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Helping fix high school dropout factories

Page history last edited by Michael J 10 years ago

Define the mission


On March 10th, Jay posted some useful questions to which I responded as follows:


Jay- I like the idea. Here’s what I would like to do:


What would be the mission?

Help get high school dropout factories in the States fixed faster rather than slower.


What would be possible sequential actions?

Identify the High Schools in poor neighborhoods that work.

Figure out precisely what about their cultures make them work.

Define the underlying principles that can be taken to broken schools

Brainstorm and publicize minimally invasive interventions to improve outcomes.


Would the mission and actions move towards the purpose? Define the mission



Could the community come to “agreements?” and if so on what?

What are the fundamental deployable insights to make drop out factories suck a little less.


How would the community be used to create value for others?

Through example, Social media and create local networks of pockets of social capital to go the last mile.


What would the “knowledge tree” look like that matches the purpose and intentions?

That’s above my experience level for now. If it means the social networks that bring the right knowledge to the right people at the right time, my vote is twitter and whatever other social media tools are available. If it gets down to last mile implementation and mentoring and advising local communites, I vote for basecamp.

Comments (Show all 48)

Michael J said

at 3:12 pm on Mar 15, 2010

Or it could be a contest: How to make your high school suck less tomorrow?

Ned said

at 4:29 pm on Mar 15, 2010

I think this would be a good candidate for a multivariate test pilot -- meaning, we should have a few solutions planned out and test it with different schools and kids and then see what or which combination worked best in "refocusing" the kids back on education. Possible variants:
1) A project with a tangible output for the school or the community. This will provide the the kids with a sense of self-confidence and about what life is really about -helping build a sustainable community.
2) An excercise where (as you said) they themsleves analyze the drop-out situataion and come out with a recommendation report.
3) A contest - but on this one, I will put a spin. Why not a contest between different schools to come up with ways to reduce drop out. That way (a)we can foster a competitive spirit, (b) we can help multiple schools at the same time, (c) unknowingly, these students from multiple schools will be co-creating a solution to their own problem.

Michael J said

at 5:27 pm on Mar 15, 2010

I love " a contest between different schools to come up with ways to reduce drop out." Instead of "reducing dropout, I suggest increasing attendance. The difference is that attendance can be measured every day. It's a moving target that gives immediate feedback and might help build the buzz and therefore attention.

Michael J said

at 5:54 pm on Mar 15, 2010

So let's play it out a bit to see where it might go. We'll assume for the sake of this conversation that we can implement whatever we decide to do. So let's leave that discussion to one side for now.

Entry limited to students at one of the 5000 dropout factories in the States. (numbers from White house report. )
The competition is for teams of three to five - no more than five.
The winners at each high school get entry to a local design program at a community college or design school. Tuition and expenses paid.

Time frame:
Proposal in May.
Summer used to implement.
September the suggestions are implemented.

The criteria is buy in by the admin or school board.
In September, October and November whichever school gets the biggest improvement in daily attendance gets ? A meeting at the White House?

Ned said

at 6:54 pm on Mar 15, 2010

Like the rules - we can flush it out further later. There is one aspect we have to think about though.

The only way to pick a real winner would be implement the suggestions and see which one was more effective. That means there is going to be a gap between the time the 'contest' ends and the time a winner is picked -- which obviously will have to be communicated very clearly to the students. But more importantly, whe the suggestions are implemented (a) we either have to put checks in place to ensure there is no gaming of the system (false rise in attendance that will drop after the contest), or (b) we should critiera during the selection process itself to implement only those that is resistant to gaming.

This means in some ways there is a two-step process to pick the winner. First cut - pick certain suggestions that are true out-of-the-box, sustainable, and resistant to gaming. Final cut - pick out winners based on attendance and.or whatever else we decide is the criteria.

On the winner criteria - have to think if attendance by itself is a defacto proxy for school improvement. I mean, what if a student shows up everyday but flunks all his classes. In my mind, I really want to help the kids succeed in life. Even if they only had 60% attendance, if a student passes all his courses that would be an Ace in my book compared to the former case (100% attendance but most F's). So circling back -- we really have to flush out our mission, objectives, and what we would really like to see as the outputs from this whole excercise.

