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Forget Common Core. How about Common Ethics and Morality?

I was gearing up to write a scathing piece that lambasted the Georgia Assembly for their reckless disregard for students and educators and their blind loyalty towards Jeffersonian, state-controlled philosophy.   I was going to refer my readers to the folly that took place in Georgia over the past few weeks, with the Georgia senate teeing up a disastrous bill, SB 167 that would have set Georgia's reform efforts back at least 8-10 years, and would have not only voided any set of standards conceived out of state, but would have also put to rest any chances of cloud-based education and digital learning being implemented in Georgia's schools.   When you have the author of the bill unable to cite examples of inappropriate Common Core Standards, you see why this was reckless and a breach of politicians' fiduciary responsibilities.   But enough said there - at least common sense prevailed at the end of the day when the bill was effectively killed for now by the Georgia House.

What I want to write about is something far more serious - ethics and morality.  You might have heard about four University of Georgia football players who were arrested for theft and deception and then subsequently allowed to practice by Coach Mark Richt!   The sports radio stations in Atlanta were talking about this all day, and I heard one talk show host saying unequivocally that these players should NOT be suspended or removed from the team.  I had to call into the station.   I said it was a "privilege" to play college sports, especially under a full or partial scholarship, and that they committed a crime and should be suspended indefinitely.   Another call echoed my sentiments, but then a woman (probably a mother) phoned in and accused us of not having ever played a college sport and that these kids deserved and were entitled to a second chance!

At this point, I was about ready to explode.   To use a Percy Jackson metaphor, my gut was ready to unleash a tidal wave on this woman!   First, let me say that this woman has probably experienced criminal behavior in some way, either herself or via a loved one.  She may even be the mother of a college athlete who has faced disciplinary action.   And she couldn't be more wrong.  

First of all, I was a Division I baseball player.   I went to an Ivy League school and they do NOT offer athletic scholarships.  I was listening to the radio hosts talking about mistakes - this wasn't a mistake.  A mistake is being late to class or handing in an assignment late.  A mistake is not being arrested for a misdemeanor!   What does this say about society when a college coach allows these students to practice the very next day???   How about these disciplinary options?

  • Suspend the players for the rest of the season
  • Void their scholarships and kick them out of school
  • Lose one year of athletic eligibility

Any type of arrest, once proven guilty, should be grounds for serious punishment.  These kids can still go to college, they can apply for financial aid just like any other student.  They can alternatively transfer to a junior college or some other institution after a period of time.   But for this female caller to shrug this off like playing a college sport is some irrevocable entitlement is not only ignorant, but not something a parent should ever say in this situation.   I can hypothesize that this woman never had any control over her children.  She taught them that when you do something wrong, you don't have to get punished.   So when these children grow up, they know no boundaries and never worry about being responsible for their actions.   And when discipline doesn't exist in the home, how can we make it work outside the home?

Ethics and morality must be integrated into the school environment at all times.   If we do not make this a priority, then we will continue to see spoiled, misguided college athletes who lack a moral compass making bad decisions and expect their coaches to look the other way.   Student athletes should be bound by the same disciplinary code as non-athletes.   I hope we see more outrage on Coach Richt's poor decision to look the other way.   We need a Common Core of Ethics and Moral Behavior, because this incident is deeply troubling on so many levels.  May it be used as a teachable moment for all children.


The Mob Mentality, Not Factual Evidence, Is Hampering Education Reform

Last year, Anthony Cody, a prominent NEA member and author of an Education Week blog titled, "Living in Dialogue."  wrote more than 80 posts in 2013 about the Common Core, and others specifically about Bill Gates.    Diane Ravitch will use any story on her blog to sensationalize the facts and rally the NEA troops, whether or not the facts have been verified or not.   Others like Paul Thomas regularly write in such an adversarial, unprofessional tone that it comes as no surprise why the mainstream media won't respond the his verbal volleys.   He, like all of the NEA bloggers who the NEPC republishes to try and amplify their perspectives to the base NEA membership,

Why am I highlighting and giving acknowledgement to certain bloggers who are fundamentally opposed to any meaningful change in public education and who regularly lobby personal attacks on those who oppose their views?   Because it is important to understand your opponent in any type of debate.   And it's clear that the mob mentality is alive and well in many of the camps involved in the Common Core policy debate.

