Friday, December 28, 2007

Saying Goodbye to the Two-Year College

For those of you interested in community and technical colleges and their place in the larger world of education, you’ll want to check out one of my recent articles called “Saying Goodbye to the Two-year College.” It was published this month in Leadership Abstracts from the League for Innovation. I’ve already received some interesting responses on this one!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Holiday Message

All the best to you and yours for the Holidays! Here’s hoping for a season full of good health, good times, and good heart. Special thoughts and prayers go out to those in our communities and around the world in need—whether for safety, food, shelter, purpose, or love. And let’s hope that it is the spirit of giving that stays with us into the New Year.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Motivating Education

Watching a group of Scottish college students talk about the importance of their motivation was interesting—and pretty funny at times. It seems that access to food has a lot to do with instructional inspiration. They went on to explain that more often than not they also feed off the motivation of their teachers and other college employees.

It’s not just what they say, it’s how they say it. How they make us feel about being here, it affects us.

If they aren’t happy, we know it. We can see it in how they act toward us.

When they are having fun, we have fun. When they are interested, we get interested. I think it’s that simple.

When you listen to these students, it becomes pretty clear that we own a shared responsibility for creating a positive and productive learning environment. Like it or not, it impacts their learning. This is one of the underlying premises of the Scottish Further Education Unit’s (SFEU) Motivated College Initiative. The initiative began as their adaptation of Alan McClean’s book, The Motivated School and has since morphed into a higher education take on the topic. This session was another in a series of seminars SFEU has sponsored to dive deeper into this topic.

Of course students have the primary responsibility to own their own learning—and we should help move them to a place of being more hardy, self-motivated learners. But we kid ourselves if we think their motivation to learn is all about them. The environments we foster, the cultures we contribute to, even the “aura of a classroom” (as one student put it), all make a difference. Moreover, most talented and highly successful education professionals want to work in positive and inspiring environments. This premise is at the heart of Fortune’s “best places to work” research. It’s the reason why Google is scooping up a good number of the top IT scientists in the world. So, it makes sense to ask how motivating our education environments might be. If you read Daniel Goleman’s Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, you’ll see just how connected this human system really is – down to our collective mirror neurons! Put simply, our collective motivation matters.

How’s your motivation these days? How’s the motivation level of your colleagues? If you work in education, what impact do you think these motivation levels have on the learning of students? If the only motivation our students hear about is testing excellence for NCLB or documented learning outcomes for accreditation, what impact does that have? In primary and secondary schools, what if the real trick to motivation is reaching them with beauty, art, or music. What impact does all but eliminating these subjects in an effort to “raise standards” have on student motivation? In colleges, can we come to grips with the Emersonian notion that who we are is screaming so loudly that all the strategic enrollment management strategies and Web 2.0 technologies in the world won’t have the same impact that authentic positive engagement will? Read Parker Palmers’ A Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life for a wonderful exploration of this topic.

The students who presented at this seminar have a message for us: they know that their motivation matters in advancing their learning. But they also know that in the connected human endeavor that is education, so does ours!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Is IT Bubbling Back Up?

It’s a playful video that brings home the problem of techno-hyperbole again hijacking our conversations about learning. I’ve called it the Techno Cro-Magnon Theory in other articles—the almost primal assumption that . . . technology . . . gooood.

Yes, new technologies—Web 2.0 in particular—can help us reach and teach many students. But they can also get in the way, complicate connections, and dehumanize an all-too human enterprise. I’ve heard some say boldly that technology will improve education. Nope. It is the thoughtful and effective use of technology that can improve learning. Still, more and more school board members, college and university trustees, and institutional leaders are being deluged by the flood of fanciful technology terms and again being pushed to change or die. In many places, it looks like a new IT bubble is forming.

This tech bubbling and babbling notwithstanding, an increasing number of teachers, reachers, and leaders in education are not as quick to believe the hype this time around. Instead they are asking hard questions, looking deep into the data, and reflecting on the learning outcomes surrounding new learning technologies and techniques. Indeed, the search for better insight surrounding learning is clearly on. And, ironically, in many cases it will be technology (e.g., data warehousing, data mining, and analytics) that enables people to check on the effectiveness of technology tools in the learning world.

So, the question is: are we better prepared this time. Or, will we again let IT bubble back up?

