here for PDF format
for participants' responses to this interview.
and Joe Graba, founding partners, Education|Evolving
Creekside Circle #920,
April 30, 2010
Verne Johnson (Chair); Ben Aase, Paul Gilje, Joe Graba,
Curt Johnson, Lars Johnson, Ted Kolderie,
Tim McDonald, John Parr, Clarence Shallbetter, Bob White
Context of the meeting—
The people at Education|Evolving have recently completed a new strategy
paper, Innovation-Based Systemic Reform, that emerges from five years of
meetings, conversations, and thinking-through the challenges facing
improvement of K-12. E|E is one of the places where redesign work is
taking place. Read the paper here:
Kolderie and Graba, the founding partners of the organization, were in
Washington for this past week having a series of high-level meetings and
visits with the Obama administration, National Educators Association, and
with individuals and organizations. They will first discuss the nature of
the paper, and then describe the reaction in
Welcome and introductions—Joe
Graba and Ted Kolderie have been working together in the area of K-12
education for a couple of decades, from the perspective of large-system
belief that schools today are not capable of the kinds of improvement the
country needs, they first worked on making change possible by opening the
system and ‘creating the capacity for change,’ as a book by Kolderie was
titled in 2004 (http://tinyurl.com/22svlk8).
of the country has gone now toward increased choice and competition inside
the public sector of K-12, but the policy and popular discussions have
stopped there—seeing choice and competition as ends in themselves, instead
of means toward something more.
next part—what Kolderie calls the second half of the strategy—is where
Kolderie, Graba, and their colleagues have turned their attention now.
They believe that to improve performance and lower costs schools will need
to be radically different than they are now.
Graba's career in public education spans 40 years and includes an
impressive array of leadership positions that reflect the origins and
evolution of both his and Education|Evolving’s thinking on system reform
and legislative policy. Joe 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.
between Joe served three terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives,
which included four years as Chair of Education Finance Committee.
Following his legislative service he 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.
Kolderie has worked on system questions and with legislative policy in
different areas of public life: urban and metropolitan affairs and public
finance through the 1960s and '70s. He is most recognized nationally for
his work on K-12 education policy and innovation, which he has focused on
since the early 1980s. Ted was instrumental in the design and passage of
the nation’s first charter school law in
in1991, and has since worked on the design and improvement of charter
legislation in over seventeen states.
Comments and discussion—During
Kolderie and Graba’s visit with the Civic Caucus, the following points
1. K-12 problems similar to those of other systems with
utility characteristics --Kolderie opened: When you put education into
context of other systems that had utility characteristics—the telephone
system, postal service—you can see one after another hitting a wall. They
found themselves unable to adjust to the changes in their customers and
employees, unable to progress technologically, unable to control costs,
unable to adjust fast enough to keep up with the changing needs of society
or the economy.
after another went or are going through a major process of what we call
‘disruption,’ unable to respond to competition with a redesign of their
own. This same experience by the way is about to occur with post secondary
2. No new model prescribed; instead, make innovation
possible--The common trend of disruption is toward the unbundling of
these systems. The question for K-12 has been how to respond. The effort
of this paper is to advise K-12 how to respond. Instead of trying to
prescribe a particular new model, the effort of this paper is to convince
people to start a process of innovation. Let people in the schools try
things that they think will work better.
there in the policy world people normally take the existing arrangements
as a given,” Kolderie said. When the famous paper ‘standards based reform’
appeared in 1990, it accepted as a given the public-utility arrangement
ofK-12 education. Education|Evolving countered with the paper ‘The states
will have to withdraw the exclusive,’ (http://tinyurl.com/239ntc2) which
laid out the case for making it possible for entities other than the
districts to create new schools; and so, for choice, and variability.
problem we see is that there’s a very widespread sense that huge changes
in education are inevitable, and desirable, driven by digital electronics
and young peoples’ capabilities.” But in policy there is still a pervasive
notion that the key is to perfect traditional school. This means there are
efforts underway now in the federal government, which has a role in K-12
now that it never had before, to push very hard for better people in
teaching, more rigorous standards. They do this without raising any
fundamental questions about ‘what is teaching,’ and what is
achievement/performance. People are talking about ‘better school; not
rethinking the definition of 'school'.’
assumption is that the technology of learning is teacher-instruction,
almost , as if learning were a transitive verb.