I have posted contrarian views on some of these blogs.  What you will find is a mob mentality in full effect.   Teachers (mostly retired I suspect or using an unidentifiable alias) will preach the words of these authors as the holy gospel and verbally bully anyone who is opposed to their views, immediately claiming that those views do not matter, especially if you are not a member of the teaching profession.  And if you are not a member of the teaching profession, you are immediately characterized as a profiteer who seeks to profit from public education and are lumped with the so-called "privatizers" of public education:  the triumverate of Gates, Walton and Broad who in the minds of the NEA and AFT are the education equivalent of the "Axis of Evil."

But what fascinated me about the conduct of these people is that their behavior has been diagnosed.   I recently read a blog post about a book that is next up on my reading list:  You Are Now Less Dumb:  How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself    by David McRaney.    We're not only seeing the mob mentality with the NEA, but also with the Tea Party which is also trying to derail the Common Core.  The Common Core has not been implemented well, that I will readily confess.  However, what it has exposed is the fundamental tension in our republic (we are not a democracy - remember that) which is a tuggle between Federalism and state control.  Because the Common Core is being supported by the U.S. Dept. of Education although a state-led effort, states are forgetting about the advantages of a common set of academic standards and instead feel it is an assault on their state rights.  We will never be able to choose a side - the inherent tension between these two philosophies is here to stay and will always make education reforms very difficult to enact in the United States. 

The mob mentality is everywhere, especially in public education policy discussions.  Facts are ignored, research is regularly twisted to meet the needs of the argument, conclusions are taken out of context, all in the name of unionism.   Self interest groups cannot support anyone who disagrees with their platform and they will use whatever tactics are necessary to cut them down to size.   You can look at the comment threads on nearly every Ed Week blog or the blogs of the specific authors I mentioned above if you do not believe this to be the case.

One of the articles I alluded to above was from a popular blog called "Brain Pickings," by Maria Popova.  Dubbed "The Benjamin Franklin Effect,"  Maria talks about Franklin's mastery of human psychology and how to handle "haters."  McRaney gives valuable advice to those who want to try and win over their opponents instead of disparaging them further:

For many things, your attitudes came from actions that led to observations that led to explanations that led to beliefs. Your actions tend to chisel away at the raw marble of your persona, carving into being the self you experience from day to day. It doesn’t feel that way, though. To conscious experience, it feels as if you were the one holding the chisel, motivated by existing thoughts and beliefs. It feels as though the person wearing your pants performed actions consistent with your established character, yet there is plenty of research suggesting otherwise. The things you do often create the things you believe.


Cognitive behavior therapy is something that the self interest group "bullies" should prescribe to.   As McRaney adds:

The Benjamin Franklin effect is the result of your concept of self coming under attack. Every person develops a persona, and that persona persists because inconsistencies in your personal narrative get rewritten, redacted, and misinterpreted. If you are like most people, you have high self-esteem and tend to believe you are above average in just about every way. It keeps you going, keeps your head above water, so when the source of your own behavior is mysterious you will confabulate a story that paints you in a positive light. If you are on the other end of the self-esteem spectrum and tend to see yourself as undeserving and unworthy [and] will rewrite nebulous behavior as the result of attitudes consistent with the persona of an incompetent person, deviant, or whatever flavor of loser you believe yourself to be. Successes will make you uncomfortable, so you will dismiss them as flukes. If people are nice to you, you will assume they have ulterior motives or are mistaken. Whether you love or hate your persona, you protect the self with which you’ve become comfortable. When you observe your own behavior, or feel the gaze of an outsider, you manipulate the facts so they match your expectations.

Will Common Core survive?   It's clear the mob is gaining the upper hand right now, but the question remains, "how do you tame it?"   We are in uncertain times.  The Common Core has forced the hand on public policy.  Even if the end result is that many states create better standards, even if not uniform, it is still unlikely that public education will take the bold steps necessary to fix a dysfunational system that has not been fundamentally altered in more than a century.


