Thursday, August 23, 2007
Monday, August 13, 2007
Barrier to bold reform, part two
For the complete article (subscription required), go here; for a (free) synopsis, go here.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
The upside of less education funding
I’ve been thinking more about the likely prospect of reduced funding for education in the future (as introduced here). And here’s the question – would it be such a bad thing? In fact, could less funding actually save the institution of public education?
I believe strongly that public schools are the public’s schools, to quote David Mathews of the Kettering Foundation. What that means is that our schools are intended to be a means to an end which is determined, and paid for, by the public. Simply put, schools are service providers, and we – all of us – are the customers.
But that’s not the current dynamic. Schools and districts generally do not consider themselves in service to the public, and that’s clear from the hue and cry over any sort of independent accountability (which at heart seeks to demonstrate a return on the billions of dollars in federal grants – something the public has a right to see) to the lack of simple courtesy one would show to any customer (see here).
The reason for this disconnect, I believe, is the funding model. If schools and districts were funded directly by the public, I expect they’d be extremely responsive to the public’s interests, involvement, and oversight. However, since the government serves as an intermediary – the public gives money to the government, and the government gives it to the schools – there’s no direct link between the public and the money they provide to the public education system. Schools are not responsive to the public; they’re responsive to the bureaucracy that authorizes their funding.
In light of that, think about what would happen if government funding was cut back. I assume that schools and districts wouldn’t just accept the reduced funding – more likely, they’d reach out to the public to make up the difference. They’d ask parents, PTA/PTO groups, community organizations, businesses and business coalitions, higher education institutions, and everyone else to make up the difference. And that support would come in the form of not only cash but also volunteers and mentors of all stripes, free goods and services, and expertise in all areas – both instructional and operational.
Sure, that’s going on to some degree already. But according to a survey we conducted earlier this year, nearly two-thirds of schools (63.7%) received less than $25,000 worth of support from the community in the last 12 months. And “support” includes all forms of support – cash as well as the value of donated time, goods, services, and expertise.
So what if instead of simply seeking a little pocket money from the community, a school needed to solicit $500,000 in order to make up a 20% shortfall in a $2.5 million budget?
To raise this kind of money from the community, schools would have to become consumer-facing organizations. Schools can raise small amounts (like $25K/year or less) pretty much by just sticking out their hands and asking. But to solicit $500,000, they’d have to take the same steps as other nonprofits: set goals that their donors can get behind (or that their donors set for them), operate with complete transparency, track their efforts and report on outcomes, and work tirelessly to build donor relations by communicating regularly, clearly, and courteously.
These hypothetical budget cuts would, in effect, force schools and districts to think of the public as their patrons and act accordingly. (Of course, they’ve been patrons all along, but the funding model masked this fact.) The public schools would once again need to act like the public’s schools in order to remain financially strong.
The shift I’m describing would dramatically improve relations between schools and their stakeholders. Schools would be setting objectives based on public input, working hand-in-hand with the public on school operations (instructional and otherwise), tracking and achieving relevant outcomes, and communicating regularly with the public as true partners.
Can you think of anything that would do more to ensure the viability and vibrancy of public education in the future?
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
More diversity, less funding in education
New research by Robert Putnam ("Bowling Alone") backs up Rotherham on how growing demographic differences are going to hurt education funding. An August 5 article in the International Herald Tribune begins:
IT HAS BECOME increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength. From multicultural festivals to pronouncements from political leaders, the message is the same: our differences make us stronger.
But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam -- famous for "Bowling Alone," his 2000 book on declining civic engagement -- has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.
"The extent of the effect is shocking," says Scott Page, a University of Michigan political scientist.
Demographic trends show that America's racial mix is changing dramatically, and will continue to do so over the next 50 years. So what happens as previous generations, which are majority white, continue to age? The elderly (the most active voters), who already will be less inclined to support education given their own social needs (social security and medicare), will see a more diverse generation in the schools - and according to Putnam's work, will not be likely to support them.
What's going to happen to school bond referendums? What about the platforms of state and local politicians, including school board members - will they be pro or con on increased education spending?
The writing is on the wall - is anybody ready for a cycle of reduced funding for education, and if so, how are they preparing?
Why no ed talk for 08?
The bottom line, of course, is that the education system is a political system (since 90% of it is controlled by some level of government), and if it's not an issue, we'll either see no change or, worse yet, we'll cycle back to a period of greater stability (ie, pre-NCLB). Let's hope that state-level politics picks up the slack.
(Hat tip to EIA Intercepts for the Palm Beach Post article.)
Thursday, August 02, 2007
Customer satisfaction survey - at school?
Hats off to him - this is exactly the kind of action schools need to be taking in order to get closer to their communities.
The article can be found here, although I'm pasting it in below so that it won't get lost when the Observer moves it around on their site.
CMS fails test on customer service
`Secret shoppers' used to make calls, go to school offices to ask for help
Many parents had two reactions Wednesday after hearing Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools spent $80,000 to highlight problems with customer service.
We could have told you that for a lot less money.
It's about time.
Teams of so-called "secret shoppers" found that schools and departments ignored more than half their e-mails, transferred more than 40 percent of their calls and too often failed to quickly help visitors.
