Archive for the ‘White Papers’ Category

My Proposed Education Platform for Bernie Sanders

May 15, 2015 Comments off

I live in New Hampshire, the state that holds the first presidential primary in the nation. The presidential election is one years from November, but because we hold the “first-in-the-nation” status NH is being visited by potential presidential candidates from both parties who are making an effort to differentiate themselves from each other and from the candidates running on the opposite party. After working in public education in six different states for over 35 years, serving as a consultant in several VT and NH districts for the past two years, and writing this blog for over three years, I have some thoughts on what an ideal education platform might look like. I also have some ideas on where the funds might come from to pay for the ideas incorporated in these “planks”, which I will include at the conclusion of each of the three posts. 

In September or 2014 I posted my ideal education platform over a three day period, written as if it were being presented by ANY candidate…. but the document I posted was actually drafted using the document below that I sent to Bernie Sanders chief of staff. I had an opportunity to have an “elevator talk” with Bernie on the issue of privatization following a gathering in my home town and I am 100% confident he is opposed to the privatization of public education and he understands that privatization is the ultimate goal of hedge fund investors.

I welcome any feedback or editorial comments you might want to offer. In a blog post Jeff Bryant wrote in September of 2014 he asserted that “Both anecdotal information and empirical data drawn from surveys confirm that voters don’t just value public education; they want candidates who will support classroom teachers and oppose funding cuts to public schools”. If that is true in November 2014, I have reason to believe it will be even more so in 2016. Here is the education platform I sent to Bernie Sanders, the only declared candidate to date who is likely to consider it:

Overarching messages

  • Return governance of public schools to state and local school boards: No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have stripped state and local boards of their ability to define their curriculum and establish accountability measures. They mandated a de facto national curriculum and de facto national standardized tests. These national tests are designed so that most local schools will be defined as “failing”, paving the way for them to be taken over by for-profit charter chains. If elected I will appoint a Secretary of Education who will immediately suspend Race to the Top and all standardized tests mandated by the federal government. This will help restore governance to State and local school boards and diminish the impact of standardized tests on public schools.
  • Restore dignity to the teaching profession: By increasing the number of for-profit charter schools and supporting de-regulation, the US Department of Education has effectively expanded the number of untrained and non-certified teachers in our classrooms. If elected I will insist that States and local boards employ only highly qualified teachers by penalizing states that fail to do enforce regulations requiring certified teachers in every classroom so and offering scholarships to teachers who seek certification in areas where highly qualified teachers are scarce.
  • Eliminate all public funding to for profit and religiously affiliated K-12 schools: Public education was never intended to be profit driven. Nor was public education intended to incorporate religious training. Boards of education who oversee public schools funded by taxpayers are answerable to the public and, like all public institutions, cannot make a profit or advocate for religion. That is how it should be. For-profit schools do not answer to the public: they answer to shareholders. Religiously affiliated schools do not answer to the public: they answer to an unelected governing board who share a common religious perspective. We should not allow taxpayers dollars to line the pockets of shareholders or teach our children that one religion is superior to another. If elected I will stop the flow of taxpayer dollars to shareholders and to religious instruction of any kind.
  • Give EVERY child a chance to succeed in public schools: Our current education system punishes students born in the wrong zip code. Some of my opponents want to offer vouchers to students so they can choose better schools than those found in their neighborhood. But those same opponents want to make sure those vouchers cannot be used to attend a school in a nearby town or neighborhood where wealthy children live. We cannot sustain the American Dream of economic advancement for each succeeding generation unless we make sure the most financially challenged school districts in our nation have the same services, courses, and facilities as the most financially blessed school districts in our nation. If elected, I will advocate that we allocate federal funds in such a way that we can restore the American Dream.
  • Reinforce the notion that public education is a right and not a consumer item. My opponents want to provide parents with vouchers and a wealth of “data” so they can “choose” a public school they way they choose laundry detergent. Our President and my opponents want to provide college bound students with “data” on public and private college costs so they can choose a college the same way. Here’s what’s wrong with that idea: public education is NOT a consumer item. It is a right that every citizen should have. Over the past three decades have redirected public funds away from education and toward businesses. If elected I will recommend legislation that creates incentives for state legislatures to restore public education funding and post-secondary funding to 1980 levels.