3. Traditional assumptions about education need to be
challenged--In the nation’s efforts at improving school, the speakers
argued, the fundamentals are not being challenged or changed. They fall
along three lines.
there is the approach to learning. The technology of teacher instruction
is batch-processing, and necessarily uniform. “We liken it to a bus
driving down the road, with everyone on board and the teacher pointing
things out along the way. Everyone moves at the same pace, nobody is able
to get off and pursue something further.” Second, people assume the
traditional organization of a school as a boss/worker model. Third,
especially in the current effort at national standards, people are very
focused on conventional definitions of achievement.
rethinking the approach to learning there is not so much resistance. “We
were out at Education Week, the major industry weekly, and the current
issue of their magazine about technology features an article about
personalizing learning via electronics. There is an openness also to a
testing of a professional model of school-organization. The big resistance
comes when you suggest broadening the definition of achievement."
4. Design is the issue, not performance--The
big problem, where they meet resistance, is the sense that ‘we know now
what works,’ and that it is just a matter of better execution.
“Education leaders in the country, and particularly those inside the
education establishment, have had an unspoken assumption that what we have
is a performance problem. What we have instead is a design problem.”
5. OK to continue improving existing schools; but also
allow innovation--The strategy E|E advocates is that of the ‘split
screen’: continue to improve existing schools, while at the same time
innovating with new and different ways of doing things.
so-called early adopters will move into that innovative side of the
system. It is all opt-in. Not everyone will want to go there. Those who
want to do that—parents, students, teachers, school leaders—should be
allowed to do that. Nobody should be forced to go to an innovative school,
but nobody should prevent it from happening.
6. Too many people are fixated on "real" school--The
speakers met with Bill Tucker with the Education Sector upon first
arrival, who warned that they would run into trouble because people in
that town are not able to keep two things in their head. “There’s a very
interesting professor over at Madison,” Kolderie recalled, “who says most
people have in their mind a notion of what is ‘real school.’ It's a room,
30 students seated, a teacher in the front of the classroom, instructing.”
That is the one way they see it. It is difficult to understand there are
different ways to do things.
The conventional model of school is pervasive. They met with
Bill Galston, who used to be on staff at White House, and is at Brookings
now. “He is adamant that no concept of innovation applies in K-12. Must
not do that. The job is absolutely to perfect traditional school. Said
that questioning our current definitions of achievement is absolutely the
7. Too much emphasis on choice?--A member raised a
concern about side effects of policies—in particular, in an age of choice
it is difficult to keep neighborhood kids and/or groups of friends
together through the years with so many options.
is true, they agreed. It gets to the point, Kolderie said, that there are
objectives parents have other than academics when choosing
schools—important as academics are. It also emphasizes the need to operate
a split screen strategy, as many people will still prefer the traditional
district school .
8. Refusing to open the door to innovation is an
unacceptable risk for kids' future--“We don’t have particular school
designs that we promote as innovations,” Graba said, “but what we do have
is a strategy. Our goal is to develop the policy framework that encourages
and allows change to occur.”
knows how the innovations will work out, as innovation is a process. So
the country needs a process to uncover new ways of doing things. “In a
situation where the future is uncertain, what do you do?” Create space to
maneuver, and try different things.
insist the door to innovation need not be open represents a risk. “It’s
not a necessary risk, and since it's not a necessary risk it is an
unacceptable risk for policy makers to be taking with the country’s
future, and other peoples’children.”
9. This country will not be able to survive just by being
proficient--A member asked the speakers where the standards push is
coming from. Kolderie said the 'No Child Left Behind' law provided for the
states to set the standards, and for the national government to enforce
the accountability; as, declaring a school was not making "adequate yearly
progress' (AYP). As schools failed to make AYP the states reduced their
standards and/or their passing-scores, creating a "race to the bottom".
wanting to avoid the term ‘national standards,’ there are to be
"common" standards. After that will come national assessment. There is a
strong desire for this process to be completed; not to be questioned.
10. An agenda for excellence, not just equity, is needed--Washington’s
historical involvement with K-12 has been in the taking care of
disadvantaged children. Then in 90’s through 2000’s they made major
initiatives in leveraging title I money to get into influencing policy.
“There’s the equity end of public education, and NCLB has some very
desirable aspects of it in the equity area. But our concern is that NCLB
has so dominated the agenda out in the states that the agenda for
excellence has moved off the table.”
member asked whether the traditional school is the model that should be
used to work on equity. Graba expressed deep skepticism, saying that,
“We’ve been working at this since 1983, and we haven’t moved the needle
hardly at all. It is quite possible innovation will be needed to implement
the equity agenda.
has been so much focus getting students just up to the level of
proficient, that it is regarded as off-target when people talk about
what’s up there, beyond proficient. But this country will not be able to
survive just on proficient. We do not believe that this country will meet
its needs in economic competitiveness with only the equity agenda,
important as it is.”
11. Traditional learning style is squashing excellence--Motivation
and specialization are key to achieving excellence. They both must be
allowed for in the system, and encouraged. But the factory model of school
is uniform. And uniformity produces mediocrity.
added that he has come to believe that in addition to the performance
questions, the current system is not economically sustainable.
