Robert A. Teegarden's Blog

April 28, 2010

Stakeholders in Education

There’s a lot of talk these days about the stakeholders in education.  The first round losers in the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top, a federal carrot to tempt reforms out of the states, were told they lost points for not securing the support of the local stakeholders. Just who might these stakeholders be?

When I think of stakeholders several images and ideas come to mind.

The first image is that of the crusty sourdough miner from the 1800s in California seeking his fortune in the Sierras.  When he discovers a lode, he promptly pounds a stake into the ground with the dimensions of his claim and other personal information. He then scurries off to the closest agency through which he can register that claim. “This is my dirt; whatever’s in it belongs to me.”

 For me, this is probably the simplest paradigm for education, your own education.  It’s solitary, it’s entrepreneurial. It’s what you make of it. Your hard work is the stake; your future is what you make of it.  It was the status of education in American from pre-colonial through post civil war times. It was singular, private and familial.  If you happened to choose to attend a school, that was your doing (or your parents’). But there was no obligation, no force, no compulsion of law.  Common sense told you that this claim was the root of your future and fortune.  But there are foreshadows of third-party claim-jumpers hidden in this history.

 The second image is that of the Oklahoma Land Rush.  In 1893 certain tracts of land were available on a first-come-first-served basis for free…to anyone.  All the contestants had to do was be at the starting line by such-and-such a time, race to the aforementioned territory and, upon finding your dream lot, secure it by driving a stake in the ground in each of the four corners… this while the other 99,999 folks raced for the same 42,000 plots of land.  It’s interesting to note that the land “given away” was Cherokee tribal land once granted by the US government to the native Americans, but which became the spoils of war after the native uprisings. “Sooners” were the folks who cheated and snuck in the night before to stake a claim to the choicest lots.

 This second image starts to resemble the modern reality of education in America. Those sod-buster stakeholders include kids and families, but like the modern reality, they also include government and union agents.  The two-party system in American education was born here. There was subsidy for the rich(er)—the “Sooners” got the best choices because they moved into the best neighborhoods; and there was free enterprise for the poor—the rest had to do with whatever lots were left. The parents who get the best lots today tend to get the best school  districts (or so we’re told).

 But it was the government who defined the race, defined the conditions and determined the outcome. Part of that independence and entrepreneurial spirit of the sourdough miner is being worn away by government definitions and government doings.

 The modern experience of government largesse—government grants, especially from Washington, is truly a dash for the cash.  And when it comes to education in America, that’s all Washington can do—give away money.  But it’s always a Faustian bargain because with the shekels come the shackles. Government local and state superintendents compete with Washington for the money that was theirs originally—it was state money, state taxes which came from private enterprise–but it’s been redistributed to those with the fastest horses and rigs.

 No longer is it the individual who stakes a claim on the future. It seems somebody else stakes the claim; students are just along for the ride.  The government has established the starting line, game time, pre-planned plots of expectation and outcome, and rules of the race.  Tally Ho!

 The Law Dictionary defines a stakeholder as:  “a third party chosen by two or more persons to keep in deposit property or money the right or possession of which is contested between them, and to be delivered to the one who shall establish his right to it.” When John Stygles and I used to wager on the outcome of our feats of strength and tests of courage in the 7th and 8th grade, it was usually Susan Walker who held the coins; she was our third-party stakeholder.

 Who are the educational contestants in today’s modern America?  Who holds the wagers? It’s sad to say but I believe the core of educational efforts in American in the 21st century comes down to a contest between students and teachers. But I don’t mean teachers individually, as professionals.  I’m referring to “the teachers” when they gather and are mentioned in government documents and by their union leaders.  The policies of today come down to a consideration between who wins: students or teachers.  And isn’t that sad.  It’s either educational success for kids or full-employment for some adults.  The problem is that the government unions (teachers’,  school board associations’, and superintendents’) all hold the wagers.  No matter who wins, they make a living—make a profit.  I don’t think the unions are stakeholders as much as they are bookies.  

 According to the Investor Daily, other than traditional business, “a stakeholder may also be concerned with the outcome of a specific project, effort or activity, such as a community development project or the delivery of local health services. A stakeholder usually stands to gain or lose depending on the decisions taken or policies implemented.  Therefore, a stakeholder is anyone who may be affected by a decision.” In the modern world that’s just about everyone.

