Parental involvement


Homework (Photo credit: christinepollock)




I think parents need to be involved in their children’s education. I’ve seen too many issues come up when they are not. That being said, I can’t count the number of times I have stood up in front of parents and urge them to “get involved in their children’s education”. I often cite word from the national PTA organizations and enumerate research.  Then today, as I reread a blog post by Alfie Kohn that I stopped at this citation.



And a review of fifty studies found that, while parental involvement in general was “associated with achievement,” the one striking exception was parental help with homework, where there was no positive effect (Hill & Tyson, 2009).


Louis Sergent, 16, who is in his first year at...

Louis Sergent, 16, who is in his first year at high school, does his homework. Both he and his father are determined… – NARA – 541288 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



I am not one of those educators that are diametrically opposed to homework.  I believe the common practice in schools around the world has some purpose, but I have been forced to rethink the practice as my children have grown up through school.  My fourth grader, for the most part, has quality homework, or work that she does not complete in school hours (as do I) and this seems like a natural extension of what will be “real life learning” for her.  Kohn on the other hand notes in rather terse terms that,


The practice of forcing children to begin working what amounts to a second shift after they get home from a full day of school has absolutely no proven benefits before high school, and there are increasing reasons to doubt its value even in high school (Kohn, 2006).  What kids need, therefore, are parents willing to question the conventional wisdom and to organize others to challenge school practices when that seems necessary.  What kids don’t need is the kind of parental involvement that consists of pestering them to make sure they do their homework –  whether or not it’s worth doing.


I think this is something to think about.  Is that sweet spot of too much and too little really a reachable goal?  How does one find that space and still give kids a chance to learn without being fettered by parent “involvement”??  Do we as parents feel brave enough to question the conventional wisdom of homework?  As educators, are we open enough to hear those questions of criticism?

References cited by Dr. Kohn:

Nancy E. Hill and Diana F. Tyson, “Parental Involvement in Middle School: A Meta-Analytic Assessment of the Strategies That Promote Achievement,” Developmental Psychology 45 (2009): 740-63.


Alfie Kohn, The Homework Myth (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2006); and, for a look at a new high school study,



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Difficult Conversations: Salve for Wounds in Our Organizations

I am not sure why the idea came to my mind this morning, but for some reason I had this vivid memory of a small, stinky, oily Tupperware container my father kept with him when we went out hunting with our dogs when I was a kid.  In it, as I was told, was “salve”.

Wikipedia states, “Like aloe vera, a drawing salve is a salve used to help treat various minor skin problems such as sebaceous cystsboilsingrown toenails and splinters. It is sometimes known as Black Ointment, or Ichthyol Salve. The main ingredients are often ichthammolphenyl alcohol, or arnica montana, and several familiar herbs such as echinacea or calendula”.

I have no idea where he got it, what was in it, or even when it was used, but it appeared to me to be the most disgusting stuff on the planet.  Looking back I can only imagine it to be a mixture of mink oil, iodine, merthiolate, Vick’s vapor rub, cow dung and a little spit.  In short it was smelly and had the consistency of congealed gelatinous pureed liver. I also imagine that if one were to apply the stuff upon a wound it would either kill you or make you a whole lot better with no in-between.

As one moves through the actions of leadership in our schools wounds appear on the surface of our organizations. These wounds will fester and infect the entire organization if not tended.  This has been one of the hardest learned lessons over the years working in schools I have learned.  The truth is plain and simple:  There is not a single school leader who likes to address difficult conversations. These difficult conversations are the wounds that need dressing in our world in schools, and if left to be discussed at a later time, they fester, rot, stink, and infect the entire organization.

