The Maze of Distrust

A new study from the Kettering Foundation discusses how local politics, distrust, miscommunication and unhealthy relationships caused by lingering suspicions and old grudges play a surprisingly powerful role in stalling efforts to improve public education.  In the introduction to the report, the author states that “despite sweeping reforms under Presidents Bush and Obama, billions of dollars invested by government and philanthropy, and new policies in districts nationwide, results remain disappointing.  Less than half of American students meet proficiency levels in reading and math.  Achievement gaps between richer and poorer students are wide—and still as troubling as ever.  With so much attention given to K-12 education, why has improvement been so hard to come by?  Why do reforms and innovations produce only pockets of change?  What are we missing?”  Maze of Mistrust explores how individual and community patterns of communication and behavior can either smooth the way for change or stymie it at every turn.  The Kettering Foundation is a nonprofit operating foundation whose primary research question is:  What does it take to make democracy work as it should?  Kettering’s research is distinctive because it is conducted from the… Continue reading

A Breath of Fresh Air

Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost is a breath of fresh air.  Yost recently spoke at a conference of the Ohio Association of EMIS Professionals and told the school data managers that he wishes state leaders could set more durable policies to govern education:  “I can’t think of another product anywhere in the world that would have a 13-year development cycle — K-to-12, our product is an educated child — and we change the metrics, the definitions, what we’re looking for, and the process, and the manufacturing line every single year. How do you do that?”  I’m hoping the next governor…I hope that they come to the Legislature on their first day…and say ‘Folks, I know you all care about our kids.  I know you care about education.  I want you to send me one bill, do it before June 1, and I’m going to sign it.  And then don’t send me anything else because if you send me anything else in the next four years I’m going to veto it.  These people deserve to know what the rules of the road are.”

Consequences of Opting Out of State Testing?

If a public school district in the state of Ohio formally opted out of participating in state and federally mandated testing, what would occur?  This was the question posed on April 22 by Little Miami Local Schools Superintendent Greg Power and his Board of Education to Dr. Richard Ross, State Superintendent for Public Instruction for the Ohio Department of Education.  Here is the response from J. Christopher Wollard, Senior Executive Director, Agency Fellow, Harvard Strategic Data Project:

Thank you for your question.  Information related to student participation on state tests can be found at here<http://education.ohio.gov/Topics/Testing/News/Guidance-on-Testing-Refusal-Cases-Offered>. Unfortunately, the Ohio Department of Education is unable to speak to the specific consequences that may come as a result of your district choosing not to participate in state testing.  You would need to consult with your district’s legal counsel for a comprehensive answer.  Furthermore, you can reach out to the US Department of Education to discover what they would do as a result of this choice.  In an effort to provide some guidance, the links below may be able to give you some context for how the USDOE has responded to similar inquiries in… Continue reading

How Citizens Participate in Civil Society

Benjamin Barber is currently a Senior Research Scholar at The Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society of The Graduate Center, The City University of New York, the President and Founder of the Interdependence Movement, and Walt Whitman Professor of Political Science Emeritus, Rutgers University.  While serving as Director of CivWorld and Distinguished Senior Fellow at DEMOS, a research and policy center founded in 2000, he was interviewed by the Kettering Foundation and talked about the various ways in which citizens participate in civil society.

The Power of Community Conversations

Public Agenda is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate divisive, complex issues and work together to find solutions.  In this 2:48 minute video clip, Dr. Will Friedman, Director of Center for Advances in Public Engagement at Public Agenda, shares how the power of community conversations about improving the schools in Bridgeport, Connecticut, has spread from addressing education issues and concerns to other challenges facing the Bridgeport community.

A Friend’s Concern

In reviewing the manuscript for America’s Schools at a Turning Point:  And how we THE PEOPLE can help shape their future, one of my friends and colleagues brought up a great point regarding the thought of putting the future of our public schools solely into the hands of the American people.  Her concern is the squeaky-wheel problem.  She said that as communications liaison to parents and the community in two school districts and as a school board member in one district, she listened to many parents complain about their local school because “the work is too difficult, there is too much homework, their children should be able to graduate (even though they have a horrible attendance record and have failed one or two classes)” and on and on.  Then, when those parents would stand in front of their school board members and demand that the curriculum be “dumbed down,” in many instances those school boards would cave in to their demands.  She added that while she thinks parents and other community members should work more closely with their public schools and have greater influence over education policy, she also feels there is a need… Continue reading

The Magic of Dialogue

Over the past 25 years, I’ve seen firsthand how citizens have put aside their differences, stepped up to the plate and tackled major problems impacting their schools and communities.  How did it happen?  In the words of Daniel Yankelovich, it was the magic of dialogue.  An advisor to corporations, government, and professional organizations, Yankelovich has spent over half a century monitoring change in the American culture and is regarded as the dean of American public opinion research.  To help explain how this magic works, he makes an important distinction between debate, which describes the tenor and focus of most political conversations, and dialogue.

When debating, the assumption is that there is a right answer, and we have it.  When engaging in dialogue, the assumption is that many people have pieces of the answer and that together we can all craft a solution.

When debating, we are combative and attempt to prove the other side wrong.  When engaging in dialogue, we are collaborative and work together toward common understanding.

When debating, it is about winning.  When engaging in dialogue, it is about exploring common ground.

When debating, we listen to find flaws and… Continue reading

Ground Rules for a Productive Conversation

1.  Have a “kitchen table” conversation.  Everyone participates.  No one dominates.

2.  There are no “right” answers.  Draw on your own experiences, views and beliefs.  You do not need to be an expert.

3.  Keep an open mind.  Listen carefully.  Try to understand the views of those who disagree with you.

4.  Help keep the discussion on track.  Stick to the questions.  Try not to ramble.

5.  It is okay to disagree.  But don’t be disagreeable.  Respond to others how you want to be responded to.

6.  Have fun!  Collaborating is a rewarding experience.  It enables all of us to be of value and make a difference.

Source:  America’s Schools at a Turning Point:  And how we THE PEOPLE can help shape their future

Thank You for Your Prayers

On Saturday, my wife, Diane, ended a three-and-a-half-year battle with pancreatic cancer.  Throughout most of her journey, she was relatively pain free and enjoyed the joys of daily living – including the marriage of our two daughters and the birth of a granddaughter and a grandson.  Thanks to the prayers of many, many people – including a number of you who follow this blog – she did not suffer greatly during her final days.  In fact, miraculously, she had little or no pain – truly a gift from God.  I will be eternally grateful for all of the love and support that we have both received.

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