Thursday, April 28, 2011
I saw a poster the other day that showed scuba divers happily diving while a shark was coming up behind them. It's great to plan with just a mission in mind, but the situation that you are in also greatly affects your goals and behavior. If you are walking in a dark parking garage at 1 a.m., you probably act differently than you do if you are walking to your car parked on an open street in the middle of the day.
The situation section of a strategic plan can include many elements. Some include a short section on organizational history. This section is primarily composed of what we call a SWOT analysis. If you have been looking at other information on strategic planning, you've probably come across this acronym. It stands for:
The list is divided between two internal considerations and two external considerations. Strengths and Weaknesses are considerations of the internal situation. For example, the school may have STRONG curriculum and WEAK teachers. The major strengths and weaknesses, especially as they contribute to the mission of the school should be outlined and described. Because this is a public document, it often makes it difficult for schools to be brutally honest about some weaknesses. No matter how the wording appears in the final document, the discussion about weaknesses must be brutally honest.
The Opportunities and Threats are external considerations. An opportunity might be that a school has features that make attaining grants more likely than for other schools. A threat might be the economic situation that currently threatens school budgets.
These four lists of factors allow the committee to develop a situational analysis that can assist the school in developing its goals realistically.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
One of the things that separates a charter school from a for profit corporation is that there is no mission of creating shareholder value or attaining profitability. The mission is "pure." Because of this, it's easy for schools to create pie in the sky vision and mission statements that may never be achieved.
The idea of a vision statement can give the impression that a vision can be anything that can be imagined. While I hate to limit people's vision and thinking, I find it important to remind people that while a vision should be optimistic, it should not be unrealistic. This is a tough balance and tough to figure out. Think about the vision of "A computer on every desktop." At one time Bill Gates' vision may have seemed impossible and unachievable. Now, its appears that it may have been too short sighted. The vision has to change because now the desktop computer is almost a think of the past. In other words, coming up with a vision is both easy and difficult. It is, perhaps, more difficult than coming up with a mission statement. A mission statement includes a bit more reality into what exactly will be done.
Vision statements for schools often look very similar. This isn't surprising. The fact that a school is a school narrows the vision. For that reason, beginning by looking at other charter school vision statements can be helpful, although it can also be too limiting. Again, this is where a facilitator can draw out ideas, even if members of the strategic planning team have preconceived ideas. Not that we want the facilitator suggesting ideas, but the facilitator can encourage participants to bring out their own vision.
The vision statement should be short and focused on end results, not means of getting there and not a number of specific goals. It must be specific enough to be pursued, but also must create a vision in the minds and emotions of those who read it. I like vision statements that people can rally around.
The mission statement is a further level of detail. So, if your vision is something like "every child a learning and loving person," Your mission statement should explain in more (but still limited and high level) detail of what that means. So, a mission statement for this school might be:
Our mission is to care about every child, educating each one in a nurturing environment that will allow them to develop into thinking and caring people who can live as successful human beings.
For some, this mission statement will still be too vague. Because I believe that the mission statement should be almost unchangeable, I like mission statements that err on the side of too vague. I believe that they are more effective mission statements. I have seen schools with mission statements that are multiple paragraphs. What is the weakness of longer, more detailed mission statements?
Long mission statements:
- Lose emotional power
- Are not memorable
- Cannot be easily explained
- May include details that are subject to periodic change (and therefore are not part of the essential mission)
Remember that with both the vision and mission statements, the purpose is to motivate and to keep people focused. They are a filter that all goals and strategies must fit through in order to be included in the school's plan. The next step in the process will be to create the goals that the team believes will accomplish the mission of the school.
Monday, April 25, 2011
So, you've decided to write a strategic plan for your charter school. You've listed out all of the elements that you'll need to include. Now, where do you start? I know, you start with the Vision Statement, right?
Well, before that, you need to make some other decisions. For example, whose plan is this? Who is going to use it?
