Thursday, April 27, 2006

This would be unbelievable, if it weren't so typical

The Lee County School District "received the state's lowest rating, 'unsatisfactory,' and more than two-thirds of the students scored 'below basic,' the lowest score, on the annual state test."

Educational entrepreneurs are trying something different. The Sun Times reports,
In a cluster of portable buildings on a lot behind the Church of Christ, the MLD Higher Learning Academy is trying to offer 75 students something different in a school district that academy officials say has failed its children.

In one room, part-time teacher Barbara Wilson guides 15 fourth- and fifth-graders through a lesson on words that describe the sense of touch. Some students sit at computers donated by a nearby school district.

The class prepares students for the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test, South Carolina's annual exam on which the pupils and their new school will be judged.

"I think we're filling a big void for the district," Principal Benita Dinkins-Robinson said. "A lot of these kids would have been home."
Now it would make sense for the Lee County School District to support talented, passionate educators trying to reach students who are otherwise failing. Clearly what the district is doing isn't working. If they are successful, then perhaps the district can take their model and expand it to other areas of Lee County.

But no. The District's response would be unbelievable if it wasn't so typical. Lee County School District "Superintendent Lloyd Hunter says the district is being forced to divert precious resources to an unproven concept."

Mind you we're not talking about taking money out of public education and giving it to private schools. A charter school is a public school, accountable to the same standards as every other public school in the state. We're talking about funds flowing from a failed school district to a principal and teachers who think they can perform better, which shouldn't be too high a hurdle.

In the real world, it's common sense for resources from failing enterprises to be reallocated to innovators creating new ways of delivering value to customers not well served by the status quo. I had a partner who used to remind me that common sense isn't so common though.

Public education is the biggest place it is easy to get depressed about our ability to do what is necessary to be successful in an increasingly global economy.


The Cackalacky Candidate said...

As usual, this is another one of those blog postings that totally skips any discussion of the primary factor contibuting to poor student achievement: the role of the parent.

Vouchers,Inc. (those who advocate diversion of public tax revenues away from public schools) makes much ado about the upside of Parental Choice but neglects to acknowledge the simple reality that the fifty percent, or so, drop out rate among South Carolina students just might be a reflection of their parents attitudes concernning eduction. (The apple never falls far from the tree.)

If the role of parental support is that important to the academic achievement of a child, then by all means, give credit where credit is due...literally. Give the parents a grade on the child's report card for Parental Conduct. Grade the parent on things such as attendance at parent-teacher confernces and the homework completion rate for the student.

Oh, and as far as innovation in schools, try this. Take the more than $40 million the state spends annually purchasing instuctional materials, new textbooks, and replacement textbooks, and transition away from purchasing overpriced, oversized, one-size-fits-all, white space and digital fluff inflated textbooks (that instruct you to log on to for additional practice problems) and simply don't spent that half a billion dollars on paper and ink learning materials, over the next ten years. Transition away from printed paper content to internet or CD-ROM based content.

Place standards based lesson plans and standards based learning materials on the Dept. of Education website so that every chiid in the state of South Carolina who takes exactly the same standardized PACT and SAT tests has access to exactly the same learning materials. Just as the PACT and SAT consist of black ink on white paper, the majority of learning material need only be black ink on cheap white paper. With internet based content distribution, all you basically need to education public/private/home students is intenet access, one computer, one printer, and a supply of cheap black ink and cheap white paper.

And, what do you do with the cost savings of not spending half a billion dollars? Supply every high school student in the state of South Carolina with a computer upon entering their freshman year. (A one time computer purchase for four years of high school.) Then, teach them how to actually make a living with it upon graduation and entrance into the World of Work.

The precedent for this exists. In the state of Arizona, they built a high school designed for wireless internet and the students use laptops instead of textbooks.
(SEARCH KEYWORDS: laptops high school Arizona)

There are also efforts to develop a $100 dollar PC's for distribution to emerging countries.
(SEARCH KEYWORDS: one hundred dollar laptop)

It seems that South Carolina's emerging school districts could use a good, $100 PC.

