Sunday, August 29, 2010

Results: Comments From RAS

Now I have not watched the video yet to hear the discussions that occurred, however the presentation is pretty interesting. RAS Result of State and Local Tests There are many graphs, tables, summaries, etc.

The MCA slides and summaries can be compared to the graphs in these 2 links. Do they seem consistent or is there some spin going on? Maybe or maybe not... I am not sure.
G2A Results: One More Try
G2A Data Manipulation Gone Bad

The GRAD tests are given prior to graduation. If the student fails, they need to take some remedial training before they are given their diploma. Not sure if they have to pass their retest to get their diploma.(ie IEP or 504 Team review?) Please reference this page for more details. (MN Dept of Ed GRAD Pg) Including requirements, timing, relation to MCA tests, sample test questions, results, etc.

The MAP tests are national standardized tests that the district uses to gauge the capability of a student and how much they have learned over a period of time. (NWEA MAP pg) Often referenced to compare RAS results to National results. These are not mandated by the government, but voluntarily administered to help RAS gauge each child's status and needs.

With the District emphasing the high priority of closing the gap, and implying that other items may be sacrificed in order to achieve this. It will be interesting to watch which reductions and additions occur. "BY NAME BY NEED" is an excellent goal, however it is likely to move the funds to those with the most needs. Now, how to balance this against keeping those who are financially able to move happy??? That is going to be a fine line to walk. (SUN Sicoli Top Priority)

Side Note: I found Supt Sicoli's comment regarding the "Economic Gap" that is "Shameful" to be very interesting. Where did that fit into the discussion? A hint that the rich should maybe pay more taxes? Probably nothing, but it caught my attention.

RAS Board Mtg Agenda 16Aug10
RAS Board Video 16Aug10 via mtg page
RAS Board Unofficial Minutes 16Aug10

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Snopes & Relativity

The other day I was labelled a Snopes Defender by someone more Conservative than myself. They believe that Snopes has a strong liberal bias. My reply was that at least they give a person links and data that allow the reader to verify or reject the Snopes opinion. Which is much more than we get from the "Please Forward" propaganda "pot stirring" emails that the Left and Right like to generate. Then later I added this thought.

"If you're in the far right of a theater (ie RR),

everyone else looks like they are to the left..."

Since then I have been fascinated by this concept, and thinking about how to display it simply and clearly. Below is my first draft. Some questions it raises for me are:
  • Is there anyway for the Left Lefts, Left Moderates and Left Rights to ever truly see the Right side's TRUTH?
  • Will the Left always say the screen is only GREEN and the Right is intentionally lying?
  • Is there anyway for the Right Rights, Right Moderates and Right Lefts to ever truly see the Left side's TRUTH?
  • Will the Right always say the screen is only RED and that the Left is intentionally lying?
  • Is a Moderate Moderate actually a Left/Liberal to a Right Moderate, and a Right/Conservative to a Left Moderate?
  • etc, etc, etc
It is amazing we stay at peace and get anything done given how biased the perspective is of the Far Right and Far Left... Any thoughts?

By the way... I see myself as a Moderate Right... Meaning I see and relate better to the RED than the GREEN. However I acknowledge that the Green is really there and study both sides before making decisions or taking action.

Finally, I put Snopes in the Moderate Left seat. Like all web content, don't treat their text as the Gospel. It was written by humans who have biases... As shown below.

If you are not familiar with Snopes or FactCheck... They are groups that research things and then post an opinion. OR They are Leftist propaganda machines... Check them out and form your own opinions like the smart people you are. Have a great weekend!!!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The American Dream

Well, my oldest is doing some Summer English homework. (yeah... pre-work for this Fall... so much for Summers off) She had to read a fiction book from certain authors. The book needed to have characters and a plot that in some way related to the American Dream. Then she needed to interview people from various generations regarding their perspectives about the American Dream. Well, she wisely or unwisely asked her blogger Father for his thoughts. I think she got more than she bargained for.

See below for the questions and my answers. Please add your comments and thoughts regarding this fascinating topic. Maybe she and I can learn something new from this exercise.

What is the American dream?
  • I believe the American dream is best stated in the first line of the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Where did it come from?

