And Another Thing

As many of you that follow my posts and content uploads are well aware, I am a strong advocate for the use of effective business tools for the administration of education. However, there is at least one big exception…

Of course you can’t manage what you can’t measure, but the current business frenzy to push quarterly and annual numbers higher with no regard to the”long view” is a mistake, both in business and in education. When asked about long term effects of this concentration on short term gains, one CEO actually said that his company’s three-year outlook was very promising. to a strategic planner a three year planning horizon is myopic at best!

Unfortunately, many of my education colleagues have adopted this limited perspective. The importance of this year’s higher test scores overshadows any other contributions that a teacher or their school makes. Perhaps this is a response in part to the criticism leveled at the profession from various sources. Or worse, perhaps the profession itself believes in these measures above all else.

Only the teachers in the “tested” subjects (normally three in elementary and five in secondary) to be found to be effective. Really??? What about the other two-thirds of teachers? And yet it is often these teachers that can make the biggest difference in a student’s future. Could it be that not having a laser focus on improving test scores actually improves teacher quality?

We live in a data-rich environment. Surely we can find better indicators than last year’s test results upon which to gage student and teacher success. What if we only published sports statistics from the year before? How long would the public or the sports professional put up with that? Educators must find and agree upon a few leading, not lagging, indicators that will help us evaluate student (and teacher) progress and publish those alongside the common assessments from the year before.

Recent research indicates that the medical profession finds it very difficult to unlearn legacy practices, even in the face of double-blind placebo-controlled testing. We do not have the luxury of similar blind research in education, but we do find it just as difficult to walk away from our legacy educational practices. It is much easier to believe that if we just worked a little harder or spent a little more time with those who are struggling, that we could be successful. Of course the really short-sighted analysis would conclude that truly great teachers simply wouldn’t have this problem.

The question is given your current methodologies, how many F’s are you turing into A’s? In Helping People Win at Work Ken Blanchard and Garry Ridge build a business philosophy around “Don’t just correct my paper, help me get an A.” The most successful educators are attuned to this as well, applying entirely new practices and completely redesigning old ones.

Just like the doctors who have learned to leave their legacy practice behind and wash their hands, we must also be willing to change how we teach and not to be satisfied with mere incremental “improvements” to this year’s test scores lifting our vision to a wider and farther horizon.

There are successful school districts out there doing this now. It can and should be done.

Success is within Reach

Since I wrote Every Child Every Day, I have wondered why Roger Cook and Taylor County Schools have been so successful and other districts have struggled to achieve the same results. I have been rereading Michael Porter’s articles on strategy lately and have begun to formulate a theory based upon his writing and research.

Solid strategy provides a general direction, but is not prescriptive. The activities are the specifics and are tailored to that strategy. They are designed to yield the desired results you have outlined, but not just any results…they should be nearly perfect. Why? Let’s assume you have designed five activities and each of those activities are 90% effective and are co-dependent. In that case, you will only achieve 59% of your goal (.9 x .9 x .9 x .9 x .9) Not what you had in mind? That’s why each tailored activity must be nearly 100% effective.

Roger Cook’s goals are simple – no students will drop out, no students will fail, no students will be held back due to their chronological age. The tailored activities that I have outlined in the book are not random, they have been created and implemented to yield these results. Not some of these results, but 100%. That is why they have had no dropouts for eight consecutive years and continue to have test results in the highest categories.

How do you duplicate this success? Establish a strategy (a simple set of goals) and then create a handful of activities you think that will result in those goals. Find a way to continuously monitor those activities (not an annual event) so that you know when they are done with fidelity and are 100% effective. Adjust them until they consistently accomplish the goal. This is not the end, it is just the beginning. It is your baseline.

Conditions change. Maintaining the results you want can be just as difficult as getting there. So you must create a culture in which the activities you have tailored can be tweaked to improve performance. Again, anything less than 100% is not desirable, particularly if these are nested activities.

My experience and research with Taylor County Schools convinced me that success even at the highest levels is possible. Not because of a special set of circumstances, but as a result of a great deal of planning and hard work.


Creating Academic Momentum


creating academic momentumFrom the foreword to the book by George Couros:

As Mike says in the book: “Education should provide opportunities, not barriers.” For this to happen, we will need to challenge our thinking and continuously ask: “How can we?” Leaders from any position, find a way forward; that’s why they are leaders. See the possibilities and find that way.


A Companion Book


creating academic momentumMuch discussion has occurred after the release of Every Child, Every Day.

  • How do we replicate those results?
  • How do we create a culture in which this is possible?
  • What sort of leadership is necessary to accomplish this?
  • Isn’t this an awful lot of work?
  • This makes sense. How do I begin?

Creating Academic Momentum: Realizing the promise of performance-based education is my response. It is not a step-by-step guide because every local condition is a little different and must be nuanced. What the writing does provide is guidance regarding the platform upon which to build. In the chapter on collaboration:

It is just as hard to admit a mistake as it is to ask for help. Both make us feel vulnerable and inadequate. some of that has to do with the way the help is ultimately offered. An attitude of superiority in providing any help that is requested is detrimental to collaboration. Help should be offered without judgement. No one has all the answers in this ever-changing educational and technical landscape. Eventually everyone has to ask for help.

Just released by Rowman & Littlefield, it is available in paperback, clothbound, and e-book editions wherever good books are sold.

Future Thinking

I am often asked how you build an innovative organization like Taylor County Schools. In her January 4, 2016 blog post in Strategy+Business Lisa Bodell gives us the benefit of her experience in helping organizations “forward think.”

Here are the five steps she describes:

  1. Go micro. Understand the developing microtrends and understand their impact on the various departments in the organization.
  2. Annual scenario review. Look at political, societal, environmental, technological, and legal changes that will occur within whatever time horizon you select and develop scenarios that respond to those changes.
  3. Make the future tangible.
  4. Retain a technology scout. Early adopters are aware of advances in technology long before anyone else. The tech scout is an early adopter who can make unusual connections between new technology and your organization.
  5. Tap into academia. In an educational organization these are the researchers. Programs and program delivery should be informed by research and data. The key to disruptive innovation is making the connections between what is known and what is possible.

Disruptive innovation in education is never easy, but creating a forward thinking culture is a solid first step in the right direction.