Michael J said

at 8:14 pm on Mar 15, 2010

"two-step process to pick the winner. "
I'm thinking a local winner based on which ones the admins and school board will think will work. Then a larger competition to see which does work. The thing I like about that is that it will force the admins and school boards into the process. it should be relatively non threatening as they are the "judges." That means they will have a formal role to be able to say, it's not practical.

"have to think if attendance by itself is a defacto proxy for school improvement."

I think the single minded focus on attendance is the secret sauce.

From a practical point of view .
1. the "measuring learning outcomes" is the scene of the great edu religious wars. Trust me, Been there. Done that. Nothing can get done.

2. The obama edu plan takes focus away from high stakes tests and puts it on unambiguous indicators of something. Attendance and grad rates are at the fore.

On a more conceptual level, the problem is that learning is much too complex to be amenable to any kind of fine measurement. It's a Heisenberg uncertainty problem. The act of measuring it, changes the nature of what you are trying to measure.

The way I see it, is that attendance at the bottom of the pyramid is the kid voting with his/her feet whether the school experience is worth it. Low attendance can be most usefully be seen as a measure of the system, not a problem of the kid.

Of course there will be some small percent of kids that have more serious problems. In every school you can expect to get 5 to 10% dropouts. But the focus here is schools that get 40 to 50% dropouts. The notion that is because of a "bad population" is just like business talking about "bad customers."

The other neat thing about attendance as opposed to test scores is that it is almost impossible to game. The kid either shows up or doesn't. The precise problem with high stakes testing, SATs, NCLB, etc is that are made for gaming.

Ned said

at 10:03 pm on Mar 15, 2010

Allright, I can subscribe to the Heisenberg theory of education :-). The reason I had mentioned learning as my key metric was two fold.
(1) Like I said, I want these kids to really succeed in life. Nothing would please me more that them doing well even after they leave school

(2) Sustainability. Whatever 'positive' effect we try to affect should be sustainable even after the "contest" is over. In this regard, it is like the chicken vs egg debate - will forced attendance eventually drive learning or will the urge for learning eventually drive attendance up.

But I see your point and can agree that to start with, focus on a measureable outcome like attendance. But I still feel that there has to be something to "rivet" their attention back to school from their current distractions.

Anyway, will sleep over the problem.

Michael J said

at 10:19 pm on Mar 15, 2010

Just to add to the mix rumbling

We agree that getting the kids to have better lives is the real name of the game. I also agree that forced attendance is useless. The trick is that the kids have to choose to show up. It's precisely the choosing that I think makes it get traction and self sustain.

For whatever it's worth, my take is that school is the distraction from learning for these kids. Imagine what it would be like to go to 5 stupid meetings in a row. Every meeting is with various bosses. One or two are pretty good. The rest is a supervisor who doesn't get it and acts like an A hole. That's life for many high school kids at the bottom of the pyramid.

My expectation is that if this comes from the mouth of kids, in the context of a visible contest, it's going to be very hard for admins to ignore. If the kids come up with practical small steps that are implemented, I think it will give them an invaluable learning experience which could spread through a mentor - tribal leader effect to alot more of the kids.

Or I could be completely wrong. it goes on . . . :-)

I will

Michael J said

at 10:14 am on Mar 16, 2010

So here's maybe an idea. Someone sets up a website to crowdsource solutions. Then the contest is to choose the solution that will work best in your high school and pitch the implementation plan? May the best implementation win! Gets the kids thinking like entrepreneurs instead of designers.

Ned said

at 8:44 pm on Mar 16, 2010

Sorry - had a long 'day job'. Some days I do wish I were retired. :-)

Here are my thoughts on this - this is a braindump of my thinking without putting any constraints on what is possible, resources available, dollars needed etc. Btw, I am breaking it up into two posts. This wiki has a limit of 2000 characters and cannot post if it goes beyond that.

Phase 0 = Execution Methodology
* Contest details
- What we want the contest to be about? The outcome?

* Implementation details
- How will the contest be measured? What is success? What will be the rewards? How will the winners be picked.