Swamp Fox said...


Let me catch you up with the ongoing discussion here. Check this out,
Public education would work if the customer would change

And this,
More on Innovation in Education

And this,
Why public schools may never serve the needs of poor students

In the past year, we've seen people that could not or would not get out of the way of a hurricane. They ain't doing algebra homework at night.

We've gotta quit playing your broken record and start figuring out how to provide their children 100% of what they will need to be successful while the kids are in school. Otherwise the school system will continue to fail to educate the students, and we'll pay for that in a multitude of other ways.

The Cackalacky Candidate said...

Swamp Fox,

You lack insight and have missed the mark. Your comments indicate that you either have not actually read my comment and the three references you cite, or you simply did not understand them.

My posting echoes the sentiments of your three citations: Parents play the significant role in the development and achievement of the child, and this includes failure.

From the Nell Stewart article:

Parents fit into one of four broad groups:

1. Those who love their children and take responsibility for and find ways to truly be effective parents.

2. Those who love their children but are finding outside influences adversely affecting their children.

3. Those who love their children but have no clue as to how to be an effective parent.

4. Those who have no desire to meet the needs of their children but simply want someone else to take the responsibility for them without interfering with the parent's life.

(To prove this take a look at the numerous cases of parental child abuse and/or neglect, and realize that many incidents never come to public attention.)

Groups No. 3 and 4 need attention from various teaching social agencies and the faith community before we alter the educational process. If these groups do not change, the educational outcomes will not change either. They and their children negatively affect the opportunities for children who are loved and disciplined and are seriously trying to succeed.

Ineffective parents are not relegated to the poor, people of color, any ethnic group or educational level. They are found everywhere, in all walks of life in our society.

Thus, my suggestion to put a "Parental Conduct" grade on the child's report card as means of pulling "unparently" parents into the ecucation loop. a champion of "innovation", you have apparently becomed so attuned to the broken record of your own bemoaning and chanting about the lack of it that you fail to recognize, or acknowledge, an innovative idea it is presented to you in good faith: Change the way that instructional content is delivered so that it is delivered in the most cost effective way, to schools and homes by internet. Standardized all learning materials so that every child, whether in a public, private, or home school, has access to the best learning material available at no cost to the families. And, use the cost savings to privide every high school student in South Carolina with a laptop computer (and still have some money left over for a little property tax relief.)

You have failed to recognize practical, cost effective innovation when it is presented to you. If your reply to my posting reflects the thought processes of the education and political leadership of this state, then it is easy to see why education is so sorely lacking in the Palmetto state.

Swamp Fox said...


First, thanks for the discussion. I appreciate your willingness to debate the issue.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if every child had two educated, affluent patents willing to do what it took to get an A on "Parental Conduct" on their child's report card? That's not reality, and never will be. Do you really think giving failing parents an "F" on a report card is going to change their behavior? Do you really?

Reality is there are parents that will not or can not do Algebra homework with their kids. We have to deliver education to these kids that does not rely on their parents helping at home. Nell Stewart's approach is sure to doom another generation students to an inadequate education. That's the simple truth.

There are 65,000 students in the Greenville County School District alone. They have widely divergent needs and abilities and support systems. "Standardiz[ing] all learning materials" is exactly the wrong direction we need to head to meet the needs of the broadest number of students. The system fails too many children now because it tries to cram all students through a one size fits all approach to education.

Some students match up to that system well and thrive. Other don't and fail. When they do fail, what you want to do is blame the students, rather than facing the fact that we need a fundamentally different system for this students.

The Cackalacky Candidate said...

Swamp Fox,

“Standardized” learning materials does not mean “identical” learning materials for all children. It means operating to the same standards in a universally (statewide) prescribed manner.

When I was a Cub Scout Leader, I had the attitude that you “Do for the ones who will.” Some parents would work with their boys and these boys would get merit badges. Others did not. Some boys go on to be Eagle Scouts and some drop out. My role as Den Leader was to establish a program to facilitate and motivate the families as best as I could.

