovators below explores the boundaries of the STEAM disciplines, paying close attention to where they can find connections that allow them to answer their driving question.

If you are interested in STEAM integration for your school, watch this set of talks for inspiration.  I think they provide justification for moving forward with designing STEAM curriculum in K-12 schools, especially if we want to graduate students who are as innovative as these four folks.




#ISTE2014 : Technology, the Means to an Elevated Education

July 31, 2014

Ever since I started exploring ideas about education “reform,” I’ve been interested in leveraging the power of technology to help form an ideal learning system. For this reason, I was drawn to attend the International Society of Technology in Education’s 2014 conference (ISTE) that was taking place in my hometown (#iste2014).

Throughout the four-day conference, many of the sessions I attended supported the idea of technology as a tool and a means to achieving our educational goals. ISTE affirmed for me that the introduction of technology can lead to a more interconnected, global classroom with students engaged and at the center, taking charge of their own learning. These suppositions are not new, but at ISTE I was intrigued by the wave of new ways to reach these goals. With improved technology comes greater possibilities and I took away a series of best practices for each of the key “powers of technology” I identified.

  • Power #1: Technology opens the doors to a global classroom.
    • The first session I attended was a series of Ignite talks and round table discussions, a rapid format designed to squeeze the most ideas into a limited amount of time. As a result, I ended up hearing a multitude of ways teachers are expanding their classrooms past the brick and mortar walls. For example, UNICEF has come up with a collaborative online portfolio of international education resources that can be found at Mail-order elephants (modern day flat Stanleys), mystery Skypes and international e-pen pals were a few that truly stood out. Many teachers also suggested asking the students what they want to gain out of the year and how global learning could help them achieve those goals. Each project was designed to foster not only knowledge of other areas of the world but also form relationships with people outside of the students’ cities and build an international community.
  • Power #2: Technology fosters greater engagement.
    • In that first ignite session, I spent my roundtable discussion with Vicki Davis, co-creator of the Gameify project, an inter-generational learning experience. Her students tried to identify what makes an “effective” game, linking ed-theory with game theory. They joined MOOCS and tested over 50 games to see their benefits. Only a few met all the students’ criteria of an effective game – one that is both engaging and informative. Sadly, the conclusion they reached with a majority of the games was that the highly engaging ones didn’t teach much and the highly educational ones aren’t very interesting. As a next step, the class wants to partner with older, more experienced coders to create the “perfect” game that would pass the rigorous judgment they’ve become accustomed to passing.
    • I got a chance to see some of the educational games currently available up close and personal on the second full day of the conference. I sat in on a session between Dell and Brainpop that gave me the opportunity to play a handful of online games in Science, Math, and English, that targeted different specialties and professional fields. I was surprised at how engrossing some of them were and how completely boring others were. Despite having seen the research, I hadn’t realized how obvious the difference was between a game that was good (engaging and informative) and bad (monotonous, too general and/or not actually educational).
  • Power #3: Technology gives students greater autonomy.
    • On the first real day of the conference, I visited the general poster session, a hall full of different projects and teams from across the world, eager to share how they use technology in education. One of the booths that particularly intrigued me presented a “student voice and choice” curriculum. These teachers had their elementary students blogging and tweeting about what they learned and did each day, allowing them to learn by doing rather than having the teacher talk at them all day. Furthermore, 20 minutes of each class were dedicated to a project chosen by each student. The project guidelines were few and simple; the students didn’t have to be researching or solving a problem, just pursuing something that they were passionate about and producing a final result at the end of the year, be it a presentation or a product. I found this model simple yet very effective and admired how technology simply helped the students gain control of what they were learning.
    • The last session I attended on the final day of the conference was all about changing the paradigm. The public school system of Manor, TX created an innovative student leaders program with a group of students who showed that they know how to integrate technology into their everyday lives. These schools realized that the students of my generation, the so-called “digital natives” are already well versed in a lot of technology and programs that schools are adopting. Therefore, rather than wasting time, money and energy in training certain teachers with no prior knowledge who in turn would teach others, the logical choice was to put the students in charge of technological professional development of all teachers.
  • Power #4: Technology allows students to learn with real world applications.
    • In addition to the sessions scattered throughout the days, an entire level of the conference space was dedicated to a sponsor/vendor expo. There, big companies like Adobe and Google talked about their new products and their educational initiatives and tools to large crowds while smaller companies like Bretford took up just as much space showcasing their flexible, re-arrangeable furniture/desk sets that come with built in charging stations. One of the smaller companies that really grabbed my attention was Bizworld. Bizworld endeavors to teach entrepreneurship to elementary students. Their newest product, Bizmovie, is a project-based module on the film industry. Students are a part of the full movie-making process, from creating the film to publicizing/marketing it and generating “revenue” by selling tickets. It’s a hands-on, simulation of real life that’s fun for the students while also teaching them valuable, real-life skills.