* Candidates
- How are candidate schools going to be selected? How are groups selected/formed? Who will administer? etc.

Phase 1 = Ideation
* Put up a website similar to http://bit.ly/bW0ELN.
- Collect ideas from educators (to include teachers, administrators etc.)
- Collect ideas from general public
- Collect ideas from students

* Empirical Case Studies
- If possible study schools that are "successful" with proper experimental design (i.e, controlling for biases like neighbourhood etc. The transplanting of good ideas should be localized. Taking a good idea from a NY school and applying it to a school in Mississipi might bring in outside factors).

* Theroetical Frameworks
- I am putting this here not as much for the education front but more on certain sociological and psychological aspects. As I have said in Wenovski, people will not change unless they are ready to change. So it will be up to us to make sure there is a persuasion architecture build into the alternatives to help convince the students on the whys/whats and how it will benefit them.

Ned said

at 8:45 pm on Mar 16, 2010

Phase 2 = Consolidation & Filtering
* Filtering of information collected
- Should come up with some criteria to quickly reduce the ideas to a few practical ones.

* Categorization
- I think it will help to come out with some categories to put all the ideas in. Not sure what it will be; maybe based on what resources will be required to execute it...something to think about.

* Consolidation
- Finally,everything needs to be consolidated. The result will be:
> A report with the final list of ideas and what it will take to implement

> A playbook with best-practices from the case studies and frameworks.

Phase III = Execution
* The Real Deal
- Actual implementation of final ideas on selected candidates

- Measurement, Tracking, and Transparency to results (nothing motivates folks than seeing the needle move everyday)

- Final results and awards.

Tom Graves said

at 2:13 am on Mar 17, 2010

Michael, Ned - apologies, have been distracted elsewhere (and still very wary after what happened - not from you - in the 'money' threads).

Three items (split over two posts):

1. Ken Robinson's TED talk may be useful here - 'Do schools kill creativity', http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY

(Which gives us a simple metric, by the way: kids vote with their attention and their feet, so the drop-out rate is an inverse measure of how relevant the school isn't to their real world. So the drive for 'relevance' needs to come from the students themselves, rather than from 'outsiders' like us.)

2: In Complex contexts, both 'problem' and 'solution' are context-specific. So there is no single 'best way', such as you would aim to identify via a competition: I'm very wary of the 'winner takes all' notion, because that is itself an artefact of the same artificial closed-system concepts which the school-system itself promotes, and which does not actually work in the open-systems of the real world. Instead, what's needed is an emphasis on shared-learning, the _process_ by which a given school (or group of students, rather) would arrive at their own context-specific 'best practice'. And the tools to do that sharing already exist - such as via this wiki, or the social-networks (online and offline) which the students already know how to use well. It's probably useful to have competition, but it needs to be around 'fitness for purpose' - how well strategies and tactics are matched to context, rather than strategies or tactics themselves.


Tom Graves said

at 2:14 am on Mar 17, 2010

3: The processes of real-time learning form a classic complex adaptive system, hence there are some really good parallels with improv-theatre - see Michelle James, 'Improv Theater and Complex Adaptive Systems', http://creativeemergence.typepad.com/the_fertile_unknown/2009/12/improv-theater-and-complex-adaptive-systems.html . Note how they build a performance in real-time with a small set of very simple principles or guidelines ('constraints' on the system). One possible aim of your competition could be to find and test some appropriate principles _that the students themselves would use_ in order to guide their own learning within school.

Hope this helps, anyway.

Michael J said

at 4:49 am on Mar 17, 2010

Yes , it helps me.

First "Which gives us a simple metric, by the way: kids vote with their attention and their feet, so the drop-out rate is an inverse measure of how relevant the school isn't to their real world." That's precisely what I was trying to get at, but taking a lot more words to say. It provides the under pinning for focusing on the direction and rate of change as a process metric.

To your point about "I'm very wary of the 'winner takes all' notion, " and " the _process"

In the light, what do you folks think of framing the purpose of the intervention something like:

To create nodes of activity in the schools that have the going forward capability of solving their own problems. It's a bit clumsy but I hope the idea gets across.