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Vision of Students Today

The video study above is number two on the Viral Video Charts today. And while this vision of students today is focused on a limited sample of younger university students, it raises some good questions for educators in all sectors to consider. I wonder, however, how different the video would be if you added in the wide array of adult students and part-time students that are swirling in education these days. The kinds of students in this profile account for less than 20 percent of the credit-bearing higher education students nationally. Would there be differences in the stories students would tell in large state schools, private liberal arts colleges, community colleges, and online universities? Would there be differences based on student diversity--e.g., ethnicity, age, work status, family income, access to technology?

My guess is that all too often even broader and more diverse student groups would experience an education system that feels like an industrial factory model, operating on an agrarian calendar, trying to meet the needs of the information age. However, I would also bet that they would tell stories of faculty and staff members who reach beyond their cumbersome systems to engage, challenge, and inspire students. Which brings us back to our earlier discussions about working to build a more modern and sustainable learning infrastructure; challenging ourselves to learn something new and engage our students using both tried and true methods, as well as some new and novel--as long as we know they improve learning; and then challenging students to take personal responsibility for their learning and develop visions worth working toward.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ready for the Information R/Evolution?

This is a compelling video from Michael Welsh at Kansas State University. It has interesting implications for how we construct, connect, and convey information, as well as for how we prepare students for a ubiquitously linked Web 2.0 world vs. a fixed-media, stored-information world. Moreover, there are serious implications here for how we teach information literacy, critical thinking, and decision making in the context of this r/evolution. Learning outcomes, learning theory, and learning technology all come into play as we tackle this challenge. But the key question may be not wether are our students ready for this change . . . but are we?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Visions Worth Working Toward

I’m reflecting this morning on my recent trip to Tampa. I had the pleasure of keynoting the International Research Conference on Service Learning and Community Engagement thanks to a kind invitation from one of Florida’s champions of service learning, Dee Dee Rasmussen. During the event, key leaders from K-12, Community Colleges, and Universities from across the country and around the world were deep in dialogue about their strategies for connecting with a new generation of students. During the keynote, we talked a good deal about how to leverage technology in connecting with these students, and further about how to engage them in service-learning opportunities to help us all keep up with technology. Their service as student technology assistants for those on the wrong side of the digital divide—not to mention working with us to help us keep up—might be essential if we truly want a more sustainable learning system on the fast-changing road ahead.

After the conference, David Grossman, Director of the Civic House at University of Pennsylvania, sent me a note making the connection between Thomas Friedman’s recent article on Generation Q and our dialogue at the conference. For those of you who can’t access the premium content of the NY Times, the essence of the article is the argument that this new generation of learners is indeed a caring, connected, and concerned cohort. It is a group that is socially aware, and interested. However, in Friedman’s mind, they are far too passive, too quiet (thus Generation Q). He continues:

. . . (this generation) may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country’s own good . . . Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy didn’t change the world by asking people to join their Facebook crusades or to download their platforms. Activism can only be uploaded, the old-fashioned way — by young voters speaking truth to power, face to face, in big numbers, on campuses or the Washington Mall. Virtual politics is just that — virtual.

This exchange reminded me of an article I wrote some years ago for Steven Gilbert of the TLT Group—one of my favorite thinkers in this space. He was looking for “visions worth working toward.” The premise was that we need compelling visions of the future to spark our use of technology, transformations of education, and directions in major policy work. Without something that strikes our imagination and calls us to action, we are too often stuck in the admiring “that’s interesting” repose, rather than striving, learning, and growing as needed. In response to his query, I took Ghandi’s famous seven deadly sins and turned them to a more positive positioning to frame just such a compelling vision. Here it is:

A Vision of what can save the world:
Knowledge with character;
Business with morality;
Science with humanity;
Politics with principle;
Pleasure with conscience;
Wealth from work;
and Worship with sacrifice.

-paraphrased from Mahatma Ghandi

A good argument can be made that Generation Q is sitting tinder ready for a spark of motivation, direction, or passion. We may need to challenge ourselves to engage them early and often to see if we can ignite their interest and help them move from passionate point-and-click socialites to positive change-and-progress drivers. It just might be the best service we can provide for their learning—helping them develop a vision worth working toward.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Playing the Game: Working Together to Advance the Creative Economy

Are you playing? In the creative economy that is. More and more, state by state, nation by nation, the conversation is turning to the importance of education and the creative economy. We’ve talked about it at length in this blog, and others are buzzing and building around the same topic nationally and internationally.

