Are our definitions of ‘college readiness’ too high?


David Freedman said:

The College Board has suggested a “college readiness benchmark” that works out to roughly 500 on each portion of the SAT as a score below which students are not likely to achieve at least a B-minus average at “a four-year college” – presumably an average one. . . .

How many high-school students are capable of meeting the College Board benchmark? This is not easy to answer, because in most states, large numbers of students never take a college-entrance exam (in California, for example, at most 43 percent of high-school students sit for the SAT or the ACT). To get a general sense, though, we can look to Delaware, Idaho, Maine, and the District of Columbia, which provide the SAT for free and have SAT participation rates above 90 percent. . . . In these states in 2015, the percentage of students averaging at least 500 on the reading section ranged from 33 percent (in D.C.) to 40 percent (in Maine), with similar distributions scoring 500 or more on the math and writing sections. Considering that these data don’t include dropouts, it seems safe to say that no more than one in three American high-school students is capable of hitting the College Board’s benchmark. Quibble with the details all you want, but there’s no escaping the conclusion that most Americans aren’t smart enough to do something we are told is an essential step toward succeeding in our new, brain-centric economy – namely, get through four years of college with moderately good grades.


Similarly, ACT estimates that only about 28 percent of recent high school graduates meet its alleged ‘college-readiness benchmarks’ in all four subjects of reading, English, math, and science.

For the record, the 6-year graduation rate in 2013 for first-time, full-time undergraduate students who began at a 4-year postsecondary institution in fall 2007 was 59%. Not all of those graduates have B- averages, of course. But, nonetheless, perhaps these definitions of ‘college readiness’ from SAT and ACT are too stringent?

Image credit: B, Nadège

7th grade genius hour at Cascade Middle School

Dave Winters sent me a very nice message today thanking me for my TEDxDesMoines talk, Extracurricular Empowerment (Getting Beyond Fear). But what was even more fun was getting to see the compilation video of his students’ genius hour projects at Cascade Middle School. This is a touching, inspiring video and is a great idea for any school that wants to capture and share the enthusiasm that can accompany student-driven learning. Happy viewing!


Digital Leadership Daily now has over 1,000 subscribers

Digital Leadership Daily Photo

I’m pleased to note that Digital Leadership Daily is now reaching over 1,000 daily subscribers via its SMS, Facebook, and Twitter channels.

Fifteen months ago I decided to send out one high-quality technology leadership resource per day through this new dissemination channel. I figured that it was a good way to reach folks without overwhelming them. As I said when I introduced the service, I don’t think it can get any easier to learn than this…

I’ve had numerous busy school leaders tell me that Digital Leadership Daily is serving their learning needs well. It exposes them to new authors, gives them something to think about (and pass along to others) each morning, and comes to them directly rather than them having to seek it out.

Have you signed up yourself? If not, now is a good time! Know an administrator or teacher leader who might benefit from Digital Leadership Daily? I bet you do!

Getting children excited to stand in line

The Hechinger Report profiled a teacher who uses the Class Dojo behavior modification software to “get children excited about things like staying in line.”

Really? Yeah, I’m sure kids are “excited” to be manipulated into compliance. I call BS.

Also, I’m pretty sure that our global economic and social transformations are being driven by creative innovators, not compliant rule-followers…

Innovation academies help build shared understanding, capacity, and commitment

Johnston CSD Compass

This year I’ve had the incredible privilege of working with the Johnston (IA), Emmetsburg (IA), and Prior Lake-Savage (MN) school districts in an Innovation Academy format. I thought that I’d share what that work has looked like in Johnston as we’ve progressed through the school months.

At the core of the Johnston Innovation Academy has been five full days – each about a month apart – of in-depth work with over forty district, building, and teacher leaders. Day 1 was all about the big picture. As I said to participants on that first day, if we’re going to really prepare students and graduates for the world outside of schools, it’s imperative that we truly understand what that world looks like and how it works. The focus of Day 1 was on exposure to the societal contexts surrounding school, including new literacies, economic and workforce trends, and how technology is transforming everyday life. Day 2 focused on the overarching concept of connectedness. We analyzed and strengthened our own personal and professional networks (both digital and analog), saw how connectedness is transforming both group interaction and individual relationships, and examined a number of connected learning initiatives for students and teachers.

On Day 3 we dove into rich, robust learning that focuses on deeper thinking and student agency. We looked at ‘gold standard’ project-based learning in depth and also evaluated a variety of school curricular and time models that facilitate greater learning ownership and active, hands-on work by students. On Day 4 we pulled in the trudacot discussion protocol to see what rich technology infusion looks like within the context of deeper learning and also studied numerous schools’ blended learning models. The end of Day 4 and all of Day 5 were about action planning: How do we take what we’ve learned and discussed and apply it forward?