Public Education through Grade 12

  • Provide up to 50% of the funds needed to offer full day voluntary pre-kindergarten programs to children raised in poverty. Researchers, teachers, school board members, and politicians all know that the first five years of life are crucial. We’ve known this for decades but we have done nothing to help financially struggling parents provide support for their children and we have provided only minimal federal support for the health, education, and welfare of children born in the wrong zip code. If elected I will recommend to Congress that the federal government match the funds raised by any state that offers voluntary full-day pre-kindergarten programs to children born in poverty.
  • Redirect all Federal funds to constitutionally underfunded districts: Over the past several decades all but five states have been sued over inequities in school funding. At the same time federal funds have been allocated to every district in the country, even the most affluent. If elected I will take steps to see that in states where legislatures have not responded to court decisions calling for changes to the funding systems, all federal funds, including funds for handicapped children in affluent districts, will be redirected to those districts that state courts identify as being short-changed. If State legislatures fail to provide every child with an equal opportunity, the federal government has a responsibility to do so.
  • Fully fund Special Education: My Vermont colleague, the late Jim Jeffords championed full funding for the federal government’s share of the special education services they mandated and withdrew from his party when President Bush did not keep his promise to include full funding for special education in the No Child Left Behind legislation. Every school board member, school administrator, teacher, parents, and taxpayer wants to see this promise kept. If elected I will submit a budget that calls for full funding of the federal government’s share of special education and make certain that any legislation that increases federal special education funding will have a hold-harmless provision to make certain the additional federal funds provided to school districts are used to improve instruction.
  • Revise the Common Core: Recent actions by state legislatures (g. Texas) and local school boards (e.g. Jefferson County, CO) underscore the need for a common set of standards for education. The Common Core, underwritten by extraordinarily wealthy businessmen, was developed in response to this legitimate need. Unfortunately, the Common Core was developed without any meaningful input from classroom teachers and, to make matters worse, once it was issued the authors of the Common Core were not responsive to the revisions recommended by teachers, academics, and child psychologists. We should not scrap the Common Core because we need to make certain that students across the country learn the facts about health, science, and history. But instead of unilaterally imposing these standards from Washington, we should use the Common Core as the basis for the development of a standard curriculum for each state. If elected I will require each state to create Standards Teams to use the Common Core as the basis for the creation of a rigorous but realistic set of State standards. The Standards Teams will include curriculum content experts from state universities, representative classroom teachers, and developmental psychologists.
  • Discontinue the use of standardized tests as the primary metric for rating schools. By now parents, teachers and voters are fully aware of the misuse of standardized testing in our public schools. They realize how demoralizing this testing is for teachers, school communities, and—most dishearteningly— for students. The use of standardized achievement tests to rate schools is narrowing the curriculum by pushing out subjects that cannot be tested inexpensively. This emphasis on testing dehumanizes the school by making the preparation for tests the focal point of classroom instruction. Worst of all, the testing provides the public with misleading, meaningless, and seemingly precise data that fails to measure the true value of schooling. The test results do accomplish one thing: they help persuade the public that our public schools are failing. If elected I will suspend the testing mandated by Race To The Top and issue a waiver exempting school districts from all tests mandated by No Child Left Behind. In place of these tests, I will direct the Secretary of Education to work with practitioners, post secondary institution leaders, and business leaders to devise an accountability framework that each state will use to develop their own unique means of measuring school effectiveness. One size does not fit all in the classroom, and we’ve learned the hard way that one size does not fit all in public schools.
  • Provide high speed internet to every school and every home in America. Internet access should be viewed as a public utility and should be provided to every home and school in America. Technology holds great promise in education, but it will only be a viable tool for learning when everyone has equal access to content on the web. Furthermore, any provision or regulation that allows internet and content providers to “tier” the speed of delivery will make the digital divide and the social and economic divisions even worse than they are today. We have thousands of people who need work and thousands of homes and schools that need high-speed internet access. The solution is clear: if elected I will create jobs to provide high-speed internet service to all citizens.

Post-Secondary Education

  • Reduce the interest rates on student loans to 1% above the rate the Federal Reserve charges to banks: The USDOE, loan servicers, and “too big too fail” banks are charging post-secondary students and graduates exorbitant interest rates and when the students are unable to pay the loans their credit ratings are ruined for years. Linking the student loan interest rates to the interest rates the Federal Reserve charges to banks will relieve students of their debt burden, make college more affordable, and help the economy grow. If elected I will limit the interest rate on student debts to 1% above the rate the Federal Reserve charges to banks.
  • Deny loans and grants to failing for-profit institutions: The Department of Education has aggressively supported the closure of “failing PUBLIC schools” but has done nothing to penalize propriety schools who failed to graduate a majority of students, who willfully mislead applicants and misrepresent their graduation and job placement rates, and who made arrangements with lending institutions to offer undergraduates student loans from multiple servicers. This practice has damaged the credit ratings of tens of thousands of former students and cost taxpayers billions to bail out the banks whose loans were guaranteed. If elected I will deny federal loans and grants to for-profit post-secondary institutions who made bad loans and forfeit the loans students took out to attend those schools.
  • Provide grants to States to reduce the cost of public post-secondary education institutions. Public colleges are now collecting only 3% more revenue per student as they collected 25 years ago. Yet tuition costs are skyrocketing. Why? Because the federal government has shifted the costs for many federal programs to the states

