Determining Failure

I’m off again on a short vacation, but I couldn’t let this paragraph escape at least a word or two.  Over the weekend, Bill Gates was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal.  From the piece:

One of the foundation’s main initial interests was schools with fewer students. In 2004 it announced that it would spend $100 million to open 20 small high schools in San Diego, Denver, New York City and elsewhere. Such schools, says Mr. Gates, were designed to—and did—promote less acting up in the classroom, better attendance and closer interaction with adults.

 

“But the overall impact of the intervention, particularly the measure we care most about—whether you go to college—it didn’t move the needle much,” he says. “Maybe 10% more kids, but it wasn’t dramatic. . . . We didn’t see a path to having a big impact, so we did a mea culpa on that.” Still, he adds, “we think small schools were a better deal for the kids who went to them.”

Now, there’s lots to say about the “success” or “failure” of the small schools work done by Gates and others.  And I know that Bill Gates has said that small schools offer more than just college readiness.  But I suppose what I’d like to contribute here, or at least to push back with, is something like this:

Perhaps the metrics used to evaluate the effort were the wrong metrics.  College attendance may not be the right way to measure whether or not small schools are good places for our children.  We might want to investigate some other metrics and see how they tell us about the experience of students in smaller schools.  I’d wonder about things like safety.  Or the knowledge that students in a small school are members of a cohesive and human community.  Were these students well looked after and mentored by grown ups who genuinely cared for them?  Were they engaged in work that was meaningful and purposeful?  Did what they did each day matter?

You can say those schools failed – but let’s make sure we know what your criteria are. The more someone1  is pushing to tell me what counts as a “good school,” the more I’m finding I’m willing to say –

Hang on.  Wait.  What do we want our schools to be?

And just what do you mean by failure?

I think those’re some of the kinds of questions that the folks who are organizing the Save Our Schools March are asking.

If I could be, I’d be there in Washington DC as they congregate to push for change. Perhaps you will be.  Take good notes.

  1. “Like Bill Gates,” I want to say, but it’s not about him.  Like anyone who wants to tell you what’s working or what’s not.  Dig deeper.  Ask more. []
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The Week in Tweets for 2011-07-25

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Leave A Little Love for Them

I’ve been teaching an awful lot of Google Mail and Calendar classes lately, as my school district is moving into its new email platform1.  And I mention during these classes that students will have email next year.  In fact, it’s one of the big advantages for us – student email, somebody in the IT department figured, would cost us, at a minimum $500,000 – $600,000 to handle licenses and other odds and ends under our old system.

And the response to that’s been pretty positive.  We said when we started that we’d be offering email for secondary students only.  And then the elementary teachers started asking for mail for younger students.  Eagerly.  And we’re thinking about it and talking about how to make that work.

But I have to remind folks during the training that, even though the younger students are in the universal directory, and have access to Google Docs and other tools and services, they can’t yet access their email2.  So if you send a younger student an email, they won’t get it for several years.

It was when I said this out loud today, not the first time I’ve said it, but the first time I was struck by what that might mean, that I realized that there might be a feature in there.

Suppose that when these students do get to access their email boxes, they’ve a few important notes written by people who care for them waiting during their email orientation.  We could, if we wanted to, use the dormant email accounts of younger students in our district as a sort of time capsule for sending good stuff their way ahead of time.

I see plenty of reasons why the messages might never be read, or get lost among the clutter of notifications and odds and ends and whatnot that will also be waiting for those students when their mail’s turned on.  But wouldn’t it be neat to send care packages to the future versions of our students today?  Quick notes and longer messages of moments where they chose well, or were worthy of a moment’s pause.  An occasional picture or two or a piece of work that really, really stood out, perhaps?

It’s likely wishful thinking3 , but I suspect the sending of the messages, received or not, would be a useful and productive pause for each of us.  A time to honor the students our children are, and the people they may well be.  It couldn’t hurt to take a moment to write down a few words to a child.

And I like the idea that sometime in the future, a student in the middle of a moment of doubt would stumble upon a note from a time when they did something well, or worth doing, or worth sharing.  I like that perhaps they might get a chance to remember.

