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We Should Not Try to Raise Graduation Rates

I saw a stat about a public school that raised graduation rates from 55% to 82%.

Here’s the problem: raising graduation rates in most situations means “We found a way to get kids to sit in their chairs longer!”

We need to change school, not keep kids in their seats longer.

A high school graduation means a kid sat in a chair for a certain number of hours.

When are we going to start talking about how to make sure kids are ready for life after high school?

Teach to Mastery not Test Scores

It's always good to review great TED talks. Here's one by Sal Khan.

Even though this conversation has been going on for years, we are still, by and large, still doing school the same way we have always done it.

What will it take for us to move to a mastery or competency-based system? We need to have the conversations.

The hard part is that it is hard. It takes effort for teachers, who already work hard, to do things differently. To stop trying to cover, and start trying to ensure mastery.

A real question is, what happens when kids start to master things?

They start to believe they can do it.

Can you imagine if all kids started to believe they could learn anything?

Change School First Day Feedback

I joined Change School.

It is on it's 7th cohort of changemakers.

It's run by Modern Learners, of the popular same-titled podcast. Which means that Will Richardson, Bruce Dixon, Melissa Emler, and Lyn Hylt are running the show.

Change School promises to help you master the modern leadership skills that lead to relevant, sustainable change for your students.

You see, if you've been reading my blog, or listening to my podcast, you know that I don't have traditional educational views.

It's been really hard for me to find community around my beliefs about education, which is why I started my podcast over five years ago. It's why I still continue it. It's why I have started hosting masterminds.

You see, sometimes, I feel like I am crazy when I talk about education with most people. It's refreshing to talk with others who can see things differently.

First day, I have two takeaways from Change School:

  1. It's course-like, but not a typical course. It's more like a community that has a course, too.
  2. It's not about solving the problem, it's about having the conversations so that you can solve the problem.

This is right up my alley. I really enjoyed the process today.

I was invited to join and offered to be an affiliate for the program. The link above is not an affiliate link.

21st Century Education #aste19

When I first started teaching, anytime someone said 21st century education they were pretty much talking about technology.

Now that we have technology everywhere, I've learned that technology, big surprise, is not the savior of education we thought it was years ago.

Don't get me wrong, it certainly enables a lot of great things, but as I see kids on technology more and more, I see that we as adults are missing three things that are exceptionally important to our success as a society. We need to have these three things focused on kids:

  1. Patience
  2. Trust
  3. Process

These three keys are existing in pockets around the country. In order for our schools to be successful, these are the three most important attributes for adults to gain.

I'm giving a short keynote on this on Monday at the ASTE conference in Anchorage.

When an IEP Leaves Out the Individual

My first exposure to an Individualized Education Program (IEP for short) occurred my first year teaching when I had a student on an IEP.

Except, it wasn’t.

The IEP dictated that the student, who needed help with reading, was pulled from my Language Arts class, and put into a resource class. That student then was plugged into the district’s reading program, which was much touted because it was research-based.

When I inquired how his goals were determined, I learned that they were taken from a drop-down menu that the district supplied to ensure that all goals were “in compliance” based on an audit that was done the previous year.

I asked the special education teacher why they were using the reading program and not adjusting the grade-level instruction to meet the student’s needs, and he explained that the district program made it really easy to report progress and performance for that student.

I asked more about the program, wondering if maybe I should use it for my whole class, because there were a lot of students who were low but didn’t qualify for an IEP. He said that wouldn’t really be a good idea, because the program is very scripted, and it is pretty boring. Most of the kids didn’t like it that much, and he spent a lot of time keeping them on task with the scripted program.

In what is supposed to be the most individualized education program in our system, a student with specially-designed instruction “tailored” for his special needs, I quickly learned that Special Education is really about enrolling kids in programs and doing work that makes it easier for adults.

I thought, “That’s weird. I wonder why our school does it this way.” How naive I was.

