Category Archives: Public schools

3 articles worth reading and debating

These three articles captured in my RSS feed reader caught my eye today. Perhaps they’ll interest you as well.

1. Is the Internet Changing Kids’ Minds?

In this excerpt from his book The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads, Daniel T. Willingham argues that the brain is always changing; there’s no reason to assume the Internet is damaging kids’ brains so they can’t concentrate.

What is problematic, Willingham says, is that using digital technologies of all types change users’ expectations: Users are impatient with boredom. They expect instant success with minimal effort.

That sounds like an education problem to me. What do you think?

2. In a Changing Rural America, What Can Charter Schools Offer?

I’ve seen many articles about how school choice championed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos won’t help — and may hurt — rural areas. This article by Terry Ryan and Paul Hill at Education Next suggests that charters, properly done, could be an alternative to school consolidations in sparsely populated areas.

If you live in a rural area, you ought to read their short piece.

3. Why do college students have 6th-grade writing skills?

That question was the headline over an e-Campus News report on a research study by peer-to-peer learning markeplace StudySoup. StudySoup’s own headline was “At Which U.S. Colleges do Students Write at a Middle School Level?”

Educators need to take a look at the StudySoup data: It’s the sort of “research” that will grab media attention and get discussed over coffee at the local diner.

A team from the business used the Hemingway app to analyze hundreds of written documents submitted to the StudySoup . The app evaluated the samples for clarity, readability, and calculated the reading level of the writing. The average reading level score was 12th-grade level. Student work was also given a second score based on how difficult individual sentences were to read. Of the 20 schools from which writing samples were analyzed, 12 were graded “poor.”

The app doesn’t look to see whether writers have anything to say; it looks just at their individual sentences.

Notice that StudySoup assumes that the higher the reading level score the better the writing is. Actually, the higher the reading level, the smaller the audience that will be able to understand it: Here’s StudySoup’s own explanation of Hemingway which supports that interpretation:

Hemingway provides two “readability” scores for each document. The first is the “grade level” of the content, which is determined using a readability algorithm. According to Hemingway, this score determines “the lowest education needed to understand your prose”.

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Filed under Public schools, Teaching writing

Baby steps toward reducing rural brain drain

The head of the town’s chamber of commerce facetiously says the local high school students walk off the stage with their diplomas onto a Greyhound bus, never to be seen again.Collage of 1-way signs surprinted with Suppose we could reverse rural brain drain with local information

The situation is not quite that dire, but the Bainbridge, NY, community is certainly not retaining or reclaiming enough of its young people to make even the most optimistic folks feel confident about the town’s future.

The brain drain has been on the minds of some local businesswomen who want to see the town retain jobs and create new ones.

As I’ve talked to owners and employees of businesses, when they learned I’m a writer, nearly every person has asked if I could write something they needed.

The needs they identified included radio ads, an employee manual, and web page copy — which are only a small fraction of the materials businesses really need to be competitive in a digitally connected world.

Filling local businesses’ needs for written content could become a business for some local graduate.

I suspect there are other business opportunities waiting to be discovered here as well.

Perhaps, like the town in this 2-minute video, we’ve assumed that students want to leave and not come back, when they would be open to coming back after college if they only knew what opportunities exist to create a business here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Rural schools, School-community relations

Maker movement makes rural life make sense

mountain forest with fog cover obscuring top half of photo
Rural America is a place where place-based learning and the maker movement can meet for economic development  when rural teachers take the lead.

A blog post by earlier this week by Leah Shaffer at MindShift begins by contrasting maker programs in cities with rural ones:

The maker movement has expanded greatly in recent years and much of the attention has focused on cities with high population density and large well-funded school districts. In rural districts, teachers are also developing maker projects to help students gain the benefits that come from hands-on experiences, while better understanding the needs of their communities.

Maker projects in Montana and Iowa

Shaffer reports on work by a students in a Montana community who built and programmed air sensors to monitor pollution from forest fires and wood smoke cause year-round air pollution, and one in which Iowa high school students analyze agricultural data they gather by flying drones over farm fields.

photo collage of drones in air surprinted "Drones gather data from farm fields, boost students' skills"

Shaffer’s sources note the need for teachers to anticipate skills students are likely to need a decade or more in the future and design projects that help them develop those skills.

Her sources also point out that schools can’t just equip a maker space and assume students will know what to do: Initial experiences must be structured.