The link in Ken's post http://bit.ly/bW0ELN is a nice example of emergent communication from Fort Wayne Indiana, USA. The problem at hand is to keep a high school open. A community group set up a web site to solicit solutions from people who live in that community. When I took a look at the resulting suggestions, they seemed to me practical and doable. The problem at hand in those areas is getting the school board to take those suggestions seriously.

I think the following is merely a reframe of Ned's suggestions above.
1. Website to gather and store not context specific solutions. Open to everyone, but primarily aimed at students.
2. Groups are incented - still not sure of precisely the right rules - to choose the appropriate (to them) ideas and implement.
3. Some on line/ face to face local networks are brought into play to maximize the chances of those self identified groups to make a difference.

I think this should move to increase the creation of precisely the kind of groups that can supply resilient decision making going forward.

Ya think?

Michael J said

at 8:59 am on Mar 17, 2010

Tom and Ned, I think this is an interesting twitter exchange to the point about attendance as the in focuse metric. @chadsansing is a teacher in North Carolina (I think) our only exchanges have been on twitter:

It started from Tom's post which lead to the opening tweet:
Improv Theater and Complex Adaptive Systems { http://ilnk.me/1f2e thx @Tetradian } #education #KM #edchat #HigherEd

http://ilnk.me/1f2e <-- Brilliant as ammo for theater and art is a MUST have for "21 Century Learning Skills." #edchat #education

@chadsansing @spedteacher I would love to get any reactions you might have to -> http://ilnk.me/1f2e

@ToughLoveforX @spedteacher http://bit.ly/aPgyqC; i love emergence; 7 prncpls=good "container," vision=hard sell 2 gov/public; pssbl in clss

@chadsansing Thx for reality check. That's what I saw too. re Selling. Back in the day, it was always show them, don't tell them.

@chadsansing Re sell: What are they most scared of? Show them a low risk approach that might suck less than other approaches. Plus . . .

@chadsansing re sell: Configure it so that the ONLY thing they have to do is say YES. Instd of " I don't have the time." U'll get bullshit.

@ToughLoveforX prblm is how 2 show public when public "knows how schl shld be" from Kotter to DeadPoets to SavedByBell to iCarly

@chadsansing "public "knows" changes as soon as they get new information. It's like polls on Health Care. Bullshit snapshots for news bites.

Michael J said

at 9:00 am on Mar 17, 2010

Continued . . .
@chadsansing "do you want school to interest your child?"" equals "do you want your kid to play hookey or cut class" Who will say "No?"

@chadsansing Dept of Ed money awards improvements in attendance. The politicos will grab at it blindly, plus...

@chadsansing "get local, classroots tchrs" Yes. And prove it by showing that kids don't cut class or the blow off the whole day. plus ...

@chadsansing if you keep the politicos happy w/ attnd numbers, they'll stop poking their nose into "learning" and let people do their jobs.

@chadsansing ""hard" numbers" Consider attendance. It's kids voting with their feet. Low attndc probably means the school culture sucks.

@ToughLoveforX we can offer all we want, but lure of "hard" numbers marketed by fed/vendors outsells "soft" successes of engagement/learning

@chadsansing @ToughLoveforX i keep forgetting that attendance #; keep reminding me" @nedkumar

Tom Graves said

at 10:54 am on Mar 17, 2010

Chasing up old references, I came across Postman & Weingartner, "Teaching as a subversive activity" (1969?) - a lot of practical material that could be used as-is for for some of your concerns right now.

Still in print (see Amazon etc), but PDF version also available at http://www.toodoc.com/teaching-as-a-subversive-activity-ebook.html .

Quick summary of principles (from http://subversiveteaching.tripod.com/ ):

Principles of Teaching as a Subversive Activity (Postman & Weingartner)

1. The teacher rarely tells students what he thinks.

2. Generally, he does not accept a single statement as an answer to a question.

3. He encourages student-student interaction as opposed to student-teacher interaction, generally avoids acting as a mediator or judging the quality of ideas expressed.