I say yes.  That’s worth doing.  Let’s make our digital spaces just as warm and inviting and kind as our physical ones.  ((And let’s make sure our physical spaces are warm and inviting and kind, too.)) Of course, our students who’ll have email access today, well, I suspect they wouldn’t mind a kind note or two, either.

So let’s get right on that, okay? If you’ve five minutes this week, jot a note, electronic or otherwise, to a student who’s up to something interesting.  Make their day.  And mean it.((And, if you’d like to write to your future self, there are certainly services that you can use to do that.  Try it out.))

  1. Google Apps for Education.  We’re excited about it. []
  2. We have it shut down for them by policy. []
  3. And perhaps overly optimistic.  I suspect some people who stumble across this post will worry about the fact that they’d be communicating with a student, that the communication might be dangerous because of future litigation.  To those folks, I’d say something like: let’s not let the worst of us eclipse the best of what we might be.  Choose your words carefully, but don’t stop being a good person.  Good and kind and thoughtful people are necessary when there are so many not good folks, or so many folks trying to prey upon our worst fears.  The best way to battle a bully is, of course, to provide a compelling model of better behavior. []
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The Week in Tweets for 2011-07-18

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Fuzzy Thinking: Fragmenting Us in Pursuit of, Well, Us.

No fewer than three times today, my brain was tickled into considering the question that I’ve buried at the end of this hurried post. Let me recap:

1. In a few Google+ conversations about sharing1, I’ve seen folks state that the advantage of things like circles2, is that they can help you to narrowcast rather than broadcast noise.

2. During #edchat today, I caught a rather odd notion that we should be taking care to separate our professional conduct from our academic conduct. I still don’t know what that means. Strikes me as silly. More on that in a sec.

3. The prompt of this evening’s #edchat was this:

Tech won’t change a teacher’s basic pedagogical practices. How do we promote needed change in methodology?

I wondered aloud in response that perhaps it’d be more important3 if we instead asked what was worth doing, and what wasn’t – basically, what was the change that needed to happen?

And I didn’t see a good answer. But, I couldn’t stick around to see the chat, so perhaps it surfaced and I missed it.

In each of the above cases, the problem of lots of little purposes, rather than a few big ideas, arises. In the first example, an assumption that I’m interested in one piece of you, rather, than, perhaps, the person that you’re working to be, is present. In the second, the idea that our professional selves and our academic selves should be distinct and separate selves – that ourselves as teachers should so differ from ourselves as learners that we need to tell the difference – emerged. And in the third, we’re skipping the essential questions to focus on the sidelines. Let’s get to the changing before we know what’s worth fiddling with.4

Before I ramble too much on this, at a time when I can tell my brain’s only beginning to emerge from vacation, I’ll pause with a question, probably a poorly worded one, but perhaps you can help me fumble to better language –

Is it better to have lots of selves and goals for lots of situations, to fragment ourselves intentionally in the pursuit of the right self for the right situation, or is it better to have a few guiding principles that transcend our selves and help us to be better us-es in all of our spaces?

I say the latter’s the way to go. Be kind in all spaces.5 Always be curious. Share what you learn as you’re able. I’m sure there are more principles that I could tease out across the contexts and shards of my self.

Certainly, a first draft and fuzzy response to something I want to come back and play with later. And I see at least a couple of problems with my own leaning. Let’s tease them out in the comments.

  1. Actually, in most Google + conversations about sharing – it’s a new space, and folks are figuring it out by comparing it to what they’ve known before. I get that. []
  2. The organizing principle of Google + – one that one doesn’t have to use – but, because it’s there, people do. Tools and they way they’re structured affect our use of them. []
  3. And certainly more useful, although I don’t think I said so at the time. []
  4. Okay. That one might not fit – but it does in my head somewhere, so I’m leaving it in. For now. []
  5. Or at least, strive to be. I’m working on this one. []
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The Week in Tweets for 2011-07-11

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The Week in Tweets for 2011-07-04

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