12. Report from
on the heels of their trip to
the speakers reported on the reaction to the paper.
a. Progressive Policy Institute--The
Progressive Policy Institute hosted a meeting for them with people from
foundations, policy organizations, the National Youth Rights Association,
National Commission on Teaching and America’s future, others. “We heard
less agreement with Bill Galston’s sentiment and more with ours.”
b. U.S. Department of Education--Tuesday
they went to the US Department of Education, carrying in particular the
agenda of teacher professionalism—how schools are arranged, and who runs
has been a major push across the country over the past 5-7 years about
improving the quality of teachers. But the problem is not necessarily
Richard Ingersoll, at Penn, says: We have a retention problem. And
a big part of that problem is that teaching is not now a good enough job;
a good enough career.
c. Support for professional partnerships among
teachers--This gets E|E closest to a particular model that it
supports—the Teacher Professional Partnership (explained here:
support it because it’s not a particular model of instruction. It is an
organizational model that acts as a platform for different ways to
organize learning, and innovating.
think that we need an arrangement where teachers are asked to accept
responsibility for success of students and success of schools—but only if,
in return, teachers are given the authority to control what matters for
student and school success.
think there are lot of problems could be figured out through the concept
of professional practices in schools, and have teachers enter into
collegial arrangements just like any other professional arrangement. There
are around 60 schools in the country that run this. It is amazing how few
people have thought about this possibility, they said.
d. National Education Association--They
met with John Wilson, executive director of the National Education
Association, who is favorable to the idea as a way to improve the
character of the job for their interested members.
e. Discussions on the professional partnership
took to the meeting at the U.S. Department two teachers who work at
schools that run on the professional partnership model—one from Avalon
high school in Saint Paul, and another from an Hispanic bilingual
elementary school in Milwaukee.
Kolderie and Graba had 18 or 20 of the top people in the Department of
Education in this discussion, including secretary Arne Duncan. Also Joanne
Weiss, who is running 'Race To The Top; Karen Cator running technology;
Jim Shelton, running the innovation competition; the Secretary’s counselor
for teachers and unions; career staff. The whole thing went on for about
an hour and a half.
message here was narrowed-down from other meetings, from the general
strategy to the teacher-professional agenda. “The teachers were very
effective. We wanted them to talk about how they handle recruitment,
management, compensation—all the issues others want to handle by
strengthening management.” These teachers made it clear the issues can be
handled as well or better in the professional-partnership arrangement.
reaction at the Department was favorable.
f. Move government from being the provider to
the buyer of education--Mark Tucker has a proposal -- Tough Choices or
Tough Times --(http://tinyurl.com/3azzj2),
which he has been working on intensively now for some time trying to get
district boards out of owning and operating the schools and moving them
toward the districts running the schools on contract. Like the building
trades model of a union, Graba said.
got the NEA to endorse the framework, in 2006. He’s been working with John
Wilson, now executive director of the NEA, on this sort of context. “When
we went in to talk about this framework, he was quite supportive. They
believe this is worth further explanation. We’re confident we can get
further discussions going.”
member asked whether this would this be contracting out to private
providers? In effect it is, Kolderie said. Paul Hill at the University of
Washington talks about ‘portfolio’ districts (report:
http://tinyurl.com/2b86hr9), whereby the top policy-making body for
the district manages four or five different arrangements of schools—state
chartering, contracting, running schools themselves in the traditional
13. Two main principles stressed in
“We’d been advised by people that if you go into Washington you must have
a fully-thought-out plan for what to do. That seems bizarre to us. It's
just not possible to figure out ahead of time everything that’s to be
done. We’ve found it important to establish a couple of simple, powerful,
ideas that can change the direction of thinking.
Kolderie and Graba stressed two principles during the meetings. The first
was E|E firm belief that this country could be getting much more than it
is from its students and its teachers. The second, which was the focus of
their talks with John Wilson at the NEA, was the position of teachers in
schooling. “Our deal with teachers has been that we don’t give you
professional authority, and you don’t give us accountability. Cut a new
deal: in exchange for real accountability we’ll give you real authority.”
the impacts of chartering has been the growth of districts around the
country trying to emulate the same conditions as the chartered sector.
Minnesota’s 2009 Site-Governed Schools law, which gives districts the
ability to create schools with similar exemption from state law, is
another major step. They’re all efforts toward the opening-up of the
system. Otherwise you run into these complaints of charters having freedom
and districts not.
member commented “What I find inspirational is that you recognize there
will be failures—but don’t make people go into things. It’s voluntary.”
The risk takers can take the risks, seeking a better return for the time
they spend in schools.