The Shell Game of School Choice

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Two important pieces of legislation have recently been filed in the Missouri Legislature; both related to school choice programs.  HB 634 would expand the implementation of charter schools throughout the State.  Currently, charter schools are restricted to the cities of St. Louis and Kansas City.  Proponents of school choice believe competition between charter, private and public schools will enhance educational opportunities for Missouri students.   However, school choice programs in Michigan and Indiana prove otherwise .  The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (a nonpartisan research organization) studied Indiana’s school choice program.  Overall, the study found that school choice did little to benefit students and parents in Indiana.  The study concludes:

“All three core components of the Indiana Choice Legislation are designed to funnel taxpayer money to private schools, with little evidence that demonstrates improved academic achievement for students who are most at risk. Indiana should invest its scarce public education dollars in schools where taxpayers can expect to receive the best educational bang for their buck – that is schools that have been proven, when compared to other types of schools, to educate the most children to the highest levels. Those schools are, unequivocally, K-12 public schools.”

A New York Times article published earlier this year examined the proliferation of charter schools in Detroit, Michigan.  Detroit’s expansion of charter programs diluted public funding for all schools statewide, which hindered student achievement.  “By 2015, a federal review of a grant application for Michigan charter schools found an “unreasonably high” number of charters among the worst-performing 5 percent of public schools statewide” (Zernike, 2016).

Senate Bill 32 is a tax credit voucher program.  This would indirectly funnel public money (through the tax code) to private, parochial, public and virtual schools.  Essentially, this is a “shell game” as public money would be shuffled to institutions with minimal oversight.  While public schools are forced to comply with federal and state accountability standards, charter and private schools would receive public money with minimal accountability.  Currently, public schools are facing budget cuts in transportation and are being asked to do more with less money.  The voucher tax credit program would further dilute operating funds.  

SB 32 and HB 634 could have a substantial impact on educational services in the State of Missouri.  School choice programs have been ineffective, inefficient and expensive in other states.  Public schools ensure equitable educational opportunities for all students and are held to high accountability standards.  In my opinion, the proposed legislation would negatively impact Missouri students.  Please contact your local legislators if you agree.

References

Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.  (2015, April).  Analysis of Indiana School Choice Scholarship Program.  Retrieved from the Center for Tax and Budget AccountabilityWebsite:  http://www.ctbaonline.org/reports/analysis-indiana-school-choice-scholarship-program

 

Zernike, K. (2016, June 28).  A sea of charter schools in Detroit leaves student adrift.  The New York Times.  Retrieved fromhttps://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/29/us/for-detroits-children-more-school-choice-but-not-better-schools.html

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Thinking in 3-D #IMMOOC

This short video blew my mind.  Someone in Russia “printed” a house.  While the accomplishment itself is significant, what really impresses me is the imagination it took to conceptualize this project.  I have to ask myself, what are we doing as educators to prepare our students for a future  driven by creativity and innovation?  A quote from Part I of the Innovator’s Mindset caught my eye.

“Innovation is not about the stuff, it is a way of thinking.”  

Self-driving cars and printable houses were radical thoughts before they were reality.  Recently, we have done a better job of allowing students to explore, discover, make and create.  However, we seem to provide these opportunities in isolation as opposed to incorporating in everyday instruction.  Traditional classroom content paired with opportunities to think, dream and build can create dynamic experiences for our students. Inventive experiences, and mindsets, are essential in a world where groundbreaking technology is produced with regularity.

 

“Stickiness”

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Earlier this year, I was hanging out with a friend and asked about a mutual acquaintance.  His response was as perplexing as it was concise.  He said, “They’re sticky.  They have a stickiness problem.”  I took the bait and asked for clarification.  My friend explained that negativity begets negativity until one simply expects bad things to happen.  When you put out a welcome mat for life’s maladies they will enter without knocking, drink from the milk carton and ask if they can crash for the night.  My friend further explained that the elixir for stickiness wasn’t  as simple as thinking optimistically.  Stickiness can only be combated through a mindset of positivity, determination and grit.  Bad things happen to everyone, but successful people view these setbacks as temporary challenges to overcome.

Three months later I read a blog by George Couros entitled Stuck in Your Head and Heart.  Couros’ use of the term “stickiness” carries a positive connotation.  He states we must connect to the heart if we hope to make a connection to the mind.  To create meaningful learning opportunities, we must first build relationships with students.  This emotional connection will enhance their desire to learn and will allow key concepts to “stick’ with our students.    