Most recently, I had the chance to speak to the California Community College Statewide Economic Development Advisory Committee on new generations of learning. The most interesting part of the engagement was seeing the laser focus on their role in the creative economy. For example, we had a fascinating presentation by the folks leading the Multimedia and Entertainment Initiative for the state. It’s an inspiring community of practice, bringing together programs to advance the creative economy, inspire creative program development within education, and build a strong network of interested and inspiring institutions taking on this work.

Having worked with educators across K-12, community colleges, and universities interested in both reaching and teaching with creative economy strategies, this is the kind of community of practice that will drive change. I often encourage educators to read Got Game: How the Gamer Generation is Reshaping Business Forever and begin to expand their use of creative outreach and engagement of students. But one of the most common refrains is: who is doing this work? Where can I find models? Check out the California MEI work at to learn more, join forces, and start to play. Let’s see what we can create together.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Simple Acts, Beautiful Results

Bermuda is beautiful. I’ve had the pleasure of working here with the good folks from Bermuda College for the last few days. The people, their passion, their college, their focus on students, and so much more—it is all a thing of beauty. And their view of the ocean isn’t bad either!

However, the most beautiful moment happened after one of our sessions. We were diving in to the findings of the Practical Magic: On the Front Lines of Teaching Excellence study. We explored how the faculty from this study—all of whom had received awards for excellence in teaching and reaching students—seemed powerfully passionate about connecting with students, catalyzing their success, and inspiring them to fall in love with learning. Moreover, they dared to be different as they made a difference—dared to be “goofy” as one faculty member put it. They put their egos on the line, because it wasn’t about them. Their lives were not about their prestige; they were instead committed to seeing their students succeed. We talked about the learning theory you can draw Daniel Goleman’s recent book, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships; and how after reading this work and better understanding the power of teachers, coaches, parents, and leaders to literally shape the brains and patterns of thinking of those in their charge, it is impossible not to take the most simple acts seriously.

After the session, one of the faculty members came to the front of the room while I was closing down my computer. She wanted to share her story personally. She taught math at Bermuda College and deeply resonated with the section of the study that talked about daring transformative teachers and their often powerful but simple words and deeds.

She, like many Bermudian students, had left the island to complete her bachelors. Upon entering her large US University, she realized that this was going to be a very different experience. The institution was large, impersonal, and loaded with bureaucracy. Put simply, and in her words, she was scared. However, one of her faculty members dared to stand out. He got to know his students, understand their backgrounds, and seemed to really care about their success—and not just in math. He was the opposite of the sloppy Darwinian, “let them sink or swim,” faculty that made students feel like they were a nuisance. He was her island in that lonely university sea.

At the end of the semester all of the students taking calculus—from a wide variety of teachers—were brought together in a huge hall to take the end-of-course exam. She was worried enough about the test, but now she was sitting in a gigantic, sterile room with what seemed like a thousand students. To her, they all looked ready. She was terrified. Her heart rate soared, she began to sweat, and her mind seemed to be locking up. She couldn’t remember the simplest of things she knew would be on the test. She began looking for a way out.

But just as this panic was cresting and she was preparing to crash to shore, she heard a voice. It was her teacher. It was five minutes before the test was to begin, and he was making his way through the sea of students to personally encourage his class. He knew all of his students’ names and faces and sought them out one by one. The other students were looking at him like he was crazy. The proctors were not pleased. He didn’t care.

He found her in the middle of that sea, she said. “Then he put his hand on my shoulder and just leaned in by my ear and said, ‘I just know you’re going to do well!’”

With that one touch and those simple words, “All of the worry, stress, and panic seemed to flood out of my toes. I remember that moment to this day. It just may have changed my life.” He was the only teacher who took the time to make that pre-test connection with students. She wondered what would have happened to her, if she hadn’t had the one teacher willing to be that different. “Without that simple act, I’m almost positive I would have failed that test,” she said. “But because of him, I not only passed, I fell in love with math. Now, I try my best to pass that feeling on to my students.”