You also need to work out, who needs to be on the strategic planning team. Sometimes a school starting with a strong school founder end up letting the founder come up with the vision and mission. Others then have to fill in the plan. There isn't anything necessarily wrong with that, but the school has to have a mission that truly serves the population and takes into account the ability of the staff to fulfill the mission. So, should staff members be involved? Should board members be involved? Answering these questions are the first step in creating a strategic plan.
As some of have said, "You have to plan to plan." Because the purpose of a strategic plan is like the purpose of a map, you have to decide who is best qualified to create a map. You can't have just a bunch of visionaries because the map will never be completed. The map will look like the picture on the left. It won't have any detail and will be almost useless.
You can't just have a bunch of detailed people because they'll want to fill out the details about the map before the vision for the trip has been planned. They'll probably want to draw in roads that are accurate, but unnecessary.
You also can't just have a free for all with all of these people because nothing with get done.
I recommend that groups choose their participants wisely and keep the number small. The groups has to be large enough to include people who will be valuable to the process, but not so large or diverse as to be unmanageable or divisive.
I also recommend that the facilitator not be a member of the group and optimally someone who has no interest in the outcomes of the school. The facilitator should not contribute ideas to the process. The facilitator is only to facilitate the process so that he or she does not confuse the role. The facilitator must also be commissioned by the group to not allow for favoritism, long speeches and must ensure that all voices are heard, otherwise members of the group whose ideas may be valuable may not get out on the table. The facilitator also must recognize when ideas or discussion on a topic are finished and no longer productive. The facilitator must be have a process that all will follow and that will ensure efficient resolution of issues. In other words, the facilitator is key to the process. It is often necessary to hire an experienced facilitator if an experienced volunteer cannot be found. The facilitator can either ruin a strategic planning session or make a strategic planning session. A good facilitator can be the difference between a strategic plan being completed in a timely manner and taking forever to complete.
Once the team is chosen and a facilitator is selected, then your group can move on to actually beginning the strategic plan.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
For two decades, I have seen many schools and organizations struggle with low-performance issues. Here's my take on what's going on.
There are work groups, there pseudoteams and then there are trueteams. A few years ago, my consulting partner Burton Cohen and I coined the term trueteam to describe an end state of effective teaming. We were dissatisfied with the old saw of "Form-Storm-Norm-Perform" but we recognized the reality that teams do have a fairly predictable life cycle. Here's the concept we articulated. It has proven valid and useful over and over.
++Stage One: Group: A group is an assemblage of disconnected individuals who experience low task focus, conflicting loyalties and jockeying for position. Groups are often assigned to function as teams without the appropriate leadership or training.
++Stage Two: PseudoTeam: A Pseudoteam emerges when group member act as they believe a team should act. Although there is increasing familiarity between the group members, there is also surface smoothness and a tendency to overcompromise. Living as a pseudoteam is frustrating because it is essentially false.
++Stage Three: AntiTeam: At some point, sometimes gradually and sometimes abruptly, the pseudoteam goes negative. The purpose of the group fragments because of growing resentment about the false fronts and overcompromising of the pseudoteam stage. Members engage in passive sabotage, withdrawing from discussions or withholding their constructive criticism. Members often slip into dysfunctional roles, such as the classic attacker—victim—rescuer triad. The AntiTeam is painful so…
++Stage Four: Crisis of Purpose & Productivity: Because the AntiTeam is not productive, members begin to challenge the group’s existence. Leaders challenge the group’s productivity and internal conflicts derail the work of the team. The crisis causes many members and leaders to question whether the team should continue.
++Stage Five: Retreat from the discomfort of conflict: Faced with the pain of the crisis, members retreat back to the comfortable familiarity of surface smoothness and artificial courtesy—in other words, they reform the pseudoteam.
++The Low Performance Loop: Many groups cycle through the pseudoteam-antiteam-crisis-retreat pattern indefinitely. They are productive, but not highly so.
There is a way around the low-performance loop. It is the method of ++Acceleration by Facilitation.++ An effective facilitator, (even when the team leader acts as a facilitator) helps the team by clarifying the task, identifying appropriate team roles and establishing a clear process for information gathering, decision-making and execution.
