here for PDF format
for Participant Responses to this Summary
of Meeting with Joe Graba
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, July 25,
speaker: Joe Graba,
policy fellow, Education Evolving, Hamline University
Johnson, chair; Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, Ted Kolderie (by phone), Jim
Olson (by phone), and Wayne Popham (by phone)
Context of the meeting--The
Civic Caucus is in the early stages of conducting a number of meetings on
issues related to education.
Welcome and introduction--Verne
and Paul welcomed and introduced Joe Graba,
with wide experience in education: as a teacher, a union leader, a
legislative leader, official of the Minnesota Department of Education, a
higher education leader in teacher preparation, and a consultant.
Graba began his career
as a science teacher at Wadena Public Schools, and served three years as
Vice President of the Minnesota Federation of Teachers. Most recently, he
was Dean of Hamline University’s Graduate School of Education. In between,
he served three terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives; four
years as Chair of School Aid Committee. Following his legislative service,
Graba was appointed Deputy Commissioner of Education for the State of
Minnesota, Director of Minnesota’s Technical College System, Deputy
Executive Director of the Minnesota Higher Education Coordinating Board,
and Interim Executive Director of the Minnesota Higher Education Services
Office. Beyond Minnesota, Graba was Chair of the Education Committee of
the Midwest Conference of the Council of State Governments and a member of
the Education Task Force of the National Conference of State
Legislatures. He received his undergraduate degree from Bemidji State
University and has done graduate work at Northern Colorado University and
Bemidji State University.
Comments and discussion--During
Graba's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus, the following
points were raised:
1. Description of Education Evolving--Education
Evolving is a small, informal think tank on education policy, supported by
foundation grants. It is a joint venture of the Center for Policy Studies
and Hamline University. Education Evolving works nationally to help
public education with the difficult process of change. Initially it was
involved mainly with states on the architecture of the K-12 system. More
recently it has been involved increasingly in urging the fundamental
redesign of schooling.
2. The changed assignment for education--Asked
to talk generally about the state of education in his introductory
remarks, Graba said the assignment to education changed about 17-18 years
ago. He quoted a leader nationally of school superintendents who said
that all through the 20th century until about 1990 the assignment was
accomplishing universal access. In 1900 about 10 percent of the U.S.
population graduated from high school. That percentage moved up, as did
percentages based on civil rights access and handicapped access. Even as
late as the early 1960s many high school students left school before
graduating because well paying jobs that didn't require high school
diplomas still were available.
In 1983 a
famous report critical of education "A Nation at Risk", was issued by a
national commission that included Al Quie, former governor of Minnesota,
among its member.
result of that report and other concerns, by 1990 assignment to education
had shifted from universal access to universal achievement--expecting
every child to be a successful learner.
3. The system can't meet our escalated
our expectations for educating all children, but the education system
can't do the job, Graba said. In addition, the system can't control its
expenses, said. Asked about educators' attitudes about the system, Graba
said no matter with whom you talk--teachers, principals, superintendents,
school boards, teacher training institutions, legislators or the
public--there's almost universal agreement that the schools aren't meeting
our escalated expectations. .
4. Not a matter of lack of initiative and
commitment--The system's problem isn't because of lack of
initiative and commitment by educators, he said. The problem, Graba said,
is that the education system has perfected essentially one model. That
model is based on assumptions that (a) every class, regardless of subject
matter, should require the same amount of time over a quarter, semester or
year, (b) every student, regardless of ability, requires the same amount
of time to assimilate the material to be learned (c) every student must
come to a building called a "school" to take the class, and (d) every
class has approximately the same number of students, about 30, and (e)
students are expected to learn in essentially the same way, by using the
same textbook and listening to the same teacher convey information largely
by lecture. That model fits some students, and some others can learn from
it, but far too many students are lost in the standardized approach.
What's needed is an approach that customizes education for each student.
The teacher's role changes to becoming more of an advisor and coach, he
said. It's not possible, he said, to mandate uniform success.
5. Turn to Disrupting Class, by Clayton
M. Christensen--A full discussion of the change from
standardized teacher-centered to customized student-centered learning is
contained in a new book just published by McGraw Hill in 2008, titled
Disrupting Class, Graba said. A co-author with Christensen is
Curtis Johnson, an associate of Graba's at Education Evolving. Not an
author, but quoted in the book is Ted Kolderie, founder of Education
Christensen, a professor of business administration at the Harvard
Business School, had originated an idea of "disruptive innovation" in a
1997 business book. Christensen applies that concept in his current book,
Graba said. Education Evolving has been working with Christensen since
Christensen contends that it's impossible for large systems to
fundamentally change themselves, Graba said. He outlined several examples
from various business sectors where major change started slowly outside
established businesses, but then gathered steam, disrupted the businesses,
and in many cases, led to their demise. One example was that of Digital
Equipment Corporation (DEC), a mini-computer company that couldn't
accommodate itself to the personal computer, Graba said.
a change is beginning to occur in education today, Graba quoted
Christensen as saying. That change has its beginnings in what Christensen
calls "the non-competitive" parts of education. Some classes just can't
be offered in standardized schools, so individual students are beginning
to take advantage of online customized courses. The movement has started
slowly. It's still imperfect, and much better software is needed. Only
54,000 students were taking such individualized classes in 2001, but that
number had grown to 1 million by 2007, and Christensen projects that 50
percent of all elementary and secondary students could be receiving such
individualized learning by 2018.