From the moonlight on the ocean to the pink sand by the sea, you can’t help being struck by Bermuda’s beauty. But it is this simple story that will stay with me from this trip. It’s a great reminder that while the bells and whistles of technology might ring and blow with possibility and the power of education policy is formidable indeed, it is often the simple acts, the small moves, and the supportive side comments of those on the front lines that can have the most beautiful results.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Sustainability in Education

Sustainability as a topic of conversation in the world of education--in both programs and operations--is moving from the fringes to center stage. I recently attended the Bay Area Regional Workforce Development Consortia’s summer meeting in Burlingame (CA) where explorations of sustainability, renewable energy, and alternative fuels drove the dialogue. David Esmaili from West Valley College gave a compelling presentation about their curriculum efforts and operational initiatives. Check out their Advanced Transportation Technology and Energy page to get a good overview of their efforts.

Of course they are not alone. Many K-12 school districts, community colleges, and universities nationally and internationally are taking on efforts to help students explore sustainability, prepare for careers that enable sustainability, and learn in environments that leverage sustainable energy strategies. Examples include and can be found in the projects of the Partnership for Environment Technology Education, the Center for Sustainable Energy, and the National Renewable Energy Lab (I particularly like their student resources). Of course the US Department of Energy has a good resource page – particularly for those interested in outfitting their campus to be more energy efficient.

The benefits are clear: (1) good careers for students, (2) clean and sustainable campuses for our faculty, staff, and administrators, and (3) increased competitiveness for our communities, states, and nations. The question is: have you catalyzed the conversation on sustainability—on both the programmatic and operational levels—at your institution?

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Surfacing Education

Check out this video on Microsoft's Surface , which will be released this fall. Just think about the uses in education! Here's another video that explores the possibilites and another that is a review from Popular Mechanics. Surface could help bring classroom and online learning to life in very new and interesting ways. As we've discussed before, technology innovations like Surface--along with gaming, social networking, holographics, and more--hold the potential to bring student engagement to a whole new place.

Shift Happens, Even to US

In the stunning Shift Happens presentation (click here for the music-enhanced YouTube version or here for the award-winning PowerPoint version) the premise that size and focus matter comes through loud and clear. Basic facts like China has more honor students than we have students, more people with bachelors degrees than we have people, and that they soon will be the largest English-speaking country in the world, make you take pause. I'm still trying to verify these data; however, if they are even close to accurate it is worth exploring the possible impact. Couple these trends with the larger changes we are seeing in the flat world, creative economies, and newer technologies, and shifting seems far too tame a verb for what’s coming our way.

In Kristof’s NY Times column this Monday, The Educated Giant, he dives deeper into how serious China is about shifting—and doing so through education. He argues that there are four reasons for their progress: (1) they are hungry for education and economic progress, and as a result they work harder; (2) they have enormous cultural respect for education, revere teachers, and pay them well; (3) they believe in their bones that hard work means much more than talent—in their mind, grades come from engagement and work, not being “smart;” and (4) they don’t believe they are anywhere near good enough. They want to drive more creativity and innovation—which, by the way, will be quite hard in a country that suppresses the liberal arts of critical thinking, dissent, and personal decision making. However, this challenge notwithstanding, after spending time in China and exploring their drive, Kristof echoes a now common refrain from politicians, educators, and economic development specialists: The US needs to respond to this challenge like we did to the launch of Sputnik in 1957, with a massive mobilization of effort, focus, and funding. And it’s not about winning a cold war this time; it’s about whether or not the US will be swimming in the hot springs of education and economic progress that are bubbling up all over the world.

So what’s happening here? Yes, we are spending an inordinate amount of time on testing and testing-related issues because of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). However, given the challenges at hand, it’s not surprising we want to help institutions develop the power to know they’re making a difference through education. Leaving NCLB aside, we are waking up to the fact that our system is large, democratic, diverse, with many opportunities to stop in and stop out. These characteristics are clearly a positive. However, our system also is far too porous. Retention, persistence, and academic achievement seem to take a backseat to access. We need to blend the positive access agenda with the now imperative success agenda to drive change. Initiatives like the Lumina Foundation’s Achieving the Dream are doing just this by challenging institutions to work together to meet collectively agreed upon student access and success goals. It’s definitely worth a look. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is trying to build business and education dialogues to better set standards. And the American Council on Education has launched its and initiatives to make the case for education preparation and investment. There are many more initiatives to list, but, you get the idea. We are trying. But will it be enough? Would we be better served by a much larger local, state, and national political dialogue surrounding education that goes well beyond arguments about outcomes testing?