and drastically reduced federal funds. Because of this state tax burdens have increased and legislatures have responded by shifting the costs to post-secondary students by raising the tuitions of state-funded schools. This has the effect of leaving economically disadvantaged and minority students in the lurch, contributing to the inequality in our country and eroding our sense of community. EVERY child is entitled to have access to a high quality education and EVERY citizen should share in that cost. To make the cost of post-secondary education affordable I will establish revenue sharing grants with states to help lower the cost of public post-secondary education.

How Can This Be Funded?

People ask me how we can possibly pay for these initiatives. Here’s the truth of the matter: The funds we need for education are being spent elsewhere. We must use dollars now going for wars and tax breaks for businesses to fund education for the next generation of Americans. We are paying billions of dollars a year for wars and we haven’t raised a dime to cover their costs. We are currently offering millions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations and then allowing them to locate offices overseas to avoid paying income taxes. If we can raise billions for wars without raising taxes and allowing businesses to increase their profits, we should be able to raise billions for school districts to provide modern facilities, modern technology, high-speed internet connections, and MOST OF ALL, well qualified and highly dedicated teachers.  









Categories: White Papers

NCLB Waivers: A Chance to Measure What’s Important

November 14, 2011 2 comments

This White Paper was submitted to New Hampshire Commissioner of Education, Dr. Virginia Barry, on November 14, 2011

The management aphorism “What Gets Measured Gets Done” aptly describes the effects of No Child Left Behind. For the past decade, NCLB required State Departments of Education to use standardized proficiency tests as the basis for rating schools. In the minds of the politicians and the public, these tests were the most effective way to hold schools accountable for student learning. The rationale: standardized tests are easy to administer, relatively cheap, and provide an objective, numeric basis for rating schools. The seemingly precise data these tests generate also provided the media with the means to publish tables showing how schools compared with each other and how their performance varied from year-to-year.

Once school boards, administrators and teachers realized that the pass rates on these standardized tests and the data reported in the newspapers would be the basis for defining the success or failure of their schools, the focus of schooling narrowed. Elementary and middle schools concentrated on reading and mathematics, the subjects measured by the tests, in some cases leading to the elimination or reduction of other subjects like art, music and physical education. Elective programs in middle and high schools came under closer scrutiny as schools devoted more time to subjects assessed by standardized tests. Finally, because the federal law provided no incentives for the attainment of high test scores, schools paid less attention to those students whose performance met or exceeded the minimum standards, focusing instead on students who fell short of the standards, particularly those closest to the standard. What got measured got done.

The Obama administration’s decision to allow states to seek waivers to the current No Child Left Behind guidelines provides states with an opportunity to change the way they hold schools accountable for student learning.

To seize this opportunity, states will need to meet a set of requirements set forth by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; they must: adopt college-and-career ready standards and develop tests to assure students meet those standards; adopt a means of identifying the lowest performing schools in the state and develop a way to support them; develop and implement rigorous teacher and Principal evaluation systems that use student performance as a factor; and, while instituting these changes, reduce “duplicative and burdensome paperwork”. Each of these requirements involves measurement and, as we have witnessed over the past decade, what gets measured has consequences. In seeking waivers, then, it is crucial that states get the metrics right. This White Paper proposes a set of metrics that are defensible, relatively inexpensive, and potentially transformative.

College and Career Ready Standards

There is no need for any state to spend any money developing an assessment to measure “college readiness”. That assessment already exists. Upon acceptance to public universities and community colleges, most students are required to take placement tests to determine if they require remedial courses. Instead of taking these placement tests when they enroll in a post-secondary school, students who aspire to higher education could take them in October of their sophomore year. If the student passes the tests, they would be eligible for dual-enrollment in college courses during their junior and senior years in high school. If the student does not pass the placement test, they would have two years to schedule courses to help meet the “college readiness” standard defined by the tests. Ideally, the results from the placement tests would help high schools identify the competencies each student needs to attain to avoid being assigned to remedial courses when they enroll in a post-secondary school. Teachers would then be able to use this information to design courses and/or class assignments that would help each student master those competencies. The school’s “college readiness” metric would be the percentage of students who enroll in post secondary schools without requiring remedial coursework.

