I finally had a chance to read Annotation by Remi Kalir and Antero Garcia. Although I’ve never met Antero, Remi is my faculty colleague here at the University of Colorado Denver. Remi tells fascinating stories about annotation (no, really!), so I was excited to read his thoughts in print.
The book highlights five key functions of annotation: providing information, sharing commentary, sparking conversation, expressing power, and aiding learning. Chapter 5 on expressing power probably was my favorite, particularly the sections on the #MeToo poetry of Isobel O’Hare and Alexandra Bell’s use of posters to challenge racial stereotypes in The New York Times. The book has numerous interesting examples of annotation in action (hint: it’s not just people writing notes in the margins of printed books) and is at its best when it is discussing these real world exemplars.
Although I am an active reader, I’m not much of an annotator other than highlighting passages or quotes for later. Until I met Remi, I hadn’t really given much thought to the practice of annotation. The book gave me some new lenses through which to think about this practice.
Whether you’re a reading geek or not, Annotation is a quick read that should spark your thinking in some new directions. If you want to get a taste beforehand, here are a couple of podcasts with Remi to get you started:
Be sure to also check out the #SharpieActivism hashtag for another fascinating story of annotation. And, as always, I hope that you’re reading something fun and interesting too!
Image credit: Annotation, Remi Kalir
It’s always gratifying when something you write resonates with others. That’s particularly true when it’s something as big as a book (even a small book). I have had the wonderful opportunity over the past year and a half – thanks to series editor Bill Ferriter and the amazing folks at Solution Tree – to publish two very different books, both of which are intended to meet very specific needs of school leaders and classroom educators and both of which have been well-received.
My first book, Different Schools for a Different World, was a collaborative effort with my joyful friend, Dean Shareski. The book is meant to be a very accessible on-ramp into the idea of why we need different schools these days. Obviously this is not the first book on this topic and there are some other excellent reads that I have in a prominent place on my bookshelves. But I appreciated the chance to approach the argument with my own unique voice and to frame the conversation around the school-society ‘relevance gaps’ that seem to resonate well with the school leaders with whom I work. In the book, Dean and I highlight six key relevance gaps and also discuss the four big shifts of deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion that many schools are implementing to address those gaps. We also provide some action ideas for each of the relevance gaps, profile a few schools around the world that are doing some interesting things as they work to prepare future-ready graduates, and close with some big ideas and important questions for us as educators and communities. The book has gotten good reviews so far. Because it’s only 53 pages long, it’s a quick read for educators, parents, or community members and hopefully an easy book club choice for any school or district that is still struggling with creating and enacting a future-ready vision for its students.
Different Schools for a Different World is the WHY book. My other recent book, Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning, is the HOW book. Co-authored with my very smart instructional coach friend, Julie Graber, this book takes the four big shifts of deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion that were outlined in the previous book and illustrates how to (re)design lessons, units, and instructional activities to accomplish those goals. Although the word ‘technology’ is in the title, at its heart this book is mostly about future-ready pedagogy and instructional design. If we want these pedagogical shifts to happen in our schools and classrooms, we have to explicitly redesign our day-to-instruction to make them happen. The book introduces the 4 Shifts Protocol and shows how it can be an excellent complement to SAMR, TPACK, IPI, the 4 Cs, and other models and frameworks. More importantly, the book includes eight examples of lesson (re)design so that readers can see how to use the protocol to reorient instructional activities. The book is meant to be intensely practical and contains dozens of concrete, specific ‘look fors’ and think abouts.’ The book ends with an entire chapter of tips, suggestions, and strategies for how to implement the 4 Shifts Protocol in schools. At only 57 pages, it’s also a quick read and numerous districts are now using the book and the protocol with teacher cohorts, instructional coaches, technology integrationists, and principals to drive their instructional redesign work.
So if you’re still trying to get people ‘on board’ with a future-ready vision for schools and classrooms, consider Different Schools for a Different World as a possible read. And if you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and do the day-to-day instructional (re)design work necessary to accomplish that vision, check out the open source 4 Shifts Protocol and the accompanying book, Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning. And, as always, please stay in touch as I can be of support to you.
This post is a review of Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today by Eric Sheninger and Tom Murray. Disclaimer: both are friends of mine so keep that in mind as you read below. My short recommendation? There is lots of value in this book and a great deal of information that validates what we know about good leadership and strong school organizations.
