Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Still, I meet people who want to found schools with interesting approaches to running a school. Some want to start really small. They value small class sizes and small overall school size. They want to start small so that they can refine their model as they grow. The problem they face is that their start up budgets rarely work. They have to cut and cut to get a break even budget. Often they cut services that I know they need.
Others project student enrollment that is achievable, but a real reach. The problem they face is that if they do not make their enrollment numbers, they struggle because every student not enrolled requires a relatively painful budget cut. If the school ends up 20 students short, the school faces drastic cuts.
In Colorado, the department of education schools of choice unit has done a good job of providing start up schools with information, and the Colorado League of Charter Schools provides a detailed review of applications to try to drive out these weaknesses in initial budget projections. In addition, board members are required to take a series of exams in order for a school to continue to receive federal start up grant funding.
In my recent experience with both young schools and with schools wanting to open, I wonder if founding board members should have to go through that series of exams before they apply for a charter. This would greatly reduce the learning curve that happens after the school opens.
Friday, August 27, 2010
If you've seen them before, you know that I was wrong. The time flew by. They are excellent presenters with an interesting message. In my words, the message was "consistency, structure and procedures can help you succeed in teaching."
It wasn't an exciting message, but it made me think. I like a bit of structure, but truth be told, I also like my freedom. I have become more structured over the years because I've seen some value in it. Structure has helped me as I've worked with charter schools.
I've also become more structured in the way I teach college courses. While I rarely teach any more, I've found that structure helps me as a teacher.
However, the message wasn't that structure helps the teacher. It was that structure helps the learner.
"Students get more done when they see where they are going." How can they see where they are going if the teacher has not given them the map?
So, the Wongs talked about procedures and recipes and shopping lists as analogies to the ways that good teachers operate.
The other key to the Wongs' message was that these rehearsed procedures do not need to appear rehearsed. They do not need to appear as rules. There don't need to be consequences. The consequences are natural.
A great teacher then knows how to "modify and adjust" the procedures to fit the situation or desired outcomes. The point is that first the teacher must know the recipe and how it works. The procedures must be "rehearsed" just as lines for a play must be rehearsed. A great actor makes a performance outstanding, but first he must rehearse the lines. In the same way a jazz saxophonist does not begin with improvisation.
The Wongs' two hours flew by, even though the message was simple. Create consistency in your classroom where the learners have a map of where they are going and how they will get there. Help them to be confident that you will walk along beside them as they go.
That's the recipe.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
When someone does something inappropriate, the group that gets uncomfortable is the group that is good. People acting inappropriately have no monkey because no one has told them they should or they simply ignore the fact that they are doing something wrong. They get a kick out of it.
A teacher or leader can shift the monkey by treating the bad person like a good person. The trick is that it makes the good people feel better while often shifting the monkey to the bad person.
Whitaker said that too often we punish people for being good. We shouldn’t punish people for being good. He used an example of a principal who had the stall doors removed from the bathroom because of graffiti. Who was hurt by this? The good people. The good people no longer got privacy. Did the kids who committed the crime get hurt? Of course not, they just moved their graffiti someplace else and got the satisfaction of having made the school change because of their behavior.
With bad people, we need to find out if they are ignorant or insubordinate. Usually they are ignorant. I need to find that out. They may not be stupid. They may just not know what appropriate behavior is.
We need to understand that if a belligerent parent walks in, we need to shift the monkey to the parent. Sit next to the parent and treat them as if they are good. The monkey begins to shift to the parent. If you create a barrier or become defensive, you’ve kept the monkey and you’ve allowed the parent to control the situation.
He said that his strategy is to get information from them—bad kids, bad parents. What can you say? Every time you say, “ Hi. Can I help you?” It’s never an insult. It can be used for good people and bad people. It’s disarming. It’s not accusatory.
Some other hints he gave were:
- Incredible ability to ignore is important. Choosing or not choosing to respond to situations or responses. You have to deal with yourself. Bad people find ways for you to do their work or for you to leave them alone.