The development of a “career ready” metric requires the establishment of alliances between schools and employers, alliances that would help schools understand the specific competencies a student needs to enter the work force. New Hampshire, where competencies are the basis for the attainment of credits, could be a national leader in developing “career readiness” standards. Here’s how: Sophomores who do not aspire to college but instead seek work in specific career areas would confer with high school ELO Coordinators. The ELOS Coordinators who would identify nearby employers in those career areas and work with them to arrange provide work-study opportunities for high school students in their region. The ELO Coordinators would then work with the employers to define a set of competencies that constitute their “entry standards” and develop Extended Learning Opportunities that would meet those standards. School personnel would then develop courses or learning modules that, when combined with the “entry standard” ELO, would assure the student fulfills the competencies needed to meet the school’s graduation requirements. Ideally, the career bound student could find a work-study assignment that would help them enter the work force upon graduation. The “career ready” metric would be the percentage of students who meet the “entry standard” ELO agreed upon at the outset of the student’s work experience.

Ultimately, schools would be expected to have 100% of their graduates meeting either the college entry standard or the workforce entry standards set by employers. The adoption of these two metrics would require changes in high schools. Students would need to determine their interest in pursuing post-secondary education at the beginning of their sophomore year in order to provide opportunities for remediation as undergraduates. Junior and Senior courses for students aspiring to post-secondary education would have college level content for those students who pass the placement examination or targeted remediation for those student who did not pass. Schools would expand the use of ELOs in the junior and senior year for career bound students, ELOs that would guarantee that graduates have both the competencies needed for graduation and the entry-level skills sought by local and regional employers. The net result for career bound students would be an emphasis on the attainment of competencies and a corresponding de-emphasis on passing courses. Freed from teaching subject matter courses to career bound students, teachers currently assigned to those classes could work as ELO Coordinators.

Identifying and Improving Low Performing Schools

For decades results on standardized tests of all kinds have been consistent: student scores on standardized tests correlate with their parents’ level of education and household income. When NCLB required the use of standardized proficiency tests to identify “low performing schools”, it was no surprise that the great majority of those schools served students coming from low income homes. Children raised in poverty often begin Kindergarten with limited vocabularies, short attention spans, and poor social skills. This lack of school readiness results in an achievement gap that is evident from the student’s first day in school, a gap that widens and persists as students progress through the grade levels. To level the playing field in the assessment of student performance, teachers and administrators in schools with high numbers of children in poverty advocated the use of a “growth model” to measure school performance. They believed that this method of assessment, which holds schools accountable for each student’s growth over the course of a school year, would be a fairer measure of school performance. After being used in several states for as many as ten years, however, it the growth model ultimately classifies schools the same way as the traditional standardized test model[1]. For example, in Colorado, whose accountability model is currently offered as an exemplar for New Hampshire, eighteen of the nineteen schools identified as requiring a “dramatic turnaround” have free and reduced lunch counts of 60% or more with the other school in the group having over 45% of students in that category[2]. The conclusion: even if New Hampshire adopts a growth model it is highly probable that the lowest performing schools will be those that house a high percentage of free and reduced lunch students.

When the results of these “new, improved” state assessments are made public and high poverty schools are identified as “failing”, advocates of No Child Left Behind and critics of public education will contend that schools are “again using poverty as an excuse for low-test scores”. They will suggest that teachers and principals in schools serving low-income students need to work harder, focus their instruction more, and set higher expectations for their students. But the reality is that schools cannot address the inherent performance gap that results from poverty. By the time most students in New Hampshire take their first “new improved” high stakes assessment in third grade, they will have spent 95% of their life outside of public school. Given that reality, it is difficult to expect schools to increase student achievement all by themselves. There is, however, compelling evidence that when schools serving economically disadvantaged students assume a broader role in the lives of children they can get impressive results, especially when they intervene early and coordinate their efforts with other agencies. Since the households of children born in poverty often receive welfare, Medicaid, and housing support, their parents deal with a host of social service agencies. Unfortunately, the agencies providing these services do not work collaboratively with schools. Early education programs like Head Start and public pre-Kindergarten that provide economically disadvantaged students with instruction in fundamental skills are not universally available in New Hampshire and, like the other social service agencies, may not have close ties to schools.