Read the entire blog post.

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Filed under Rural schools, School-community relations, Workforce readiness

Great schools v not-so-good schools

I’ve had a week bordering on the frenetic.

Perhaps you have, too.

Take a minute to breathe deeply while you consider two sentences from Sir Kenneth Robinson.

 

Quote: Schools that don't get their role in the community can drain the life force out of the community.
 

On the other hand:

 

Quote: Great Schools enrich the entire neighborhood, the entire ecosystem.

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Rural triangle: School, community, economy

Curved arrows labeled Education, Economy, and Community chase one another in front of a green triangle.In November, 2015 I began posting a list of resources for folks who want to improve the relationship between rural schools and their communities for their mutual benefit.

It’s time to revisit the topic.

It’s still true that, as I wrote in 2015:

In rural communities, schools cannot be considered separate from economic development and community development. The vitality and policies of any one of the three impacts the other two.

And the 2015 description of rural brain drain still is largely accurate.

But rural America’s problems are getting more attention these days, most notably from rural Americans themselves who are stepping up try to reverse the decline of the rural American economy and prevent the loss of their communities and community schools.

I’ve shortened descriptions of resources I posted in 2015 and added dates for the resources so readers can quickly get a feel for the changes.

What’s happening in rural America?

(2009) The brightest students are leaving rural communities; job options for those who remain are diminishing.

(2012) The rural student population is getting larger, more diverse, and poorer.

(2013) Net migration isn’t offsetting the effects of brain drain.

Who is to blame for rural brain drain?

(2009) Schools and their communities each contribute to rural brain drain, setting the course for both to die. “Teachers, parents, and other influential adults cherry-pick the young people destined to leave and ignore the ones most likely to stay or return.”

(2017) Rural schools are failing their communities. A college degree in rural America is now synonymous with leaving and having no way to sustainably come back. Rural schools must work with their communities, rather than seeing themselves as separate from the cycle of economic decline.

How could rural schools aid in community development?

(2011) Schools could address community problems around medical care, food access, etc. by acting as self-sustaining revenue facilities.

How could rural schools aid in economic development?

(2011) A class of high school students in the poorest county in North Carolina designed and built a much-needed farmer’s market pavilion for the area.

(2012) Add skill applications to high school courses.

(2012) Greenville, NY, High School created what was, in effect, a small business incubator within its facility, offering a business rent in exchange for hands-on work experience for its high school students.

(2012) Encourage entrepreneurship by showing students online training resources they can access, and (2014) teach students to look for problems that require solutions.

(2013) Place-based, scholarly research by rural students can have direct, positive impact on local economic development.

(2013) Students in Cody NE, population 154, built a a 3,300-sq. ft. straw-bale building to use as grocery store and run it themselves. Inside, lettering on the wall above the produce cooler reads “It’s more than a store. It’s our future.”

(2014)  Capture the imagination of students who don’t see college as a path for themselves by school programs that target local economic problems.

(2015) Pell Grant experiment needs needs rural  scrutiny to make sure its rules won’t keep some rural students out of courses that fit their needs and interests.

(2017) Offer students a combination of coursework, internships, and job shadowing experiences to enable them to make informed choices about higher education, work, and place of residence. Preparing students for a continuously changing mainstream economy can give them the opportunity to return home as entrepreneurs or participants in the online space.

(2017) Schools can support project-based learning on authentic local problems that challenge students. For example, in Ness City, KS, an industrial arts class elected to design and build a tiny house. Other classes helped with interior design and marketing, and a special education class is documenting the project in a book. The classes plan to market the home across the country.

(2017) A SCORE chapter in Massachusetts collaborated with PTOs to deliver a six week, after-school program to train students in grades 4 through 8 to run their own businesses. The 72 participants in the initial program launched 52 new businesses, some of which were partnerships complete with partnership agreements.

How can rural schools and communities collaborate?

(2017) Public charters may offer rural communities a way to retain local schools.

(2011) Help teens get ready for the world of work with good attitudes and good skills.

(2012) Let teens work alongside adults to contribute to their communities and to develop and apply real skills.

(2012) Require students to apply classroom knowledge to real world writing situations and offer hands-on learning of salable skills.

(2012) Schools can grow their future teachers who will also be their communities’ future leaders.

(2014) Offer teens after-school programs that do more than distract.