 But how do you sort out the various beliefs and define the “good” in American education?  Who gets to make that decision?  Who gets to choose the curriculum or textbooks? Who is the ultimate stakeholder?  The battle for governance in America has spilled over into education.  Educational futures are being held hostage to the politics of the day.  It’s each parent who has to make this decision on behalf of their child/ren.  It’s the parent who holds this soul in the palm of their hands.  It’s the parent who should be holding the stake.

 As education goes, so goes America.  The authors of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution knew that a Constitutional Republic would not stand the test of time without an educated citizenry.  They knew that America itself would be a stakeholder in this contest.  What did those framers do about it?  Nothing!  That’s right, nothing.  They left this extraordinary opportunity and obligation exactly where it belonged—with the first stakeholders–parents and individual students.  It’s up to them to choose—common sense demands it.  But unfortunately, the bureaucrats and politicians have turned the education of the public into “public education.”  The former is not happening; the latter is well funded.

 Finally, according to Marios Alexandrou, “stakeholders are the end-users or clients, the people from whom requirements will be drawn, the people who will influence the design and, ultimately, the people who will reap the benefits of your completed project.”   The project is education. Who reaps the benefits? Students.  Who will influence the design? Students.  From whom will requirements be drawn?  Students.  Who are the end-users? Students.

 When one examines the various Washington government grants to the states, there’s hardly a mention of these end-users.  There’s hardly a mention of the voices of their parents.  They might collect an opinion from a PTA organization, but this is not the voice of parents. Union teachers’ voices are heard.  Superintendents are heard.  Principals are heard.  Directors, leaders, associates and assistants are heard.  But not the students.

 Because of the vast amounts of money involved, I think Washington may be confusing a stakeholder with a shareholder.

 Solution:  Since we are all stakeholders in the education of America and because students are the ultimate end-user and stakeholder, the best and only role of the government is to provide opportunities not solutions.  Give each sourdough student a grubstake with which to make something of himself/herself.  Give each student the opportunity to choose an education and it doesn’t matter where it occurs.  Other stakeholders will scramble to provide the opportunity and share in the riches of that success.

April 27, 2010

Hawaii’s Days of Infamy: Redux

Or… “Robbing Iniki to pay Pele.”

For those not familiar with either, Iniki is the name of the famous hurricane that passed dead-center through the island of Kauaii on 9/11/1992.  We’re told that one could not find a frog on that devastated island for five years hence.  Pele is the goddess of the volcano. Prior to the arrival of Captain Cook in January of 1778, the Hawaiians held blood-letting sacrifices to Pele by tossing virgins (male and female) into the fiery calderas—this was to atone, appease, or appeal. Kids in Hawaii are still being thrown into the fires today, albeit political fires.  I’m not sure which burns brighter but a sacrifice is still a sacrifice.

 Governor Lingle, the state School Board and the teachers’ union are at it… again.  Most of the story was covered in my first blog. But this week’s works again strain credulity. If the state lawmakers would approve, funds would be shifted from the Hurricane Relief Fund to “restore 11 teacher furlough days” next year.  The Hurricane Relief Fund is Iniki, and Pele is the cartel of the teacher’s union, state School Board et al.  The equation is elementary: education + politics = $$$.

 The Hurricane Relief Fund was established as a cushion to provide insurance policies specifically in the event of hurricane damage, insurance that was jeopardized and almost extinct after the fiscal disaster that was Iniki. but something required by law.  If you have a mortgage, you have to have it.  Now, the state policy folks are going to shift $57.2 million of those dollars over so that teachers will go back to work for 11 days next year.  Wow!  Sounds reminiscent of Social Security.  What happens if there is another hurricane in the near future?  Will the teachers and their organizations pay the damages?

 But there’s more to it than the crass politics.  It seems the very “Aloha Spirit” that was once common to the islands is itself being swallowed up by politics.  The politics and reporting seem one-sided.  The Honolulu Advertiser noted that parents in the Save Our Schools organization praised Governor Lingle’s actions and hoped that she would tap into more restricted funds and chase after the stimulus funds from Washington.  No where did they speak about site-by-site investigations to determine where costs could be cut further. It’s been three months.  They noted that the Governor wants “to get the kids back to school this year and the next.”  What about the teachers and the unions?  The governor noted that “they want to return to the classroom.”  But have they?

 There has been a lot of hurt.  Healing is needed.  “Good faith” is being tested in every corner.  More than gestures of support are needed to recapture that Aloha Spirit, that trust that once marked an entire culture.   Above all, there needs to be clarity in their analysis and deliberations. As an example, if parents took their children out of school for the times suggested they could be brought up on charges; but when the unions do that, there’s no consequence. Why is that?  What about the promise of (at least) 180 school days and a “world class education?”  Where’s the voice of the young ones sacrificed in this caldera of conflict?