I find this juxtaposition of stickiness to be intriguing.  My friend uses the term negatively, while Couros describes stickiness as a positive attribute.  I believe they are both correct. You must avoid stickiness if you hope to create stickiness.   If you build positive experiences for yourself, you will intuitively replicate these experiences for your students. I recently heard Dave Burgess present, and during his presentation he shared a quote from Maya Angelou who said,

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

 Pay attention to how and what you feel if you hope to lead, inspire and motivate others. How you make others feel may stick with them forever……  

Making the Mundane Meaningful

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Let’s face it, “adulting” isn’t always fun. Whether personal or professional, our lives are full of uninspiring responsibilities.  Currently, I’m in the eye of the adulthood storm, but a flood of monotonous tasks including laundry, dishes, and grocery shopping will soon wash over me.  Professionally, I also struggle with a number of menial tasks which are important, but certainly not inspiring.  These chores remind me of eating vegetables as a kid.  My mom used to tell me, “the sooner you eat your green beans, the sooner you can watch T.V.”  As an adult, I can almost hear her saying “The sooner you process those planned absence forms, the sooner you can go do something fun!”  

Recently, I found a way to bring meaning to the mundane.  Matthew Kelly’s book, Resisting Happiness, outlines multiple strategies to live a life of fulfillment.  Kelly, a well-known, author, speaker and devout Catholic invites us to find meaning in the dull and uneventful.  His solution is simple; dedicate each hour of work to someone you love or appreciate.   I was skeptical at first, but it has had a profound impact on my personal and professional life.  Instead of plodding through tasks, I work earnestly to honor each individual.  Doing a “good” job doesn’t seem adequate when a task represents my wife, daughter, or a sick coworker.  

I also find myself living a life of gratitude.  It’s hard to complain about uninspiring paperwork when honoring the pain and adversity of others.  I’m fortunate to have both the opportunity and ability to complete uneventful duties.  Most individuals living in crisis would consider dull a blessing.

 

The Culture of They

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The word “they” is a  pronoun used to describe a group of people, or a person of unspecified gender.  Lately, the word has been used to categorize people into opposing ideological groups .  This term, and accompanying mindset, seems to be on the rise.  A quick glance at social media or any daily newspaper will confirm this trend.    

Whether personal or professional, there is a danger in categorizing people into opposing groups referred to only in the third person.  They fails to recognize and respect individuals.  My travels and experiences have taught me that people are incredibly complex.  They have unique identities shaped by their life experiences.  Holistically, people tend to dwell on areas in which they differ, and rarely focus on what they have in common.  We are all more complex than the simple labels we use to identify political ideology, race, religion, sexual orientation, or favorite team.  I don’t believe we have to lower our personal standards or compromise our own beliefs to coexist with others who hold differing opinions.  We just have to respect those who disagree with us.  We need to listen and seek to understand opposing viewpoints if we wish to be treated with similar respect.  

They also encourages “group think”.  Groupthink is a well documented phenomenon in which a group of people make decisions without dissenting viewpoints.  A culture of they insulates people to believe their viewpoint is right and vilifies the beliefs of others.  Poor and divisive decision making is often the result of groupthink.  

It’s not easy to have your beliefs challenged and it’s uncomfortable to deal with conflict.  However, we shouldn’t fear these experiences.  We should view them as opportunities to share our personal convictions with others, and offer them the same opportunity. 

Joie de vivre in a New Year

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Fifteen years ago I was a first year high school social studies teacher.  My first assignment was at a small, rural school where I was essentially the history department.  Most of my first year is a blur; hazy recollections of early mornings and late nights.  There were long stretches of road interrupted only by sips of coffee and the familiar noise of a staticky radio and squeaky shocks.  I taught six different classes my first year and one of these courses was entitled Missouri History.  Course materials were less than robust and teaching the course was a challenge.   One weekend while preparing lesson plans I reviewed information related to French culture in Missouri.  It was at this time I discovered the french term Joie de vivre.  The literal translation is the joy of life.  I found this term to be interesting, mainly because it was lacking in my own life.  I was stressed and overwhelmed by the challenges and trials of being a first-year teacher.  Instead of taking time to celebrate success, I seemed to have a singular focus on failure.   