- No matter what the new program is, the crummy teachers can’t do that one either. The best teacher is better than an IEP. The worst teacher can’t implement a great IEP.
- Great teachers have high expectations for students. So do poor teachers. The difference is that great teachers have even higher expectations for themselves.
- “Treat every student with respect and dignity very day, all the time--10 days out of 10.”
Thursday, August 5, 2010
I had great conversation with Peter Groff, the new National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Director, at the KIPP School Summit in Las Vegas yesterday. Peter and I are fellow Coloradans and had lots to talk about. We caught up on life and education and family. It was a lot of fun.
I also asked him some specific questions about NPACS, KIPP and charter schools. While having only been in his new position for about a month, he said that he’s found that the organization is strong and has a passionate staff that understands where it’s going. I also asked him (a bit out of selfish thoughts) about charter schools, their leadership, and the importance of the administrative function.
He said that he believes “a big part of quality begins with the authorizing process.” The administrative and financial offices support and “permeate” into the classroom. Charter schools are “stewards of the public trust. Good financial management shows transparency and overall quality.” It also shows that charter schools understand that they are accountable for spending public dollars in the way the public expects them to be.
Groff things that KIPP is a “rock star of the sector” and that their demonstration of student achievement is something that all of us in the charter school world can point to as a success story. He also noticed the enthusiasm at the conference that I noted in yesterday’s blog. He saw an overwhelming dedication to kids and making sure that every single child has a quality public school.
While we went on to talk about many other issues including Colorado politics, Groff’s point about education, and KIPP specifically, was that charter schools need to be accountable. They need to contribute to children’s success in ways that bring together the various cultures represented by the students to build “knowledge and understanding.” The wide variety of cultures represented at the KIPP conference appears to be a demonstration that all Americans can share their cultural differences in ways that don’t “melt,” but rather enhance the overall culture as different cultures influence on another. This is another key part of education.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
I spent today as a vendor at the KIPP School Summit. The enthusiasm was amazing. There were about 2,900 participants at the event that has been going on since Sunday afternoon and runs through tomorrow. I was only here for this one day.
While I stood at my booth explaining my services to various KIPP leaders and teachers, the conference sessions were well attended as the hallways became extremely quiet while sessions were in progress.
What I saw between session were enthusiastic KIPP folks, often wearing their individual school t-shirts. I saw t-shirts with the KIPP slogan “Work Hard, Be Nice.” I also saw:
· I am the change
· Be the change
· Fall down 7 times. Stand up 8
· ONE – One Team, One Family, One Promise
· SPIRIT – Self-reliance, perseverance, integrity, rigor, initiative, Teamwork
· To Teach, To Challenge, To Inspire
Unlike what I thought I might see, this was a diverse crowd of people. All shapes and sizes, ages, nationalities, and styles of dress gathered at this event designed to train and inspire KIPP leaders and teachers.
Today’s events ended with a reception for attendees, that coincidentally was the same day that KIPP was awarded a $50 million grant from the federal government to expand the number of KIPP schools.
Because of other commitments, I needed to leave the celebration early, but all in all it was a day to celebrate for the enthusiastic atmosphere and a large group of people dedicated to helping kids get to college.
Monday, August 2, 2010
However, contrary to what many opponents of charter schools have asserted, the reason is never a problem with someone wanting to extract money from the charter school. The problem is that usually leaders of charter school teams are academic people who have no idea what it costs to run a charter school. If they do understand the academic costs, they almost never understand the cost of administering a charter school. They may be pretty good at figuring out what a facility might cost, but they ignore the magnitude of maintenance and repairs. They grossly miscalculate things such as utilities. I've even seen prospective schools leave out financial management and IT entirely.
My message is a simple one. Charter school leaders or founders, do your home work. Most of this is not difficult.
- Revenue information is almost always available easily through your authorizer or state department of education.
- Other charter schools are almost always willing to help you estimate costs.
- Simply looking at another charter school's budget can help.
- Review personnel needs. Even if you are outsourcing a function, you will probably need someone in-house to handle the employee interaction.
- Don't assume that you can do something less expensively than other schools, unless you have a solid plan.