Through a variety of sessions, booths and discussions, ISTE 2014 (#iste2014) gave me a chance to see what 21st Century classrooms look like when technology is leveraged to its full potential.

Guest Post by Tara Subramaniam, High School Student and Blogger

Other work by Tara:

Everybody Truly Wants to Learn

10 Things Learned from Study Abroad

My Stance on Education Reform

Homework: Help or Hassle?

My Stance on Education Reform

The By-Line, articles by Tara

Follow Tara on Twitter @Tara_SuperSub

#Leadership in permanent crisis, what’s required to survive? #cftrecommendations

July 13, 2014

Having just read the article, Leadership in a (Permanent) Crisis, by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky, I have a renewed appreciation the value of adaptive leadership.  Their article appeared in Harvard Business Review, July/August 2009.

Ronald Heifetz has shared in thinking about adaptive leadership in other venues as well.  Here is a You Tube Video interview that was aired on Faith and Leadership.

Here are some of the many bright spots from the article.

Heifetz advocates for adaptive leadership and building capacity in your team because:

The organizational adaptability required to meet a relentless succession of challenges is beyond anyone’s current expertise.

Leaders should surround themselves with people from diverse perspectives, being sure to have members of the team that are willing to challenge ideas.

He writes:

That is because you will need people’s help-not their blind loyalty as they follow you on a path to the future but their enthusiastic help in discovering the path.

I like how Heifetz sees leadership as a process that requires some improvisation.  He sees good leadership as requiring some of the artistic attributes we would associate with creative people.

He makes a strong case that effective leaders “confront loyalty to legacy practices.”  I don’t believe he advocates for abandoning legacy practices, but he does advocate not following them blindly.  That often gets leaders into trouble or keeps them from taking the organization from ‘good to great.’

While an adaptive leader allocates time and resources to eliminating practices that might be poorly suited to a changing environment, Heifetz writes:

you must distinguish the essential from the expendable.

Throughout the article, Heifetz makes the case that building leadership capacity in the “team” is one of the primary responsibilities of an effective leader.  A leader does this by nurturing:

a culture of courageous conversations.

When organizations are faced with difficult situations, effective leaders engage their team in difficult conversations.  He writes:

Dissenters who can provide crucial insights need to be protected from the organizational pressure to remain silent.

One way to achieve a more distributed form of leadership in times of crisis is:

to distribute leadership responsibility more broadly…mobilize everyone to generate solutions by increasing the information flow that allows people across the organization to make independent decisions and share the lessons learned from innovative efforts.

This ideas strikes me as being quite relevant for K-12 school leaders.  Typically in K-12 schools, principals (or other school leaders) hold their power and information “quite close to their chest,” rarely distributing leadership to their faculty in meaningful ways.  As a result, the faculty miss out on the opportunity to impact school reform or become change agents because they lack power and information.

Finally, some of his best advice in the article is that leaders need to care for themselves.  A leader who is married to their job is more than likely not going to be as effective as he or she could be.

Taking care of yourself both physically and emotionally will be crucial to your success.  You can achieve none of your leadership aims if you sacrifice yourself to the cause.

His suggests that to become an effective leader you have to:

  1. give yourself permission to be both optimistic and realistic
  2. find sanctuaries
  3. reach out to confidants
  4. bring more of your emotional self to the workplace
  5. don’t lose yourself in the role

So if you are a leader who is looking for some professional wisdom, I suggest reading Leadership in a (Permanent) Crisis, by Heifetz and his team.  It is critical to see that he believes we lead in “permanent crisis.”



Investing in birth-to-age-3 #education programs is a great bet!