To help all public schools demonstrate they are taking action to counteract the effects of poverty and to reinforce the message that schools cannot address those problems in isolation, the State Department of Education should require schools to collaborate with social services agencies that serve their students and require evidence that schools are striving to engage parents in their child’s education. The State Department could, for example, require schools to establish cooperative agreements with health and social services agencies and articulation agreements with pre-schools and child care centers located within their attendance zone. They could also require schools to administer surveys designed to measure the number and nature of parent outreach activities each school sponsors. Poverty is not an acceptable excuse for poor school or student performance. If economically disadvantaged students are falling short of the mark, schools need to demonstrate they are doing everything possible to overcome the obstacles to their learning.

Improving Teacher and Principal Effectiveness

States seeking NCLB waivers will need to develop guidelines to “improve teacher and principal effectiveness”, guidelines that require “frequent” evaluations and include “student growth” measures as a major factor. These waiver requirements effectively reinforce two popular myths about teacher evaluation:

  • Districts have the capacity to conduct frequent evaluations of all teachers
  • There are standardized tests that measure student growth and the results of those tests can be used to measure the effectiveness of individual teachers.

While neither of these assumptions is true, it is difficult to argue that schools cannot improve the way they evaluate principals and teachers, but the public needs to realize that the evaluation improvements required for NCLB waivers will require additional spending. Increasing the frequency of evaluations using the traditional methodology requires additional administrative staff. Designing and implementing a “value-added assessment” that measures student growth requires additional funds as well, especially if the assessments are required in all content areas at all grade levels. Given the need to fulfill these new requirements at minimal cost to the State and school districts in order to qualify for a NCLB waiver, I propose the following metrics to assess staff performance.

More frequent evaluations: Districts could increase the frequency of classroom observations at a relatively low cost by re-employing retired teachers and administrators on a contract basis. In the private sector, businesses often employ selected retirees on a part-time or full time basis as contractors. When this practice is done in combination with early retirement incentives, businesses have an opportunity to reconfigure their staffing patterns and to recruit young talent. Retirees could provide districts with a cadre of evaluators and teaching coaches making it possible to increase the frequency of observations without adding staff. Alternatively, districts could use video technology to increase the frequency of classroom observations, inviting teachers to share videos of exemplary lessons with their immediate supervisor, the Principal, or with peer evaluators. This would effectively serve the same purpose as an announced observation but would allow the “observation” to occur at a time convenient for the evaluators outside the school day. Ideally, as part of the statewide evaluation model (see next section), evaluators could use electronic tools like those recommended as part of the Marzano Causal Teacher Evaluation Model.

Measuring student growth: It is fortunate that New Hampshire s abandoning the NECAPs since virtually all researchers agree that proficiency tests like NECAPs cannot be used to measure an individual teacher’s effect on a child’s performance over time. Furthermore, research does not support the use of existing value added assessment models as the primary basis for evaluating teachers. Instead, researchers and education policy makers advocate the use of a wide array of measures to determine the effect a teacher is having on students.

Therefore, instead of using scarce resources to develop a value added measurement as the primary means of assessing teacher and administrator performance, New Hampshire should consider adopting a statewide multi-dimensional evaluation model. Such an evaluation model might include:

  • A formative computer adaptive assessment like NWEA as the measure of a teacher’s effect on an individual student’s academic achievement[3]
  • Parent and/or student questionnaires
  • Parent and/or student interviews
  • Student portfolios or other exhibitions, and
  • Peer evaluations.

When these sources of information are combined with the frequent observations cited in the previous section, administrators would have a more comprehensive picture of a teacher’s performance. An important caveat: Whatever evaluation model the state develops, it should be done in collaboration with the professional organizations in the State and should strive to recognize that good teaching is much more than achieving higher test scores.

With the implementation of the changes outlined in this extended essay in place, the measurement of Principal effectiveness would be straightforward: Did the school forge community alliances? Did the Principal collect and analyze the information provided by the multi-dimensional evaluation system? Based on surveys conducted by the Superintendent did the Principal have an effective working relationship with parents, students, and teachers? By using data beyond standardized test scores the Superintendent would have a broader perspective on the Principal’s performance.

Reducing Duplicative and Burdensome Paperwork

The metrics recommended in this essay could be implemented with a minimum amount of additional paperwork with one exception: the “entry standard” ELOs envisioned in the “career ready” metric. Paperwork associated with classroom observations is ultimately a local determination, based on contracts in each district. If computer adapted assessments are used instead of a new standardized assessment, paperwork associated with the administration of school-wide testing would also be reduced. The surveys envisioned throughout the essay can be completed on-line and made available to evaluators in that format, eliminating additional paperwork. The additional paperwork associated with the “entry level” ELO initiative could be mitigated if a grant could be obtained to provide funding for the staff and/or additional staff time required to develop a database of competency based employer ELOs. The paperwork could also be minimized id regional collaboratives like SERESC and NCES coordinate the district efforts to obtain “entry level” ELOs.