Yes, shift is happening—particularly with China driving their education agenda. However, the US has some innate and powerfully positive aspects to its education system—growing commitments to access, success, and flexibility—that might just position us to leverage these changes like no other. We just need to get our shift together!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

When Learning Hurts

Senseless, horrific, and disturbing are only a few of the descriptions that come to mind when contemplating Monday's tragedy at Virginia Tech. Who, how, and why are only a few of the questions for which we want answers. Regardless of the answers, however, the hurt this incident will inflict on all involved will be deep and lasting. Moreover, ripples of this hurt are already radiating out in our larger national psyche.

These school, college, and university tragedies hurt so much and so broadly precisely because they violate the very nature of learning. Learning is genesis. It's supposed to lead to new and better life. It's supposed to nurture the seeds of promise to bring forth the buds of potential that open up into the glorious blooms of possibility. It's not supposed to reap, but to sow and grow. When these violent acts viciously violate our learning venues it hits hard.

Our thoughts, prayers, and support go out to the students, faculty, families, and friends involved in Monday's tragedy. You have the love, care, and concern of millions flowing your way. And let's hope that the administrative allegations, political pontifications, and social recriminations don't dominate the national dialogue for too long. Rather, let's strive to come together sooner than later and focus on honoring those lost and supporting those hurt by this tragic incident.

Friday, March 16, 2007

On YouTube, Engagement, and Learning

Students still report that too many learning experiences are passive, linear, formal, and impersonal. All of us have been on that side, as a student that is—being talked at, ignored completely, and bored to death. As we discussed in the last post, some educators are either adamantly against or almost afraid of making their teaching and learning fun. You might even argue that the Serious Games Initiative is such an example. Just the fact that we have to call it “serious” says it all. These games are supposed to be serious in education, not fun.

However, new technology and a new sense of willingness in teachers and learners might offer a new way—a way to both seriously improve learning and have fun. I’ve been working with two colleagues—Dr. Coral Noonan-Terry and Kathleen Plinske—on a remarkably enjoyable study called A New Generation of Learning, where we have been exploring the infrastructure institutions will need to create engaging education on the road ahead. Our overarching premise is that all too often we separate physical infrastructure from virtual infrastructure (remember this commentary), and that if we truly want to combine them we need to consider things like blended learning, social networking, gaming, high-impact presentation technologies, mobility, analytics, and mindful high-touch connection strategies.

Coming out of these discussions was a great example from Kathleen. She is a doctoral student at Pepperdine University, which has leveraged these types of tools in her learning experiences. They have a virtual classroom in which they meet in Second Life, they do extensive virtual work for remote students around the country, and they even let her demonstrate her learning using YouTube. Check out this video she prepared as a virtual video portfolio of her study of learning theory. Not only is it an interesting use of technology to engage and document learning, it is a pretty impressive overview of learning theory in practice. I particularly like the tongue-in-cheek jargon meter that runs throughout.

A hand-held digital movie camera, Final Cut Pro software for the video, Garage Band software for the narration, and an internet connection were the only tools she used to produce this video. Just think about how much richer and enjoyable the learning experience documented here is versus writing a typical paper or answering a multiple-choice test. She told me that she ended up spending “way too much time on this” because it was engaging and interesting. Kathleen estimates it took almost five times longer than a traditional research paper would have, but she loved the assignment. Many of the tools necessary to produce something like this are free and our students use them all the time (literally millions of students post on MySpace and YouTube every semester). In another favorite example from the student recruiting and engagement side of the house, Kettering University leveraged a comic flash movie—rather than a professionally produced video—to drive their recruiting of new students (you have to check out their Stick Man video). The viral marketing chain was so powerful that they now have a cult following of the Kettering Stick Man.

If you’re an educator willing to put your toe in the water, you’ll soon find out that these teaching and learning strategies are fun for all involved. But you have to be willing to really engage your students and learn some new things yourself. Don’t worry; many students are more than happy to tutor you. You also have to be willing to let go of your ego. Getting over your sense of self importance is a must to make these kinds of strategies work. Do these things, however, and you’re likely to help your students connect as never before with the positive affective domain in education—which is our jargoned way of saying you'll help them fall in love with learning. Part of the reason this is so is because they'll see that you are willing to learn with them, and enjoy it.

