Thursday, February 25, 2010

4-day School Week - Thoughts to Ponder

Challenging Conventional Wisdom

Conventional Wisdom – More time in school = more learning achievement

A Different Perspective – Malcom Gladwell’s work (Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers) Leavitt’s book (Freakonomics)

According to the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, in four of the seven countries that outperform the United States in mathematics, students spend less time in class per week than U.S. students do and also less than the international average.

McREL’s meta-analysis identifies Teacher Quality (not the length of a school year or week) as the key variable in student achievement. Research supports the assertion that it is not the quantity but the quality of education time that is the critical determinant of how much students learn. Rigor, Relevance and Relationships (not time) are keys.

Time on Task is an essential variable that is controlled largely by the teacher but is also affected by systemic issues.

Four day provides excellent opportunities to protect instructional time.

Practices that effect teacher quality can be scheduled regularly on the off day (professional development, professional learning communities)

Promising practices for secondary education can be more easily managed and scheduled on the off days (ie. Senior projects, Internships, Job Shadows, Service Learning projects)

Other potential opportunities for the changed use of time (Teacher home visits, enrichment and remediation programs on the off day)

Alternative uses of time to increase student engagement

KSDE Goal: Redesign the delivery system to meet our students’ changing needs

“A fish is the last to discover water.” We’ve been swimming in the 5 day school week pond for the past century and a half. There’s probably another way we will not see until we try something different.

A patron put it better than I could ever imagine at one of our public meetings. She said, “ultimately the decision makers need to remember that they are a Board of Education, not a Board of Humanity.”

Best Web resource:

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Fix The Health Care System, Now!

September 9, 2009

To My Federal Representatives

I am writing to implore you to step up and lead! Our country’s health care system is out of control. The big private health care providers and pharmaceutical companies are raping our middle class for the almighty dollar and leaving the working poor to live in third-world health care conditions. We have a long history of government regulation of public utilities. Equitable health care, in a country as rich as ours, is a public utility. I believe we need to treat it this way and regulate it.

This does not mean we must have a “government-run” health care system, but does require a “governmentally regulated” health care system. The private sector must not be allowed to continue to “cherry-pick” good risk, they must in some equitable way assume all basic health care risks. We must stop paying physicians based upon the number of procedure they perform, and move to a system that provides incentives for physicians to simultaneously reduce costs and improve patient health.

I suggest regulation of health care not be centralized in one federal system, but distributed to the States. We must find the lowest level of government possible to provide excellent accountability, provide for regional needs, regulate the system and at the same time provide for cost-efficient operation of the regulatory process.

Elected leaders at critical times in history must step beyond partisan politics and become stewards of the nation. Now is the time for you to step up and provide the stewardship necessary to put together a “world-class” health care system for all Americans, whether politically popular in the short-run, or not. It is your duty to coming generations. I would rather plant the seeds of greatness today than to cultivate weeds for a lifetime. I hope you would too!

Randy Rivers

Monday, November 12, 2007

Letter to My Kansas Representatives

October 3, 2007

My Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20510


I am writing you to express my recommendation that you strongly consider not reauthorizing the NCLB law. Our country's constitution does not give the enterprise of education to the federal government. Most state constitutions make it their primary responsibility. We need to do more to insulate education policy from politics, because in my experience, kids' true interests are very poorly represented by the political machine. Since the creation of the Department of Education, there has been a slow erosion of local control of schools.

Intuitively, we all know that problems are best solved at the level closest to the problem. Federal interventions into the complex issues our public schools face are not empowering the people who can make a difference in children's lives! Jim Collins in his book Good to Great points out the need for organizations to analyze what they do and to "stop doing" those things that are counter-productive.

The levels of bureaucracy that the United States Department of Education adds to the education of our children need to be tossed aside. I recommend that you seriously consider simple block grants to state departments of education with the simple directions that the money needs to flow to the classrooms, where the rubber meets the road. Local boards of education and teaching staffs are in a much better position to make the critical decisions necessary to effectively target this money. I'd also recommend that a portion of the block grants be set aside to reward and recognize the local schools and districts that are showing exceptional results for all children.

I realize that you may take some heat for this type of change. Some may say you don't support education. I say that responsible stewardship and leadership requires the courage to do what is right, not what is popular. The right thing for the children of America is to place public education policy back into the hands of the leaders closest to the children they are serving.


Saturday, June 02, 2007

"A fish is the last to discover water." This proverb speaks volumes about our educational system today. We [educators] are so immersed in our assumptions about what school should look like that we lose sight of the underlying purpose of schools. If we truly want to improve learning, we must look outside of the classroom walls. They imprison the mind to less than is possible.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Abundance, Asia, & Automation

Daniel Pink's keynote address today at the AASA convention was, without a doubt, the event that will be the highlight of my trip to New Orleans. Mr. Pink is an exceptional communicator! The information from his book A Whole New Mind is a must read for every education policy maker in America. I encourage my Kansas colleagues to work together to find a way to bring Mr. Pink to our state to communicate his message to key policymakers in the Land of Ahs!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Superintendent’s Summit – Angus King

I was very interested in Mr. King’s description of how the Maine one to one laptop initiative was conceived and implemented. It was through an interesting sequence of events, including a chance luncheon with Seymour Papert in the mid 1990s. Mr. King’s comment that this type of initiative will probably not bear fruit until he had left office for ten years is a tribute to his vision and long-term stewardship of the State of Maine. It would be nice if we had more politicians who shared Mr. King’s long-term approach to social, cultural and political problems today!