4. He rarely summarizes the positions taken by students on the learnings that occur. He recognizes that the act of summary or "closure" tends to have the effect of ending further thought.

5. Generally, each of his lessons pose a problem for students.

6. His lessons develop from the responses of students and not from a previously determined "logical" structure. (Postman & Weingartner, 1969, p. 33-36)

Ned said

at 11:07 am on Mar 17, 2010

Check out www.brightidea.com. I really liked their product for collecting ideas - we don't have to use it here - but the cool thing here is the ability to vote on ideas etc. and so some of the filtering is also done by the crowd.

Michael J said

at 11:22 am on Mar 17, 2010

might be cool to use for assembling improving high school ideas?

Ned said

at 8:12 pm on Mar 17, 2010

Michael, that is precisely what it can be used for. I have seen it used for crowdsourcing ideas. The interface has a place to provide your ideas, vote on other ideas, and build on it. There will still be manual work involved but we might as well leverage the masses for as much filtering we can do.

I liked the article too - some good stuff in there.

Tom Graves said

at 1:26 am on Mar 18, 2010

Another article / video by/on Ken Robinson, this time on CNN yesterday: 'Why teaching is not like making motorcars' http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/03/17/ted.ken.robinson/index.html

May be useful for credibility/ideas etc.

There's also a ref to Obama calling for a radical overhaul of the school-system, but I presume you already know that. :-)

Hope this helps, as usual.

Michael J said

at 7:36 am on Mar 18, 2010

Just to add some twitter data points: I asked @spedteacher How would you fix the dropout problem:


@ToughLoveforX I'd encourage dropping out and provide alternative ways for those students to learn what they want and/or need to.

Michael J said

at 7:54 am on Mar 18, 2010

The fact that CNN picks ups Ted Robinson might be a big deal. I think I'm watching meme shift.
93 teachers get fired in Rhode Island, Newsweek does an article on why firing teachers is the right thing to do, Now CNN notices Ted Robinson. and around the States schools are starting to go to 4 day weeks as the States go bankrupt. California and Texas both make moves to open up the texbook monopolies . Florida approves Open Source reading curriculum for lower schools.

If what I think I'm seeing is close to correct, and we're seeing a meme shift it might mean we have to take that into account as we brainstorm the best ways to intervene.

Michael J said

at 8:01 am on Mar 18, 2010

Please excuse three in a row, but another data point after I clicked the add comment button.
This one comes from Wall Street and concerns the "End of Print" meme. I was always convinced it was bullshit. probably becuase I spent 30 years selling and producing Print. In March I started a "Print Centric" IRA. All companies related to the print infrastructure. Since that time McClatchey increased in value over 8 times and Gannett over 4 times. Every print stock has been growing since then. Consolidated Graphics over 100%, Oce - a digital print company 100%.

Is that just noise or an another indicator of a meme shift?

Ned said

at 9:59 am on Mar 18, 2010

Okay - now it is getting a bit beyond my level of expertise :-).

RE: @spedteacher's suggestion - I would agree but would depend on the goal. If it is to help the schools then not a good one -- unless we are suggesting to open up a vocational training stream in these factories so that instead of academics, students learn skills they can use to earn a living. If the goal is to help the students, I am more willing to go with the idea - as here the focus is not on the school but to help out these dropouts one way or the other.

Need to think about the meme shift Michael -- this is where I am not entirely in the mix and so first need to catch up.

Ned said

at 10:09 pm on Mar 19, 2010

Michael, to close out my line of thinking. The more I have pondered over the issue of dropouts, the more I feel a hybrid approach is needed; a 1-2 attack if you will, with one set of initiatives focused on driving attendance up and another set of initiatives focused on extra-curricular or afterschool activities. The latter will boost a sense of community building, teamwork, problem solving etc. and can even include projects involving learning about the digital domain. Also, if properly nurtured the two will play into each other and even maybe help the students find their passion (which to me is the key to unlocking the dropout syndrome).

