School Design

The Need for School Design – A 20-Year Long Explosion of New Schools (with breakdown of the data attached)

From the 1970s to 1990, the total number of schools in the U.S. actually declined. In the past two decades, however, U.S. public schooling has seen an explosion of newly created schools and schooling models (U.S. Department of Education, 2013–see attached spreadsheet US Census Data – Number of Schools and Students – 1990-2012).

Since 1990, 13,790 public schools have been created, a more than 16% growth rate. During the 1990s and early 2000s in the United States, educators and advocates from across political and philosophical spectra collaborated in support of creating independently conceived and operated school models. Of the roughly 13,000 new schools created in the last 20 years, the U.S. Department of Education (2013) labels 4,993 of these (36%) as “alternative schools” and 3,703 (27%) of them are some form of charter school.


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…)

Design for Student Leadership: Participatory schooling is extremely educative (and empowering)

True, I was always a student who wanted my voice heard, and student government in both high school and college gave me ample chance to be in front of my communities, but an extremely overlooked benefit of student leadership is experience with designing and planning.

The process of identifying needs, determining the required resources, planning, and executing is a powerful tool in the developing toolbox of young student leaders. Anyone who was ever on student government probably had growth experiences similar to my own–experiences with thinking up, designing, and executing public actions and events. For student government officers, this certainly includes dances and spring fairs, but also extends to planning speaker series, organizing conflict resolution and community meetings, travel planning, and strategic collaboration with a variety of partners and organizations.

As a believer in apprenticeship and experiential learning, I think one of the best design features schools can choose to incorporate is a mechanism that ensures students will be able to think of, create, and execute, their ideas. More importantly, a mechanism that ensures that these ideas, when serious and well-vetted, will be approved. Students will not be willing to take the risk of investing a lot of work into a great idea unless they are confident that their idea will at least have a fair shot. When there happens to be a strong leader in a school or when systems are in place to empower students and give their ideas a shot, they can create brilliant things. (For an example, see my friend and now departed student Mikals Program Proposal for an Arise school mentoring program. He wrote this as an Alumnus, not as a student, because he cared and wanted to be involved. I discuss some of the things he learned later on.)

There are a number of ways schools can design for this kind of empowerment. (more…)

A message of hope from Mount Karmel

Before I begin, I need to apologize to my readers for the long delay. It probably won’t shock any of you to learn that being the head of a young charter school, particularly one on its third leader in 2 years and in the middle of charter renewal, has been all consuming. Having said this, I am excited to be back finally, and excited to be sharing our work at Arise with all of you. Over the next several months I will be writing extensively about the school design work we are now undertaking but for today I have more immediate reflections.

It is an amazing world we live in.

I say this in part because I am sitting across from Autumn Graves, the head of Girard College, on Mount Karmel, in Israel. The two of us are visiting the Yemin Orde Youth Village.

I also point out that the world is an amazing place as a statement of philosophy and purpose. There is enormous power in optimism, in hope, and in appreciation (See Norton, Anik, Aknin, and Dunn, 2011). The Yemin Orde Model, what they call the Village Way, asserts the belief in something transcendent as one of their philosophical anchors. It is awareness of, connection to, and faith in values and principles greater than ourselves that allows us to achieve the extraordinary and to lead others to do the same. It is from the transcendent that inspiration comes. (more…)

Getting to purposes: The place of values in school design (hint–early and often)

Those who read my post on Ackoff, Magidson, and Addion’s Idealized Design last week, may have considered the first stage, formulation of the mess. Formulating the mess entails coming to a comprehensive understanding of the organization itself, how it operates, and what challenges it faces in light of its current structures and purposes.

For new school designers, who do not have systems to analyze, this is more challenging. New schools lack historical context and experience from which to formulate a vision of current reality in this way. This is not to say, however, that they should design without formulating a theory of schooling.

If a school design is to be successful, it must be based on a theory of schooling that represents an understanding of the realities of schooling now and in the future, the interests and beliefs the current and future constituents of the school, and the pedagogical principles that will best support student learning. A strong formulation of the mess leads to clear ends and a purposeful and effective mission. (more…)

Ackoff’s stages of idealized design – a powerful tool for school designers

Design and design thinking are popular terms in business literature. While Adaptive Path founder and experience designer Peter Merholz has some concerns with the way the phrase “design thinking” is being used in general (he recently wrote about the use of the term), I like to use the concept of design thinking when talking about schooling because it entails open-ended approaches to problem solving, but not unstructured or haphazard ones (See Tim Brown’s book, he is the CEO of the international design firm IDEO).

Ackoff, Magidson, and Addison’s (2006) “idealized design” offers relatively clearly defined design process that is intended for ongoing organizational design work. (I have written about Ackoff before and you can see his definition of design here). Ackoff et al. explain “interactivism,” the philosophy behind their conception of idealized design. They write, “Interactive planners…plan backward from where they want to be to where they are now. They plan not for the future but for what they want their organizations to be at the present time” (p. 5). In this way design is work done on the present shape of an organization as well as on its future shape. Idealized design creates both a vision of the future and the conditions of current reality required to accomplish that future.


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…)