(2014) Integrate non-academic services to students, their families, and even the wider community into the academic program.

(2016) Communities and schools need to work collaboratively to generate educational opportunities and economic prosperity in places where the number of voters without a child in school is a majority. Downloadable PDF from Battelle for Kids.

(2016)  School personnel and community members need to change the mindset that every kid needs to go to college. Today’s career and technical education, or CTE, can lead to a decent-paying job, particularly in those fields where employers say they are trying to cope with a serious “skills gap.”

(2017) Rural schools and their communities need to work together to turn around neighborhoods and schools long before those schools—and all the significance and services they bring with them—disappear.

What about the “no college for me” kids?

(2013) Give Career and Technical Education (CTE) students the same degree of academic support given their college-bound counterparts so they can take advantage of educational opportunities they need for their careers.

(2012) Six ideas for businesses serving the business market that require no post-high school training.

(2015) The internet allows someone with determination to learn skills for a good-paying job without the expenses of a college degree.

(2016) For years, there’s been almost no assistance for CTE students seeking post-secondary training. Three recent developments suggest the tide may be turning: An experimental program to give  in financial aid to those in nontraditional programs (such as coding boot camps), a MOOC with a graded-paper option, and the introduction of a federal law to expand concurrent enrollment opportunities for CTE students.

Who is working on the three-pronged rural problem?

SaveYour.Town Two small-town Iowans offer webinars, toolkits, and online communities to help people learn, grow and take action to revitalize their communities.

The Rural School and Community Trust (ruraledu.org) has many resources, including Tools to fight rural school consolidation.

The Center for Rural Affairs (cfra.org) developed a series of articles on why rural schools need to be kept alive. The articles are available as a 6-page pdf document.

The Orton Family Foundation empowers people to shape the future of their communities by collective, collaborative activities focusing on their unique strengths.


Have I missed items that should be here? Give me a shout in the comments or @LindaAragoni on Twitter

Updated June 23, 2017; March 27, 2017.

© 2017 Linda G. Aragoni

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Teaching future-ready students: What skills should we teach?

In a previous post, I sketched how skill at learning to use digital tools for re-purposing information outlasts both the tools and the information. If you missed that post, you’ll find it here.

Today I’d like to look at what we should be teaching so that our students exit high school with skills that will last them for more than a decade.

Background of stone wall with overlaid words "Teachers aren't expected to teach everything;they're expected to teach the most important things.

Future-readiness is a historical problem

I’m a baby-boomer. Born and raised in a rural New York community not far from the site of the Woodstock Festival, I was the first in my family to go to college. My college roommate was from a rural Ohio community, the first in her family to go to college. Both of us toggled together scholarships, loans, and jobs to pay our way through college.

In the 1960’s our college said it was preparing us for the year 2000.

My roommate became a chemist whose work took her all over the Americas not only doing lab work, but helping cogeneration facilities maintain environmentally friendly practices. I became a writer/editor/teacher in the gig economy before the term was invented.

Although neither of us always had work we loved, each of us was able to move from job to job within different economic sectors with relative ease.

Our college delivered on its promise to prepare us for the year 2000.

Knowledge obsolescence overblown

Granted the speed of technological change from 1966 to 2016 was pokey compared to the speed of change in the last 25 years, but does that mean we can’t make any reasonable predictions about what skills students are going to need in 10-15 years?

Is world really changing so rapidly that anything we teach students today will be obsolete before they get to the workplace?

That suggestion prompts a pit-of-the-stomach reaction from anyone who has ever gotten a notice from a vendor saying the DuzAll software program they purchased for $29 the week before is being discontinued and replaced with DuzAllBetter (for an additional $110).

However, such visceral reactions to change don’t prove that we can’t make any predictions about tomorrow’s workplace.  If anything, they suggest there’s an ongoing need for a tool that solves the problem the original DuzAll set out to solve.

In the business world, if a problem persists, companies will continue making products to solve the problem.

Persistent problems show needed skills

We can make some reasonable guesses about the skills students are going to need in 10, 20, or 30 years by

  • looking at the problems today’s workplace tools attempt to solve
  • examining what skills enable today’s workers to use those tools efficiently and effectively

If we do that, I believe we’ll be able to identify within the general education program a fairly small set of teachable skills that we can be fairly confident will enable students to function well in their workplaces, including:

  • data storage
  • data analysis
  • process/systems analysis
  • identifying a problem that needs a solution (which may entail finding the root problem among a cluster of derivative problems)
  • communicating a nonfiction message clearly and concisely

(For Career Technical Education students, an additional set of teachable skills would need to be identified, probably on a per-program basis.)