Michael J said

at 8:28 am on Mar 20, 2010

I like the way you're taking this. Off the top of mind reactions;

"driving attendance up" might be not the way to frame this. Let's look at attendance as an indicator of "customer approval" in the sense that kids exchange their time for the time spent in a classroom. At the bottom of the pyramid in the States, trying to raise attendance rates through compulsion doesn't work. My guess is that the culture at BoP (USA) is not strong enough to get kids to comply without proximate benefits. I guess what I'm rambling toward is that it is no longer possible for these kids, to drive attendance.

If that's true, it turns attendance from a useful metric for the kid, to a metric that indicates the robustness of the culture of a school. Kids choose not to participate in a sucky culture. The opposite should be true, if the attendance rates are going in the right direction, it's not a bad metric for the culture going in the right direction.

"another set of initiatives focused on extra-curricular or afterschool activities." Yes. For all kinds of reasons. Especially interesting in the framework of "most of school sucks, innovative activity spaces are best grown outside of that structure. As they become more robust they increase the chances of overtaking and eventually replacing what is withering with what is growing.

Till later, any thoughts about school newspapers as a way in? There's lots of anecdotal evidence that it's a "club" that has had deep positive effects on kids who participate.

Ned said

at 1:52 am on Mar 21, 2010

You touch on some important areas --"attendance by compulsion", culture, what are we measuring.

You are right that the compulsion method will not work here. Strangely enough, after reading your comment I was reflecting on my own schooling & culture. Back in India, kids don't have choice :-) - they do what they are told to do by their parents/teachers (well, at least my generation - the new generation is different). So whether I liked it or not, I went to school - there was no question of dropout. Now interestingly, I went to a great school but was a lousy student till about 8th grade - partly my fault and partly the neighborhood. Then we moved to another city, something clicked in my head and I started taking a little more interest in academics. What I am trying to say is that:
(a) good attendance can correlate to good school culture, but
(b) good attendance need not translate to good academic performance, and
(c) bad attendance need not correlate to bad culture (this will be a huge assumption), and
(d) a new environment sometimes acts as a catalyst to spark a new life and a new direction for a kid

Ned said

at 1:53 am on Mar 21, 2010

That brings us to the culture. I really think the school culture is very critical. And unfortunately this is not something one can change overnight (I think this is part of the reason why networks like KIPP originated-- easier to start a new school with a blank slate and establish a culture than to take an existing school and try to change it's culture). So what I am thinking now is that why attack this on a school by school basis - why not attack this problem from a higher neighborhood level. For the sake of discussion let us assume there is funding & other resources. In that case, I would maybe establish a "school" for the dropouts (and others interested) that would foster a certain culture -- and this could also take care of the extra-curricular activities component. And like you said, the trick then would be to slowly morph this culture back to the actual schools so that the attendance (and performance) actually goes up.

Michael J said

at 6:34 am on Mar 21, 2010

Nice direction with "attack this problem from a higher neighborhood level." My instinct is that schools can be a natural engine for locl community wealth creation. More when I've had a chance to let it rumble a bit.

But I think we have to carefully consider : "bad attendance need not correlate to bad culture" and "easier to start a new school with a blank slate and establish a culture "

For some very, very small number of students the problem is personal dysfunction. But for the overwhelming number I would argue that the primary driver of bad attendance is precisely the dysfunctional culture of the school. On it's simplest level if it's fun, why wouldn't I go?

If it's not fun and I perceive that the costs of playing hooky are not greater than the benefit of spending 7 hours in a stressful unpleasant enviro, why would I go?

Like you I grew up in a culture where school and not "getting an A" was unthinkable. Did fine in High School. As soon as I got to college- and out of the house - I blew it off. I cut alot more classes than I attended. In retrospect, it was not the best set of decisions. My grades sucked. Never did become that Doctor my parents wanted. Disappointed everyone. Not fun.

The point for me was that I was lucky in that the "culture" of my high school was supportive. The "culture" of my college, an "elite" institution was not.

Michael J said

at 6:39 am on Mar 21, 2010

"easier to start a new school with a blank slate and establish a culture " I have to ask "easier" for whom. I contend that it is clearly for policy makers and intellect workers. But the time and extraordinary effort required by teachers and kids is much more disruptive with many more unintended consequences. I think you've helped me understand in a more precise way my problem with KIPP. it's a bit like massive housing projects to deal with "urban blight." Sounds good. Long term consequences suck.