One critical caveat: the USDOE cannot expect State Departments to reduce paperwork if they require them to design and implement evaluation systems designed to sort schools and teachers into categories based on their “performance”. Recent reports on the impact of Race To The Top indicate that the teacher evaluation plans increased paperwork for administrators and effectively diminished the time they spent on informal visits to classrooms.[4] This is not surprising. Fair labor practices would require substantial documentation to dismiss or reduce the compensation of an employee who is issued a contract. Reducing paperwork, then, will especially challenging if the NCLB waivers require the State to link evaluation with compensation in any way shape or form.

Summary: The Right Metrics 

The metrics recommended in this essay would change the way schools operate at the secondary level, change the scope of school responsibilities at the elementary level, and broaden the scope of information administrators gather on classroom teachers. With the exception of the additional costs incurred to improve the current evaluation systems, the other changes outlined could be accomplished by redirecting resources. The coordination of ELOs could be assigned to teachers freed from classroom assignments. If NWEAs or another computer adaptive assessment replace a “new, improved” state assessment as a means of measuring student performance the funds required for the “new, improved” assessment for could be re-directed. Indeed, if NWEAs were adopted at the state level, districts currently funding them in their operating budgets would save money. Much of the new data needed to assess teacher and Principal effectiveness can be gathered through the use of inexpensive online surveys and by redirecting the time spent by Principals and Superintendents.

What gets measured gets done. If we want to continue narrowing the content of what is taught in public schools, narrowing the focus of public schooling, and using standardized tests to measure school performance, we should stay the course: spend money on a “new and improved” state assessment and spend time teaching to that assessment. If we want something different from schools, we should consider new metrics.


[1] Betebenner, Linn, Growth in Student Achievement: Issues of Measurement, Longitudinal Data Analysis, and Accountability

[2] School Turnarounds in Colorado, monograph by Julie Kowal and Joel Abeldinger for Donnell-Kay Foundation

3 The Kingsbury Center, NWEA’s research arm, in a 2010 memo to the Charleston County School District, cited limitations to NWEA’s use as a value added measure, expressing particular concern about that school district’s plan to base 60% of their evaluation on NWEA results. These limitations would need to be considered in determining the role NWEA results would play.

[4] Michael Winerip, “In Tennessee, Following the Rules for Evaluations Off a Cliff”, New York Times, November 6, 2011.

Reformatting New England Schools

March 30, 2011 4 comments

This was widely circulated in Vermont in Spring 2011 in response to HB 153, the school consolidation bill. 

The best way to change the existing reality is to create a new reality

that makes the old one obsolete … Buckminster Fuller

 Executive Summary

This extended essay recommends replacing the current governance, administrative and organizational structure of small rural, graded schools based on the Factory Model with “Network Education Centers” (NECs) based on a Network Model. These NECs would provide individualized instructional support for students. The students would use distance-learning resources to pursue most of their studies independently and attend periodic seminars to reinforce skills taught online and to develop crucial communication skills. Teachers would staff the NECs, where they would provide individualized instructional support to students and also help coordinate wrap-around services. Those wraparound services could include: morning and afternoon childcare; social services; medical and dental services; mental health services; and other services children need or a community wishes to provide. These NECs would be administered and governed by Regional Collaborative Centers (RCCs). The RCCs would supersede SUs and their governing boards would supersede local school boards. The RCCs would provide administrative services and technical support to the NECs. The establishment of RCCs would accomplish Vermont’s goal of consolidating school districts without necessitating the closure of schools in small communities. This essay has five sections:

  • The Factory School Model describes the current organizational and governance framework for schooling and the deficiencies with that structure.
  • The Network School Model describes a new framework for schooling that takes full advantage of the technology available today. It provides an overview of the Network Education Center (NEC), which is the primary organizational unit of the Network School model.
  • The Administration of Network Schools elaborates on how the Network Education Centers (NECs) and Regional Collaborative Centers (RCCs) would be managed.
  • The Governance of Network Schools outlines how the Network Education Centers (NECs) and Regional Collaborative Centers (RCCs) would be governed.
  • The Urgency for Change describes the political and economic factors that make the need to abandon the factory model urgent.