6. Why change can't happen from the inside--Returning
to the example of DEC, Graba said that the corporation was making 40 to 45
percent profit on large computers, so the culture of the corporation made
it impossible to comprehend much smaller margins on personal
computers--which at that time still were in their infancy. Moreover, DEC
customers wouldn't have permitted such a change.
circumstances exist within education, Graba said. The system favors the
people who do the best, and they, including parents of the children who
succeed as well as their school systems, resist change. We can't expect
that schools today will change from organizing themselves around teaching
to organizing themselves around learning, he said.
Graba said, about a school curriculum. It's neatly divided among
specific courses, all of which begin and end at the same time. If
one-third of the students in a class could do all the class work by
December, they need to patiently wait out the rest of the year for
everyone else. Those students who need more than a September-May school
year, just get pushed ahead, irrespective of whether they learned the
material or not.
7. Higher education might even be more
standardization to customization might be having even more impact on
traditional colleges and universities, Graba said. Expenses are rising
very fast. It's increasingly difficult for students holding down regular
jobs to devote a specific amount of time every day to go to a specific
location for higher education classes, he said. Self-directed
computer-based classes provide a very attractive option for such
individuals because they can go to "class" at whatever time and location
is most convenient for them. He cited the popularity of such
computer-based learning institutions as Capella University, Walden, and
University of Phoenix. Many traditional colleges and universities have no
idea of how to cope with the new reality.
8. Charter schools, too, are part of the established system--Noting
that Education Evolving largely originated the concept of charter schools,
of which there now are some 4,300 nationally, including 145 in Minnesota,
Graba said that those schools, too, are largely unable to shift from
standardization to customization. He said about 20 of Minnesota's 145
charter schools have some aspects that would place them in the forefront
Specifically, Graba highlighted New Country School in Henderson, MN
(http://www.newcountryschool.com/), which organizes learning around
students' projects. Students, teachers and parents develop the projects,
each of which would include many learning disciplines, such as math,
writing, research, and literature. Teachers call themselves advisors, not
teachers. A key aspect of New Country is that its board is run and
operated by a professional practice of teachers, similar to professional
practices found among lawyers and doctors.
9. Support from teachers' unions?--Teachers
unions traditionally have complained that school boards and administrators
never gave professional teachers sufficient influence, Graba said. He
cited a development in Milwaukee in which union teachers in 12 different
schools have organized themselves into professional practices, along the
lines followed in Henderson, MN, and still have retained their union
10. Interest from struggling school districts--Graba
said that he and Bob Wedl, a former Minnesota Commissioner of Education
now an Education Evolving associate, are working with an out state school
district that has lost 300 students to surrounding districts under open
enrollment. The question is whether such a school district can customize
learning for students, along the Chrsitensen model, he said. The
customized school will call for a radically different organization of
teachers and students.
11. Disruptive technologies are imperfect in
early years--The disruptive
technology of customized learning still lacks quality in many respects,
Graba said. That is almost always the case, he said, using again the
analogy of the personal computer replacing the mini-computer.
12. Support for pre-kindergarten efforts--Graba
said he supports pre-kindergarten but said it doesn't need to be
universal. For many children it is best to let their families provide
whatever preparation is needed. Education Evolving through its
associate Bob Wedl has helped start a age three to grade three school for
lower income children, he said.
13. Budget problems facing the Minnesota
Legislature--The 2009 session
will be very difficult for the Legislature, Graba predicted, with the
possibility of starting with a projected deficit of $1 billion to $1.5
billion. It has been 17 years since the state passed the first charter
school law in the nation. Education Evolving is reviewing the charter
school law and will likely be recommending substantial changes. Education
Evolving has visited with Governor Pawlenty about possible changes. One
objective of Education Evolving will be to lay out some principles to be
followed by any charter school, he said.
14. Importance of motivating children to learn--Referring
again to Christensen's book, Graba said that students need to be
internally motivated to learn, rather than simply being externally
motivated by others. It's not possible to develop excellence through
regulation or command.
15. Some openness to change among educators--Asked
whether organizations of teachers, superintendents, principals or school
boards will be supporting change, Graba replied that some individuals,
rather than the organizations themselves, will be supportive. Most
organizations aren't change oriented, he said. Unless public education
finds a way to be fully involved in moving from standardization to
customization, it already might be too late for the public education
system to survive, he said.
behalf of the Civic Caucus, Verne thanked Graba for meeting with us today.