Like my father’s dog salve, the salve to aid in the healing wounds in our organization includes:

  • Be fully honest…  While I wouldn’t say that one should be brutal about the issues at hand, but I do think that a “matter-of-fact” approach is the best way to move the ideas forward.  In short, don’t mince words.  Be fully honest and don’t sugar coat the facts.
  • Be present…  Be both physically and personally present in the conversation.  The individual receiving the “salve” should feel like you are there to make sure that they fully understand your concerns or your requests.  This isn’t the time for a quick in and out of the office conversation.
  • Be open…  Always be willing to accept further information and always be willing to see the issue from another point of view.  Be open to changing your mind or your approach to addressing the issue.
  • Focus… On the big picture and on the mission of the organization.
  • Make it personal… but don’t take it personally. Dan Pink notes that effectiveness of work in individuals will increase if they feel a personal connection to the work.  Help the individuals who are subject of the conversation understand the personal concern of your and of theirs.
  • Make it timely…  As I stated above the longer the wound exists, the worse it gets. In schools wounds create mistrust, rumormongering, lack of respect for others, and it damages children.
  • Be prepared to follow-up…  Sometimes wounds need to be redressed, as do issues and concerns. Any good salve for our organizations should include the intention or attention to the following up.
  • Be fearless… You will be like the rest of us—nervous, unsure and even reticent. You must be fearless though. This means you must be fully sure (100%) that you are doing the right thing.  If you have that gut level assurance, you will have no trouble finding that courage.

Like my father’s dog salve, theses conversations stink though.  At the end of the day, they are unpleasant, they are the black-hole of time, and they suck the energy out of you for a while.  In short, be sure to take care of your mental health as well, and try to find some time to laugh, exercise and sleep too.  In short.. minimize the “difficult” in the difficult conversations.


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2nd Thoughts

I have been having a lot of second thoughts lately.

It’s frustrating really.

For instance the other day I was asked about what “globally competitive means.

English: World map of the 2008-2009 Global Com...

English: World map of the 2008-2009 Global Competitiveness Index (source). Each color represents one quartile of the ranked nations. Green nations score higher, red nations lower. Grey nations are not ranked. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My response was that the world really needs to get off of this idea of being competitive, and instead connect to the concepts and skills associated with communications, collaboration and cooperation.  Why must we always focus on being more competitive instead of seeking ways we can create a better, dynamic to solve the world’s challenges?

 Perhaps we should look for ways to build social and political skill before we build up ways to be more competitive.  Dan Pink, in his book “To Sell is Human” tell of Yehonatan Turner’s technique of personalizing his work.  He suggests that we should approach each person or problem as if they are your grandmother– making it ultimately personal.  Pink asks us to think about how we would treat people if everyone were that friendly, kind woman with whom you meals, coffee or tea and catch up chats with growing up?  “What changes would you make if the employee you’re about to ask to take on an unpleasant assignment wasn’t just another employee but was the woman who gave birth to one of your parents?” (Pink, 2012, p. 228).  Would not, this approach, make great sense for those who are seeking to be competitive knowing that the other person they are in competition with is the same lady who still sends Hallmark cards for the holidays?

Please don’t get me wrong. I am as competitive as the next guy– noting that if I don’t get my golf game together soon I am facing another long season of grief from my buddies.  I hate to lose.  Does the idea of being globally competitive mean that somebody has to lose in the global arena?  What if that loser is a potential ally

My second thoughts don’t stem from those beliefs though.

My second thoughts center on the manner in which I expressed my passion for this issue.  I’m not saying on went on a rant, but I think I struck a cord with my hosts and perhaps came off as a bit rude. This was certainly not my intention.  My colleague traveling with me referred to my expressed opinion later in the day saying, “Andy earlier went on a bit of a tangent about competition so I can talk about…”

“Huh??”  I thought.  “Tangent”.  Hmm.  Ok.  Perhaps.

Thus my second thoughts.  Who wants to be seen as going on a “tangent”?  Not me!  Well… not too often anyway.

Then I thought “Hey Andy. Why should you be a wilting flower who can’t express his opinion?”

Common sense would tell you that its ok to speak up.  We’re all teachers after all.  Speak up.  Just do so with care, with humility and sensitivity.  If you do so you might be making your self more globally competitive.

