The DeHavilland Blog

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New website launched

It's past due, but DeHavilland Associates has just launched a dedicated website for our new K-12 Partnership Report newsletter: The site offers a sample issue and selected reprints from past issues.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Powering through the recession

I should have mentioned this sooner - but if anyone is planning to attend EdWeek's "Powering Through the Recession" conference in Jersey City on Monday, let me know. I'll be there as a panelist discussing alternate sources of support for schools.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Can we do it?

I'm thinking more about the USA Today article highlighting the downside of the stimulus - namely, that a lack of progress over the next two years is going to be a very bad thing for funding efforts in the future.

I recently heard Lynn Fielding speak on improvement in the early grades, and there are lessons to be learned from his work. He is chair of the school board in Kennewick, WA, and in his time on the board (20+ years) he oversaw a remarkable improvement in reading proficiency rates. Take a look at the chart below:

As you can see, they went from 57% of kids proficient in reading by 3rd grade to around 90% - an incredible improvement.

But the story behind the story is particularly interesting in light of the need for improvement within stimulus timeframes. You can see that this move from 57% to 90% took 10 years, and it came in two distinct waves: an immediate bump from 57% to 73%, then some real drift until a second wave pushed them to 90%.

Lynn's presentation at an event called Prepared To Learn, and his recent book Annual Growth, Catch-Up Growth, explain these two waves.

When they decided to take on "every child at grade level" as a mission, they did some research to see where they were starting from. And they found that kids are entering kindergarten within a span of six years of preparedness. (Conventional wisdom is that they're all fairly close together and will even out within a year or two.)

The first bump - from 57% to 73% proficiency in 3rd grade reading - came from a community engagement effort designed to promote reading behaviors in the home, such as reading to children, working with them on letter/sound recognition and the like. They had good community support and good buy-in, so the kids who were closer to grade level cleared the bar.

They were pleased with their progress and thought they were essentially done - that this big boost would continue until they hit their mark. But instead they drifted around that level for the next several years. It wasn't until they found the second key - adoption of a proven reading instruction model called Direct Instruction - that they hit their second wave and reached the goal.

Two lessons from this that I can see:
  • Community engagement works. If we need to see improvements in a brief time frame, community engagement (not just parents, but all stakeholders) is a powerful and proven approach. It should be part of any district's toolkit for leveraging the stimulus funding.
  • Community engagement, by itself, is not enough. It's going to take a commitment to doing what works, and not what's easy or conventionally accepted, within the school walls in order to make it the rest of the way. Community engagement can get you partway there, but the way that a school operates instructionally has got to be on target in order to create a substantive and lasting difference in outcomes.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The K-12 death spiral

Great commentary in Education Week titled "Death Spirals or Virtuous Circles?" While the writer is talking about universities and K-12 systems working together, it applies equally to any stakeholder.

An excerpt:

In many ways, the problems of K-12 and higher education institutions are more similar than ever. Both face accreditation pressures, money problems, enrollment issues, and rising health-care and pension costs. On some days, it seems as if both public education and public higher education are legacy-carrier airlines—high-cost, low-profit, maybe even dinosaurs.

The two share similar dynamics as well. The situation most dreaded by school systems and universities alike is a “death spiral.” Under such a scenario, student enrollment declines, leading to budget cuts, program cancellations, and further enrollment declines as a result. This cycle is hard to escape from, as the funding to develop new programs might simply not be there, prompting the school or university to offer less and less to fewer and fewer students.

School districts or universities in a cycle of decline are often extremely isolated. They find it difficult to trust outsiders and are loath to accept help from institutions that try to aid them. A kind of “groupthink” often develops, in which wishful thinking replaces real planning for the future. Without intervention from the outside, these situations do not turn around on their own.

Will budget problems lead K-12 education into a death spiral? I don't know. But what I do know is that many systems are isolated, without strong ties to their communities, and maintaining a wariness of working with community partners despite clear evidence of the benefits and the need to do so.

The author talks about the alternative: "virtuous circles," where small successes lead to larger ones and result in a vibrant institution. Let's hope that's the path we choose to take.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A new angle on the stimulus

An article in today's edition of USA Today highlights an interesting and under-reported (and under-discusssed) aspect of the stimulus funds flowing into education: what happens if we spend $100 billion and nothing happens? What if we see no real change in terms of student performance, school/district operations, or enterprise sustainability?

A few observers say they're concerned that a two-year span is not — and has never been — enough time to generate big gains. By 2011, they say, critics of greater education spending will undoubtedly cite the dearth of results to push for less education spending — perhaps even an end to federal funding.

"If you were trying to set the system up to look bad, one good way to do it is to throw an awful lot of money at it — money it can't possibly absorb in two years — and then expect that you're going to see changes in student achievement," says David Shreve of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Could the very thing that Duncan hopes will push public education into the 21st century set it back decades?

I think this is a valid point - even though most of the money is oriented towards stabilization (ie, saving teacher jobs), systems will be responsible for having made a significant impact on student performance in order to justify future funding - and two years isn't much time at all to make that happen.

Of course, I'll still argue that at least some portion of those funds should be invested in building a sustainable model - cutting costs, finding efficiencies, and building new sources of revenue. Let's hope that some superintendents agree - we'll find out at this event...