  • The American colonists were people that had left their homelands in search of a New World where they would be free to practice their religions without being persecuted. Or where they had chance to earn more money and provide a better life for themselves and their family. Or where there were fewer laws that limited what they could do or how they could live.
  • The New World provided the promise of this Life, Liberty and Happiness. The European governments then saw the money being made and wanted to tax it in order to help pay expenses in Europe. This was unacceptable to the colonists that sought to escape the European way of life. Therefore they chose to fight for the American dream.
How has it shaped our society?
  • The American Dream has shaped almost every aspect of our society and our history. The immigrants that came to America were those that wanted to pursue the American Dream. They wanted to escape other countries where they could not pursue life, liberty and happiness.
  • The country is based on capitalism, a system that encourages hard work and innovation. It also discourages people from free loading. (ie living off the efforts of others)
  • The Constitution was written to protect the American Dream. And all laws that are written must be in alignment with the Constitution. This prevents the government from intruding too deeply into the lives of it’s citizens.
  • Americans have fought repeatedly to support the American Dream, in American and in other countries. We have fought many countries that would like to take it away. (1776, War of 1812, WWI, WWII, etc) We have fought a Civil war to extend the American Dream to all people. We have fought for the rights of people in other countries. (ie Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, etc)

Is it a realistic dream to hold onto? Why?

  • Yes !!! It is natural for people to seek an improved life for themselves and their children. Without this dream, conflict will increase and hope will decrease.

What are the obstacles to the American Dream?

  • A significant increase in the number of free loading citizens. The American Dream is based on every citizen striving to better their lives and the strength of America. The analogy would be people in a boat that are trying to row upstream. (ie global competition) If everyone pulls at their oars, the boat moves forward and the people in the boat get closer to their destination. (ie the dream) However failure begins as more people choose to not row and the boat begins to slow in its progress toward the destination. Then when the number still working to fulfill their rowing responsibilities drops low enough, the boat begins to drift away from the destination/dream. At some point the few remaining rowers will become exhausted and the boat will be lost.
  • The government potentially becoming too big and controlling. (ie stifling Capitalism and the Dream) Government is needed to facilitate the Dream, however the cost of Government is a burden on the dream. Because each of us take some of our success and send it to the Government in the form of taxes. It’s like a leak in the boat and as the leak gets bigger, more people need to drop the oars to help with bailing out the water. Too big of a leak and the boat drifts backward or sinks.
  • Intolerance of other citizen’s beliefs. People refusing to let the mixing pot shift as people are added. Imagine if people start fighting in the boat…. Who is rowing?
  • People refusing to jump into the American mixing pot. A single National language and solid belief in the American Dream is critical. How do rowers communicate efficiently with everyone speaking different languages? How do the rowers get to their goal, if the destinations/goals are significantly different?

Have you attained the American Dream? In what way? OR Do you still want to?

  • I believe I have attained the Dream. I have a great family, a good job where I can contribute, and the freedom to pursue my happiness in many different ways.

How do you think young people define the American Dream today?

  • I am not really sure… I think that Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness are still relevant for every generation.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Battle of the RAS Tabloids

In this corner we have "281Exposed". A blog that is typically critical of District 281 RAS and often of Public Education in general. The writer(s) stay anonymous . From my perspective, their posts have gotten much better with time. (ie less petty attacks and more useful comments/information) I hope this continues. I sometimes agree and sometimes disagree with them, however they always graciously post my comments and questions.

In this corner we have "281 Exposed Exposed", a brand new blog apparently dedicated to Exposing 281 Exposed. I'll let the writer(s) identify themself over time. They have also assured me that my comments and questions will be welcome. Let's see if the rookie has the perseverance to stay in the blogging business.

Now let's go back to our corners and come out fighting. And remember, no hitting below the belt, kidney punches, etc. This should be fun !!!!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Praise for RAS

Annie's following comment got me thinking:

"RAS, despite a lot of abuse it takes around these blogs, receives excellent ratings for its ethical, fiscally sound management, and that gives a good base to create an innovative program."
I admit it... I often post regarding concepts, beliefs, actions, etc where I see RAS going astray. This is an honest effort to make people aware of various facts, different paradigms, and maybe even to influence the hearts and minds of some people. Besides sadly, conflict increases hits, and hits mean people are reading... If no one reads, how can anyone be informed or influenced??? (ask CNN and FOX News why they only report bad news and scandal???)

One more note: RAS NEVER posts anything from a cold pragmatic fact based perspective. EVERYTHING they post is meant to show the glass half full and to downplay the problems. Or to explain why "those expectations" are unrealistic. The spin they institute is excellent and probably absolutely necessary. They need to do this in order to market themselves and keep morale up. Us bloggers and our affiliated commenters just reserve the right to question some of the spin. The Emperor will stay naked unless some naive person comments. What good will that do when the Emperor gets a severe head cold??? (side note: The SUN papers seem happy to support the opinions of our naked Leader. Is that doing him any good.)

