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Monthly Archives: May 2013

School Districts should take note of what Thomas Friedman is saying…

May 28, 2013

It’s hard to have a conversation today with any worker, teacher, student or boss who doesn’t tell you some version of this: More things seem to be changing in my world than ever before, but I can’t quite put my finger on it, let alone know how to adapt. So let me try to put my finger on it: We now live in a 401(k) world — a world of defined contributions, not defined benefits — where everyone needs to pass the bar exam and no one can escape the most e-mailed list.

Here is what I mean: Something really big happened in the world’s wiring in the last decade, but it was obscured by the financial crisis and post-9/11. We went from a connected world to a hyperconnected world. I’m always struck that Facebook, Twitter, 4G, iPhones, iPads, high-speech broadband, ubiquitous wireless and Web-enabled cellphones, the cloud, Big Data, cellphone apps and Skype did not exist or were in their infancy a decade ago when I wrote a book called “The World Is Flat.” All of that came since then, and the combination of these tools of connectivity and creativity has created a global education, commercial, communication and innovation platform on which more people can start stuff, collaborate on stuff, learn stuff, make stuff (and destroy stuff) with more other people than ever before.

What’s exciting is that this platform empowers individuals to access learning, retrain, engage in commerce, seek or advertise a job, invent, invest and crowd source — all online. But this huge expansion in an individual’s ability to do all these things comes with one big difference: more now rests on you.

If you are self-motivated, wow, this world is tailored for you. The boundaries are all gone. But if you’re not self-motivated, this world will be a challenge because the walls, ceilings and floors that protected people are also disappearing. That is what I mean when I say “it is a 401(k) world.” Government will do less for you. Companies will do less for you. Unions can do less for you. There will be fewer limits, but also fewer guarantees. Your specific contribution will define your specific benefits much more. Just showing up will not cut it.

The policy implications? “Just as having a 401(k) defined contribution plan requires you to learn more about investing in your retirement, a 401(k) world requires you to learn much more about investing in yourself: how do I build my own competencies to be attractive to employers and flourish in this world,” said Byron Auguste, a director at McKinsey and one of the founders of Hope Street Group, which develops policies to help Americans navigate this changing economy. “As young people rise to that challenge, the value of mentors, social networks and role models will rise.”

Indeed, parenting, teaching or leadership that “inspires” individuals to act on their own will be the most valued of all.

When I say that “everyone has to pass the bar now,” I mean that, as the world got hyperconnected, all these things happened at once: Jobs started changing much faster, requiring more skill with each iteration. Schools could not keep up with the competencies needed for these jobs, so employers got frustrated because, in a hyperconnected world, they did not have the time or money to spend on extensive training. So more employers are demanding that students prove their competencies for a specific job by obtaining not only college degrees but by passing “certification” exams that measure specific skills — the way lawyers have to pass the bar. Last week, The Economist quoted one labor expert, Peter Cappelli of the Wharton business school, as saying that companies now regard filling a job as being “like buying a spare part: you expect it to fit.”

Finally, every major news Web site today has a “most e-mailed list” that tracks what’s popular. Journalists who tell you they don’t check to see if their stories make the list are lying. What makes those lists possible is the use of Big Data and the cloud, which can also measure almost any performance in any profession in real-time and tailor rewards accordingly. More schools can now instantly measure which teachers’ kids are on grade level in math every week, Jamba Juice can see which clerk sells the most between 8 and 10 a.m., and factories in China can find out which assembly lines have the fewest errors. On schoolloop.com, you can track your kid’s homework assignments and daily progress in every K-12 class. A most e-mailed list is coming to a job near you.

I find a lot of this scary. We’re entering a world that increasingly rewards individual aspiration and persistence and can measure precisely who is contributing and who is not. This is not going away, so we better think how we help every citizen benefit from it.

It has to start, argues Ryan Burke, the director of jobs and workforce for Hope Street, with changing our education-to-work system to one that “enables and credits a variety of viable pathways to needed skills.” But “for students and workers to take advantage of the opportunities open to them in a ‘defined contribution’ world, they will need much better information to inform their decisions. Right now it’s much easier to evaluate a choice about buying a car or picking a mutual fund” than to find the competencies employers are looking for and the best cost-effective way to obtain them.

 Read the Full Article on NYTimes.com »

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Posted in Education
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For Public Schools, Twitter Is No Longer Optional

May 24, 2013

Public schools are keenly aware of the power of the mainstream media; a critical television segment or a laudatory newspaper article will be talked about in the hallways for days. But the landscape has shifted, and school leaders must embrace a new, growing reality: social media has become the source for breaking news.

School districts, because of budget constraints and the conservatism necessitated by intense public scrutiny, have often been slow to adopt new technologies. By now, it’s standard practice to have a website or – perhaps – a Facebook page or blog. But in general, schools are lagging when it comes to the most important social media channel when it comes to the dissemination of breaking news: Twitter.