When a team is facilitated, it can function as a trueteam, complete with interdependence, healthy conflict, creativity, cohesiveness and high productivity. A trueteam is an extremely gratifying place to work, even though trueteams work at a very high level.
Talking about teaming and the phases of teaming is an excellent way to help a group of people skip the storm and move quickly to high productivity.
Monday, April 18, 2011
Here's a twitter exchange with hypocrisy annotations.
I'll keep pointing out Diane Ravitch's hypocrisy as long as she keeps pretending to be respectful.
|•>Ravitch serves with a blanket generalization about online coursework. That's fine—generalizations are her stock in trade and play well on Twitter. 15-Love|
|•>Quixotic returns with a specific, personal illustration that rebuts the Ravitch generalization. He points out that the blanket generalization is unfair. That's an opinion, but one supported by personal testimony. Point Q. 15-All|
|•>Ravitch gets confused. She tries a dropshot by deducing a positive (cheating) from a negative (a logical fallacy) then tosses in the odd disclaimer, "you did, of course" before hitting it into the net with a desperate hypothetical. 15-30|
•>Quixotic smashes an overhead by pointing out the absolute generalization is unfair to hard-working online students. 15-30
•>Ravitch double-faults to lose the game by abandoning the topic and going with a dose of ad hominem sarcasm.
I'm not sure why Ravitch reserves to herself the right to be sarcastic and dismissive. Her final tweet drips with condescension. Quixotic was never rude or personal. Stating that a blanket generalization is unfair does not partake of disrespect. Ravitch, on the other hand, trades in dismissive sarcasm as a matter of course. When she pretends to be a fair-minded broker, remember that Twitter doesn't build character, but in Ravitch's case it reveals it.
The position of school district superintendent is complex, situational and nuanced.
Hiring a superintendent is often simplistic, universal, and one-dimensional.
That delta may be one reason the average time on the job for superintendents is so short. Maybe district leaders look for the wrong things when they hire a CEO.
If you were to compare school district superintendents to the general population, I strongly suspect you would find that they are more likely to be tall, attractive, white, male, poised, extroverted, and articulate. Here are photos of the first eight superintendents I could find who serve in El Paso County, Colorado—the greater Colorado Springs area. Certainly, our community contributes to the more homogenous nature of this pool, but many more diverse locales are led by a group of similar constitution.
I'm not trying to reinforce a superintendent stereotype, but these folks have a lot in common. They are generally photogenic, confident, good in front of a group, extroverted, etc. I have no quarrel with anyone pictured above, though I know some of them personally and work indirectly for one of them. Their names don't matter. Their characteristics do. Superintendent folks are almost always "alpha's" both in the sense of being a leader of the wolfpack and in the sense of coming from the highest caste, à la Huxley's Brave New World.
Among the group above are politicians, athletic stars, award-winners, journalists and authors. They tend to be verbal and insightful—especially with limited preparation. They shine in the kinds of interviews and open houses that are common in most superintendent hiring processes.
But are they the best fit? Some say no.
Superintendents are educational CEO's. As such, they are subject to the myth of the charismatic, heroic CEO. As Collins and Porras point out in Built to Last, their brilliant study of industry-leading firms, the best companies in each industry were six times more likely to promote insiders than their high-performing competition. (Emphasis in the original) Community members, teaches, and especially board members have a long-standing preference for hiring people that fit the image. Although these leaders are more than teeth and hair, I'd be willing to bet that they are not the presumptive leaders on paper. In fact, in my limited experience around two dozen superintendent hires, the best candidates on paper almost never got the nod. The best candidate in the interview—the most likable or inspirational—that's who wins.
In fact, if you want to hire a traditional superintendent, I'll save you a lot of money. Simply have candidates submit a two-minute video in which they explain their vision for the district. Post the videos online, have people vote, and there's your sup. Do diligence with references and a background check, but you'll probably end up hiring the same person you would have hired after a traditional process anyway. Why is that? (For one answer, refer to "Thin-Slicing" as explained by Gladwell in Blink.
For another perspective, think about how we arrive at the board vote.