What I liked about the book
Eric and Tom list eight ‘keys’ to intentionally designing tomorrow’s schools. They are:
- Leadership and school culture lay the foundation
- The learning experience must be redesigned and made personal
- Decisions must be grounded in evidence and driven by a Return on Instruction (ROI)
- Learning spaces must become learner-centered
- Professional learning must be relevant, engaging, ongoing, and made personal
- Technology must be leveraged and used as an accelerant for student learning
- Community collaboration and engagement must be woven into the fabric of a school’s culture
- Schools that transform learning are built to last as financial, political, and pedagogical sustainability ensure long-term success
It’s hard to argue with any of these. All are critically-important components of robust, future-ready schools and each gets substantial coverage in their respective book chapters. Tom and Eric back these up with a variety of research studies to support the importance of each one. And they write in an engaging way that keeps readers rolling along. All of this is good.
There are strong emphases throughout the book on building trust, fostering relationships, empowering others, the intentionality of the work, the importance of communication, and recognizing our power as change agents. This is all good too!
I thought Chapters 4 (learning spaces) and 5 (professional learning) were especially strong. Chapter 4 gave me a lot to think about and there are numerous ideas in Chapter 5 for taking educators’ learning in some new directions, particularly pages 152-155 where Eric and Tom describe some ways to move from hours- to outcomes-based ‘accountability’ for educator learning.
Finally, Tom and Eric have chosen to profile some great leaders and organizations throughout the book and also have selected some resonant quotes. My favorite is probably the quote from Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis: ‘In the absence of knowledge, people make up their own.’
Some minor quibbles
There are some things that I wish were framed a little differently in the book. For instance, in Chapter 1, Eric and Tom say that ‘great leaders help others see the value of change by clearly articulating a compelling why and working to build support throughout consensus’ (p. 34). I wish they spent more time here talking about a visioning process that was less leader-centric and focused more on educators, students, and parents figuring out together what their why is instead of simply being sold their why by the leader. If we want shared understandings and commitments within organizations, I believe that process needs to be more communal rather than leader-driven. I’ve seen too many schools where the leader has a robust vision but never can ‘build support’ with the staff because she’s the only one that really owns it and is trying to then sell it to everyone else. Tom and Eric do talk a bit more about shared visioning on page 36 when they quote Kouzes & Posner, but that section doesn’t articulate what a ground-up process could look like.
In Chapter 2, Eric and Tom do a nice job of articulating ways that technology can enhance student learning. But the chapter sometimes feels a little technology-centric. There are numerous ways to give students access to deeper learning, greater student agency, and more authentic work opportunities that don’t involve learning technologies. Even though I’m an educational technology advocate, I would have liked some more discussion of project- and inquiry-based learning, performance assessments, community-based service learning, Harkness circles, and the wide variety of other non-technological possibilities that still result in robust learning. There is mention of a few of these things but I think in general these could have been fleshed out more. I did greatly appreciate the emphasis on equity in this chapter. Chapter 3 is similar. Tom and Eric discuss the concept of return on instruction but the chapter is framed dominantly within a lens of technology infusion. We need classrooms to move beyond factual recall and procedural regurgitation, and I know that Eric and Tom agree with that notion. But I think that non-technological learning and pedagogy could get some more attention in this chapter too. Although Tom and Eric state directly in Chapter 5 that ‘professional learning must focus on student outcomes through improved pedagogy – not on tools’ (p. 146), I think that idea gets lost in Chapter 3 amidst all of the technology discussions.
The book closes on the idea of sustainable change. That’s an incredibly important topic and also is incredibly difficult to accomplish. There is a great deal of discussion in the chapter about what needs to be done, and I think Eric and Tom rightly identify numerous issues and tasks. They also do a nice job in this chapter of staying positive and encouraging people to recognize that great leadership is within their grasp. However, there is barely a mention in this chapter of one of the biggest barriers to organizational sustainability of change initiatives, which is leadership turnover. When superintendents, principals, and/or school boards turn over fairly frequently, teachers and communities get whipsawed by new innovations and new directions because those new leaders rarely continue the innovation pathways of their predecessors. Some discussion in this chapter of how to actually navigate that concern would have been helpful beyond the couple of sentences on political sustainability that merely acknowledge the issue.