I have since learned that nearly everyone does special education this way. I will freely admit, there are a few people I have met along my way that really did individualize things for students. But, sadly, they are saddled with expectations and programs that the district has invested in and is unwilling to give up.

Here’s a scenario, when a student came into the middle school I taught at, and needed special ed support in reading, they were given two options:

  1. Regular reading class
  2. Resource reading class (using a mandated, usually scripted, program)
  3. Study skills

Every student who needed help in reading got those three choices.

Now, how is that individualized?

Spoiler alert: it’s not!

People often argue that the goals are what make it individualized. But those aren’t individualized when they are chosen from a drop-down menu and aligned (for easy reporting for the adults) to the scripted curriculum.

Now, lest you think that I have all the answers, I don’t, my own daughter has at least 13 goals on her IEP. Thankfully, many of those are specific to her. But, how in the world is she going to keep track of and accomplish 13 different goals! Another spoiler, she’s not!

Our kids deserve better than what we are giving them.

We need to really make our IEPs individualized education programs.

Setting Goals as a Family

Each week, my family sets goals. This year, we started setting monthly and yearly goals.

This process takes about 5 minutes each week, and about 10 minutes the first week of a month.

It's really powerful, and helps us know what each person is working on throughout the year.

We set a family goal each month, as well.

Here's a picture of it of the tracking sheet.

Our Monthly Family Goal Setting Sheet. I want my kids to be able to dream big, so we set weekly, monthly and yearly goals together. We celebrate the successes and failures.

Our Monthly Family Goal Setting Sheet. I want my kids to be able to dream big, so we set weekly, monthly and yearly goals together. We celebrate the successes and failures.

Another fun group game: Celebrate the Failure of Counting from 1 to 20

In this game, players stand in a circle and need to count from 1 to 20, determining who says the next number by body actions. When someone messes up (the wrong person says a number, or someone doesn't say a number when they should, or doesn't do the correct action), then everyone celebrates the failure.

In the first round, a person starts by saying the number 1 and puts her hand on her left shoulder, indicating that the next person to go is the person on her left.

The person to her left says the number 2 and then indicates by putting her hand on her shoulder which way the counting should go.

You do this until you get to 20. This is actually pretty simple, and probably fairly easy to do.

In round 2, the person puts her hand on her left shoulder and that means the person to the right of her says the next number, and so on.

In subsequent rounds you keep adding complications so that it is more challenging to determine who goes next.

Each failure results in starting over from 1, with the person who failed.


The Pointer: Point at someone other than your neighbor with two hands and ten fingers, only on prime numbers (or even numbers, or multiples of 5).

The Neighbor: The person to the right of the person saying the number determines the next person to give the next number.

The Color Wheel: The counting goes counter-clockwise based on what color someone determines will say the next number. For example, Sarah says the number 1 and the color purple. The next person around the circle counter-clockwise who is wearing purple says 2, and so on.

Animal Cards: Give each player an animal, and while counting, a player needs to identify who goes next by the animal they have.

Anything else you can think of!

I learned this game while playing it at a meeting with Ed Elements.

There is no good reason for the question of graduation to go down to the wire.

It's spring semester, most everywhere in the USA. Some schools may be doing trimesters, so the last marking period hasn't started yet.

Either way, Seniors at this point should know if they are graduating or not.

Inevitably, in a few months, there will be some high school seniors who worry whether or not they will graduate.

This is crazy to me. The student has been in the system for 12.5 years (at least) at this point. How can their status be in jeopardy still?

It seems to me that it is one of two reasons:

  1. We have a ridiculously silly and antiquated system of determining graduation that can essentially erase 12.5 years of work with one teacher's opinion of a student.
  2. We, as the adults, are not doing our job of ensuring that each student is ready and aware of graduation status.

If you are a high school administrator, and your students don't know right now exactly what they need to do graduate in just a few months, you are failing those kids. At this point, graduation should be a known event.

There is no good reason for the question of graduation to go down to the wire.