The start is almost always selection of a search firm. Search firms cast a wide net, filter aggressively, and then present a short slate of candidates. Boards interview, present to the community, solicit feedback and select finalists. They choose, negotiate and hire. By the time the process narrows to a few candidates, the system has usually weeded out those slow to speak, "unimpressive," reserved candidates who don't sparkle in large-group settings. The betas are gone and the alphas survive. Usually, if a person is more reserved and not charismatic they don't have a chance—unless that person is an internal candidate who has proven his or her worth over time.
Depending on the life cycle of the school, and the particular challenges of the district, a solid, administrative-minded candidate might be just right. I've written and presented for years on the importance of recognizing and adapting leadership to life cycle dynamics. For example, your strategic planning and strategic hiring should vary greatly depending on whether your school is in a growth cycle or a stagnation phase. Based on that insight, it is highly unusual to find a circumstance where the celebrity superintendent is the best choice. Although their focus is on business, Collins and Porras found only 4% of the CEO's at great companies came from outside the organization.
If you are involved in the decision about hiring a new superintendent, first examine the process. If you follow the traditional model I can predict with high certainty that you will hire a traditional candidate—one who looks right for the role. Please go deeper. Even if you don't get it right, you can reset and look again.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Diane Ravitch is far too intelligent and experienced to believe the pablum she's been recycling over the last few years. Maybe that's why she offers up comedians and actors as heros who represent our last best hope for leadership. I'm not making this up.
As Whitney Tilson observes, "I couldn’t find a single sentence in [her] entire book that couldn’t have been written by Randi Weingarten. It is just 296 pages of union talking points, utterly lacking in solutions, with no mention whatsoever of the educational malpractice taking place against millions of children in America." (emphasis mine)
Her conversion to the status quo and subsequent adoption by the entrenched left notwithstanding, Ravitch still seems to have residual credibility with many in the media. She shouldn't.
Recently, Ms. Ravitch offered a Twitter challenge to her tweeple asking them to propose pejorative names for charter schools. You can see the resulting tweetriol at #charterschoolnames
Here are some she retweeted.
- Dewey, Cheatum & Howe Academy
- Erase Your Way to the Top
- Shanghai Academy of Human Rights
- Remedial Prep
- I think I'm better than you Academy
- Urban Preparatory for Youth-Oriented Uniform Robotic Systems (Don't miss the UP-YOURS Acronym)
The next time Diane Ravitch pontificates that we need a respectful, evidence-based, thoughtful conversation about education you might remember that she solicited and then broadcast simplistic smears intended to slander and marginalize charter schools.
Here are a few hypocritical Ravitch talking points that are hard to reconcile with trolling for sarcastic slams against charter schools:
- "I support charters" (Except when I solicit thousands of followers to mock them)
- "I try to ground my critique in history." (Except when I ground my critique in mockery)
- "I never ever say anything ad hominem against [colleagues]." (Except to call the schools they found and/or support cheating, elitist, oppressive, robotic etc.—but that's not ad hominem. I'm only criticizing the schools, not the parents, students, teachers, administrators, volunteers and all the other charter zealots who don't agree with me)
- "If evidence mattered, they would tone down their rhetoric. But I won't hold my breath." (I'll just inflame the rhetoric by leading the name-calling.)
- [Education] works best when administrators, teachers, parents, and the public are in respectful dialogue about the needs of children and schools. (Unless I disagree with you about which kinds of schools meet the needs of children, then I'll just mock you.)
- Although one can find exceptions, it is usually the case that voters don't like autocracy. They expect to be treated with respect, not condescension. (Unless they vote to take their children to a charter school, then they're not worthy of my respect.)
- "The very behaviors that schools are supposed to teach—how to think, how to participate, how to reason with others, how to find common ground—are the same behaviors that we expect to encounter in public life." (I mean your public life, not mine.)
Here are a few starters:
- Schools Not Good Enough For Ravitch's Kids
- You're Trapped—Deal With It. Public Schools
- More Money for Lower Performance Unified
- Hey, 22% Graduate in NJ for $30K per student
- Public Schools—Stifling Poor Kids and Protecting Poor Teachers for 150 years.