Fifteen years later I find myself in need of a similar reminder- to embrace the joy of life.  We all have important jobs and responsibilities to fulfill, and because we care about those who depend on us it can be stressful.   There are daily challenges, and if we aren’t careful this is where we direct our full attention.  Even worse, we will spend time worrying about dilemmas that don’t exist but fear might happen.  

During winter break I had time to read at leisure.  A common thread through each book was overcoming fear.  The book Chop Wood Carry Water by Joshua Medcalf discussed how the development of a positive mindset could offset the fear of failure.  There are many great takeaways in this book, but two stood out for me.  They are (a) to live present, and (b) surrender the outcome.  The idea of living present is relatively straightforward.  How many great moments in our lives are missed while worrying about the future?  You can’t change the future through worry alone, so why waste time obsessing over problems that have yet to materialize?  The second key principle is related to this concept.  We have to surrender the outcome of events in our lives and trust in our preparation and training.  Too often we obsess over the outcomes of meetings or new initiatives.   If we have prepared accordingly and done everything we can to be successful then that in itself is enough.  No amount of additional worry and anguish will improve the outcome.  

I believe we fear failure because we don’t view it in the proper context.  The idea of “failing forward” has become popular in recent years.  It basically states that it’s acceptable to fail, you just need to learn from your mistakes.  Overcoming and understanding adversity was a key theme in the book Saint John Paul the Great:  His Five Loves by Jason Avent.  Pope John Paul II overcame adversity his entire life, including the loss of his mother when he was 8, the loss of his older brother in his teens and the death of his father while living in Nazi-occupied Poland.  Cardinal Andrej Desku put the Pope’s suffering into context stating, “Everything the Holy Father endured in his life, prepared him for what he had to be.  Just as an arrow is readied for the shot from the bow, God prepares the proper people, He prepares his arrows”.  The next time you stumble or experience failure, think of it as preparation for greater opportunities in the future (It’s doubtful you will become Pope, but some lessons are universal).  

The ability to embrace Joie de vivre amidst the daily grind is a skill I hope master in 2017.  With this in mind, I picked up a copy of Stephen Covey’s The Leader in Me and read several chapters.  Covey quotes Daniel Pink who describes the necessary attributes for success in today’s world.  Pink states,  “The people who are truly thriving in today’s reality are those who are also good listeners and team builders.  They are able to “understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one’s self and to elicit it in others.”  Perhaps this is simply an evolution of Joie de vivre; helping others find joy in life as well.  I hope to embrace joy in 2017, and I hope you do too.  

The Gift of Time

time

Daily life is filled with routine.  There are those who enjoy their daily rituals while others grow weary of them; nearly all agree they are necessary.  We need them to ensure lunches are packed,  clothes are washed, dishes are done and trash is taken to the curb. During the holiday season demands are amplified.  Finding the perfect gift for everyone on our list can be a challenge.   In our haste, we often overlook the most obvious and meaningful present we can offer.  The gift of time.  

Last week I had a chance to volunteer for a local charity.  I met people from all walks of life.  It provided an opportunity to catch up with old friends, colleagues, and former students.  I also made new acquaintances as friendly strangers stopped to make donations.   During my three hour shift two gentlemen stopped to make a donation and talked to me at length.  This made me uncomfortable until I realized why they were talking to me.  They were lonely.  The first gentleman told me he would be alone this Christmas as he had the previous two.  He had tears in his eyes.  I asked him what happened three years ago and he said, “ I can’t talk about it.”  When his ride appeared, I shook his hand and let him know I would be thinking about him.  I met the second stranger a short time later.  I thanked him for his donation and he thanked me for my time.  He told me “my mom taught me to give at Christmas time and it always stuck with me.” It was obvious he had lived a hard life and a lifetime of bad decisions reflected in his eyes.  You could also tell Christmas reminded him it wasn’t too late to make better decisions.  

I didn’t do anything special last week.  There are many people who volunteer more often than I do, but it was a powerful reminder that the greatest gift you can offer is your time.   We all have relatives and friends we haven’t seen in months, if not longer.  This Christmas bypass the ugly sweater and the multi-purpose golf tool.  Instead, hit pause on those daily routines long enough to visit Uncle Bill or volunteer to help someone in need.  It’s a good reminder that life is about people, not the stuff we buy for people.