The Factory School Model

The governance and organizational structure of public schools has not changed significantly since 1900. Elected or appointed school boards develop policy for their town or region, adopt budgets for the public to consider, and appoint superintendents who oversee the day-to-day operations of schools. During the era when our country changed from an agrarian to industrial economy the continuation of local school boards and the hierarchical organizational structure of school districts made sense. The continuation of local school boards made sense because public schools focused on the need to prepare students in their community for either higher education or for jobs in the local and regional workplace. The organizational structure of schools, modeled after the factories and mills that served as the backbone of local economies in the 20th century, provided the most cost-effective means of sorting students for group instruction at the elementary level and for sorting students at the secondary level to determine those who would qualify for higher education and those who would enter the workforce.

In the global information economy, however, the governance and hierarchical organizational structure of public schools no longer makes sense. The mission of public education today is to ensure that all high school graduates have the skills, motivation, and self-discipline needed to become lifelong learners. To fulfill this mission, public schools can no longer cling to the factory model of schools where students are sorted into batches based on age cohorts and expected to master skills in a prescribed time frame. Today, every child must be given the time and customized instruction required for them to learn-how-to-learn, to become flexible, creative, and adaptable thinkers.

Students from economically disadvantaged homes and homes where education is not valued pose an especially difficult challenge for public schools in their efforts to provide all students with the skills needed to survive in today’s economy. When these students attend schools that lack resources, the challenge is even greater. The social services in place today to support disadvantaged students are uncoordinated, often duplicative, and, therefore, inefficient. In many instances, this lack of coordination among service agencies adds another level of complication to teachers. To achieve the ambitious public expectations for schools, teachers will need find a way to coordinate their efforts with the service providers who support students.

The Network Schools Model

The optimal way to teach someone is by tutoring. Tutors can fully engage the student by matching their instruction to the student’s ability level, unique interests, and unique way of learning. Before Skype, YouTube, and the vast array of free online video instruction that emerged in the past five years, the notion of providing a tutor for each student was inconceivable. With this abundance of free instructional resources available online, there is an opportunity to abandon the existing model for schooling and replace it with one that provides instruction in a time frame that corresponds to each student’s readiness to learn and to his or her way of learning. The Network School model assumes that each student will develop the skills needed to become a self-actualized learner by progressing through a carefully conceived sequence of learning experiences. The grid on the last page contrasts the Network School and the Factory School in a number of dimensions. The broad goals of the Network School are provided below:

  • Pre-K through Grade 8: Provide individualized skill instruction (i.e. reading; writing; fundamental mathematics; factual content in science and social studies; etc.); provide small group instruction on oral communication, social skills, team building, and, where deemed most efficient, in content skill instruction; provide coordinated wraparound services needed for students and families. The ultimate goal of Pre-K to Grade 8 instruction is to ensure students have the skills needed to design independent studies and participate in seminar courses at the secondary level.
  • Secondary: Provide a means for students to complete self-designed independent study courses using a combination of online resources and seminar sessions in lieu of traditional direct classroom instruction. Also, during this phase of their schooling students could be released from studies to complete community service projects to help them see how they will be able to contribute to their communities’ well being.
  • Overarching Goal: The hybrid instruction offered by network schools will focus on the skills needed for each student to learn-how-to-learn, to be an independent thinker, to be a compassionate community member, and to determine the path he or she intends to follow upon graduation.

In the network school model, a Network Education Center or NEC replaces the school building. The mission of the NEC is to provide coordinated support services for each child in the community. The NEC could serve as the yearlong and before-and-after school child-care facility for the community. It could provide office space for social workers, medical providers, and other non-profit agencies that serve youth. The NEC could also serve as the technology resource center for those students or community members who do not as yet have ready access to the internet, or it could serve as the town library. Each community would be free to define the scope of services provided in the NEC. By determining the services at the local level, it will be easier to coordinate those services and eliminate duplicate or overlapping services.

Administration of Network Schools

Individual Network Education Centers (NECs) would require minimal oversight to function. The NEC administrator would be responsible for coordinating the services provided in the facility, including the oversight of instruction provided to students. In small rural NECs, the administrator might also serve as a teacher or case manager. The NECs would be managed by a Regional Collaborative Center that would provide them with technological and administrative support.

The RCC’s technological support could take the form of managing and administering the technology infrastructure required to provide online learning opportunities to all students. That technology infrastructure would include the management of data warehouses and the development of reports drawn from instructional software.

The RCC’s administrative support could include:

  • Budgeting (e.g., budget development, purchasing, payroll, issuing reports, auditing)
  • Personnel management (e.g., hiring staff for NECs, negotiating and administering RCC-wide contracts)
  • Compliance monitoring for state and federal guidelines (e.g., completing required state reports, ensuring all compliance with all standards), and
  • Logistics (building maintenance; transportation; bulk purchases, supply storage, etc.)