With the above in mind, I agree that I do not express my gratitude to RAS and it's personnel nearly often enough. So, today I will focus on the 95% that I am thankful for and not the 5% that frustrates me... These are the things that keep my family in the 3 RAS schools that we currently attend and support. (ie ZLE, PMS, AHS)
  • The majority of the RAS Admin,Staff and Teachers who are simply incredible. They work hard, care for their students, are organized, strive to communicate with Parents, etc.
  • The regular and pre-AP/AP programs that allow students to remain challenged in specific subjects at their level.
  • A High School that is small enough and has enough activities that most kids can find an activity to take part in.
  • Great facilities that have been maintained, updated and are kept clean.
  • Schools that are typically safe, and have serious lockdown procedures for when bad uncontrollable things happen.
  • The small percentage of Parents that seriously volunteer and give often and deeply. They truly are a God send for our community schools, and help make sure "the extras" are there for the kids.
  • The student body that has provided some EXCELLENT friends for my daughters.
  • The School Board members who are incredibly dedicated to the District and its students.
  • The Parent Portal which allows Parents simple and timely access to the Teacher's and their child's progress/results/records.
  • The availability of District information. If they have it and you have the time, you can get it and they will help explain it to you.
So what other great things have I missed in this quickly composed list?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

RAS Facility Divestiture Thoughts

I have been pondering what to say regarding the facility divestiture announcement. I spent time pondering the paradigms that would make that plan make sense. I mean it has already been 1.5 years since the closure decision, and not one sq ft of property has been divested. Now it looks like little or nothing will go for another 2 years, except Hosterman and possibly High View.

Therefore, here are the paradigms that I think the Administration and Board must believe are true:

  • Capital is free, therefore there is no hurry to sell excess facilities.
  • Alternative financing is their right and the citizen's tax bills are not their concern.
  • Educational excellence and choice is great, as long as it is provided via District 281.
  • Competition is to be feared because the competitors are too good or the game is unfair.
  • District 281 needs to be big or bigger to be great.
  • District 281 is responsible for preventing other schools from entering into and strengthening our community, and using the buildings that our citizen's paid for.
I guess that their decisions and presentation make a lot of sense when looking at the world through this lens. My lens of course is significantly different. Here was what I wrote to a committee member upon seeing the rough draft in June. I don't think I have anything to add given the final version, since little or nothing changed after the committee got feedback from different people. They plowed ahead with ideas that the "Group Thought" made sense. Well on the upside, let's hope property values and the capital increase over the next 2 years.

Thoughts? Are my opinions regarding their paradigms correct or incorrect? What am I missing or incorrect about?

“Hi _____,

Here are some quick thoughts, many you have heard before:
  • Olson and Pilgrim should be sold rather than pursuing more Magnets.
  • Restrictions should not be put in place to prevent other schools from buying the sold buildings. Do we lack all confidence in our school’s ability to compete???
  • If Olson and Pilgrim are to be held, the Cavanaugh and Winnetka Learning Center programs should be moved there for 2 yrs. Or 287 should move to these 2 bldgs, and just bus the kids that need it to the pool. Either would open Cavanaugh and Winnetka for immediate sale and access to much needed capital. And it will take a couple years for them to gear up their magnet(s)…
Thank you for sitting on this committee, I am not sure I would have had the patience. I’ll post on this as soon as it becomes public info. Have a great week !!! John”

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Group Think and RAS

After many years of leading cross functional work teams, I have become very aware of and sensitive to the likelihood, risks and consequences of group think. It is a very natural and insidious form of self deception. It happens like this:
  • A team, group, committee or company is formed to accomplish a goal.
  • These people often proceed through the natural team building steps of Form, Storm, Norm and Perform.
  • Once they have hit Perform... They know their roles, responsibilies, goals, etc and become dedicated towards accomplishing them.
This all is absolutely great !!! Then enters the risk of Group Think and the potential disaster. Here are some forms that it takes:
  • The environment changes and the team fails to notice that their goals or methods need to shift. Often they are too busy performing to pull their heads up and look around.
  • Representatives that have a minority opinion stop challenging the majority because they don't want to be the only one rocking the boat.
  • Representatives observe feedback that the project is going off the tracks. However they convince themselves that it is "just a one off" item. Statements go something like this: "that customer abused the machine, it won't happen again", "that citizen just does not understand", "we have to do it this way, the employees just don't understand", etc
  • The team totally misses facts, feedback, etc, because the representatives often share similar beliefs, personality types, backgrounds, reward systems, etc.
There are many ways to prevent group think, the challenges is though that most "Performing" groups do not think they need that control mechanism. I mean they are moving and getting somewhere... Why would we:
  • Assign opponents to the team and really listen to them
  • Research opposing options, opinions and data more thoroughly and pragmatically than that which you "KNOW" is right.
  • Set up oversight by a cross biased or unbiased party
  • Use tools to evaluate all feedback (ie pro/cons, 5 why's, decision matrices, etc)
  • Re-test the vision, goal, charter, etc on a regular basis against outside factors
  • Re-score the solution or path against the critical requirements on a regular basis
Now, why all this prelude? RAS has posted their Facilities and Budget presentations on the web site. And as expected, there are almost NO new ideas or solutions being considered. It looks like they could have been created by any Public School System in the state... (ie stereotypical) Now, I realize that they are a Public School System and that I should not be shocked, however I keep hoping something new and exciting will come out of these committees.