- Ignore the Problem—Attack the Critics—Repeat Indefinitely Academies
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Unlike my friend, I will be attending this year's conference. Unfortunately, I won't be presenting (and that subject and why opens a completely new can of worms that I had not thought about until I received an interesting email from the conference organizers) this year, but will be attending to work with relationships that I've built over the past few years.
Also, unlike many attendees, I do not work for one school. I am primarily going for marketing reasons. I need to meet as many school leaders and organizational leaders as I can. I need to explore the national market for our services. This is why I believe their is ROI for Charter School Management Corporation.
Schools could have an ROI by selecting our service or other services offered at the conference. Peter noted some good purchases that we were able to make on past trips that more than returned the cost of the trip. However, many attendees ignore vendor booths and vendor relationships because "they are just selling stuff." It is true that I and others are selling stuff, but we aren't "just" selling stuff. Most of us who provide services to charter schools believe that we have a good value proposition. In other words, our services benefit schools.
I've been to at least ten state and national conferences now and have talked to many fellow vendors. The truth is that many of them truly do offer great services--some that could save schools a lot of money.
I have found that for me and my company, the national conference is still worth attending the conference.
I hope to see you there.
Monday, April 11, 2011
WHAT'S THE RETURN...
I've gone on the school's dime, and I've gone on my own dime. I learn a lot and the national conference is a great place to stay tracked with what's great about charter schools. Several of the purchases and new programs we've initiated at my school had their genesis in a vendor or special deal I learned about at the national conference. For example, several years ago in Albuquerque, our school picked up a bunch of data projectors that were only used at the conference for about 50% off. That single transaction more than paid for the cost of attending the conference. Our school recently transitioned to a much improved website provider that I first learned about by meeting the vendor at a conference and previewing their system. There is certainly value in attending, both for my school and for me personally.
But the conference is expensive and getting more pricy. For 2011, here's a reasonable breakdown:
- $575 for Registration
- $550 for three nights hotel
- $250 for round-trip airfare from Denver
- $90 for meals not included with the conference
That means for one school representative to attend the national conference will cost over $1,400. That's a chunk.
Usually the people who attend from the Colorado charter school community are representatives of the CDE Schools of Choice Unit, the Colorado League of Charter Schools, the Colorado Charter School Institute, and leaders from various schools. Interestingly, while I have seen many representatives of independent schools at the conference (fair disclosure—that includes me) I have not seen so many representatives from schools managed by EMO's. Is it possible that the profit-oriented EMO's are less likely to see conference attendance as a necessary expenditure? Is it possible that EMO's don't want their school executives learning about other models?
COUNT THE COST
If you are a school board member or leader, this is a great year to consider how you can either save money by decreasing participation, or increase value by tasking your representatives to attend specific sessions, return with helpful materials, or make a presentation about the conference to members of your school community. If it's not adding value, this isn't the season to perpetuate an expense.
Friday, April 8, 2011
Although we have been writing and presenting about strategic teacher compensation for several years, our perspective is shaped primarily by the charter school environment where we work and lead. Charter schools are the pointy part of the tip of the spear, but we're not the only helpful perspective.
Our friend Ben DeGrow, writing for the Education Policy Center at The Independence Institute has taken a thorough look at non-traditional compensation systems throughout Colorado. In addition to the good work being done in many charter schools, Ben highlights the systems that are emerging through traditional public schools and districts. After reading Ben's report, you will see several themes emerging.
Monday, April 4, 2011
My answer? Well, you aren't going to like it. In most states, THERE IS NO MONEY! Even if legislators wanted to, which I think they do, they can't fund education. Where can they get it? Who would loan it to them? The federal deficit is higher than ever, and last year the feds were the saviors of education around the country. They prevented this from happening last year.
Perhaps as a finance geek, I'm too logical and cold about this, but my kids' education will be as affected as yours. The facts are the facts. For example, here in Colorado, last year the feds pumped in so much money, that a huge cut was averted. I can only think that the feds figured that the economy would turn around and all would be great this year. Unfortunately, that's not what happened. It's going to take about four to five years (and that may be optimistic) before states can fill the holes that this economy has dug.