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The Person Behind the Report- Putting Yourself Out There!!


Each month our school board asks me to write a short summary report about the happenings on my campus.

The school has 1400 students, some great and amazing administrators, amazing teacher leaders and a whole bunch of stuff going on.  This monthly report is pretty darn easy to write. I go to the principals’ blogs and I find plenty of fodder.  A little copying, pasting, editing, crediting, etc. and the report is good to go in about 15 minutes.  It is just not that big of a deal, and if you would read one of these reports you probably would be impressed with the amount of stuff going on at this school.

The last couple of months I have noted that the board members may not have been paying particular attention to my report.  I don’t blame them– for sure. They are busy professionals. They are volunteers.  They have lives and children and a career and this school board stuff is their 4th, 5th or even 6th job, and my campus report cannot be too high on the priority list considering that our board packets are easily 50-60 pages a month.  Nonetheless, I felt it my duty to make the reading a little more fun than… say… watching paint dry. So, I decided to just put a little of myself out there each month and build that professional/personal relationship that is so important in a school leader’s life.

Here is what I wrote in the first two paragraphs:

I am a Chicago Cubs fan.  I have been one ever since I met my wife and she told me that if I was to get along with my father-in-law I had better immediately adopt the team as my own and embrace the history and love of the “idea” of being a Cubbie.  The fact that the team has not won a World Series since 1908 is part of that “idea”. You will find the Cub fans revel in the fact that WHEN they do win the world championship it is going to be one whale of a big party and they want to be a part of it!  Cub fans also secretly feel very sad for all the other teams who have already won their championship, knowing full well that their celebration (when it happens), will be so much better than everyone else’s celebration.

Nonetheless, as Alexander Pope wrote in 1733, “hope springs eternal in the human breast, ” and as we head into another season of Major League Baseball, I am also reminded of the seasons of our lives in school. As spring vacation passes us by, the window on the world of the summer and the upcoming year are also on our minds while we continue to be challenged to remain in the present that is our reality of the 12-13 school year.

I have to sometimes remind myself that leaders have to be people too, and through the process of revealing ourselves we become better at what we do.

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Unimportant Information

It’s been awhile since I’ve last posted.  Life, doctoral studies and other complications have gotten in the way of me finding a little bit of time each week to write, reflect and think.  Nonetheless, the time is now right to get back to it.  For those of you still subscribed thanks for sticking with me, and maybe you can share this link and get me a few more readers.  – AT


Unimportant Information

Creative Commons Attribution, non-commercial, by Wysz

A colleague, I discovered the other day, has a three-ring binder that is labeled “unimportant information”.  It was sitting on the middle of a conference table in his office. He noted to me that he was given the binder to sit next to the binder labeled “important information” that was left for him by his predecessor.  After a hearty laugh — something I urge all of you to do daily– I serious mentioned that we all need one of those binders. As school leaders we are bombarded by information and data.  Some of it we need to ignore as it is “unimportant” in the grand scheme of finding direction to the mission of our organizations.

For my doctoral work this week we were asked to discuss the difference between “managers” and “leaders”.  Jim Collin’s in his book Good to Great outlines the concept of the level 5 leader and what it means to be a leader.  Collins (2001) defines the level 5 leaders as someone who “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of humility and professional will” (p. 452).  Level 5 leaders deal with the paradox of ambition and will against unpretentiousness humility and bravery, never letting their personal ambitions and goals getting in the way of the betterment of the organizations in which they lead (Collins, 2001).


Cover of

Cover via Amazon

The adopted goals of a level 5 leader are those of the organizations mission and vision.  Managers, on the other hand are great at getting things done, moving their organization from one task, one process or one goal to another, but in general fail to keep the organization focused on the greater good of an organization.  Collins(2001) defines a competent manager as someone who “organizes people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives” (p. 452).  What is clearly defined is that in cases where organizations succeed in gaining ground, making changes for improvement, it is the leader who can find the balance of what Collin (2001) describes as “humility + will= level 5” (p. 452).


I suspect a level 5 leader would connect to the idea of having an “unimportant information” binder.

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A father’s role in raising amazing daughters

Cross posted from: The Eagle Online

From the moment our children are born till the day they leave the house and strike out on their own, it is amazing to observe how they grow, learn, and develop into adults. As a father of two daughters this process scares me to death, but I do want to have strong, independent, and creative daughters!

Some background …

My mother (a teacher herself) spent a lot of time with me and my siblings building us up to believe we needed to be strong, independent, kind, creative, and flexible. This lesson was generally delivered through family stories, often based on her memories of her grandparents. Most often, stories would be told of my grandmothers, and I was brought up to both admire and respect the powerful role that women have had in my life and in the history of my family. It is that powerful and important presence that I wish to build up in my own daughters.

Recently while reading some of the RSS feeds on my iPad, I ran across an interesting blog called “From Dates to Diapers.” The entry was entitled “50 Rules for Dads with Daughters” ( Naturally, the entry caught my eye, and as I read I felt that author Michael Mitchell did such a nice job of encapsulating the joys and challenges of being a father of girls that I would share with you a few of his rules, and my own reflections.

#1 “Love her mom. Treat her mother with respect, honor, and a big heaping spoonful of public displays of affection. When she grows up, the odds are good she’ll fall in love with and marry someone who treats her much like you treated her mother. Good or bad, that’s just the way it is. I’d prefer good.”

Educators see a lot of good in their work but nothing brings us more comfort than to see families come to the school as “team.” Respect, love, and mutual trust are observable and evident in the most closely knit families, and if and when issues arise, it is those families that have that bond that tend to fare better. Our wives and partners are key to our successes, as we are to theirs, and the respect and admiration we show toward them is seen by our girls. If they see it, they will grow up expecting it for themselves, and they should!

#3 “Save the day. She will grow up looking for a hero. It might as well be you. She’ll need you to come through for her over and over again throughout her life.”

Whether it be help with homework, solving a computer problem, taking her shopping, or just simply sitting and listening, your job, Dads, is to be there, be supportive, and when possible, to be her hero. If you need to be reminded what that means, see rule #1.

#4 “Savor every moment you have together. Today she’s crawling around the house in diapers, tomorrow you’re handing her the keys to the car, and before you know it, you’re walking her down the aisle. Some day soon, hanging out with her old man won’t be the bees’ knees anymore. Life happens pretty fast. You better cherish it while you can.”

In the hustle and bustle of the expatriate experience, we tend to live from one plane flight or business meeting to the next phone call to the brief and precious vacation or weekend. I can’t count the number of fathers who have told me that the most frightening moment in their life was when their kids were born. I have some news for you guys. Just wait till they enter middle school, or graduate from high school! Heaven forbid getting married. Let’s all commit to reminding each other to enjoy our time we have with our children.

#9 “Of course you look silly playing peek-a-boo. You should play anyway.”

The “Date with Dad” days that have been held here on the Pudong campus are great examples of silliness and relationship building. My favorite memory of those days is having the opportunity to run, jump, play, read, and laugh with my daughters, all in the company of hundreds of other fathers doing the same thing with their children. A little peek-a-boo is a good start, but come on, guys, don’t stop being goofy even when they are in middle school.

#12 “It’s never too early to start teaching her about money. She will still probably suck you dry as a teenager … and on her wedding day.”

Ugh. There is that “W” word again! But financial independence is very important in the lives of women. I certainly do not want my girls beholden to some man to pay her bills and take care of her. I want her to be able to take care of herself, and financial literacy is a key component of that independence.

#18 “Tell her she’s beautiful. Say it over and over again. Someday an animated movie or “beauty” magazine will try to convince her otherwise.”

Our girls are bombarded with images of models. When I was an elementary principal I remember parents coming to the school concerned about their girls not eating, or talking about plastic surgery. And I have heard children say cruel things to each other about their bodies. Our girls will almost certainly be subject to these same images and pressures, and it is our job as their support system to be the voice of reason and support. Not only should we tell our daughters that they are beautiful, but that they are smart, strong, creative, amazing, loving, and caring each and every day of their time with us. The message here is that it is our job to drown out the bad images and bad voices with the voices of affirmation and strength.

This ties into rule #22. “She’s as smart as any boy. Make sure she knows that.”

#36 “Few things in life are more comforting to a crying little girl than her father’s hand. Never forget this.” We fathers have to admit that we also hate to hear our daughters cry, and holding their hand helps us too. This of course leads to #46 “When in doubt, trust your heart. She already does.”

#42 “Let her know she can always come home. No matter what.” Parenting never stops, even when they “grow up.”

By showing respect, love, and honor to your parents, you will show your children that they should do the same for you — to be always welcome in your home.

#47 “When your teenage daughter is upset, learning when to engage and when to back off will add years to YOUR life.”

If you succeed in doing this, be sure to let us in on your secret!

And …

#50 “Today she’s walking down the driveway to get on the school bus. Tomorrow she’s going off to college. Don’t blink.”

It is so easy to get all tied up in academics, the rush of our daily lives and our own goals and aspirations. As we approach spring break, I suggest that us Dads (and Moms too!) take a step back and just look at our kids. Check them out and take a few mental pictures of who they are, who they are becoming, and what beauty and life they have brought to you and your family.

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Facing Brutal Facts, Putting Students First and Moving from Good to Great

Cover of

Putting Students First

Jim Collins, in his book “Good to Great” elaborates on ideas that show that organizations who wish to remain competitive and growing need to confront some of their own brutal facts.  He contents that by doing so leaders can transform an organization from something that is merely getting the job done to something that will be recognized as unique and that the organization could be recognized as a leader in that particular field (Collins, 2001).  The truth of the matter is that schools such, as the one the writer works in, also has to do the same thing. Many schools must face the fact that they fail miserably to meet the ideals, mission or core values that they themselves adopted and believe in.  For instance, one would be hard pressed to find a school that does not want their students engaged as global citizens. This goal is often overtly stated in the school’s mission and vision statements.  The truth is that most schools struggle to have student learn about global issues, and nearly all fail to have the student enrolled in their schools study or attempt to provide ideas and solutions to some of these very puzzling dilemmas. (Betts, 2007)  More significant perhaps of the many brutal facts that could be listed is that many of the practices and procedures that are in place in schools around the world are created to benefit the adults in the school rather than to benefit the students.

Betts writes,

“We are often more concerned, for example, that each teacher has an equal teaching load than whether individual students have equal opportunity to learn” (2007, p. 1).

and then states,

“For too long we in education have been too easy on ourselves. Too willing to accept the perceptions when finding the facts is either too hard or too demoralizing. We somehow have exempted ourselves from one of the primary ingredients that actually constitutes a profession – facing the facts and holding ourselves accountable” (2007, p. 2).

Addressing these and other brutal facts is obviously no simple task, otherwise school leaders around the world would be doing this with ease and confidence.  Unfortunately it appears that this is really no easy task.

The first of the areas that this writer would address is time structures and scheduling.  As an employee in an international school in one of the largest cities in the world, the concept of the agrarian-based calendar seems a misplaced and inconsistent with the idea that learning is best in an on-going, lifelong and must be continuous program that allow learning managed and nurtured (Cooper, 2003).  The mere idea of halting the educational process for a summer to relax is clearly stuck in an outdated model of education.   Modified calendars seem to have a strong effect on student learning—especially for disadvantaged and lower achieving students—and that people involved in the modified school calendar structures are extremely pleased with the result (Cooper, 2003).