Finally, there are large chunks of several chapters that feel like long lists of leadership ideas that have been thrown together (see, e.g., Chapters 1 and 7). It’s not that the ideas or items are wrong or incorrect, it’s just hard to see how they all fit together. Tom and Eric do a great job of citing research in their book, but it would be helpful to have some research-based frameworks and mental models that tie the list items together. For instance, if there’s a three-page list of ten leadership ideas, why these specific ten and not others and how do they interact together to create a coherent whole? If there are two solid pages of bullet points, maybe those could be tied together into some kind of model that illustrates the connectivity of the disparate parts. Otherwise, we’re left to question where all of these ideas came from and how they’re supposed to work together.
All of these are minor quibbles and choices have to be made in any book about what to focus on and what to leave out. It’s Eric and Tom’s book, not mine, and they’ve done a nice job of presenting their arguments, their reasoning, a variety of resources, and numerous action steps that can be taken.
Questions I have after reading this book
- How do we flesh out in more concrete detail – and with specific action steps – some of the ideas articulated in this book?
- How do we navigate the twin challenges of leadership turnover and initiative fatigue due to successive leaders wanting to ‘put their stamp on’ the organization?
- Much of the book is based on the research about good leadership. We’ve known for a long time much of what’s in the book, but those research-based leadership practices aren’t showing up in administrators’ actual practices. How can we as educational leadership researchers do a better job of translating our scholarship into actionable ideas and behaviors in the field?
- How can schools do a better job of treating parents as authentic partners and co-designers in the learning of their children, not just passive recipients of whatever narrow boxes we educators try to put them into?
- How can we foster the creation of ground-up visions for student learning and educational experiences rather than individual or oligarchic visions that then get sold to the rest of the community? And how can we involve students as substantive partners in that work?
I liked this book a lot, and I’m glad I have friends who make me smarter. I marked it up all over the place. I give it 5 highlighters (out of 5).
As the day continued, they started matches. If you were watching on the live stream, you would have seen us in action! If not: You will see photos at the bottom and I will start to explain. The pit area is set up and ready to go! We will take some video tomorrow of what will be happening and why. It will you guys a more “behinds the scene” look of how much work it actually takes!(in the photo to the left, we are talking to Dark Matter…one the three teams from our Iowa Trio at the North Super Regionals. The three teams together were Finalist Alliance Award)
Our Qualification Matches are: 9, 25, 47, 57, 78, 91, 101, 122, and 132. Tune in tomorrow to the live stream. #Support Lets do this!
We only got to play the first two with the time allotted and we are currently in 8th place! We are 2-0 and extremely excited for tomorrow. Tomorrow will consist of many more matches, scouting, and going to the big dome (we are currently at Union Station)! At the Edwards Jones Dome we will have opening ceremonies, a college/scholarship row, and we will be able to see the FRC (First Robotics Competition) and the FLL (First Lego League)… We will also be able to see the companies who helped sponsor this event and get a lot of one on one information from them.
I don’t really have a lot of information except for good news. The robot is still working great as well as the team members. Just remember: Gracious Professionalism and Continuous Improvement!
Thank you so much to the community/business’s who helped get us here! You guys mean SO much to us! #MonkeySwag #WorldChampionship #International #SUPERCOOL
I’m pleased to announce a new resource today: CASTLE Briefs.
As our web site notes:
CASTLE briefs are intended to help practicing and preservice school administrators with various technology leadership issues. Between 500 and 2,000 words in length, CASTLE briefs attempt to answer the question, “What do school administrators need to know about this technology leadership topic?” Some CASTLE briefs are classic research or policy briefs; others may be more practice-oriented or focus on thought leadership in a particular area.
ANYONE may write a CASTLE brief. Sometimes we will extend invitations to authors but we also accept at-large submissions. We are open to your ideas about content, format, and style but please note that we frown upon commercial advertisements disguised as briefs. Images, audio, video, and other multimedia are welcome inclusions in a brief. We would prefer APA citation style for your references section. All CASTLE briefs will be made available under a Creative Commons attribution-share alike copyright license.
Our first brief is titled for consideration.
I hope that you will consider contributing to the CASTLE Brief series, either by submitting a brief yourself or at least adding some ideas to the list of potential topics. If you’re a professor, note that writing a CASTLE brief would be a great assignment for your students! (hint, hint)
I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops!