I may not be the most sympathetic or empathetic person in these times, but I'm pretty darn good at math. I'm also pretty darn good with figuring out how much people and entities can borrow. Anyone who has been watching knows that the country is at a point where it may have reached its borrowing limit.
In other words, it's time to stop whining about how bad this will be and protesting to people whose hands are tied. I know it's a popular belief in this country, but you can't vote money into existence. It's time to buckle down and face the facts that private industry have faced for the past few years. It's tough times. And while I'm not a huge fan of Dr. Schuller, I do think that he may be right when he said, "Tough time never last, but tough people do." Right now, I see fewer people being tough than I'd prefer. I'm not sure what that means about the future of education, but it can't be good.
BTW, this article on Ed Week gives a bit of hope.
Saturday, April 2, 2011
It seems to me that often it is assumed, especially by charter school opponents that charter schools are supposed to answer:
- How do we close the achievement gap between poor and rich kids?
- How do we close the achievement gap between ethnic minorities and whites?
- How do we improve test scores in schools?
- How do we improve the performance of historically low achieving kids?
- How do we improve education compared to surrounding public schools?
- Being suburban
- Boutique or specialized
- Being too hard
- Being too disciplined
- Not exceeding the test scores of their neighboring schools
For example, I'm not sure that all of the questions are the ones that charter schools (at least not all charter schools) are supposed to answer.
I think that charter schools have a purpose, in and of themselves.
- They provide an alternative that district often refuse to provide, such as experiential learning. Charter schools can actually take pressure off of the local district.
- They provide a choice for those who do not see the district schools doing their jobs or provide an alternate (often safer) atmosphere.
- They can be test cases for numerous facets of education, including method, teacher training, culture, discipline, homework, test taking, character development, and rigor, in ways that district schools cannot.
As far as the achievement gap, I'm not sure that charter schools were ever specifically intended to serve that purpose. It is, of course, noble to want to ensure that all students achieve to their full potential regardless of race or socio-economic status. It is not clear to me that schools alone can solve this problem. Having close ties with many low income charter schools, a rural charter schools, and low income district schools, it's clear that there are numerous factors that influence a child's learning that are beyond the school's control. That doesn't mean that schools should give up or that charter schools in urban areas should ignore the needs. It does mean that neither charter schools nor district schools should be expected to work magic.
Charter schools are also often criticized, especially in urban areas, for high attrition rates. KIPP was recently noted in a report out of Western Michigan University. High attrition rates can be caused by a number of factors. While I'm not intimately familiar with KIPP's system, I am familiar with another school that uses KIPP-like methods. What I've seen of the attrition, it's largely students who don't want to put up with high academic standards or strict discipline. Students don't want to be placed in a grade based on their ability. In other words, the problem seems not to be with the school, but with the student or the student's family. Perhaps if the district schools held to the same high standards, it wouldn't be so tempting to leave the charter school.
Another criticism I've seen floating around on Twitter recently is that unless all kids have access to charter schools, then no one should have access to charter schools. I hope that for most of us, the nonsense of that argument is readily apparent. The same thing could be said about good district schools, magnet programs, etc. It's a simply silly argument that almost implies that all district public schools are the same.
Clearly charter schools cannot be the answer to many of the problems with American education, but they can be the answer to some of the problems. They can provide choice, new examples, alternate forms of education for learned who prefer a different method, and they can provide examples of ways that schools, all schools, can get better.
Friday, April 1, 2011
The district opposed this move and so chose to violate the rights of parents in order to delay the change.
The site also has a video of Mr. Fletcher.
Now, I always thought that teachers were about education and that unions were cooperating with districts and schools to provide innovation and excellence in education. Unions are supposed to be part of reform.
Mr. Fletcher seems to be going back to a different point in time. I'm not sure why, except that protection of members clearly overrides the purpose of education.
I wonder how much Mr. Fletcher will gain from his new position that has nothing to do with education.