The other approach is to find and nurture the positive activity spaces in the living enviro that is a school embedded in a community. I think your suggestion about focusing on "non curricular" and "after school activites" is just right given this kind of framework.

Back to you.

Michael J said

at 6:49 am on Mar 21, 2010

Just one more. The movement that has been growing in the States is just what you suggest re new schools. Charter schools and home schooling at the lower grades. At the middle school grades you have magnet schools and of course KIPP. There are also many interventional programs. To me the most interesting is a program run by the National Guard that seems to be having some success.

Maybe the best approach is to make some kind of judgment of which of those evolving responses has the most promise. Focus our efforts on helping those grow faster and get on a path to sustainability.

Ned said

at 10:21 pm on Mar 21, 2010

Michael, since we are brainstorming - I would counter argue your statement "I would argue that the primary driver of bad attendance is precisely the dysfunctional culture of the school. On it's simplest level if it's fun, why wouldn't I go?". Mind you, I am not disagreeing with you -but strongly feel that this hypothesis is very much dependent on the neighborhood (NY school vs inner-city Memphis schcool vs a school in Anchorage). In places like NY, I would say that your assumption is closer to truth. However, there are neighborhoods where the school culture is secondary to pressures from street gangs, pressures from peers, pressures from home etc. But let us go with your assumption and state that if we can improve the school culture, the hypothesis is that the attendance will improve.

On the "starting a new school" topic, I totally agree with you that the effort required is not small and it can be disruptive for some students. The only argument I can offer is the resposiveness factor - changing the culture of a school can take a long time and even that with full buy-in of the teachers & administrators. In some cases, you can change a lot of things about the school but the behavior of the kids still might not change (drugs, smoking etc.). When you start a new school, you can enforce a certain standard right from the get go and put in a measurement system to look at the benefits. But again, I would agree with you that given a choice, I would rather improve an existing school than build a new one (The only exception being building a facility to complement the existing school -- along the lines of extra-curricular activity).

Ned said

at 10:24 pm on Mar 21, 2010

Btw, I got a laugh about you not becoming a Doctor. When I was in school in India, the rules were simple - if a kid did not get into Medical or the Engineering after high school, they were a failure :-). After high-school I went into Arts and heard folks (not my parents) say what a disappointment I was. That pissed me off and I then went to and graduated with an Engineering degree just to prove them wrong. I look back and laugh at my behavior but in hindsight it turned out to be a good decision.

Interestingly, we both had periods where our grades sucked but in the end we turned out to be okay. For years I have been trying to uncover this elusive and magical "switch" -- what exactly are the factors that makes someone a success in life irrespective of how they did in school. I know I am digressing...but this is another discussion.

And lastly, being the analyst I am - I have one more suggestion. We have talked about looking at 'good' schools and then transferring some of the best-practices from them to the factories. Well, why not look at good students who just graduated from high-schools and are currently in undergrad and ask them what is that which made them tick and go to school. Maybe we can get some learnings from them and apply those to improve their school culture. Anyway, just a thought.

(You know one of the reasons I like this environment (pbworks) is that it is QUIET - no clutter or unnecessary chatter. It is almost like sitting on my porch with a cup of java and having a 1-1 conversation :-) ).

Michael J said

at 10:45 pm on Mar 21, 2010

Ned: "changing the culture of a school can take a long time " Maybe. maybe not. Consider the changes in "culture" that have occurred since January 1 at the US national level. In March 2009, we faced a "world wide Depression." Today the US Economy is growing at 6%. ( I think that's the right number.) All the pundits said first that the Kid from Chicago couldn't win. Then they all figured out that Health Care will never pass.

To be very clear, I'm not saying that it's easy or we have entered the land of milk and honey. All I'm trying to point to is that sometimes Black Swans are Tipping Points. Are we now seeing a Tipping Point. I would not presume to unequivocally say yes. But they do happen. I've seen a couple in my life time.