The Education Establishment Does Not Understand Disruptive Innovation

Over the past week, we've seen some cautionary signs coming out of some of the new public school designs in k-12 education.   We've seen certain growing pains from the "flexible school" model coming out of Rocketship Education.  Education Week blogger, and public school protectionist Walt Gardener wrote a post today called "Bad News for Charter Schools"where he talked about the charter school closings in various states and making the sweeping conclusion that charters are not working.   And folks like Diane Ravitch believe wholeheartedly that charter schools are a "colossal mistake" and uses a conspiracy theory claiming that they give public money to private corporations.  These are VERY predictable responses and certainly not surprising to those who understand the principles of disruptive innovation theory:

  • If an innovation is in fact "disruptive," it will start out as low cost and likely inferior to the existing products or services in the market.
  • It will target areas of non-consumption

At this point, some charter schools may be sustaining innovations and not disruptive innovations.   Are they targeting a different set of consumers?  Are they being deployed disruptively?  If a charter school is controlled by the local school district, will it be able to disrupt the status quo?  This was part of the debate in 2012 in Georgia and other states about whether there should be alternate authorizers at the state level for public charter schools.

Is it too soon to gauge whether certain innovations are having the favorable impact expected of them?  In some cases, the answer is YES.  In a recent article titled "Schooling Rebooted,"we see a case study about Carpe Diem Collegiate High School and Middle School in Yuma, Arizona.  As the article states:

Carpe Diem has delivered some promising results, while serving a student population that was 46 percent low-income in 2011–12: Carpe Diem ranks among Arizona’s 10 highest-performing charter schools, outperforming Arizona’s statewide four-year graduation rate five of the six years between 2007 and 2012 (with a 96 percent graduation rate in 2011), and regularly exceeding the Arizona average at every grade level on the statewide assessment.The Carpe Diem model is also cost-effective. It requires fewer teachers per student than a traditional school, so Carpe Diem has achieved those results with only about $5,300 of the $6,300 per pupil allocation, according to Ryan Hackman, the school’s chief operating officer.

With new school designs, it's still a mixed bag.  Some models will be successful, and some may not,  But we know unequivocally that charter schools have certain accountability systems that traditional public schools do not.  If a charter school does not meet the requirements of its charter, it can be shut down.   Traditional public schools have historically not faced the threat of closure. 

At the end of the day, the defenders of the status quo expect charter schools and other new innovations to become instant successes.  That's not how innovation works.  These folks would be mindful that reforms and evolution take time, and can be painful at times.  Do you think the American Revolution was a smooth and orderly transition?  Far from it!  However, the analogy here is that we must have the courage to change our system because if you ask college professors or look at the abilities of our international graduates, the status quo is not an option.


Lets Not Fear Change in Public Education in 2014

"After living with their dysfunctional behavior for so many years (a sunk cost if ever there was one), people become invested in defending their dysfunctions rather than changing them."

 — Marshall Goldsmith


I for one am glad that 2013 is behind us.  We have seen the establishment in public education work feverishly to oppose any and all new ed reform efforts.  These include the relentless opposition by self interest groups to try and dismantle the Common Core and the assessments attached to it, not too dissimilar from efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.   We have also seen misinformation and paranoia in efforts to bring cloud computing to the K-12 market, and wreck havoc on the efforts of Gates-backed nonprofit organization InBloom to try and create efficiencies with student information and learning management systems WHILE protecting personal student data.   We have also seen feverish opposition to research-backed proposals to evaluate and measure effective teaching.   In all, it's been a brutal year to be an ed reformer.

 Now let me be clear here.  Not all of the policies are the right ones.   We live in republic that after 225 years is still torn between federalism and state-driven policies.   The battle fronts have never been more dangerous than they are at present. Reformers must  work harder to build a spirit of collaboration with educators where possible.   Change will not come easy, and despite the recent backlash over the PISA results, those of us who have worked in Corporate America know full well that despite the incredible wealth of the United States, our education system is not churning out graduates who are prepared to succeed in careers, and life for that matter.  Moreover, our international peers are hungry, and their education systems, regardless of what we might think about their tactics, are working. 