There’s a lot of stuff that comes through my Twitter stream. In addition to independent tweets, there also are my posts from here and Mind Dump, my Delicious bookmarks, things that I share from Google Reader, posts from the other CASTLE blogs, and so on. So I wasn’t surprised to get a message recently that said something along the lines of “I’m overwhelmed by your tweets. Do you have a ‘best of the best’ channel?”
Today I’m launching McLeod Reads (@mcleodreads), which is intentionally designed to highlight not only my own best writing but also the best of what I’m reading from others. I’m a huge fan of Flipboard and Instapaper. I also sometimes use systems like Scoop.it, paper.li, Zite, Readability, TweetedTimes, or Read It Later. My overarching goal for this initiative is to highlight things that I want to read using these tools.
What will be in the McLeod Reads stream? As you might imagine, there will be a lot of stuff related to schools, technology, and/or leadership. But there also will be stuff related to social media, higher education, economics, politics, graphic design, law, publishing and journalism, ebooks, photography, and so on. Sometimes it will be a short blurb or quote that I think is especially noteable. Much of it will be longer-form reading like you might see at Longreads, The Browser, Longform, The Essayist, The Long Good Read, Give Me Something to Read, or The Atavist (you know, the stuff that you can really sink your teeth into).
So two Twitter feeds. What you see on @mcleodreads also will come through @mcleod. But most of what you see on @mcleod will never appear on @mcleodreads (i.e., no bookmarks, no unfiltered ‘bot’ tweeting, and no random conversations).
Will Richardson has his Instapaper feed. Carl Anderson has his Ed Tech Feeds twitter account. This is my attempt to create a purposeful, carefully-curated feed of some great reading. To start, I’ve loaded it up with some older posts and some things that caught my eye this morning (so apologies in advance if you’ve already seen much of what’s there now).
To see the unfiltered stream of what I’m sharing, subscribe to @mcleod. To see the unfiltered stream of what I’m reading, check out my shared feeds. But if you’re interested in a more curated experience, subscribe to @mcleodreads and try it out. Let me know what you think (good or bad). And we’ll see how this experiment goes.
Jeff Utecht is offering a free copy of his new book, Reach, until Friday, June 18. After then you can purchase a PDF or paper copy at a very affordable price (which is what I did because I want to encourage him to do more of this!).
You also should check out Jeff’s free e-books: Blogs as Web-Based Portfolios and Planning for 21st Century Technologies in Schools.
Jeff’s new book campaign illustrates that the Web makes it easy for us to share resources and gain visibility for our efforts. This is a wonderful (and previously unimaginable) thing. As Seth Godin notes:
Ideas that spread, win.
[and e-books are a great way to do this]
Is your school organization teaching its students to be EMPOWERED (not just safe, responsible, and appropriate) users of our new information landscape? Or is it still pretending that being findable on the Web – as an individual / company / agency / charity / NGO / etc. – is less important than, say, mastering those soon-to-be-forgotten fact nuggets?
Two years ago CASTLE hosted its first-ever online summer book club. We had over 105 individuals sign up to read and discuss Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. Last year we had our second online summer book club. Over 246 people signed up to read and discuss Why Don’t Students Like School? This year we’re going to have our third online summer book club, but it is going to be very different than what we’ve done before.
- We’re going to run two discussion groups. One for Iowa and one for the rest of the world. You must be an Iowa educator to be eligible for the Iowa group.
- We’re going to read two books instead of one: Education Unbound: The Promise and Practice of Greenfield Schooling and The Future of Management.
- Our discussions are going to be synchronous rather than asynchronous.
- Because of the discussion format, our groups are going to be smaller (no more than 9 individuals plus me) and thus are going to involve an application process.
Why the changes in this year’s book club? Well, we had a very productive conversation when we talked live with each other in February 2009 here on campus about Seth Godin’s Tribes. More importantly, however, our first two book clubs were marked by widespread lack of participation (although we had great conversations with those who did participate!). In other words, people registered and bought (and even liked) the books, but rarely or never participated in the conversations. We ended up doing a LOT of logistical work for a relatively small number of actual participants. So this year we’re going to try something different…
Are you interested in participating?