"if a kid did not get into Medical or the Engineering after high school, they were a failure :-)." You in India(?) Me in Queens, NY. Same thing. Pretty funny.

"(You know one of the reasons I like this environment (pbworks) is that it is QUIET - no clutter or unnecessary chatter. It is almost like sitting on my porch with a cup of java and having a 1-1 conversation :-) )." Precisely. So why would the same experience not be as good for teachers and thus their students?

"Well, why not look at good students who just graduated from high-schools and are currently in undergrad and ask them what is that which made them tick and go to school." Nice. Need to think this through a bit.


Ned said

at 9:55 am on Mar 27, 2010

Just thought I will post these links here as a reference. Interesting viewpoints on #education. Recent - http://bit.ly/bARmLx and the comments. A bit older: http://bit.ly/HZzzJ

Michael J said

at 10:13 am on Mar 27, 2010

Nice links. One of a couple of data points re how it's moving from here to there. This one got a lot of hits this morning. http://ilnk.me/20b9 it's about an online high school in Utah that works with Open Education Resources. Given that they have a track record of success, I think it may turn out to be a nugget of catalysis.

This is a link to an edition of Morning Joe which aired on MSNBC on Thursday. http://ilnk.me/20b9

My interpretation is that online education is starting to scale, just pretty sharp growth curve. And that if MSNBC and Starbucks are joining forces in the service of ed, it's going to shift the meme pretty quickly. The video is particuarly interesting with Mike Bloomberg, Cory Booker, Al Sharpton and the guy from LA all sending the same message.

My preliminary conclusion is that the best way to frame our problem going forward is how can we help catalyze what I think is going to be a huge shift happening now or very close to now. If this sounds a little silly. Consider how fast the climate is changing on the Health Care Reform "debate" once Obama got it passed. For whatever it's worth, I think the energy created by the 2010 midterm elections are going to put this meme front and center in the States.

Ned said

at 11:19 am on Mar 27, 2010

I was just listening to Eric Whitacre - love that guy's choirs (http://bit.ly/96KzuQ) - and it just struck me the parallel worlds between music and education. As you (and the links) said, I also think there is a shift in meme happening in education. On top of that I was thinking about how technology might impact schools and that is where the Virtual choir stuck in my mind -- so easy to translate that to the education domain for students who cannot attend regular school for whatever reason.

Also, I agree with you that maybe just focusing on a tiny dot (dropouts), maybe the right way to go about this might be to focus on the shift -- and in the process help dropouts.

Ned said

at 11:20 am on Mar 27, 2010

Correction -
Instead of "Also, I agree with you that maybe just focusing on a tiny dot (dropouts), maybe the right way to go about this might be to focus on the shift -- and in the process help dropouts" , what I mean to say was "Also, I agree with you that instead of maybe just focusing on a tiny dot (dropouts), the right way to go about this might be to focus on the shift -- and in the process help dropouts"

Michael J said

at 3:15 pm on Mar 27, 2010

Nice points. What I think is going on is that education can be seen as occurring at a couple of scales ( :-musical scales hmmm) ) I tend to look at things in terms of activity spaces and the time/space they evolve in.

Anyways, consider that the process is the interaction of the following "activity spaces" parents/family , home schooling, charter schools, public schools, private schools. Learning happens in each space. In EuroAmerica, Private schools evolved first, first in the Church, then to serve the nobility, then to accommodate the merchant class.

Next came Public schools to help the transition from rural to urban life styles. An unanticpated consequence was to filter the most appropriate from lower strata to be able to become intellect workers. As in the new economy continues evolve - with the addition of web accessible information, the overhead necessary to identify the most appropriate and create a new population of intellect workers is no longer necessary.

I think the way this plays out is that homeschoolers are the physical manifestation of parents/family. The most natural path for learning is to parents/family. But depending on the starting point different populations move to that path at different speeds.

I guess my hypothesis is that the bottom of the pyramid is a largely underserved market by public education. Like many in the developing world, it's plausible to believe they might leapfrog. It's like going to smartphones, without going through the steps of landline, broadcast TV, etc.

To my point, it's an under appreciated fact that every at risk kid I've ever met either has or wants a Smartphone.

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