July 4, 2014

In a recent post, Added Value from Effective #pre-K programs, Reform Requires Courage, I made the case for investing in universal pre-K programs, especially for students from underserved families.  The research is quite strong that investment in high-quality pre-K programs pays dividends for children in their later years.  A reality is that most state governments, as well as the federal government, are struggling getting their arms around this reality.  While some states understand the value of the investment, others ignore the research.  Even those that value investment in pre-K programs for underserved students struggle funding them in sustainable ways.

Vicky Schippers recently wrote a commentary in Education Week, Waiting Until Pre-K is Too Little Too Late.  Schippers writes:

Numerous studies have confirmed that children from poor families like Jasmine’s are already at a significant social and academic deficit by the time they reach their third birthdays. That makes a solid case for birth-to-3 programs for these youngsters, who have a very steep slope to climb to start kindergarten on par with their middle-class peers, even if they attend prekindergarten at age 4.

Once such study, Early Childhood Education for All: A Wise Investment, was completed in 2005 by the MIT Workplace Center.  The authors, Leslie J. Calman and Linda Tarr-Whelan, write:

Investments in quality child care and early childhood education do more than pay significant returns to children—our future citizens. They also benefit taxpayers and enhance economic vitality. Economic research—by Nobel Prize-winners and Federal Reserve economists, in economic studies in dozens of states and counties, and in longitudinal studies spanning 40 years—demonstrate that the return on public investment in high quality childhood education is substantial.

We could dig a lot deeper into the research, continuing to make the case for this investment, but it won’t do any good unless our political leaders face the reality that investing in educating young children is better than investing hundreds of billions of dollars into more and more sophisticated military hardware.  We can’t keep ignoring our responsibilities to educate ALL children and expect our society to evolve in a positive direction.  We have to help ALL children, not just those from families that have resources, develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities to work on addressing complex problems facing our global society.  In addition, ALL children need the opportunity to develop and share their cognitive and creative talents in our society.

Let’s invest now and not be faced with what Schippers suggest might be too little too late.  Every day we wait, more and more children are being left unprepared for school and unprepared for becoming a productive member of society.

“Aaron’s Death Should Radicalize Us!” #pdftribute

June 28, 2014

Aaron Schwartz


I just spent an hour and half watching the Tribute to Aaron Schwartz at the Internet Archive, Part I. The event was a gathering of people who wanted to pay tribute to Aaron’s life, to remember him, and to tell personal stories about how he impacted and shaped their lives.  (see #pdftribute for more)  If you are interested in learning about the work of activists who devote their lives to protecting the public domain, you should watch this video.  Aaron Schwartz is referenced as a “soldier in an army of activists” who are everyday citizens interested in being sure we truly live in a democracy.  It is so interesting to learn what happens when people (prosecutors) abuse their power and go after people like Aaron.  Watch the video to learn more.

I was drawn into this because I knew Aaron Schwartz.  When I was the Upper School Division Director at North Shore Country Day School, Aaron was an incoming freshman.  I met with him on many occasions to discuss his challenges with being a student in a traditional school setting.  He was restless and eager to do creative and interesting things.  He felt that the demands of school tied his hands.  From inside, he attempted to change things in such a way that he could stay involved in the community, but traditional schools are not easy to change or adapt to the needs of students like Aaron Schwartz.  I recall many meeting with his father and mother, Robert and Susan.  They wanted to partner with the school to find a way to keep Aaron connected, but in the end Aaron needed to follow his own path.

Aaron was a brilliant young man.  I remember visits to my office, he would come with his own reading list and then ask for my recommendations.  His wasn’t an ordinary reading list.  John Dewey and Paulo Freire made his list.  He wasn’t a casual reader.  No, Aaron wanted to learn about the roots of different educational movements.  He was interested in soaking up all he could learn about a topic.  I found his approach to be more like a research scientist, methodical and disciplined.  I admired him and wanted him to stay at North Shore, but ultimately he had to let go of traditional school.  It was our lost at the time.

Of course, he went on to  lead a rich and complex life that connected him with people all over the world.  He played a key role in leading the efforts to make the internet an open source environment where knowledge was available to everyone.  It is worth watching this piece and getting to know more about the man, Aaron Schwartz.  “Aaron’s death should radicalize us,” the words of his girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, ring in my ears as I reflect on what I learned about Aaron’s life from this tribute.  Fascinating!