 Read more of this compelling post, by Forbes contributor Dorie Clark and Allerton Hill Consulting’s Joel Gagne, on Forbes.com. »

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Posted in Community Outreach, Social Media
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Educators, legislators aren’t on same page on Ohio school reforms

May 17, 2013

A survey of more than half of Ohio school superintendents revealed, with few exceptions, a wide gap between themselves and legislators regarding what policies will have the most impact.

Fewer than 10 percent of superintendents say new state-issued A-F report cards for districts and individual schools will boost student learning.

And only 1 in 5 believes Ohio’s new third-grade reading guarantee will improve schools. It requires schools to provide assistance to struggling readers and hold back students not reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

More than 80 percent agreed that the new law “imposes unnecessary burdens on most districts that were already doing all they could.”

The superintendents also questioned politicians’ motives.

Nine in 10 said they believe that, “Too often, Ohio’s elected officials make education policy to score political points.”

Terry Ryan, vice president of Ohio policy and programs for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said the survey, released today, underscores the need for more dialogue between lawmakers who enact the polices and educators who must implement them.

“Reformers have not done a good job of explaining why they’ve done these reforms,” he said.

Fordham conducted the survey with the New York-based FDR Group.

Steve Farkas, of the FDR Group, said superintendents raised several “yellow flags” for lawmakers about potential hazards down the road.

For example, 93 percent of superintendents warned of widespread legal challenges to the use of student progress in the state’s new teacher-evaluation system.

The most highly rated initiative was Common Core standards for math and English-language arts, which have been adopted by Ohio and 44 other states.

More than two-thirds of superintendents said the rigorous curriculum guidelines will improve the education system. Common Core has come under fire recently by conservatives who fear federal intrusion.

However, superintendents cautioned that they face many hurdles preparing for Common Core. They overwhelmingly agreed that with corresponding assessments still not available and not enough computers to administer the online tests, implementation could be delayed.

Farkas said districts seem most supportive of initiatives they have the most say and control over but superintendents also seem a bit overwhelmed.

“Ohio is trying a lot of things, and a lot of things at the same time,” Farkas said.

“There is a little reform fatigue.”

Superintendents of 344 of Ohio’s 614 school districts participated in the survey.

 Read the Original Article on Dispatch.com »

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Posted in Education
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The imperative for a communications audit and plan for schools

May 13, 2013

The 21st century has already brought enormous changes to the ways in which we gather, process and exchange information. Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, are capable of organizing the limitless data of the information age, while we all now use “smart” devices to interact with each other and the world around us every minute of the day.

Social media’s role in our lives has become so widespread that it has grown into a tool of politicians and corporations to directly communicate with the public at-large. Many observers have given credit to social media for reforming the dialogue between Americans and their elected representatives and community organizations.

While these changes are taking root in world around us, some school districts have been slow to embrace the trends. For some educators, the new technology brings challenges. Some think of social media as a tool for the “younger generation” and more work than it’s worth. Others are familiar with social media as a distraction from the classroom. Still early-adopters of modern technology view social media as a welcome advance in their interactions with the government or with businesses, but are skeptical of its application to the education system.

The reality, however, is no 21st century industry — especially one as fundamental as education — can ignore the advantages of social media. For one, social media may have gained its initial popularity among youths, but its acceptance and usage has become widespread by Americans of all ages. According to the latest Pew polling data, 83% of 18- to 29-year-olds, 77% of 30- to 49-year-olds, 52% of 50- to 64-year-olds, and an nearly 1 in 3 (32%) of Americans over 65 years old regularly use social media. This represents a major opportunity to communicate within a diverse range of school districts.

There are numerous examples of grass-roots organizations and movements that have used social media for messaging and action. These should show what schools and school districts are capable of. The potential for direct contact and engagement between community members to bring about social change has been proved and can be used for campaigns in school districts.

The communications revolution brings a glaring need for school districts to audit their communications and build a communications plan to make sure they fit the times. Luckily, some school districts have already begun this important process before they are pushed into the 21st century, kicking-and-screaming by parents, students and community members of younger generations. As school districts and education professionals embrace these new tools, they will need to be proactive about developing a comprehensive communications plan, combining the traditional methods with modern channels like social media.

This was originally published on SmartBlog on Education.

 This was originally published on SmartBlog. »

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Posted in Community Outreach, Education, Social Media
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3 Rules for That Quick Interview

May 13, 2013

Recently, a client called me with a panicked question: “I am headed on camera soon to talk about our district – just a general conversation about our schools. What do I say?”

It is a great interview topic and I am happy that my client reached out when they needed guidance.  Why?  What we say matters.  All too often, organizational leaders want to talk about operations: new hires, changes to curriculum and value added schools on report cards.  Frankly, this leads to a nuanced conversation that does not play well on camera. A far more effective strategy is to think and speak broadly. What do the schools in your district mean to their communities?