Executive Directors who would perform the tasks currently handled by Superintendents would lead the RCCs. They would report to an RCC Board (see Governance section, below) and serve as liaison to the State Departments that provide education, health and social services to students.

Governance of Network Schools

The governance of public schools in Vermont and New Hampshire is archaic, inefficient, and ineffective. Two factors complicate efforts to reform the current structure. The first, as discussed in earlier sections of this paper, is the notion that schools operate like factories with “graduates” being the product and standardized tests administered to age-based cohorts the basis for quality control. The second complicating factor is the view that the town is the primary unit of governance. This town-centric perspective when combined with the factory school model contributes to inefficiencies such as the duplication of administrative services, low pupil teacher ratios and the resulting high per pupil costs. The town-centric perspective also results in small secondary schools that cannot offer a wide array of courses to their students, disparities in the tax bases between districts, complicated transfers of payment among districts, and wildly disparate learning opportunities for students.

The implementation of the network school model would necessitate a change from the current governance structures, moving away from the town-centric perspective toward a regional perspective. As noted in the previous section, Network Education Centers (NECs), which take the place of “schools,” are managed by Regional Collaborative Centers (RCCs). Instead of having multiple elected boards governing independent school districts, elected board members drawn from the catchment area would govern the RCCs. Instead of being governed by elected boards, the NECs would develop advisory councils to help determine the scope of services to be provided in each town.

The RCC catchment areas could be defined voluntarily. They might defined by existing vocational center boundaries, by existing regional collaborative boundaries, by existing social agency boundaries, or by county boundaries. Large single town or city districts who are not involved in formal tuition agreements with neighboring towns would replace their elected schools boards with elected RCC boards, thereby facilitating coordination of services among various agencies serving children.

Urgency for Change

The network school model is evolving in adult learning and among home school parents who have withdrawn their children from public schools. In job-site training, webinars are replacing seminars and remote links are replacing large group meetings. Many graduate schools offer asynchronous online courses in place of the traditional courses offered only on campus in the past. Home school parents are using inexpensive online lessons that engage their children. They are also accessing free instructional materials in every content area at all levels. Through social media home school parents can arrange ad hoc opportunities for their children to connect with their peers to work and play together.

While this evolution toward network schooling is taking place outside public education, we who work in public schools spend countless hours debating over how many desks to have in each room, which textbooks to buy, and how much to pay our employees. Our students have cell phones with apps and we have blackboards and worksheets. Given the pervasiveness of online learning, the gutting of programs in public schools, and the limited revenues on the horizon, it is easy to envision a future where homeschoolers abound and the cost per student gets even higher.

Electronic learning is here now. We need to begin talking about how we can make it a reality in our schools.

Factory School

Networked School

Purpose of Schooling Finding an appropriate vocation: “…develop in each individual the knowledge, interests, ideals, habits, and powers whereby he will find his place and use that place to shape both himself and society toward ever nobler ends” Becoming a self-actualized learner, independent thinker, and compassionate member of society

Student Grouping

Age cohorts By mastery cohorts, if at all
School Organization By grade levels By mastery cohorts

Rate of instruction

Mean rate of cohort Individualized: Based on Student Learning Profile (SLP) developed by parents, instructor(s), and, if applicable, case manager
Method of instruction Approach that meets the needs of majority of cohort Individualized: Based on SLP developed as above
Delivery of instruction Large Group based on common text(s) Individualized: web-based, tutorial, and small group

Motivational Theory

School-wide system of rewards and punishment Individualized: Based on SLP developed as above

Definition of Intelligence

Velocity: The rate of learning Capacity: The amount a student learns

Basis for Student Assessment

Norm Referenced: Comparative ranking based on rate of learning as measured by tests 

Academic: All student performance measures based solely on academic

Criterion Referenced: Mastery of learning objectives defined in SLP developed as aboveHolistic: Student SLPs would incorporate some means of measuring “self-actualization, independent thinking, and compassion”

Basis for School Assessment

Norm Referenced:Comparative ranking based on percentage of students scoring above minimum cut score Criterion Referenced:Description of services, standardized report on parent, student satisfaction

Daily Schedule

Six hours for all Customized, flexible

School calendar

Agrarian for all Customized, flexible

Provision of Social Services to Students

Fragmented – Each agency gathers student information independently, treats student in isolation Integrated – Teacher/case manager serves as single point of contact, teams with other providers to share information, provide integrated services

Implicit Values

Compliance, conformity, competition, consumerism Independence, initiative, interdependence, introspection