Nicholas Negroponte Keynote

Mr. Negroponte’s keynote was very interesting. Although the One Laptop Per Child initiative will not likely be affecting US classrooms in the near future, the ideas and impact it will have globally will most likely have some side-effects on technology in America’s schools in the next five years. In the next five to ten years, we’ll still be on our own in reaching the goal of 1 to 1. It became obvious to me that we will need to begin to plan with the idea in mind of building budgets capable of providing for the professional development and hardware at price points much nearer to the current market than at the $100 per laptop level.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Session: Podcasting Standards: Using Technology to Teach Technology

"Teachers must model creativity to their students." This session was highly focused on music education applications of the ipod and podcasting. The presenter seems highly knowledgeable. The session did reinforce my idea that video podcasting (vodcasting) may well be the technology that will revolutionize distance and online learning. If we, and our students, can take the concepts provided for us from the American Film Institute and apply them to vodcasting, we will be able to provide our students with exceptional digital video learning resources on a large scale.

Session: Podcasting with Purpose

The presenters gave a nice overview of how easy it is to begin podcasting, especially if you are using the iLife ’06 software and GarageBand. Their focus was on determining the purpose you have for communicating with a podcast and go for it.

I am intrigued by this concept for the future of schools. I can envision audio and video enhanced podcasts of master teachers, teaching a lesson that they can really get across to kids. Having several dynamic lessons from multiple master teachers on a single standard available to students to choose to complement their learning styles. If one teacher doesn’t connect, perhaps the podcast of the lesson on the standard from another teacher will strike the right note with the student. Education needs to provide more choice for students. (Not the version of choice that included vouchers) I believe having numerous versions of important standards based lessons available in multiple learning style modes will empower students to find that explanation or presentation that truly makes learning happen.

Presenters suggested readings:
The Long Tail by Chris Anderson
High Noon 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them by Jean-Francois Rischard and J. F. Rischard

Call to Action:

I met a nice lady on my way to afternoon sessions today. Her name is Hilary Goldmann and she was working the crowd, in the Sails Pavillion, to write letters to their congressional delegation to restore funding to the Ed-Tech programs. Hilary is the Director of Government Affairs for ISTE. I know in the State of Kansas, this program has been responsible for turning on hundreds of teachers to the promise of technology in the classroom. It is a shame that our president continues to cut education funding and has completely eliminated the ed tech areas from the newest federal budget. Please get involved and let your representatives know how much more important this area is than the current focus on testing.

Session: Absolute Value: Discover Ideas for Increasing Engagement in Math


Mike is a very passionate math teacher. He has some great ideas on how to use technology, especially "Smart Board" type technology to help students visualize geometric and algebraic concepts. He believes technology in the math classroom should not be used to learn the tools but to assist students in visualizing and seeing the relevancy of the math they are learning. Be sure to share the website with all of your middle and high school math teachers.

AFI Screen Education Center: Digital Filmmaking in the Core Curriculum

The language of the screen is the literacy of the 21st century. The American Film Institute Education Center has developed a curriculum for teachers to implement in the classroom. The program includes staff development for teachers, instructional clips for students and extensive (.pdf) planning resources and lesson plans to use with the students. This wonderful resource will be available this fall free of charge to any school district that has access to Discovery network’s United Streaming. This program has been made available through the resources of the U.S. Department of Education and the Best Buy Educational Foundation. One of my favorite authors of late is Roger Shank and his thinking behind the importance of kids “doing” things in school to maximize true learning. This curriculum is a great opportunity for the core classroom teacher to move from being the doer to being more of a facilitator of learning.

Reflections On My Reading
I'm listening to Blink by Malcom Gladwell on my way to the NECC conference. As I listen, I am visualizing a common thread in it and other recent reads including Freakonomics, First Break All the Rules, and Good to Great. That theme seems to be that "conventional wisdom" and much of what we learn in our formal education can cloud the tremendous "sub-conscious" knowledge we gain with experience. That's a huge problem today in the K-12 educational realm. It is a great deal of "conventional wisdom" coming down from the US Dept. of Education that is driving our curriculums. As we take this opportunity to see the real educational possiblilites here at NECC, I encourage everyone to go back home and do everything that you can to evangelize the problems with current testing insanity. I always try to remind myself of something my grandfather regularly quipped while when I was young and working on the ranch: You don't fatten a steer by weighing it!