Well, you take a look at them and give me your thoughts on the presentations and my Group Think comments... And I will give you my thoughts in a day or two.

RAS Facilities Divestiture Presn
RAS Facilities Statement
RAS Budget Committees Presn

Monday, August 9, 2010

MCA Science Scores

Giving credit where credit is due, 281 Exposed Science Test notified me that the 2010 Science MCA results had been posted. Please remember that this is a pretty new Check addition to the State's "Plan Do Check Act" method. (ie PDCA) I assume this is why the proficiencies are pretty low. Hopefully the districts will now Act by reviewing the results and adjusting their Plan. Then Do things differently in the upcoming year.



Friday, August 6, 2010

Celebrate Teacher Firings?

Well I write about trying to be kinder, more understanding and more sensitive, then I blow it within a day or so... Check out my strong views regarding some Teacher firings in Washington DC at:

The comments should not surprise my long time readers. I have rather strong beliefs that poor teachers must be removed from the classroom ASAP. We owe it to the Students, Parents, Good Teachers, Community and Tax payers...

I mean really..... The kid's don't get a second chance at school or childhood !!! We owe them good and great teachers a lot more than we owe poor/burnout teachers an income !!! Let's get our priorities straightened out !!!

Just like all firings, sometimes good people get caught in the cross fire... However unlike executions, the good teachers will brush themselves off, and get a new and possibly better job. This is how it works in the "non-education" world.

Thoughts welcome and encouraged as always ... Even if you think poor teachers should be kept in the classroom... I would really like to learn your rational.

Washington Post Rhee dismisses 241

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Interested, Arrogant, Curious or Obstinant?

I know you will find this hard to believe....

I truly love talking about the intricacies of beliefs with people, understanding their basis and the rationale for the beliefs they hold dear, and learning some of their background so that I can try to understand what shaped their beliefs and belief system.

The challenge is how to do this without appearing:
  • egotistical / arrogant
  • debating / arguing
  • condescending / judgemental
  • antagonistic / threatening
  • insincere / manipulative

I have found that few people truly enjoy this lively and very personal dialogue. Therefore I try to limit these discussions to my best friends and closest family members who truly understand that I will love and appreciate them for themselves, no matter what they believe or why they believe it. In fact, I can truly love and appreciate them even when I am adamant that they are incorrect, nuts, foolish, irrational, etc. These differences may even be what draws me to them...

For the rest, I spend time making small talk about the weather, sports, jobs, hobbies, etc. Thereby growing only slightly more intimate with them. The upside though is that we get to have fun and avoid any chance of serious disagreement.

By the way, this is why I appreciate my readers and commenters so much !!! You help me to have serious, meaningful and sometimes fun dialogue about important topics that allow me to learn about different viewpoints. This I truly appreciate !!! Thank you !!!

Some questions:

  • Any thoughts why talking politics, schools, religion, philosophy, money, etc is so risky with so many people?
  • What is the balance point between expressing your views and challenging someone elses?
  • What rules of thumb do you use regarding keeping your mouth shut?
  • Any thoughts regarding having these discussions without appearing per the terms above?

Monday, August 2, 2010

RAS Report on Equity

While we were discussing the gap topic, the RAS School Board has been working on it. Here are some interesting links from their July meetings.

The Equity Report identifies the district's programs that should be helping. The only slides I question are 9 & 10, I would like to see them in some sort of percentage format. If RAS has by far the largest population of students in that category, they should have the largest number participating. Now... What is the more important ranking by participants per 100 students? Just curious.
RAS Report on Equity

I am torn by the following summary... I agree with it for the most part, however I wonder where positive thinking ends, and aggressively wrestling with and addressing reality begins. Especially when trying to make large improvements in tough circumstances. Where does focusing on the positive thinking become self deception, and self defeating. Though as we discussed, believing in the Students ability to learn is definitely critical.
RAS Lighthouse Summary
RAS Lighthouse Workshop

Also, if supporting the Teachers and Staff is critical... Then where are the yearly 'all employee surveys". Without these, I am unsure how upper level Administrators know if their employees are feeling supported and engaged. Or which middle level administrators are "not so good".

Thoughts on these documents or my comments?

Memo Report on Equity
RAS Board Agenda 7/12/10
RAS Mtg Agendas, Minutes,Videos, MP3