Here are the guidelines for participation in this year’s book club:
- You must commit to reading BOTH books and participating in BOTH synchronous online conversations. Our conversations will occur on July 15 (Education Unbound) and August 12, 2010 (Future of Management). The World group will meet online from 5:30pm to 7:00pm Central. The Iowa group will meet online from 7:00pm to 8:30pm Central.
- You will need a webcam. You also will need a headset with a microphone OR regular computer / media player headphones plus the microphone that’s built into your computer. No matter what, you should have headphones (to avoid audio feedback). You should learn how to use these BEFORE the first online conversation. We don’t want to spend our time troubleshooting your equipment!
- After each online conversation, we will ask you to submit a 2– or 3–paragraph written reflection summarizing your thoughts at that point. That reflection will be due within a week of the conversation.
- If you participate, you are granting CASTLE permission to a) make a video recording of the online conversation, and b) publicly release on this blog both the video recording and your written reflection under our typical Creative Commons license.
- We reserve the right to give your slot to someone else if you have trouble with these guidelines.
Are you sure you’re interested?
If you’re still interested in participating, please complete the online application form. Applications are due by 6:00pm Central on Sunday, June 20. You will be notified about your application status by 9:00am Central on Wednesday, June 23.
Please understand that we are going to have to make some difficult choices. We anticipate more applicants than we have eligible slots and extend our regrets in advance if you are not selected.
If you have questions, please leave them as a comment to this post. We’ll answer them in the comments area so that everyone can see our replies.
Happy reading! Looking forward to talking with you this summer!
My goal for June: 30 days, 30 book reviews. This post is a review of The Future of Management by Gary Hamel (and Bill Breen). My short recommendation? This book was easily the best leadership book I read in 2009 and should be required reading for all practicing and preservice school administrators.
What I liked about the book
Hamel is one of the leading leadership and business scholars of our time; he has won numerous awards for his writing. As you read through this review, whenever you see the word company or business, substitute school organization. The essential premise of this book is stated early on:
What ultimately constrains the performance of [an] organization is not its operating model, nor its business model, but its management model (p. x). [Unfortunately,] the equipment of [current] management is now groaning under the strain of a load it was never meant to carry. Whiplash change, fleeting advantages, technological disruptions, seditious competitors, fractured markets, omnipotent customers, rebellious shareholders – these 21st-century challenges are testing the design limits of organizations around the world and are exposing the limitations of a management model that has failed to keep pace with the times (p. x).
In other words, as Charles Leadbeater says, “old groaning corporations are the wrong shape” for the fast-paced, ever-changing, innovation-driven, global economy in which we now live.
Hamel notes a number of new environmental factors that now exist for organizations, including reduced barriers to entry across a wide range of industries; a shift in bargaining power to consumers rather than producers; a world of near-perfect information; and the rise of more nimble, global competitors “eager to exploit legacy costs of the old guard” (pp. 9–10). He then goes on to describe why management, rather than other factors, is the key to resolving many of these dilemmas. He also outlines three formidable challenges that now confront organizations:
- Dramatically accelerating the pace of strategic renewal in organizations large and small;
- Making innovation everyone’s job, every day; and
- Creating a highly engaging work environment that inspires employees to give the very best of themselves. (p. 41)
These ring true for school systems as well as corporations.
Hamel states that “if we were to measure the relative contribution that each of these human capabilities makes to value creation, . . . the scale would look something like this“
- Passion 35%
- Creativity 25%
- Initiative 20%
- Intellect 15%
- Diligence 5%
- Obedience 0% (p. 59)
Guess which ones school systems reward, both for their students and their employees?
I liked Hamel’s emphasis on organizational learning. For example, he notes that “there is no surer way to undermine a new business venture than to measure it by the profits generated, rather than by the learning accumulated” (p. 225). Unfortunately, this happens all too often in the public schooling context when it comes to standardized testing results.
One section of the book profiles different companies that are management outliers and identifies some key management lessons to be learned from them. For example, a key idea from Whole Foods Market is that “the biggest obstacle to management innovation may be what you already believe about management” (p. 79). One of the key lessons from W.L. Gore is that “management innovation often redistributes power (so don’t expect everyone to be enthusiastic)” (p. 96). A key lesson from Google is that “experienced managers may not make the best management innovators” (p. 119).