 Everyone needs to start asking much larger questions?

  • What happened to the $600 million surplus in the education budget in 2006-07?
  • Isn’t  $12,786.83 per student spending enough to get the job done?  Or maybe we should ask: When is enough enough?  $200,000 per classroom revenues should be sufficient.  Maybe should look elsewhere for cuts.
  • Are you getting your money’s worth:
    • 4th grade reading – 46th of 50 states; 8th grade reading – 46th of 50 states
    • 4th grade math – 41st of 50 states; 8th grade math – 48th of 50 states.
    • Why would the government want to force children to attend obviously inferior schools when cost-effective alternatives are available, usually on the same block?

 The Enquirer also noted that Hawaii made national news when a group of parents “began a sit-in at the governor’s office in protest of the teacher days.”  They seem to have also forgotten that in education it takes three to teach:  a parent, a student and a teacher.  In government schools, if takes even more: student, parents, teachers, unions.  Why were there no sit-ins at the union offices, at the school board’s offices or outside faculty rooms? You may not have elected them, but they’re part of the government just the same.  Just because they are your neighbors doesn’t make them right!   It’s too easy to find and target a political scapegoat in these matters; the reasons are as complicated as the many kapus in the Hawaiian tradition.

 The history books say that Captain Cook died over an argument dealing with a stolen rowboat.  I think not; he was the captain.  To the people of Hawaii he was considered a god.  I believe Cook was invited to witness one of their sacrifices, the invitation from one god to another; when asked his opinion of what he just saw, Cook probably responded in clear, unambiguous outrage and disdain. They killed him because now he knew.

Like Captain Cook of old, we can no longer allow kids to be sacrificed on the altars of politics and greed.  Parents need other choices.

April 26, 2010

21st Century Skills

Filed under: Education — by Robert @ 4:10 pm
Tags:

There’s a lot of talk these days about the skills necessary for the 21st century and the “global economy.”  We’re living in the land of Google, e-mail, texting, Facebook, Twitter, international consortia, and GPS.  We have resources at our fingertips that were unheard of just twenty years ago, let alone a century ago.  In 80 short years we’ve flown from the 12 seconds and 120 feet at Kitty Hawk to the moon and back. We have trains that travel underwater to link different cultures. We have machines that can consume the earth ten times over.  We’re connected, concerned and care about tomorrow.  What do my kids need?

 The pundits and politicians tell us we need more money to provide them with 21st century skills.  After a lot of consideration, I offer the following as a benchmark for those skills as one proceeds into high school in America.  This is a 21st century entrance test to the high school of your choice.  Good Luck

Just go to this Link and proceed:  http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/quizzes/highschool_test.cfm

 

When you’ve finished, come back here.

Don’t peek before you’re done……

Welcome Back!

Here’s the point.   The 21st Century skills necessary are really no different than those expected in the 20th, 19th, 18th… centuries.  There are fundamentals to be known in each of the liberal arts.  There is a truth in each.  But our expectations have changed or slipped over time.  We’ve inflated grades and the importance of our associations.  We’ve come to rely more on the technologies of education than the fundamental facts of hard work, dedication and purpose.

All those wonderful gadgets that we experience and use today weren’t created in a vacuum.  Someone thought them up.  Someone developed them. They learned from those who went before and built upon it.  But it’s not just the wonders of these new technological tools.  Developers also had to be able to communicate their ideas to others and “sell” them on the idea. 

The skills that are necessary today are the skills that occasionally get lost in the glamour of new inventions and over time.  According to research, 50% of the students in most of the state colleges and universities require “remediation” courses in order to enter and/or continue.  Research also says that at least 60% of the students entering community colleges today require “remediation” courses.  These are usually in English and Math.  How can it be that B and A average students graduating from high school require remediation of any kind?  

Somewhere in this sad statistic are the skills necessary and are necessary not only from students, but from their teachers and schools as well.

April 7, 2010

The Race to the Top — The New America’s Cup

Filed under: Education — by Robert @ 7:21 pm
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There are a lot of similarities between sailing and schooling. 