One key to the success of the Academy has been the regular attendance of every participant. In many districts, administrators and teachers rarely sit side-by-side for multiple days of focused, cohesive learning. Having 40+ educators go through the same five days of in-depth learning allows for shared understandings, capacity-building, and commitments. Another critical component has been Johnston’s intentional alignment of its Academy with other district transformation initiatives. For example, Johnston has an Executive Director of Teaching, Learning, and Innovation who is able to help the superintendent move the Academy work forward in between meetups and also align it with that of other groups. Johnston also has a unifying vision and mission (expressed in the form of a compass), has sent teachers and administrators to visit several innovative schools to bring new ideas and practices back home, and has held multiple community roundtables to gather input from parents, business leaders, and other stakeholders (which, unsurprisingly, have confirmed the directions in which Johnston is heading). All of these work together to feed Johnston’s intentionality, focus, and alignment. As you might expect, we’ve had an incredible year together and I’m looking forward to seeing where they take things over the next couple of years.

What is your intentional, focused, structured, long term approach to initiate greater innovation?

2016 Johnston Innovation Academy Evaluation Results

See more details at: Investing in leadership capacity: The amazing, wonderful District 59

What we choose not to do matters

Seth Godin said:

most of the stuff that goes wrong, much of the organizational breakdown, the unfixed problems and the help not given, ends up happening because the system lets it happen. It happens because a boss isn’t focusing, or priorities are confused, or people in a meeting somewhere couldn’t find the guts to challenge the status quo.

What we choose not to do matters.


Project-based learning at scale


Most schools that dive deep into project-based learning tend to be smaller charter or magnet schools that have the ability to hire new educators and create new schedules and instructional paradigms from scratch. Bettendorf Middle School, in contrast, has been around a while and often resembles other large middle schools across the nation. With over 1,100 students and about 70 instructional staff, a move to a project-based learning paradigm meant shifting legacy structures and mindsets rather than creating from a blank slate. Nonetheless, the school took up the challenge…

Exposed to some faculty from High Tech High a few years back, the school decided to go all in. Most of the staff now have visited the original High Tech High campus in California and the decision was made several years ago to incorporate project-based learning into every Bettendorf Middle School course at least twice a year. Projects at the school range from two to twelve weeks. Teachers put together proposals and then have to pitch their projects to a panel of teacher peers AND students. Together they all use Bettendorf’s project tuning protocol to make the projects meaningful, relevant, and of high quality. All projects incorporate essential curriculum standards to ensure that students are addressing critical learning outcomes. Students hold community exhibitions twice per year to show their learning.

Projects are numerous and varied. For instance, an English teacher had her students investigate the question, What is essential?, which ultimately led to the creation of three separate 9’ x 15’ tiny houses. Students designed, built, and decorated the homes themselves and incorporated essential ELA standards into their work as they wrote and reflected about their attempts to do various tasks within the homes. In another class, students worked with a local senior citizens home to interview residents, write biographies, and create an abstract piece of art that reflected each interviewee’s life. As you can imagine, the unveiling and gifting of these student-created products to the residents was incredibly moving and emotional.

Another project involved creating a community garden. Students worked with a local landscape company to create ten garden plots, write by-laws, create logos, engage in marketing, and build support structures such as a shed. Every garden plot was quickly rented out by the community. Students in another course investigated the question, What is true survival? Although that question initially revolved around outdoor survival techniques, by project’s end student investigations and writing had turned toward such diverse topics as mountaineering, homelessness, food insecurity, and divorce.

Most of this instructional planning, assessment, and standards coverage work is addressed within traditional professional learning communities (PLCs), with some additional assistance from the school’s three instructional coaches. The emphasis is on robust, hands-on and minds-on work and on developing powerful essential questions to frame students’ learning.

Bettendorf Middle School is moving forward in exciting new directions, including a recent global project involving the essential question, Is revolution justified?, that involved 1,000 participating students from nine different schools around the world.

What could you do at YOUR traditional school?

Image credit: Bettendorf Middle School

Seed-to-table at Gilmore City-Bradgate

Child gardening at Gilmore City-Bradgate Elementary School 01

[Want to be the Seed-to-Table Manager here? Read the job description and then email the superintendent.]

Shovels busy at work, three young children dig and cut through the earth, turning over the rich black soil underneath. They have a long planting row to create, but the sun is out and the weather is perfect.

Their female classmate, in her blue-striped jumper and pink flip flops, carefully pats dirt around a seedling. It’s one of many in her grade’s row. Another student will be by shortly to make sure that it’s watered.