CMS leaders said the data give schools irrefutable evidence of problems and detailed help finding solutions. They say they're emphasizing customer service because if things don't improve, parents such as Diane Stiffel could abandon the school system.
"It infuriates me," said Stiffel, who lives in northeast Charlotte and has two children in CMS. She said at a former school, it frequently took the staff five or 10 minutes to acknowledge her.
"If they can't give attention to me right away," Stiffel said, "what's to say they can give my child attention right away?"
CMS paid Charlotte-based Customer Service Solutions $80,000 to send a team of shoppers to each school and most departments from March to May. The company, which has done about 400 similar projects including some work for Mecklenburg County, called each school and the departments three times, e-mailed twice and visited once. That was 1,043 total interactions.
A few other school systems have hired secret shoppers, including Norfolk, Va., but the idea is uncommon, educators said. While the CMS report found some successes, the 18 binders of information point to far more shortcomings.
(The Observer requested a copy of the report, but a district spokeswoman said because it includes so much personnel information protected under privacy laws, much of the findings would have to be redacted.)
Complaints about the responsiveness of the state's largest school district aren't new. In 2005, they grew loud enough to help spur an effort to break up CMS.
"We have to have the mindset that we're operating like a private school, and we're competing for quality students," said area superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh, who will lead a new regional office in the northern part of the county.
The regional offices opened this summer to provide better service to schools and parents on issues such as discipline and transportation. "How we treat people is a way to build trust, or a way that trust gets shattered," Superintendent Peter Gorman said at a Wednesday news conference to discuss the findings.
CMS has started training workers in the regional offices, the transportation department and other areas critical to the Aug. 27 start of school. In the fall, the district will start training office staff at each school.
District leaders warned, though, that it will take two or three years before they see marked improvement across CMS. They hope by 2010 that 80 percent of parents will agree they get timely, accurate, responsive service.
What They Found
Here are some of the problems and highlights with CMS customer service, according to a team of secret shoppers.
• 48 -- percent of e-mails answered. (Businesses usually reply to about 80 percent of general inquiries.)
• 31.4 -- percent of those e-mails that actually answered the customers' questions, as opposed, for example, to referring them to the Web site. (75 percent is standard.
• 12 -- number of minutes a secret shopper waited at an unnamed school, as he cleared his throat and four office workers went on with their tasks.
• 42.5 -- percent of calls transferred.
• 25 -- number of rings from one of those transfers, before the caller hung up.
• Having good information ready to hand visiting parents. (Done at schools such as McKee Road, Shamrock Gardens and Sharon elementaries, Alexander Graham Middle and Butler and Myers Park high schools).
• Answering questions and presenting information in a personal way. (Oakdale Elementary and Olympic International Studies and Global Economics High School).
• Providing quick school overviews on the spot or giving tours. (Cochrane Middle and North Meck High).
School leaders in Norfolk, Va., paid $20,000 for a similar study last year. The smaller price tag is partly because that district is barely a third the size of CMS, and a CMS spokeswoman said the Charlotte report is more detailed. Norfolk said it's too soon to prove whether customer service has improved.
Can I See the Results?
Each school and department got an 18- to 25-page report. A CMS spokeswoman said they won't be made public because they have information about individuals. Principals should share key findings with parents and staff, she said.
What They Said
What parents said about CMS service.
"The communication ... makes me question the quality of education my daughter gets in the classroom." - TIM GALLAGHER
Has two children in CMS but withdrew his 11-year-old daughter, in part over the lack of information about her teacher's departure. Lives in Matthews.
"Hallelujah!" - PAM HEATON
Upon hearing CMS had gauged customer service. Heaton, who has two children in CMS, said some school employees are a "saving grace," but half the time, the others don't respond . Lives in northern Mecklenburg.
"If they can't address the bus problem, how many other problems are going unaddressed?" - MORGAN GAINOR
When she questioned frequent changes to her child's bus schedule, she was told there was nowhere to send her complaints. Lives in south Charlotte.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
New business/education conference
Put a big, red circle around July 2008 on your calendar – we’re going ahead with the business/education partnership conference that I mentioned last month.
Thanks to the feedback we received over the past month, it’s clear that there are people out there who want an opportunity to network with others in the field, and who want to pick up practical information they can use to improve their partnership practices and outcomes. Like many of you, I’ve felt for some time that this industry needs some kind of hub where people can come together to learn from one another, and I’m hoping that this conference can help to fill that need.
A year is actually not that much time to put together a national conference, so we’ll be moving quickly over the next few months to put together a broad-stroke agenda, identify a specific date and location (right now we’re thinking somewhere in or near Washington DC), and issue a call for speakers. I’ll offer updates as they’re available.
I’ll also continue asking members of this community for feedback and guidance, both in the form of group surveys and individual conversations. The last survey was very helpful in gauging the interest in a conference and identifying some specifics such as the timing and structure, so thank you to all who participated. And thanks also to those who contacted me directly – your thoughts were helpful and motivating.
If you’d like to share thoughts or suggestions on this new conference, I’d love to hear them; as I mentioned, we’re still in the formative stages, so your input will make a difference. You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 704-944-3134.
If anyone out there has an interest in this conference - either attending, sponsoring, or offering thoughts on how we can make it a great experience for people in the industry - please do contact me. I'd love to hear from you.