All children and their parents are different and unique. However, every Webelos scout in the United States uses the same Webelos handbook. The Boy Scout handbook is an example of standardized instructional materials (textbook) that is applied to a broad spectrum of individuals. While there is some latitude in the specific types of activities that can be performed to earn a merit badge, in the end they all used the same handbook to earn the same awards.

The handbooks used in the Boy Scouts are effectively project manuals that cover a very diverse set of skills and interests. There is no reason not to apply this degree of standardization in South Carolina schools to the four subjects of English Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies. If you do not standardize lesson plans and learning materials then the PACT will tell you exactly that; students are not taught in a consistent manner.

For clarification, I am advocating the standardization of lesson plans and learning materials that pertain to the state mandated education standards, especially those subjects and grades levels that are the subject of the PACT, where you have only one version of exactly the same test give to all South Carolina students on the same day.

Regarding the students, lets split them into two groups, for brevity, in this discussion: Booklearners and Handymen. Booklearners are more academically minded tikes who excel at conceptualization and synthesis. Booklearners are the hands-on tikes who need “manipulatives” to clutch and handle before they get the concept (you will end up calling Handymen to fix your leaky toilet.) Diagnostic testing will tell the teacher into which group each student will fall. Following a standardized lesson plan, the standardized Booklearner learning materials are assigned to Booklearners and standardized Handymen learning materials are assigned to Handymen. But in the end, they all sit down together in the same classroom and take the same Math PACT exam on May 11, 2006, and have to learn towards that objective.

Most children will want their parents to get an A on “Parental Conduct.” Some children have two educated, affluent parents willing to do what it takes to get an A on "Parental Conduct." Some children have one working parent willing to do what it takes to get an A on "Parental Conduct." Some children should be placed into foster homes because their parents are strung out on meth and beat and molest their kids. Some children get murdered because they have a mother like Suzan Smith who strapped her two boys in the back seat of her car and drove it into a lake near Union, SC.

No education reform will fix all problems with schools. The Parental Conduct grade will pull a lot of parents into the loop and get them more involved with their child’s education. Most parents don’t want to utterly disappoint their children. Publically reporting the Parental Conduct grades for each school district and school would be even better because schools would be motivated to get parents more involved and communities just might take is as a matter of civic pride. It will shift the central tendency and tighten the dispersion of the distribution. However, all distributions have outliers.

Swamp Fox said...

Now we're getting somewhere. I'm an assistant scoutmaster, and my son and I are both Eagle scouts, so the scouting analogy works for me.

Re: "operating to the same standards in a universally (statewide) prescribed manner." - no problem with that.

Re: "Regarding the students, lets split them into two groups, for brevity, in this discussion: Booklearners and Handymen." – I agree with segmenting students to meet the distinctive needs of focused groups. But this is where I am asking you to consider something completely out of the box from the way public education has traditionally been delivered.

Who is it that defines the groups that any particular approach will try to reach? This could be done top down by a committee that segments students and then develops curriculum to meet the distinctive needs of each of those groups. That's not where great innovations typically come from. Generally you get some incremental improvement at best, and more likely something that is non-threatening to the status quo. This is not an education issue. The momentum in all large organizations is to maintain and protect the status quo, whether in business or government or education.

How do we support the people who, like Bill Gates or Sam Walton, are going to come up with really great ideas that can change the landscape of public education? A great place to start is supporting people like the principal and teachers that are starting the charter school in Lee County, because they have defined a segment of students not well served and they think they have a better way of reaching them. This is where the revolution will start, like a Microsoft or WalMart, that can completely redefine public education.

Rather than support these educational entrepreneurs, the Lee superintendent says, “the district is being forced to divert precious resources to an unproven concept." That’s exactly the way managers are IBM and Sears felt about Microsoft and WalMart. It why truly revolutionary innovations are almost always brought to market in a new entity.

The Cackalacky Candidate said...

