Education Policy

A footnote to my previous “Design for Student Leadership”: Student Voice and School Design

Working on my never-ending doctorate (I’m on year 7, I note sheepishly), I recently re-examined one of my absolute favorite school design texts, Peter Senge’s Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education (Senge, Cambron-Mcabe, Lucas, Smith, Dutton, and Kliener, 2000).

Recently I wrote about student leadership and what I believe to be the profound educative value of leadership experience. Then, while reading Schools that Learn, I stumbled across the following:

One last comment on why schools seem remarkably difficult institutions to change and where particular leverage may lie. Industrial-age schools have a structural blind spot unlike almost any other contemporary institution… (more…)


60 seconds on what’s important in education

I won’t step on the toes of the great folks who filmed me giving a 60 second lecture today by giving away their work, but I was asked to talk about why education is important and as a teaser, I’m including the text below.

It’s amazing how hard it is to say anything that matters in a short time. I thought the experience was valuable. Like it or not, there is clear utility in being able to essentialize ideas and make them palatable to mass audiences. At the same time, reductionist thinking tends not to be that useful and often obscures rather than illuminates the truth.

I do not believe that education is important, as some argue, because all people should be able to recall the same set of basic facts? Cultural capital matters and is one tool for accessing power, but all students will never know and be able to do the same things—that’s not the way our species is built.

Great schools are places where rather than learning our founding facts, students learn our founding values—places where students learn these values by experiencing them. For example:

–          Students learn to work and live together when they collaborate together in work that is purposeful and meaningful to their lived experience

–          They learn to be responsible to community when they are cared for by community members and when they practices caring for each other

–          They learn to participate, to be engaged and interested, when they are empowered and supported both to make decisions about their own selves and futures and when they are empowered to take part in determining the structures that effect their learning and living

Students learn to challenge, inquire, and question—they learn to learn, when they are given even the slightest opportunity to do so. The educator’s job is to give students a chance to do some worthwhile learning.

Learning Community Design 2.0: The library as a communal center of learning

My friend and urban planner, Jen Hurley (Twitter: @JenHurPlanner), forwarded me this piece (April 1, 2011), by Rick Cole, on libraries as learning communities. In response to the declining importance of book lending, Cole points to an Australian library design that dramatically recasts the place of libraries in the community.

Citing Ross Duncan, the manager for Learning Communities for Sunshine Coast Council, a large Australian metropolitan region, Cole explains the new vision for libraries in the Sunshine Coast:

Duncan’s philosophy is to infuse the 10 branches of the Sunshine Coast library system with a focus on “changing the world.” He’s shaped what is essentially an informal family university offering more than 4,500 activities, workshops and events that foster a “learning community.”

Duncan’s vision is of a dynamic learning space that allows individuals of every age to learn, study, interact, and take action together. The model is especially compelling because it seems so much more functional and flexible than the traditional schooling design for learning with its set classes and limited outcome goals. Duncan’s library design is powerfully open-ended–allowing transformative learning to incubate in a variety of safe spaces: (more…)

Another take on bundling: The diverse provider model

On the subject of unbundling (I discussed a section of November’s Phi Delta Kappan that focussed on the subject in a post of mine last week)…

The less ideological articles in this section drew the attention of my persistent school design lens. One comes from Mehta and Spillane who offer an interesting analysis that the core debate between the ideal of system coherence and the alternate vision of unbundled services. In explicating the arguments the authors write:

Perhaps ‘system-wide coherence’ is an illusion. Similarly, while unbundling could increase inequality across providers, existing policies designed to achieve greater standardization have made little progress in reducing inequalities” (p. 50).


Unbundling and neighborhood schooling: A policy debate over imagined differences

The November 2010 Phi Delta Kappan featured a set of articles and an editorial on educational unbundling, “…a process in which innovators deconstruct established structures and routines and reassemble them in newer, smarter ways” (Hess and Meeks, 2010). The collection includes some pretty disparate essays and there are some interesting elements (too many to write about in only one post).

The conflict over “unbundling” mirrors the contrasting views of community I have discussed previously: 1) A non-spatial, interactive understanding of community based on John Dewey’s work (here); 2) An understanding of community rooted in place and space that is based on sociology and critical race theory (here). Unfortunately, in the unbundling debate outlined below, neither of these positions are critically examined.

Henig and Hess, in their article on the declining significance of space and place, imagine the possibilities of a schooling system not restricted by geography. Phi Delta Kappan editor-in-chief Joan Richardson, in contrast, laments an era of neighborhood schools she believes used to exist and is now disappearing in an era of unbundling and school choice. (more…)

Teacher motivation part 3 – counter point

Dr. Theodore Hershberg and my fellow Penn doctoral student Claire Robertson-Kraft are editors of the 2009 book, A Grand Bargain for Education Reform: New Rewards and Supports for New Accountability. Hershberg and Robertson-Kraft’s work is an interesting counterpoint to the my last two posts (Part 1 and Part 2). Hershberg, I should note, has been studying and working on performance-based pay, teacher evaluation, incentives, and motivation for some time.

While I find the human motivation arguments made in my recent posts more convincing, I do think it is worth reading and undertanding the value-added position on accountability and motivation articulated by Hershberg and Kraft and summarized here. (more…)

A forty-year school district head start teacher comments on teacher motivation

I had a really interesting conversation with my mother-in-law about the design of incentives for teaching. She taught as a Head Start teacher in the school district of Philadelphia for more than 40 years.

Here are some of her thoughts on teacher motivation:

will think about this more

but quickly … these are my thoughts

Teachers – when treated as professionals – should be expected to and supported in doing their job.  Built into the educational community should also be supports for whatever hurdles are in the way of meeting the educational needs of children. Traditional rewards as motivators to do the job one is hired to do and is getting paid to do, I find demeaning.  (I may be alone in feeling this.)

Rewards and or acknowledgments  for teachers, as for any professionals we come across who give considerably more than is  necessary to preform  their job with dedication and a goal of excellence, is very different from motivational rewards to encourage hard work (not the best words for what i mean).

“Rewards” or “motivators” should be closer to giving thanks to those around us who do something special. They maybe should reflect special acts in the same way we occasionally find it meaningful to thank people in our lives for something unique they have done for us or to acknowledge something we saw them do for others that especially touched us.

The design of teacher motivation should reflect a respect for them and their hard work, support to make their work easier, and an appreciation of the unique roles they may play in the lives of the school and its community members.