Once we have our list, we can look at our curricula and identify obvious and not-so-obvious places where instruction and practice in our work-readiness skills fit well.

Desirable acquired workplace traits

While we’re doing our analysis of the workplace tools and skills, we will probably notice that certain attitudes, abilities, and competencies are typically associated with top performing workers, such as

  • self-management
  • time management
  • grit and determination
  • cooperating and getting along with others
  • reliability

Such competencies aren’t learned well, if at all, from instruction.

Students can, however, acquire attitudes and abilities while engaged in activities designed to help them master some more readily teachable skills in their courses. Teachers just need to make sure they regularly assign work that helps students hone desirable “soft skills” while mastering more concrete material.

Who is responsible?

Whose job is it to figure out what the essentials skills to teach are?

If nobody else in your school is doing it, it’s yours.

It’s not as hard as it sounds.

And even if you miss something or include something that turns out not to have been essential, your students are still going to be better off than if everybody hoped somebody else would take responsibility.

 

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Filed under Public schools, Workforce readiness

When I looked him up online

A recent post by Eric Stoller about why “getting Twitter matters” to higher education’s student affairs folks was being shunted around Twitter yesterday morning.

The nub of Stoller’s argument is this:

Laptop computer screen bearing quote "Digital capabilities / literacies are important. They are connected to employability, revolution, activism, teaching, learning, communication, engagement, etc."

As it happens, I’ve been thinking about the importance of digital capabilities/literacies a bit lately.

My local school district recently hired a new superintendent, Timothy R. Ryan,  who got exactly two sentences on page three of the school district’s June newsletter.

When I read the news, I did what I always do when “introduced” to people I’m likely to meet in person: I looked Ryan up online.

A few weeks later, I was chatting with a stranger. Before long the conversation got around to the local school.

The woman told me about a big hassle she’d had with the administrator who didn’t want her kid to be an exchange student, and her futile attempts to get anyone to respond to her concerns.

She concluded by saying she hoped the new superintendent would turn things around.

“But I have my doubts,” she said, “because I looked him up online and—”

I completed the sentence for her: “And he doesn’t have a digital presence.”

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Student involvement in superintendent search

Since my local school district has been looking for a new superintendent, I’ve been doing some reading and thinking about the process.  In the last few weeks, I’ve written several posts¹ about various facets of the process, with particular emphasis on its public relations aspects.

I deliberately avoided discussing the role of students in the process for two reasons.

First, although students are certainly impacted by the work of a superintendent, they typically don’t know much about what the superintendent does or how she does it.

Second, students probably have even less information about the laws governing hiring than adults, who typically have little.

Those two considerations render students’ input into selecting the best candidate of little value.

That said, however, students could be very useful in other ways that also provide them with genuine learning opportunities.

Learn and share: 3 potential activities

I hate having students do a project that accomplishes only one objective, so I’ll suggest three ways that students could

  1. learn some communications skills
  2. while learning some other content, and
  3. providing a community service.

First idea. Students could research facets of employment law to develop informational materials for the adult stake holders to use. Depending on their topics, the research could be in print and digital sources or it could be interviews with specialists in human resources and labor law.

Students’ findings could be presented as audio, video, infographics, blog posts, printed pages, etc.

Second  idea. Another potentially useful activity would be the development of information to help candidates get a feel for the school culture.

A 3-minute video about the music program that includes interviews with current and former students, community supporters, and parents would help candidates understand the importance of music in the district, for example.

An infographic about the district, perhaps one on its demographics or one focused on what students do after high school graduation, could be useful not only to candidates but also to a school board attempting to educate its community.

Third  idea. A third potentially useful activity would be the development of information to help newcomers get acquainted with the community. People who have lived all their lives in a community often are oblivious to the kinds of information newcomers, like a new school superintendent’s family, would find useful.

Again students would have a host of options available for presenting their information.

Each of these kinds of activities requires critical thinking, learning, and communicating on real topics for real people in the real world.