The middle of the book had a statement that really resonated with me:
The people who have a stake in the old technology are never the ones to embrace the new technology. It’s always someone a bit on the periphery, who hasn’t got anything to gain by the status quo, who is interested in changing it” (pp. 127–128).
There are a small handful of us in educational leadership academe for whom this directly applies. We are trying to figure out how to publish or perish and become recognized as national experts in this new information landscape rather than the traditional one of peer-reviewed academic journals. We have little interest in burying our writing in places that educators in the field never read. We have little interest in writing that is disconnected from conversation and collaborative knowledge-building. We’re all in the first decade (or less) of our scholarly careers, however; we don’t have the legacy disability of having built our reputations in the world of ink on paper. Time will tell if we’re successful at challenging the old system or if we get beaten down and/or driven out by our collective peers.
Hamel notes that current management was built around some core principles: standardization, specialization, hierarchy, alignment, planning and control, and the use of extrinsic rewards to shape human behavior (p. 151). All of these are under assault in our new technology-suffused, hyperconnected, globally-interconnected society. Some of the new management principles that now are ascendant include variety, flexibility, activism, meaning, and organization for serendipity (p. 179).
Near the end of the book, Hamel postulates some key questions (and gives some potential answers):
- How do you build a democracy of ideas?,
- How do you amplify human imagination?,
- How do you dynamically reallocate resources?,
- How do you aggregate collective wisdom?,
- How do you minimize the drag of old mental models?, and
- How do you give everyone the chance to opt in? (pp. 189–190)
Those are great issues around which to invent the future of management.
The most critical question for every 21st-century company is this: Are we changing as fast as the world around us? (p. 42)
Regulatory barriers, patent protection, distribution monopolies, disempowered customers, proprietary standards, scale advantages, import protection, and capital hurdles were bulwarks that protected industry incumbents from the margin-crushing impact of Darwinian competition. Today, many of these fortifications are collapsing. (p. 48)
Does this sound like public schools to you? It does to me.
No one has a blueprint for building an innovators’ paradise. It isn’t just your company – every big organization is inhospitable to innovation. If you want to build an innovation-friendly management system, you’re going to have to invent it. (p. 84)
Some of your colleagues are likely to protest that while “it might work there, it will never work here.” When you’re up against a belief that seems set in concrete, it may be helpful to ask, whose interests does this belief serve? . . . It’s hardly surprising that most managers believe you can’t manage without managers. (p. 138)
Vociferous, honest dissent is not a hallmark of hierarchical organizations. . . . Adaptability requires alternatives. Alternatives require dissenters. (pp. 167–168) Does anyone suppose that pathbreaking innovation will come out of intellectually homogenous companies? (p. 175)
Questions I have after reading the book
- How many public school systems have a hope of ever pulling off even a fraction of this?
- What will it take for school leaders to recognize the organizational dangers that accompany
- How long will it be before policymakers and parents recognize the limitations of current management strategies and begin advocating for something different?
- Are ANY educational leadership preparation programs talking about this stuff?
In the first section of the book, Hamel notes that
When it comes to innovation, a company’s legacy beliefs are a much bigger liability than its legacy costs. . . . Few companies have a systematic process for challenging deeply held strategic assumptions. Few have taken bold steps to open up their strategy process to contrarian points of view. Few explicitly encourage disruptive innovation. (p. 54)
The challenge for all school leaders – and the university programs that prepare them – is how to initiate and sustain these kinds of changes. This is what I’m wrestling with as an educational leadership professor.
This is an excellent book. I have no hesitation giving it 5 highlighters (out of 5).
[See my other reviews and recommended reading]
My goal for June: 30 days, 30 book reviews. This post is a review of Education Unbound: The Promise and Practice of Greenfield Schooling by Rick Hess. My short recommendation? I believe that this is a book that will substantially stretch educators and policymakers and should be required reading for any university educational leadership program’s education policy course.
What I liked about the book
Hess’ essential premise is that we need more innovation and entrepreneurship in K-12 schooling. He believes that the “greatest challenge for teaching and learning is the creaky, rule-bound system in which they unfold” (p. 3) and that school organizations are “so hobbled [by various legacy characteristics] that even sensible efforts will fall short” (p. 3). He advocates for a greenfield approach to schooling, one that clears the ground for innovation and allows reform efforts to proceed unhindered by restrictive policies, mindsets, and other constraints.