As a final conversation catalyzer, I submit that these technologies and techniques absolutely need not dominate the learning experience, but they at least warrant a try in our continuing attempts to improve and expand learning opportunities for our students. Will you YouTube?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Making Fun of Learning Objects

The good folks at the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management (ISKME) just launched what looks to be a powerful teaching and learning network called Open Education Resources (OER) Commons. OER Commons brings social-networking features and open-source technology to educational content. In essence, it combines an open-source style learning object repository with a MySpace-like sharing, rating, and collaborating infrastructure—in other words, small chunks of curricular resources combined with collaboration tools for faculty sharing those chunks. Membership is free, and the potential is huge.

What’s happening here is the free exchange of learning resources, coupled with the ability of faculty nationally and internationally to collaborate, share, and dialogue. Ideas and insights about what’s working, what’s not, and how to best make use of resources are right at your fingertips. Amazon- and YouTube-like rating systems guide you through highest-rated, most-viewed, and new content in a myriad of disciplines. If you buy the premise of Daniel Goldman’s book, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, you can see the genius behind OER Commons. It’s a vibrant social network that allows faculty to collectively make meaning, interact, and engage with learning content. It’s not just an electronic file cabinet of modular learning materials, as many learning object repositories become.

OER Commons holds the real potential of making the search for and construction of curriculum and delivery strategies more social and maybe even fun—imagine that! Add to this the idea of bringing interactive gaming technology into this mix, as folks like Chris DeDe from Harvard’s College of Education advocate, and you really ratchet things up. Extending the idea we discussed earlier about gaming in student orientation, imagine teachers choosing from interactive game modules (learning objects) that dynamically teach math concepts, engage students in comparing and contrasting philosophies, or take them deep into historical contexts as participants. It’s a future where teaching and learning becomes literally playful for teacher and learner.

But therein may be a problem. There are some for whom the idea of making learning math, philosophy, history--any "serious" subject for that matter--fun completely misses the mark. To them, learning should be hard, full of unremitting work that leads to painful realization. Play has no part in this mix. Even though the medical industry, the military, and many more have all found the broad value of creating more social and game-centric learning experiences, in their minds we just can’t let that kind of thinking sour thousands of years of educational practice! They are essentially saying, "I had to give blood, sweat, and tears to learn this stuff, and so should you!" These are the same folks who are still getting over the fact that search engines can instantly give you research results, when they had to spend hours in the library searching through the stacks to find the same information.

However, I don’t think this sentiment is shared by most teachers. From work studying thousands of teaching excellence award winners, it’s clear that the best of teachers want to make learning about their disciplines fun, engaging, and even inspiring. Moreover, they want to have fun in the process as well.

So to best meet the learning needs of our communities and our students, let’s make use of tools like OER Commons and strategies from gaming as we engage our neomillennial learners. Let’s be known for making fun of learning objects!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Cutting Out the Middle Man

Check out Gootman’s story in today’s NY Times—Taking Middle Schoolers Out of the Middle. This has been one of the most welcome trends to watch in the world of K-20 over the last few years. The research is clear. US students perform as well or better than international students until 6th grade, and then they fall off the cliff. Guess what happens then? Middle School.

We have to remember that today's middle schools are really a large-scale experiment from the 60s and 70s. The idea was that these kids were going through such a unique time of change that they needed a special kind of focus. To the advocates, segregating these kids made sense. While the sentiment was good, the data are not. There are little-to-no concrete data that support the premise that middle schools work. Indeed, it is about time we admit that this is an experiment that failed, and failed miserably.

Drs. Bill and June Sanders are the researchers behind the SAS Education Value Added Assessment System, which includes deep student-outcome data from more than 500 school districts—many with more than 15 years worth of longitudinal information. Their findings are clear. Any time you transition a child from one school building to the next, you lose on average up to ½ a year’s worth of academic progress. Do the math. Moving most kids twice in two-to-three years means they can lose up to a year’s worth of progress or more!

It makes no sense to take these children at their most socially and academically vulnerable stages and make them suffer through these tumultuous transitions. In essence, we rip them from one learning community to the next and leave them with fewer and fewer adult support systems. Whether you’re a fan of brain science, learning communities, student engagement, the three R’s, or social intelligence research you can see why the middle-school strategy doesn’t work. These students have to spend so much time rewiring their brains to accommodate new social systems and support structures over two transitions in two-to-three years that academics become hard-pressed to compete—particularly with powerful pre-teen social dynamics.