Readings from JSD, @learningforward, that piqued my interest!

June 26, 2014

Summer 2014 is a good time to “read, reflect, and renew.”  This is the tagline associated with JSD’s June 2014 edition, The 3 Rs of Summer.  Learning Forward does a great job of publishing relevant and interesting journals and newsletters.  JSD is just one of their publications.  There are excellent articles in this edition.  Let me just highlight a few of them and hopefully pique your interest in reading more.

Workplace and Wisdom, written by Sheri Williams and John Williams, looks at the lessons schools can learn from how businesses approach their work and customers.  They propose four lessons they have learned from their work in education and business.

Lesson 1: Mentoring matters in schools and workplace.

Lesson 2: Collaboration get results in the workplace and school.

Lesson 3: Leadership cultivates respectful cultures in business and education.

Lesson 4: Mentoring, collaboration, and leadership are all about change.

I liked the notion in Lesson 1 that while the mentor matters, it’s the mentee’s persistence and desire to learn that really matters in successful relationships.  In Lesson 2, they point out that human resource departments in most businesses have elaborate techniques to flush out if a prospective candidate is a good team player.  Could schools learn from applying some of the same techniques when interviewing potential teachers?  With Lesson 3, the authors point out that whether you work for a business or a school, working in a culture that respects your point-of-view can be essential to building a long-term relationship with the organization.  Finally, in Lesson 4, the authors examine the idea that organizational leaders need to support their employees through the change process by investing in their ideas.  In addition, to include employees in the decision-making process to foster innovation and productivity.

4 Schools, 1 Goal, written by Rosemarye Taylor and William Gordon, explores the efforts at one school in central Florida to develop a university partnership aimed at improving student reading across disciplines.   When students are unable to read effectively in other disciplines it hinders their ability to be successful in the classroom.  The goal of this Florida school district was to

create common language, knowledge, and skills among intensive reading teachers, literacy coaches and assistant principals; those people responsible for reading achievement in their high schools.

Their efforts were focused on professional development for teachers who help students learn how to read effectively within their discipline.  They accomplished this by setting up a professional learning community of teachers from their district’s four high schools.  Prior to their collaboration they collected reading data from the classroom and identified 9 areas that needed attention.

  • explicit instruction in comprehension strategies
  • scaffolded instruction from direct instruction through independent practice
  • standards-based grade-level expectations
  • reading nonfiction and informational text
  • monitoring classroom data
  • thinking and complexity above knowledge
  • accountable independent reading
  • data-informed differentiation
  • classroom environments with smooth routines

They collaborated for two years on developing expertise in differentiated instruction, using Bloom’s and Depth of Knowledge taxonomies, applying lesson study techniques to build engaging curricula, designing standards-based assessment practices and common balanced assessments, and using learing walks to study their implementation.  While reading scores did not improve in year 1, they did show significant improvement in year 2.

Bridge Builders, written by Jacy Ippolito, Christina Dobbs, and Megin Charner-Laird, looks at the work of three high school teachers in Massachusetts who led their school’s efforts to connect various school improvement efforts.  While this school in MA developed a partnership with a local university to help with literacy initiatives, it was the work of the three teacher leaders that was game changing because they served as an important bridge between different partners involved in improving reading comprehension in content areas.  These teacher leaders describe their impact in these ways:

They helped the professional learning communities focus on “a little less teaching” and “a little more talking.”  Help the PLC build a sense of community.

They facilitated the professional learning communities working respectfully and efficiently.  Using a variety of techniques that came from conversations with their university partner they learned how to use apply various techniques to support effective collaboration.

They modeled taking risks.  Through their leadership, teachers on their teams became more comfortable taking risks with different instructional strategies.

They helped team members see connections among the various initiatives geared towards improving content-area reading comprehension.

They direct, guide, and plan the PLC’s work so that each team stayed focused on its vision.  They were not only an instrumental resource, but they were effective coaches to their team members.

I think this article points out the value of schools investing in teacher leadership.

These three articles are only the beginning of an excellent journal devoted to how leadership within a school can impact school reform, especially when the leadership is distributed to a team that includes teachers.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,285 other followers

%d bloggers like this: