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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Competing in a Global Society - A Meeting in Columbia

I had promised some comments on a meeting I attended in Columbia, SC in November. Comments have been delayed because I couldn't decide how to handle statements made by South Carolina's Superintendent of Education, Mick Zais. I have now decided to follow the old rule, "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything". I will say it took  guts for the Superintendent to appear before a lot of business and educators to make his comments.

In addition to the Superintendent, there were several local and national speakers. Dr. Yong Zhao, University of Oregon and Jamie Vollmer, author of Schools Cannot Do It Alone  would probably be considered the "Headliners", but the day was full of many great speakers. Boeing, Michelin North America, Milliken & Company, and AT&T had representatives explain how those companies are helping public education and how it is in the best interest of every company in South Carolina to join them. Former SC Governor and Secretary of Education Dick Riley and SC State Senator Hugh Leatherman were on a panel discussion.  A favorite speaker was Ms. Lucy Beckham, Wando High School Principal and also the National Principal of the Year. One of her topics was how Wando helped land the Boeing Plant.

The meeting also served as a kick-off for the school superintendents' Vision for Public Schools. The web site showcasing the vision was developed by Rock Hill's Jason Broadwater. A neat aspect of the web site is that you can add your comments on what you think the vision should be. Click here to visit the web site. If you believe in the vision for public schools, click here to endorse it.

The meeting was moderated by Rock Hill School Superintendent, Dr. Lynn Moody, who was also largely responsible for pulling all the participants together.

My take-away notes:

  • No country in the world educates as diverse a group of students as the United States.
  • Even the countries that perform better on standardized tests benchmark our education system.
  • We don't have a people problem. Our education system model is basically the same as it was in the 1800's, a system that was not designed to graduate 100% of the students. If we want to graduate more, and we certainly do, we must change the model. In 1967, 77% of the available jobs did not require a high school education. Today that number is 13%. In a few years it will be 6%. Teachers must be part of the solution in changing the model.
  • We all acknowledge that children learn at a different pace, but the one fixture of education is that we hold the time for education constant - so the quality becomes variable. If we want everyone to succeed, we need to make the time variable and hold the quality constant.
  • Schools need to build a conversation. Stop the fear-fault-blame. It will take everyone at all levels. Parents need to be able to trust their schools and schools need to build an understanding and permission to support change.
  • Shift  discussion to the positive. Share success stories and the amazing works of the district. Take the discussion to the community, not just in the schools. Utilize; school signs; restaurant place mats; posters in stores; business networks; and online videos. Have a new message every week.
  • Sustain the effort. This is for the long haul and needs to be part of the job of education.
  • Start - Do It Now!

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