Here is what you need to think of when you prepare for the quick interview:

  1. What is your district about?
    • This is your anchor point, a concise sound bite that focuses every conversation, every interview.  This is not your mission statement; it is a pithy, well-researched point that exemplifies the meaning of your work and the way that is reflected in your communities.
  2. Pick a few subthemes on which to focus.
    • Again, we are looking for broader themes to resonate with a TV audience. These subthemes could, for example, talk about how well you manage finances, or what you have done to run the district through these lean financial times.  The important thing to remember is that you must be able to pivot from your subthemes back to your first point. If you get too far off track and too nuanced in educational-speak then you risk alienating the listener. Don’t do that.  Have a plan and stick with it.
  3. Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.
    • Just when you think that you have said it all…say it again! TV is a tough medium. Remember that the art of effective communications is about repeating your message.  Maybe all but 30 seconds of your interview will wind up “on the cutting room floor.”  Maybe they will use all of it and run it on cable in a repeating one-hour spot.  Regardless, your best strategy is to repeat and keep coming back to your main points.

Your success will be measured in whether people who watched it can quickly summarize your interview.

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Posted in Education
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The Importance of the Traditional Media for Public Schools

May 13, 2013

In recent years, new technologies have revolutionized the ways that we think about the media and how we get our news. Innovations such as Twitter and “smart” mobile phones have made information faster, easier, and cheaper to consume. At the same time, customary media sources like newspapers and magazines have weathered declines in their readership and advertising revenues. The conventional wisdom has decreed that the established media’s days are numbered. In reality, though, talk of the “death of the American newspaper” is premature and overlooks some of the real advantages that traditional media sources have to offer.

First, while online platforms have increased their market share in recent years, the vast majority of Americans – 72%, according to the State of the First Amendment survey – still get their news from familiar media sources such as the TV, radio, or newspaper. More interesting still, a 2010 Pew study on news content and usage revealed that 95% of new information, meaning a story the reader was not previously aware of, came from traditional sources. This suggests social media is being used primarily to share content that has already been produced by their conventional counterparts, rather than as a vehicle for original journalism – making the two more like partners than rivals.

Second, traditional media sources benefit from their proximity to the public they serve. As members of the same communities, these journalists understand what is important to their neighbors and how best to reach them. Furthermore, conventional media outlets offer a standard of credibility and accountability for their output, and stake the reputation of their public brand on the quality of their work. The new media technology’s emphasis on transferring information as rapidly and freely as possible also creates the potential for that information to be inaccurate or incomplete.

For these reasons, traditional media sources have a great deal to offer in spite of the increased options for consumers in the media market. It has never been easier to write a guest editorial or submit content for publication in your traditional media outlets. Those seeking to stoke conversation and make positive changes in their community should look no further.

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Posted in Community Outreach, Education
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Marketing your school district in a time of choice

May 2, 2013

ow will your district compete when parents decide which school their child will attend?  In these days of charter schools, private schools, home schools and for-profit ventures, how can your district be a district of choice?

We begin with one easy simple question: Why?  Why worry about marketing your district?  Why bother?  We’ve always been here…and we’ll always be here.  We’re the public schools.  Parents need us.  Society needs us.

Wrong…not anymore.

Marketing is an essential part of a school district’s communication plan, as it is in any successful business.  All districts should have a communication plan that is used thoughtfully, not sitting on a shelf collecting dust.  If you are not engaging in communications and marketing, you could very well be failing at the ballot box – or worse – out of business completely.

Why Market?

Communication leads to understanding.  Understanding leads to broader public support.  Broader public support leads to progress in education.  Support for public education is absolutely essential if it is to survive.  Public education is being attacked and criticized more and more every day. As the district faces the challenges of the future, the need for strong public support is clear.

Tax revolts, charter schools, schools of choice, home schools, for-profit schools which guaranteed results, attacks from special interest groups, continue to pressure for accountability.  This increases the need for public schools to market their wares–not simply churn out favorable p.r.–but market.

The most effective principals, teachers and other school leaders at all levels, public and private, are learning that marketing is a necessary tool for support, credibility and in today’s market…survival.

So how should I market my district?

Effective marketing is a systematic approach to building a relationship between your district and the people you want to attract i.e. students, parents, teachers, alumni, potential consumers, and the wider public.

  • Recognize and believe that the students and their parents are the districts customers.  Customer service must be at the very core of how the district is run.
  • Motivate the staff and employees to serve as dedicated champions for the students and cheerleaders for the district.  In other words, they must live the concepts of excellence and service.
  • Take the districts message on the road.  Don’t wait for people in your community to come to you.  You must aggressively reach out to them.  Only through the combined support and efforts of everyone directly and indirectly associated with your district will you attain meaningful and lasting public confidence.

Marketing is absolutely essential to build positive images about your district and instill pride in the staff and students.  It can enhance internal and external awareness of the good work being accomplished by the district and “weatherproof” you from the many challenges that, inevitably, lie ahead.

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Posted in Community Outreach
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