The second (but certainly not last) brutal fact that needs to be addressed is the true lack of innovation that is taken on by schools. This writer believes that by recognizing the importance of innovation and investing appropriate resources for innovation, true educational reform can be moved to the forefront of our classrooms.

Betts notes,

“Almost no school can claim “the ability to innovate” as one of its school-wide learning standards. How frightening for our on-going civilization to imagine another generation educated for compliance rather than innovation” (p. 1).

Innovation is no easy thing to manage, especially in an environment of conservative thought.  Pressures are on all sides for the innovator in education.  There is low tolerance for risk-taking by parents of students in the schools who see innovation not as a step in the right direction, but more experimentation with their children.  Politicians are frequently demanding innovation; yet they fail to recognize the need to fund and support research and development as an important part of the educational process.  In the hallways themselves, the colleagues in the next classroom, sitting at the lunch tables and in the association memberships also put up road blocks and are oppositional to innovative ideas that will force them to change their practice.

Barriers for Change

Moving a school to a more learner-centered organization must begin with the teachers and administrators who must become learners themselves.  Looking at the major trends in education in the past 5 years one would note that all require significant changes—and thus learning by the educators—to implement in a sustainable and consistent manner. Whether it be technology topics such as personal technological devices, cloud computing, game-based learning or augmented reality approaches, the classrooms that we have today will need to be significantly changed to meet these demands (Johnson, Smith, Levine, & Haywood, 2011).

Again, the brutal facts are that the internet has made our lives easier in some respects and more complex in others.  This resource will drive us to revisit how we teach, learn and run our lives as many learners have realized that we can and want to learn, both individually and collaboratively, anywhere and everywhere (Johnson, Smith, Levine, & Haywood, 2011).  Strong learning organizations must recognize that culturally, steps must be taken to allow people to work together effectively and that the organization itself is willing to support this process (Brandt, 2003).

As Walt Kelly stated on his 1970 earth day poster, “Yep son, we have met the enemy and he is us” (as cited by White, 2008, para. 11).  The same holds true for education.  Schools mustcome together and recognize that the organizations are stronger as a whole than as a segmented collection of independent educators.

One Change

As mentioned earlier, it is this writer’s belief that schools must more aggressively become centers of innovation and become true learning organizations. As a rule, humans love to learn and gain great amounts of satisfaction from learning something new.  Humans are also very social and learn, faster and more effectively with more pleasure if we learn by helping others (Svinivki & McKeachie, 2011). Thus, it is this writer’s contention that schools need to shift their learning paradigm to become a learning organization and support this idea with focused, ongoing and sustained support.

Cohen notes that,

“A paradigm is a standard model, a set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices in which a community shares their reality. It establishes regulations and boundaries” (Cohen, N.D.).

If schools are to create this paradigm they must realize that incentive structures must be built to help facilitate the creation and on-going development of a learning organization. Schools must set learning goals for all members of the organization and communicate about those goals regularly. Data analysis of all types must be part of the educational norms of an organization and expansion of an institutional knowledge base must be encouraged to allow for expanded capacity to learn together.  Schools must be open to feedback from their students, from the parents, community member, and from the internal community.  The schools must be poised to continuously make the systems in place for the students better, more effective and more efficient – building a school that is supportive and professionally enhancing (Brandt, 2003).

Brandt wrote,

“Learning organizations are ‘open systems” sensitive to the external environment, including social, political, and economic conditions” (2003, p. 16).

Whether it be an independent international school like the one in which the writer works, or a large unified public school system in the states, it is imperative that school build structures for building internal capacity to address the multiple challenges of change that are faced around the world.



Betts, B. (2007, December). The Principals Training Center. Retrieved November 11, 2011, from PTC Resources:

Brandt, R. (2003). Is this school a learning organization; 10 ways to tell. Journal of Staff Development , 24 (1), 10-16.

Cohen, A. (N.D.). 21st century educational paradigms and today’s ttudents. Miami Beach, Florida, USA.

Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great. New York, New York: HarperCollins.