  • The shadow of the captain/administrator falls on the entire boat/institution. 
  • “You can’t run from the wind. You trim your sails, face the music, and keep going.”
  • Boats weren’t designed to stay in port and bob at anchor; schools weren’t designed for the adults who work there. 
  • If you have a surplus of something on board, you surely have a serious shortage of something else.  
  • A successful voyage is to sail from point A to point B; a successful education is the seamless matriculation to the next level of challenge—and is measurable by standardized testing. 
  • Sailors know that they must make minute and constant adjustments to their sails; good teachers know that instantaneous adjustments occur every moment of every day—despite the lesson plan. 
  • All boats in the water rise and fall with tides.

One of the great sailing contests of all time has become known as the America’s Cup.  One of the great “races” in American schooling has been called The Race to The Top.

The America’s Cup started in 1851, when it was known as the Royal Yacht and Squadron Cup, predominantly a race among and between (wealthy) yacht owners. The new name stuck when the schooner America won in 1957.  The America’s Cup reached its high water mark between 1930-37; this was when the famous J-Class schooners dominated the field.  The America’s Cup between 1930 and 1937 was a race between sailors.  All entrants had the same deck under their feet—success was a measure of what they did with it—the mark of a true sailor. Some won, some lost. 

The Race to the Top is a federal government, 2010 carrot and stick, $4.35 billion competition among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. This is a race among educrats. The “awards” are given to those judged to champion the most “robust changes in their educational practices; 40 states and the District of Columbia applied in the first round (of races).  Two states “won.”  This “race” is managed by the US Department of Education (USDOE).

The USDOE had its origins in 1867.  Its stated purpose was to provide data collection and research to provide school districts and schools on best practices throughout the US.  It moved on to provide resources to land grant colleges in 1890 and focus on the serious need for Vocational Education in America’s schools. The USDOE reached its zenith just before WWII.  Since then and like the folks at the America’s Cup, it has developed “races” for designers, fund-raisers and managers.

In 1941 the USDOE oversaw the distribution of Impact Aid; this was assistance to local schools to compensate them for the influx of children into their districts because of the presence of military bases.  The department’s oversight and involvement expanded in the 60s with the Civil Rights agenda of that era, culminating in the establishment of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the Johnson-era law that is known in its most recent iteration as the No Child Left Behind Act)—the largest heretofore distribution of money from Washington back to the states. .

Since WWII, the America’s cup has not so much been a race for top sailors but a race for yacht designers, fund-raising acumen and management skills.  American education followed in that wake.  Trophies are given not so much for your sailing ability, but your ability to out-design, out-market and out-manage your opponent.  What once had been a noble tradition to test the skills, wisdom and luck of the sailor deteriorated into a contest of technologies.  They lost sight of why they sailed ships and what the true nature of the sailor is/was.

Finally, in 1980, the Carter administration established a cabinet post for the USDOE in the person of its Secretary of Education.  No longer content to be a lighthouse for schools and educators, the USDOE emerged as the chandler[i] for almost all schools in the US.  Not content with providing sound navigational aids by which to chart a course for schools, the USDOE now wants to design the institutions, define the rules of engagement and determine who gets to sail these ships of state. 

American education sailed into the rocky shoals of politics and favors.  The answer to the question “Why?” is ever so simple.  Religion and education have the two institutions closest to the home.  Since the First Amendment excludes the government from interfering there, they chose the next best thing—the coerced and captured audience known as K-to-12th grade students.  Politics is now being brought home in the backpacks of America’s kids through programs like The Race to the Top.  Is there a (federal) Constitutional mandate for this involvement?  No!  Is there a Constitutional provision for these “services?”  No!  What’s the wind that fills these sails? Politics.  

In the Race to the Top, one must ask “Who really benefits from these awards?” “All local unions in Delaware backed the state’s bid, while 93% lent their support in Tennessee”—the two top vote-getters in round one. “By comparison, Florida—which is otherwise engaged in one of the country’s most sweeping school overhauls—had the backing of only 8% of its unions.” Florida didn’t place.  But nowhere in this contest is there the mention of students or parents or families.  How were they engaged in the process? 

Remember: If you have a surplus of something on board, you surely have a serious shortage of something else.

Schooling in America used to be about kids, about their success, about their future. American government schooling is more about designer programs, vaulted promises and behind the scenes trading.  Except for the political platitudes spouted around election time, the schooling of kids is incidental to the efforts.

Florida is a fine example of what can be done when the purposes are clear, when the captain gives clear directions, when those who signed-on stay on board through the winds, waves and fog.

We don’t need more designers, fund-raisers or management types on board, we need sailors. Maybe we’ve forgotten why these boats were built in the first place.   Where are the sailors?  Where are the students?


[i] Chandler – a supply organization that provides all materials and goods for sailing vessels.

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