Walking tenderly to avoid the young shoots, a boy carries a few small boxes with new plants to be added to the garden. Apparently he’s a bit chillier than his t-shirt-clad peers since he’s wearing long sleeves and a down vest.

Inspired by their teachers’ visit to the Muse School in Los Angeles, elementary students in the Gilmore City-Bradgate School District in Northwest Iowa are diving deep into the seed-to-table movement. The early childhood and daycare kids are in charge of the onions, radishes, spinach, lettuce, peas, and potatoes. Kindergarten has pole beans, bush beans, tomatoes, and peppers. First and second grade has zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, and beets. Third and fourth grade has kohlrabi, eggplant, and some more beans. The fifth and sixth graders do the heavy lifting with corn, cantaloupes, and watermelons.


There’s a small shed for tools and equipment. Over on the side is the herb garden, where the students are growing chives, oregano, dill, basil, and cilantro. Old pallets are being re-used to make compost bins. The tree stumps constitute an ‘outdoor classroom’ where students and teachers can sit, talk, and learn together.

The produce will be used both in the school district’s food service program and to help the food insecure in the local community. Families and staff will receive vegetables and herbs as well. And there are plans to get involved in the local farmer’s market…

Achieving science, numeracy, literacy, and other instructional outcomes while being connected to both nature and the community? Awesome.

What could your school do to reconnect students to the natural rhythms of the earth and the people around them?

Gilmore City-Bradgate CSD garden diagram

Thanks for a great run, Iowa

Some of you know that I’m headed back to higher education (after a 4-year hiatus to keep a promise to my daughter that she could finish high school here in Ames, Iowa). I will be an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Colorado Denver starting in August. We will miss Iowa tremendously but we’re also excited to explore some gorgeous mountains!

I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve done the past 9 years in this state with the very substantial help and partnership of some wonderful colleagues. Here’s a partial list:

  • rejuvenated a struggling educational leadership program at Iowa State University, including doubling our program’s enrollment, faculty, and tuition revenue;
  • graduated 13 Ph.D. students as their primary advisor;
  • brought in over $350,000 in external grants and contracts;
  • published 18 peer-reviewed articles, 1 book, 6 book chapters, 32 invited publications, 8 research briefs and white papers, and 63 other publications;
  • was a visiting faculty fellow in New Zealand;
  • worked with over 130 different Iowa schools, associations, and other organizations;
  • immersed several hundred Iowa principals and superintendents in 6 to 12 days of technology leadership development;
  • sparked the nation’s largest statewide, grass roots 1:1 computing initiative (220+ districts and counting);
  • launched the annual Iowa 1:1 Institute, which rivals in size the other major education conferences in Iowa;
  • initiated EdCampIowa, which I believe is still the nation’s largest single-day EdCamp event;
  • launched the new technology innovation team for Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency;
  • created the trudacot technology integration discussion protocol, which is now spreading across the globe;
  • delivered hundreds of keynote, peer-reviewed academic, and other presentations and workshops, including 2 endowed lectures;
  • created 3 new Did You Know? (Shift Happens) videos and numerous other digital and online resources;
  • supported thousands of Iowa teachers and administrators as they move toward deeper thinking, student agency, authentic work, and technology infusion;
  • was a visible and vocal advocate for Iowa students and public schools;
  • served in dozens of advisory board, task force, editorial board, and other state and national leadership and service roles;
  • named one of three finalists to be the Director of the Iowa Department of Education;
  • received the ITEC Technology Leadership Award, the School Administrators of Iowa Friend of the Association Award, the Phi Delta Kappa Emerging Leader Award, the National School Boards Association 20 to Watch Award, the Center for Digital Education Education Innovator Award, the University Council for Educational Administration Hanne Mawhinney Distinguished Service Award, and the ISTE Award for Outstanding Leadership.

That seems like a pretty good run to me… Thanks to everyone who’s been a part of this fun and hopefully-impactful work. Looking forward to my next adventures!

New literacies, anyone?

Iowa Core

The Iowa Department of Education is soliciting feedback on the state’s literacy standards. Here’s the comment I left:

The Iowa Literacy Standards represent traditional, foundational conceptions of literacy. They do NOT reflect the 21st century literacy standards articulated by NCTE, however. Nor do they reflect digital and online multimedia literacies related to interactive media (see, e.g., the interactive storytelling and virtual reality narratives created by The New York Times), transmedia, augmented or virtual reality, and other evolving mechanisms for presenting information and conveying narratives. In short, the Iowa Literacy Standards do a decent job of articulating old literacies but not what the scholars call ‘new literacies.’ As such, we continue to prepare students for yesterday, not today and tomorrow…

And, no, the separate and thus non-integrated 21st century skills section of the Iowa Core is not enough.

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