New York Times writer, Stephanie Saul, occupied Wall Street this morning by bashing online education once again to “sell readership” for the paper. The New York Times loves to stir the corporate greed vs. “poor old” schools play, but the reality is we have great schools and terrible schools in both the face-to-face and online world. What we should be talking about is outcomes, measures, and supports. Great leaders inspire, model, partner, coach, and check in on them – poor leaders do not.
What does your school face-to-face or online want to accomplish? What are your SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) goals? If leaders craft these with stakeholders (teachers, parents, partners, students, etc.), then you have “an end in mind” as Covey would say. Every great or failing school I visit or drop into online and around the world has evidence of a dynamic or weak strategic plan.
Places where strategic leadership meets change management always have a high performing culture. As Ken Kay suggested this week in Unleashing Locally Driven Innovation, “many states think they are innovating, but they are not partnering enough with innovative districts who actually are with real results.”
In addition, I would add that districts and schools often partner with or emulate the wrong corporate or non-profit choices in terms of outcomes, measures, and supports. For every New York Times writer that bashes a corporate partner, I can show you a school district who has a corporate partner producing real results.
Education is a 7 trillion dollar industry and to suggest that we should somehow not have corporations involved in our schools is limiting to what we can accomplish with their involvement. What we should do is smartly design the services for our students and set appropriate metrics around how we will become what we measure.
Metrics that truly take into account gains on formative assessment strategies such as key cognitive strategy attainment and performance, key content knowledge skills and attributes, academic behaviors and performance, and contextual skills often do not rise above measurements such as testing performance.
Therefore, you should not look at just whether or not a district or online school is meeting AYP. Rather, you should look at an overall body of work, opportunities kids have for AP classes they never had, numbers of kids being supported at home on IEPS or 504s, and the performance involved in those enrollment numbers. Moreover, you should look at high performing face-to-face and online schools that are tackling issues around competency based and mastery based instruction.
What school districts are moving the needle on 21st Century Outcomes? How do they know? See places like Florida Virtual, North Carolina New Schools Project, New Tech Network, Mooresville Schools, Connections Academy, and Gwinnet Schools.
Great school leaders don’t look at my online kids versus my face-to-face kids. Rather, they look at “kids.” Where do we want our kids to be? What stake do they have in owning their own data? What do we do if they already know it? What will we do if they don’t learn it? Such practices have been around for a decade or more championed by folks like Wiliam, Dufour, and Wagner.
But, at the face-to-face and online levels we often see a variety of data collection measures – some good and some very bad. Right now, more than ever, we should be partnering with educational entities to figure out the right analytics and measures to learn more about what our students know and are able to do. Shutting corporations out of the conversation is ludicrous, and it only serves to perpetuate the notion of the one room schoolhouse – devoid of any collaboration or innovation culture outside of the four walls of the classroom.
What outcomes do we want for kids? How we will measure those outcomes? What supports are needed for kids, teachers, leaders, and the community? Transition plans, professional development plans, and knowledge base networks all serve to help users learn. Great online and face-to-face organizations start with a transition plan of where they are and where they want to be. They engage in a book study, an online book study, including study visits, research reviews, and a parade of solutions before making a decision.
In short, they “plan.” They check on time, resources, and experts needed to help in the plan. They often hire consultants or professional development trainers to manage the transition plan or ensure that metrics are being met while they are building individual or organizational capacity to coach, evaluate, and sustain it after the integration support layer is removed.
Where do these high-performing education cultures learn these practices? Best in breed business are a great source of change management, innovation, and sustainability culture. Part of every request of an educational vendor ought to be services. Services for support, professional development, strategy, and sustainability. I wonder how many weak face-to-face and online schools never write that line into a contract.
The New York Times will not stop the proliferation of online or blended learning models; however, they can contribute to more fear, misunderstanding, and distrust of corporations in the name of selling more papers or online subscriptions. As the days ahead unfold, I hope for one they’ll consider presenting a balanced view on corporate integration into school models – there are plenty of examples for the headlines of tomorrow.