As the NY Times article points out, and as I’ve heard educators who have implemented this change recount, there is something powerful about a seventh grader who is goofing off seeing their 2nd grade teacher stare them down. Or for a young girl going through her early stages of puberty to be able to quickly reconnect with a safe-feeling teacher from third grade. They are in a comfort zone, which helps learning fight for center stage. And there are good ways to insure that you don’t have abuse problems with older and younger kids. In fact, the worry over older-child/younger-child abuse is mostly a red-herring argument used to justify not changing.

The K-8 model makes much more sense to me. However, I’m not wed to that idea alone. Some school districts are offering 6-12 systems, to spark an earlier focus on college readiness. Maybe K-7 would be a compromise that makes sense? I’m not sure. My guess is all of these models will be successful because of fewer overall transitions for kids. However, I personally feel kids are being forced to grow up too quickly these days; so, I’d err on the side of letting them stay bonded K-8 until there are compelling data either way.

A serendipitous side effect here is that by ending middle schools we fully eliminate the need for another layer of administration—helping us focus more money on instruction. Will the benefits never cease?

In the end, we’re all about helping our kids and community members learn more effectively. If eliminating the middle man helps our children learn more effectively, better prepares them for college and a world driven by learning, then lets make this a priority. I’d hate to see another generation of kids suffer through this well-intentioned experiment’s outcomes yet again. Let’s not get in the middle of their learning!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


The American Council on Education and the Lumina Foundation finally launched the much anticipated KnowHow2Go website. This campaign is all about inspiring kids and adults to aspire to college education, to prepare early and often, and to take proactive steps on this pathway to possibility.

All too often in the US and around the world, what you learn is based on where you live, what family you were born into, and what expectations were drilled into your head (negative or positive) from an early age. But you and I can help change the game. In today’s world, with information at our fingertips and inspirational stories a click away, no child or adult should have to be lost in the wilderness about education.

In a learn to earn world—even a learn to live world!—we can’t afford to let our children and community members be left in the dark. Help someone in your world KnowHow2Go!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Another Promised Land!

A note from Phil Neal at The University of Texas at Austin:

I was reading your blog about the Kalamazoo Promise and wanted to pass along some information about a similar program in Wyoming. Wyoming has recently experienced great fortunes with the royalties from oil, gas and coal production. It is one of the few states that actually has a surplus of money at their disposal. A couple of years ago, there was a proposal to use some of this surplus to create an endowment which would provide scholarships to Wyoming high school graduates.

The Hathaway Scholarship program was created and students began taking advantage of the scholarship in the fall of 2006. Reflective of their GPA (2.5 and higher) and ACT scores (17 and higher), students will receive one of the four graduated scholarships to be used at the state’s community colleges and/or university. All levels of the scholarships pay for most or all of the full-time tuition at the community colleges, while only a few levels pay for all the tuition at the university. In my mind, this inadvertently created an incentive for students to attend the community colleges for those students with lower GPS’s and ACT scores.Basic scholarship information can be reviewed at The site also contains links to the university and community colleges, all of which have more extensive information.
This program will be a great benefit for students of Wyoming, and has made the financial offices rethink how to use their existing resources for recruitment.Hopefully, its successes, like the Kalamazoo Promise, will serve as models for other communities and states. I agree with you that this type of forward thinking helps to enhance more than the just the educational attainment of the citizens within a city or state. Wyoming is hoping to keep many of its high school graduates from moving out of the state – a problem they have experienced for years – while creating a more educated workforce that helps promote economic development.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Learning to Live Longer

Gina Kolata has a fascinating article in today’s NY Times that is a must read for those interested in education, healthcare, and quality communities. The long and short of the research reported in the story is that the longer you stay in school, the longer you live. Education is more important than ethnicity, income, and a host of other expected key variables. The root of the hypothesized effect of education on life span is related to the ability of a more-educated person to make good choices, delay gratification, and consciously make decisions that positively impact health.

While the studies abound that explore the learn to earn relationship—the more you stay in school, the more you earn—we rarely talk about the significant impact of education on health and wellness in our public policy debates. But this story raises the bar. How can any right-thinking politician or policy maker not care deeply about expanding and improving education access and success with these kinds of stakes? Or, at the very least, how could they not become deeply interested in finding out more.

My favorite part of the article is that the education effect doesn’t end as life goes on. Indeed, it doesn’t matter when you learn, just that you learn. So, pick up a book—your life is at stake :)