Cooper, H. (2003). Summer Learning Loss: The Problem and Some Solutions. Children’s Research Center. Champaign, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education.

Johnson, L., Smith, R., Levine, A., & Haywood, K. (2011). The 2011 Horizon Report. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Svinivki, M., & McKeachie, W. J. (2011). McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. Thirteenth Edition. Belmont, CA, USA: Wadsworth.

White, M. (2008). I go Pogo. Retrieved November 11, 2011, from We have met the enemy… and he is us:


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Peanut Butter Banned!

I saw this post by Steve Toback from CBS Money Watch Today titled “10 Strategies that Kill a Companies — and Careers”.

He writes…

The “peanut butter” strategy. Who can forget Yahoo senior VP Brad Garlinghouse’s now famous Peanut Butter Manifesto, a scorching indictment of a company lacking cohesive focus and spreading itself too thin across too many opportunities? Who knew it would be so predictive of the company’s strategy, or lack thereof, through two completely unique CEO regimes, Jerry Yang and Carol Bartz?


Does your school do this?  Like the peanut butter banned in most schools these days as it has some VERY detrimental effects on student’s well being… I think that the “peanut butter strategy” also has some pretty big implications on student learning and their well-being– not to mention the mental health of the faculty, staff and administration!


Thank you to for the photo!


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College and Career Readiness? Do we Need to Clear the Path?

Looking south from Top of the Rock, New York City

Image via Wikipedia

The entry is cross-posted on Leadertalk.

In recent months tremendous amounts of discourse have surrounded the topic of college and career readiness for students graduating from secondary schools around the United States and the world. A recent eSchool News report noted that the Metlife report, titled The Metlife Survey of the American Teacher: Preparing Students for College and Careers shows a disagreement in constituency groups on readiness factors, readiness priorities and the challenge of remediation upon acceptance into colleges and universities (para.1). The 27th annual series is commissioned by Metlife and conducted by the company Harris Interactive (para. 28).

Not argued among the experts and the participants in the Metlife survey is the fact that education and career readiness is a priority. Instead, the argument is whether post-secondary education is a necessity among America’s youth. What does need to be addressed are the skills needed to be successful in post-secondary education and in careers, and how to restructure kindergarten through twelve curriculum to address this perceived skill deficiency.

College success is a clear expectation

Clearly students today have high expectation of going to college. According to the Metlife study, only 57% of students in 1988 said it was likely that they would go to college while today that expectation has risen to 75% (p. 2). Today’s middle school students appear to be even more goal oriented. 76% of middle school students who participated in the national survey want and are expected to pursue a bachelor’s degree or higher (p.9). The report also notes that there is clearly no disagreement among any of the constituency groups about the need for higher education, noting that….


“both students and Fortune 1000 executives believe that there will be few or no career opportunities for today’s middle school and high school students who do not complete some education beyond high school” (p.4).


The division of opinion begins with the classroom teachers. All teachers will openly admit that the goal for each and every student is to graduate ready for careers and post-secondary education. Yet, on average, teachers report that 63% of their students will need remediation in order to be successful in post-secondary education.


The skill set for college and career success

When analyzing the skills necessary for college and career readiness a common theme emerges. Cassel notes in that Fortune 500 companies see a set of thirteen common job skills. The first five consist of teamwork skills, problem solving skills, interpersonal skills, oral communications skills and listening skills. Near the bottom of the list of thirteen skills are reading, writing, organization skills, and computation (p.222).

The current high school diploma requirements are rooted in long standing curriculum. Even in 1918, the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education created a report, which looked at this issue. The Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education at that time set a list of clear criteria in which to measure high school curriculum. They proposed a set of main objectives including: “(1)health; (2)command of fundamental processes (reading, writing, arithmetical computations and the elements of oral and written expression”, which at the time were in priority order as organized by the president of Harvard as well as professors and teachers (Wiggins, 2011, p.29).