We should be able to use the power of technology to ensure that every child, regardless of socioeconomic background, gets a quality education.   And we know from research at organizations such as CASEL that social and emotional learning might be the missing piece in the puzzle.   There are many programs successfully teaching at-risk youth and removing the excuse of poverty.   A child in a poor home should be able to get a rich learning experience outside the home.

I wish that in the year 2014 we can get all parties to stop clinging to positions and start focusing on interests - our children's interests.  If they embrace the principles of the well-known book Getting to Yes, then perhaps we'll see some progress.  At the end of the day, we know that disruptive innovation works because change only happens when those inventions below the radar start to hit the radar from a position of strength.   I hope that in 2014 we can all get on the same page and create a new spirit of collaboration in order to get the United States back where it belongs:  a leader in educating its citizens, from cradle to grave.

Maybe I'm still the Cockeyed Optimist  of which I blogged about a few years ago.   But hope is what our country is known for.  And it should always be in the hearts and minds of every child.  Public education can instill that sense of hope and wonder - isn't that what learning is all about?


A New Year's Resolution For Educators

I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to title this blog post.  It can probably be re-titled.

This past week, I caught the attention of Ed Week blogger, Anthony Cody.  A former educator in Oakland Public Schools, Mr. Cody has a blog on this leading trade publication in the K-12 industry.  It is titled Living in Dialogue   Mr. Cody essentially plays the role of Clarence Thomas to Antonin Scalia (played by Diane Ravitch).   I have been nearly always commented on Anthony's blog to rebut his NEA-line agenda time and time again.   His blog states that it is about the following theme: "With education at a crossroads, he invites you to join him in a dialogue on education reform and teaching for change and deep learning."  However, if one looks beneath the surface, what you will find is that the author is proud of the fact that his blog archive shows no less than 80 (that's right, 80) posts related to the Common Core.   He has taken a cue from Diane Ravitch and talks about the so-called conspiracy around the formation of the standards.  In addition, Mr. Cody assassinates ed reformers such as the Gates Foundation at every turn, believing that they have no business meddling in education policy.

Mr. Cody then decided to honor me with writing a blog post that references my previous comments and deducts that I sought to muzzle Cody and the like and that they don't have voice - that they should simply worry about what they can control which is their classrooms.   And this, of course, opened the flood-gates and created a surge of comments on his blog, many of them personally attacking me and calling me a corporate reformer.  One even had the audacity to state that our education system is not broken.

Here is where I drew the line.   Mr. Cody's blog has not been living up to its billing.  It is more or less taking the NEA -line about the Common Core and the political forces meddling (as he puts it) in education policy.    Is 80 blog posts overkill or what?  What you find on this blog and many other blogs by educators is that they use blogging to rant and to turn it into an NEA beat down on any reformers who may differ from them in what ails our schools.   Many of the educators on the blog are NEA members, are retired teachers who are free to say whatever they wish, or are educators using an alias, for fear they might face reprimands from their administrators if identified.    Most of the time, these educators personally attack and character assassinate their targets, without using any factual evidence to support their views.  Or alternatively, they will take an outlier situation - and use it to state that the particular practice is killing our schools when it is just one extreme case.  This is a typical weapon of choice by Ravitch, Cody, et al.

Mr. Cody's blog is supposed to be about "teaching for change and deep learning."  I commented that Mr. Cody, as an experienced educator, should use his bully pulpit to try and help teachers improvise and use the limited resources they have - to think differently.  Instead, they talk about compartmentalizing subjects and worried about insufficient time during the school day to add new things.   Mr. Cody should look at the amazing teaching practices happening across the nation  and the fact that there are some innovative programs where they are able to integrate music and arts in their curriculum, as well as crate intrinsically motivating learning environments through digital technology, video games and the like.  In the new year, I hope that educators will spend more time looking at the opportunities afforded by changing their teaching habits, and to be more positive versus the constant rants and complaints seen across the educator blogasphere, which includes Mr. Cody's blog.   If you read this blog and others on Ed Week, you'll find that more than 90% of the comments are simply agreeing with the author's premise, rather than engaging in true civil discourse, or even creating an environment of collaboration.  That's my wish for educators and other key stakeholders in 2014 - a new spirit of respectful discussion and collaboration.  I hope we can see this happen.