¹Other posts on hiring a school superintendent

Superintendent candidate questions

Questions from the community for candidates

Due diligence: Resources for schools hiring a superintendent

The superintendent search: A PR perspective (7-part series)

  • Part 1: Introduction
  • Part 2: Identify stakeholders
  • Part 3: Set stage for stakeholder participation
  • Part 4:  Prepare the invitation to apply and  give potential interviewers resources
  • Part 5:  Keep good interview records
  • Part 6:  Check references following interviews
  • Part 7:  Explain your choice & archive paperwork

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The superintendent search from a PR perspective (part 7)

The last public relations activities in hiring a school superintendent are announcing the results and filing the paperwork.

7. Explain your choice to stakeholders

After the school board has made its selection and the successful candidate has accepted the job offer, the board needs to explain the reasons for its choice.Failure to give reasons for choosing the successful candidate over other applicants makes the public wonder if the school board simply picked a name from a hat.

The explanation need not be lengthy, but should mention assets the candidate brings to the school. That may be experience with particular problems, such as managing a building program; personal qualities (particularly if the person who is leaving lacked them); prior knowledge of the district or readiness to move to the district.

After one superintendent search on which I served, most of the committee members turned out at the board meeting to hear why a particular candidate was chosen.  The board president gave no reason for choosing that candidate. My committee had found no reason to hire him either, but that didn’t increase our respect for the school board.

One hopes the board’s rationale should tally with the position description and also reflect the preferences of the stakeholder groups. However, the school board is not only allowed but obligated to make its own choice if its investigation reveals information that renders a particular candidate unsuitable for the job.

If a candidate who was the overwhelming choice of stakeholder groups is found to have what politicians might call “enhanced credentials,” for public relations reasons the board needs to prepare bland explanation why that person was not chosen, such as “an anomaly was noticed when checking references that made us question the candidate’s ability to work here successfully.” With some planning and a little luck, it should not be necessary to make the statement publicly.

The school board could assign a member to speak privately to an individual on each of the interview committees that supported the favored candidate who was not chosen. By keeping the comment out of the board meeting and phrasing it as an appreciation for the committee’s work and respect for their opinions, it should be possible to minimize any negative feelings toward the board without revealing an issue relative to someone who isn’t a school employee.

8. Archive the paperwork

If the school board has exercised due diligence and the candidate who is hired does a reasonably good job, there will probably never be a question about whether the process was done well.

If something goes wrong, having retrievable documentation showing what was done is insurance against a public relations tornado.

Put the paperwork away where it can be retrieved but not easily found; scanning it as PDFs stored in a zipped file, for example, would make it retrievable for the foreseeable future but not easily found.

Earlier posts in this series:

  • Part 1: Introduction
  • Part 2: Identify stakeholders
  • Part 3: Set stage for stakeholder participation
  • Part 4:  Prepare the invitation to apply and  give potential interviewers resources
  • Part 5:  Keep good interview records
  • Part 6:  Check references following interviews

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The superintendent search from a PR perspective, (part 6)

In the previous post in this series, I talked about the need to have good records showing the board exercised due diligence in the interview process. Those records might be used to show that the board did not discriminate against candidates by, for example, asking illegal questions or asking totally different sets of questions of each candidate.

In addition to those records, the school board needs to have records showing it exercised due diligence in checking candidates’ references.

Increasingly, public bodies are being held accountable for negligent hiring if it can be shown they failed to probe deeply enough to uncover information which, if known to the board at the time, would have kept a particular candidate from being hired.

6. Check references  after interviews

Reference checking after the interviews is the most important part of the hiring process. The point of the checks is not only to verify the accuracy of information listed on the application and CV but also to see if people who have worked with the candidates view their record as they themselves do.

Whoever is responsible for checking references needs to push beyond the references listed on the application and CV. Unless candidates are totally incompetent they will not list people who will not speak well of them in general. Asking references to suggest others who might have more knowledge or a different perspective is a legitimate way to get relevant information.

Here, too, the information must be documented so its clear what was asked and what was answered.

Tomorrow: Part 7:

All the posts in this series:

  • Part 1: Introduction
  • Part 2: Identify stakeholders
  • Part 3: Set stage for stakeholder participation
  • Part 4:  Prepare the invitation to apply and  give potential interviewers resources
  • Part 5:  Keep good interview records
  • Part 6:  Check references following interviews
  • Part 7:  Explain your choice & archive paperwork

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