This is not just a book about school choice. As Hess notes, greenfield approaches to schooling require “that choice be coupled with opportunities for entrepreneurs to enter the field, obtain resources, recruit talent, try new approaches, develop new products, compete fairly, and benefit from their successes. . . . [We] have paid little attention to the development of the infrastructure, quality control, and policy environment needed to turn school choice plans into greenfield” (p. 33).
In Chapter 2, Hess identifies four tasks that are crucial to greenfield educational reform: “removing obstacles, ensuring quality, and supplying both talent and financial resources” (p. 41). He then describes in detail in Chapters 3 through 6 the issues, the challenges, and some potential solutions in each of those four areas. Unfortunately, as Hess notes, “for all their virtues, [American] schools … are not noted for their embrace of creative problem solvers” (p. 1) and that “the vast majority of superintendents [and principals] have learned to regard precedent-breaking action as risky and conflict as something to be avoided” (p. 61).
I liked Hess’ recognition that we tolerate wide discrepancies in outcomes when it comes to public education but not when it comes to for-profit educational services. For example, he says that “in education, we … are much more squeamish about [for-profit] approaches that may yield uneven quality (even if we quietly tolerate massive mediocrity and unevenness among existing school districts)” (p. 85). I think that’s an important point worth emphasizing. We are so afraid that for-profit solutions will cause harm to students. Of course some will. They already do, and we should work to prevent those from happening as much as we can. But the same is true for public education. We shouldn’t stifle opportunities for innovation for some perceived notion of educational quality that, in reality, is also variable in the public sector. Instead, as he advocates, we need better oversight and better mechanisms for accountabilty, ones that go far beyond – and are more robust and complex than – the simplistic bubble-sheet accountability measures that we have now.
We routinely look at new learning tools and ask only how they might be used to improve traditional classrooms rather than how they might revolutionize schooling. . . . Technology is not a way to augment yesterday’s classrooms but rather a tool with which to revolutionize schooling. (pp. 27–28)
The dysfunction that limns our school systems is like the air we breathe. It’s so familiar and accepted that, after a while, we take it for granted. We forget that things might be otherwise – that there’s no reason choosing to be an educator should mean accepting bureacracy, standardization, and inept management. (p. x)
It is hard to see how even souped-up versions of existing approaches will recruit or prepare the kind of talent needed to fundamentally improve K-12 education. (p. 87)
[An] often overlooked operational barrier is the tendency of district leaders to regard staff time and salaries as sunk costs. . . . Districts typically do not eliminate teaching or staff positions, even if an innovation allows nine employees to accomplish what used to take ten. The result is that school and district leaders have a hard time seeing labor-saving technologies or services as cost-effective. . . . A management style that ignores cost efficiencies in staff time and salaries constitutes an enormous obstacle . . . Rather than ask whether a tutoring program would allow a district to reduce the number of paraprofessionals or whether a more sophisticated diagnostic tool might allow talented elementary teachers to accommodate more students, . . . officials seemingly operate from the premise that technology and service providers must “supplement but not supplant” personnel. (p. 59)
The failure of most [best practices-oriented reform] efforts is due to barnacles that encumber today’s school systems, including inefficient human resource departments, intrusive collective bargaining agreements, outdated technology, poorly designed management information systems, and other structural impediments. Greenfielders do not reject the utility of sensible best practices, but they question the assumption that the best practice mind-set will be enough to overcome these obstacles. . . . If we are to deliver transformative improvement, it is not enough to wedge new practices into familiar schools and districts; we must re-imagine the system itself. (pp. 6–7)
Questions I have after reading this book
- What is the likelihood of us ever achieving even some of the greenfield approaches that Hess advocates?
- What are the best ways to address the “supplement but not supplant” mindsent of school leaders, teachers unions, and policymakers when it comes to technology and personnel?
- Can we get educators to recognize that digital technologies will supplant some of their work – and some of them – and that this will be a good thing for students?
I liked this book a LOT. I like any book that really stretches my own thinking and pushes me into new areas that I haven’t considered much. This is one of those books and I bet it will be for you too. I give it 5 highlighters (out of 5).
[See my other reviews and recommended reading]
This book was sent to me gratis by the publisher. I was not compensated in any way for this review and was not asked by the author or the publisher to write positively about this book.