Swamp Fox,

To carry this exchange forward, The Cackalacky Candidate would like to restart this volley on education reform at the appropriate place: Defining the purpose of education and specification for the end result of 13 years of tax payer funded public education for grades K-12.

Vouchers, Inc., or the genre of special interest groups that attempts to legislate education tax revenues away from public schools, often touts the market or business examples to justify their positions. However, what they are promoting seems more akin to tax payer funded, government subsidies of private schools than true, market based reform. Let's suppose that you are an executive employed by a real business, say a capacitor manufacturer, and let's apply some real business practices to education reform. I will also address some of your most previous comments. (Whoa, wait a sec.!!! .....Swamp Fox WAS an executive employed at a capacitor manufacturer!!!!)

*Mission Statement*

Many companies have mission statements. The mission statement concisely states the core purpose of the organization and provides a statement of focus for the organization. For education, The Cackalacky Candidate suggests the following Mission Statement for Education:
The purposes of education are to teach a child to become a citizen, to teach a child how to discover their path in life and pursue the American dream, and to teach a child how to achieve a balanced life as an adult.

The focus of this mission statement is life after high school and not simply filling in little, empty spaces with little, black dots using No. 2 lead pencils, as is the current mission of public education. In particular, what is missing from the education reform debate is the word CAREER. Education is not the end; it is the means for meeting the goals of the above Mission Statement for Education. If you agree with the first purpose stated above and the importance of citizenship, then what are needed is not just the next crop of Bill Gates and Sam Waltons but also a few Thomas Jeffersons.

*Market Segments*

Businesses must market themselves to address a variety of customers, with different product or service requirements: market segments. Their organizational structures and activities are structured to best meet the need of those customers in different market segments. For instance, the capacitor company markets its capacitors to customers in different markets segments such as military and aerospace, medical device, automotive, and consumer electronics. Capacitor design, production methods, and acceptance testing is specific to the pre-determined specifications of each customer.

Upon graduating from high school, a young adult will basically pursue one of the three following career paths:
* Military Service
* Higher Education
* Employment or start a business

Each of these career paths represents some segment of the total "market" for high school graduates. Each career path has its own set of requirements and requires that the young adult possess an essential body of knowledge and skills to successfully travel that career path. Currently there does not appear to be enough focus and enough of the correct resources in high schools for career selection and career planning. If kids get bored with the classroom environment then train them to be tax payers and find meaningful employment.

It seems to have gotten to the point that it is simply not expected that an 18 year old adult graduating from high school can make a living above minimum wage; new high school graduates are meeting that expectation. (But we do teach them to fill in little, empty spaces with little, black dots using No. 2 lead pencils.) Many of the ones who do graduate from high school are undecided and simply have no idea what to do with more than a decade of tax payer funded education.

*Human Resources Department*

In a business, the Human Resources Department manages the human capital the organization. The capacitor company has a Human Resources Department and it has a Vice President of Human Resources.

The State of South Carolina has the Department of Education and its purpose it to develop the human capital of the state. Its Vice President is the Superintendent of Education. The Cackalacky Candidate would have Richard Bolles, author of "What Color Is My Parachute?" Mr. Bolles area of expertise is career development and helping other find their true avocation in life. As the Superintendent of Education in South Carolina, his mission for public education would be the above mentioned Mission Statement for Education.

Re: "Who is it that defines the groups that any particular approach will try to reach?"

Several people have already defined the groups and there are many different tests available for grouping students. Use what exists and what is known about how people tick. In career planning, one such approach developed by John Holland to distinguish personality types has the acronym of RIASEC, and utilizes the following codes :
R - Realistic
I - Investigative
A -Artistic
S -Social
E -Enterprising
C - Conventional

With the RIASEC codes, you have six groupings into which students can be placed. Six grouping would probably be quite sufficient "to meet the distinctive needs of focused groups."

Also, the Military has the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) for selecting occupations in the military. So, just pick your screening tool, according to the availability of money and resources available to schools for testing and teaching, and start parsing the student population. The Booklearners and Handymen can then be identified and taught accordingly to set them on the correct career path.

