Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Courage To Act

I'm glad to see the minutes of the Hillsboro School District Curriculum Committee are now being published. But, as often happens with such things, I think some of the most interesting sub-discussions were not captured, though the details in the minutes are perfectly accurate.

Thinking about the items that led to extended discussion at the meeting, I'm struck by a common theme that seemed to run through a few:
  • One of the main duties of the committee is to review in advance any course proposal from an individual school, after review by another layer of internal committees, to ensure that new courses offered can be immediately implemented implemented district-wide.
  • There is a need for new texts that implement the common core standards, which will be tested on starting this spring-- but no compliant textbooks have been identified and adopted.
  • Many nearby districts have systems that allow parents to view their children's grades online-- but Hillsboro has been delayed for over a year in implementing such a system, with promises that it will come as part of a major upcoming IT overhaul.
It looks to me like in each of these cases, we may be suffering due to the district being of cumbersome size (it is the 4th largest in Oregon), and too many decisions being controlled from the top level. When a decision must be made for the entire district, it's only natural that there is lots of extra review and fear to avoid the possibility of doing it wrong. This is a common problem in industry as well-- large organizations create an inherent fear of failure in every action, and tend to inhibit the courage needed to proceed with good ideas.

But in the corporate world, many good solutions have been identified for this problem: look, for example, at the “Lean” philosophy being used by many large organizations.   One of the key teachings there is to try new ideas on a small scale, and then spread the learning wider when successful. So, for example, to address the issues discussed above, why can't we do the following?:
  • When a new course is proposed, allow an individual school to implement it for one year on a trial basis upon approval by the local dept head & principal. Use the experience and results to decide whether to make it an ongoing offering and spread throughout the district.
  • Allow individual schools to provisionally adopt a textbook for a small set of classes, working with the textbook company to provide a small set of its books at low cost on a trial basis.
  • Allow individual schools to use secure open-source networking solutions (or low-cost secure messaging software) to implement grade-sharing systems at the individual level.

Does every educational activity in the district really need to be approved through the central administration? Or could HSD become more nimble and successful by viewing itself as a collection of individual schools, and providing more freedom to each one to try new ideas?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

New Directions For Hillsboro's Curriculum Committee

Recently I attended the first meeting of the Hillsboro School District Curriculum Committee for this school year.  (Well, actually there was a previous meeting, but it wasn't on the district calendar & they notified me at a bad email address, and less than half the committee attended, so I'm not counting it.)  It looks like there will be some positive changes on the committee.

As you may have gathered from my earlier blog posts, last year the committee's main activities consisted of watching presentations from district officials on various aspects of the curriculum.   While it was educational, there was a slight issue... in that we didn't actually DO anything.   We didn't present to anyone, generate written reports (unless you count this blog), or hold a vote on any issue. 

At this meeting, Kathi Robinson, the district official who runs the committee,  described some areas where we might contribute:
  • Reviewing the massive Common Core documents & producing simple explanations for parents
  • Investigating technology opportunities such as open source texts & "bring your own device"

At the next meeting, the plan is to divide us into subcommittees and discuss these areas further.   I'm a little nervous about the fact that they are aiming for all work to be done onsite at the 1.5 hour committee meetings (apparently some parents are too busy for homework)... But it seems like a good direction for the committee compared to last year!