The Metlife study notes that in “American society overall, there is a growing sense of urgency to prepare more students for careers in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM) fields and as global citizens who understand the related challenges for society, security and the economy” (p. 11). According to Davis and Shih, the kindergarten through twelve mathematics curriculum alone has changed significantly, and thus the students themselves are developing a new set of skills that challenge the colleges and universities to add more statistics courses, more calculus classes and add coursework that is rooted in “applications and other representations, besides symbolic ones” (p.344). Davis and Shih also note that the levels and content of mathematics taken at the high school level is an important predictor of academic success for students later in their education (p.343).

Currently, the curriculum at the high school level clearly defines what is the United States high school diploma. According to Grant Wiggins, the high school curriculum does “great harm” to “the arts, the technical arts and trades, and the social sciences”. There has been a decline in vocational programs across the United States, and we are now seeing a decline in visual and performing arts as well (p.31).



It clearly appears that restructuring the secondary curriculum is an important first step to building the foundation for student’s success in post secondary education. With so many teachers reporting that their students will need remediation to be successful in colleges and universities, the need for an examination of the curriculum and the standards appears to be a logical next step. Clarity is needed around what is college and career readiness. The Metlife study defines college ready as “prepared for additional ‘study’” while “career ready [students] are ready to join the work force” (p.14). What a workforce in the future looks like remains to be seen, but it is clear the demands of our graduates will change over time. Instead, I agree with Wiggins when he states that the curriculum be designed backwards from what is considered “the vital human capacities needed for successful adulthood regardless of school or job” (p.33)

Interestingly, the divide in opinion as to the college and career readiness skill set is quite interesting. High school curriculum has been determined through a political process and the individuals who determined the curriculum may have a vested interest in the outcome (Wiggins, p. 30). Clearly the disconnect between kindergarten through high school education leaders and the business world is evident and the Metlife study illuminates this point. Looking at the spectrum of important skills and knowledge for college and career readiness, problem solving, critical thinking, oral and written communications are all important. Also important to all study participants are the ability to work independently and work in teams. Where the study participants differ in their views rests in the curricular topics themselves. Only 31% of the Fortune 1000 executives believe that higher-level science is absolutely essential or very important. Only 8% of these same individuals believe that higher-level mathematics is absolutely essential or very important.

The evolution of the idea of a basic skill set for college and career readiness needs to be pushed. A common set of core curriculum standards needs to be adopted, but the adoption needs to be done boldly with an eye on the reality of a changing world.




Cassel, R. N. (1998). Career readiness for the communications age based on fortune 500 job-skill needs. Journal of Instructional Psychology.


Davis, J. D., & Shih, J. C. (2007). Secondary options and post-secondary expectations: Standards-based mathematics programs and student achievement on college mathematics placement exams. School Science and Mathematics, 107 (8), 336-346.


eSchool Media. (2011, March 8). Stakeholders differ on college and career readiness. eSchool News . Bethesda, Maryland:


Wiggins, G. (2011). A Diploma Worth Having. Educational Leadership , 68 (6), 28-33.



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Promise: I will NEVER be the Keeper of the Nightmare

Keepers of the Nightmare are among us. You know the ones. They have other names that they hide behind like “Organizational Historian” or “Veteran“.  Not to say that Organizational Historians or Veterans are necessarily Keepers of the Nightmare, but they just use those names for cover.  They say things and do things that bring us DOWN to the struggles of the past instead of lifting us UP to the celebrations of overcoming adversity and obstacles. 

Ryan Bretag, in his blog Metanoia writes in his blog post titled “We Did That…”

Here is an exceptionally easy way to kill innovation and positive movement in your school: tell people “we did that __ years ago”.

He goes on to write…

The choice is yours:
  1. Kill possibilities by proclaiming how that was tried in the past or done already
  2. Give life to possibilities by being a leader and mentor that builds upon the past instead of using it as an excuse

Don’t be the Keeper of the Nightmare.  I promise I won’t.

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