*Product Specifications and Product Acceptance Testing*

The capacitor company makes capacitors to meet the pre-determined product specifications of its customers. No company goes to the expense of designing and producing any product with out first establishing a set of product specifications. Prior to shipping the capacitors out of the plant, the capacitors are subjected to Product Acceptance Testing to verify that the capacitors can store and retain a body of electrical charge according to the Product Specification.

Schools subject students to repeated cycles of testing to verify that the students can store and retain a body of knowledge according to education standards. Prior to high school graduation, schools perform a Student Acceptance Test, called an Exit Examination, before shipping students out of the public schools system and into the world. The Exit Examination should verify that the public school system has served the purposes of the above mentioned Mission Statement for Education. The Cackalacky Candidate suggests the following, single question Exit Examination for South Carolina high schools:

Please describe, in detail, your plans for your life and career. The following elements shall be included, but not limited to:
* An inventory of your abilities, skill, and talents.
* Your chosen career path and the road map that you will follow to achieve your career goals.
* Your goals for life, beyond career, to include family, community, and citizenship.
* Your place in the greater world.

If an 18 year old adult has the answers, then education reform shall indeed be a success.


All fields require innovation to advance. However, when Swamp Fox speaks of innovation, it leaves the impression that he is speaking of something totally new or revolutionary. Innovation need not be totally new and never-before-heard-of. Something only needs to be new to the specific application or field of endeavor to be considered an innovation in that context; it can be old hat to another field. Thinking out of the box does not always mean creating a totally new box but rather visiting another box. (It costs less.) What is most important is not what is outside of the box but what can be dragged back into the classroom.

For instance, screen printing is an old "low tech" technology that has been around for generations. However, when applied to the fabrication of inner layer electrodes in ceramic multilayer ceramic capacitors, it becomes an innovative fabrication process for producing miniature, surface mount technology capacitors that allow the high density packaging of microelectronic devices and the laptop that you are using to read this blog comment on Swamp Fox Insights.

In public education, two areas that need innovation (in addition to the previously posted comments about providing a laptop computer [now, with career planning software] to every high school student in South Carolina and changing how learning content is delivered, via Internet) are the school calendar and school funding. Currently, it is mandated that the school year be 180 days. With the PACT consuming the last two weeks of the school year, you end up with partial, early dismissal school days where little to no actual educating takes place. Instead of daily school attendance, the school calendar should be based upon a required number of hours of classroom attendance for each subject. Also, allow missed snow days to be made up within the school year 15, 20, 30 minutes at a time. This would not only eliminate partial school days but also eliminate the need for make up days due to inclement weather. I estimate that this would eliminate 5-10 school days from the calendar with no loss to education.

In the area of school funding, there is basically a three way tug-of-war between public education advocates, Vouchers, Inc., and the property tax relief crowd over the same education tax dollar. What are needed are innovative, private sector funding mechanisms that raise public education revenues, not by taxation and not by gambling.

When the capacitor company posts a job requisition for a new operator to mix the batches of the inner layer electrode conductor material for its ceramic multilayer capacitor line, the capacitor company wants someone with prior, related work experience. In many cases, the capacitor company either cannot or will not assume the risk and the expense of training an inexperienced new hire. An innovative use of tax policy for opening up the job market, allowing the capacitor company to relax its job requirements, and inducing the capacitor company to hire would be to give the capacitor company tax credits and tax write-offs for the first 90-120 days of employment of the new hire. The new hire would effectively cost the capacitor company nothing for the first 3 to 4 months of employment. The capacitor company could now establish employee training and education programs it currently lacks. By allowing the tax credits over a two year period of time, the capacitor company could effectively provide the new hire an opportunity to earn an associates degree in that two year

robbin phillips said...

I am a big fan of the work of Geoffery Canada with The Harlem Children's Zone.

South Carolina has some major education issues. Why not take a distressed area and create a new model completely?

I am certainly not an education expert, but I seems to me it is time to really step outside the system and think differently. What do we have to lose?