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The Public School Insights Blog

David Kelley is a legend in technology and design circles. Decades ago, he founded a design firm that dreamed up the  computer mouse as we know it today. That firm has since evolved into IDEO, a global design company that has left its unique stamp on everything from consumer goods to social innovation. IDEO's work has probably touched your life in ways you don't even know.

For years, Kelley has brought his passion for design into the classroom as a professor at Stanford's famed Institute of Design (or D.School, for those in the know). More recently, Kelley has set his sights on the K-12 classroom. He and his Stanford graduate students are working with schools to help teachers and students master "design thinking." He recently told us what that means.

Public School Insights: Let's start with a big question. What is "design thinking?"

Kelley: To me, design thinking is basically a methodology that allows people to have confidence in their creative ability. Normally many people don't think of themselves as creative, or they think that creativity comes from somewhere that they don't know—like an angel appears and tells them the answer or gives them a new idea.

So design thinking is hopefully a framework that people can hang their creative confidence on. We give people a step-by-step method on how to more routinely be creative or more routinely innovate.

Public School Insights: So you are not talking about something that only artists or engineers would use.

Kelley: No. I struggled with what to call it when we first started out. The reason that we put the word design in it is that this really is the way that designers naturally think. It's not necessarily the way that doctors, lawyers or teachers think, ...

If you want to insult people, really cut them down, call them "incrementalists." For those of you who aren't education wonks, an "incrementalist" is someone who is happy to take baby steps towards school reform. It's someone who doesn't lose much sleep over the thousands upon thousands of kids who, in the meantime, are dropping out of school or graduating without the skills they need. Often, the label gets applied to people who are skeptical about charter schools or merit pay.

But even the boldest reformers can sound like "incrementalists" when they see the early results of their reforms. They often find themselves pleading for more time and understanding. That's not an entirely bad thing--as long as we never lose the urgency of our mission to improve schools.

Take, for example, the case of Chicago Public Schools. The Chicago Tribune just ran a piece laying out the tepid results of CPS's "Renaissance 2010" reform plan. The Trib article is important, because Ren2010 has been touted as a model for bold national reforms: Open to doors to more charter schools, rebuild struggling schools from scratch, and close failing schools altogether. Defending reforms ...

Long Beach Unified School District in California has long been recognized as a model urban school system. Winner of the coveted Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2003, it has been a finalist for that award five times.

The district hasn’t achieved this success by flitting from reform to reform or looking for silver bullets. Rather, it has spent most of the past two decades building on the same educational strategies, focusing on data, community buy-in and staff development. We recently spoke to Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser (who has spent the past 28 years in the district as a teacher, principal, deputy superintendent and, since 2002, superintendent) about the “Long Beach way.”

Public School Insights: What prompted Long Beach to undertake big reforms for its kids in the first place?

Steinhauser: We've been on this long journey since about 1992. What really prompted it at that time was a massive economic meltdown. Our city was closing its naval base. And McDonnell Douglas [a major area employer] was going through a massive shutdown. They laid off 35,000 employees over a two year period. Also, if you remember, those were the days of major civil unrest in the LA area. We were having massive flight from our system, mainly of Caucasian students.

Basically what we did was say, “Okay. We have got to stop this.” So our board adopted several major initiatives. We implemented K-8 uniforms. We were the first district in California to end social promotion. We introduced a program called the 3rd Grade Reading Initiative to help with that goal, and we also developed a policy that eighth-graders who had two or more Fs could not go on to high school. And we launched a major partnership called Seamless Education with our local junior college and ...

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Why Mind-Set Matters

"High expectations" has become a tagline in education circles. Repeat it enough times in enough contexts, and watch it lose most of its meaning. That's why I'm grateful for Carol Dweck's new article in Principal Leadership magazine. She reminds us that there is a good deal of science behind the slogan.

Dweck's argument, in a nutshell, is that mind-set matters. If you believe your intelligence is a fixed quantity, then you're not likely to learn very much. If you believe the same of your students, they're not likely to learn very much either. Even if you praise students for their intelligence, you're liable to stifle their motivation, feed their insecurities, and stunt their growth.

If, however, you praise them for their hard work and progress, then they're likely to stretch themselves and improve. They develop what Dweck calls the "growth mind-set." Her claims might just rescue the concept of self-esteem from disrepute.

The research she cites is compelling. Take, for example, the research on students of color:

Teaching a growth mind-set seems to decrease or even close achievement gaps. When Black and Latino students adopt a growth mind-set, their grades and achievement test scores look more similar ...

vonzastrowc's picture


funny picturesRandi Weingarten's recent policy speech is getting a lot of attention, and for good reason. The AFT president's plans for reform to teacher evaluation and due process get to the heart of the most incendiary debates in education reform. But it's her underlying message about trust that really caught my attention.

Distrust is corrosive. It can drive people apart, even if they share the best of intentions. When we turn school reform discussions into simple morality plays, we risk diverting attention from the toxic environments that turn good people of all stripes into tyrants or obstructionists.  Weingarten is right when she calls trust the "common denominator among schools, districts and cities that have achieved success."

Right now, trust is in short supply. Supporters and critics of reforms like merit pay accuse each other of base motives. Teachers choose comfort and idleness over the children they teach. Reformers are carrying out some nefarious "corporate" agenda. Teachers feel they're being attacked. Reformers feel they're being ...

The blogs are buzzing with thoughts on student motivation. That's not all bad, given that policy wonks by nature spend most of their time talking about compulsion. But we should be wary of motivation's evil twin: pandering.

Author Dan Pink makes a strong case for "motivation 3.0" in schools. That is, he believes carrots and sticks alone won't make people behave the way we want them to. Instead, we need to rouse people's inner drive to do meaningful work. I couldn't agree more.

But I do worry about what happens when we confuse true motivation with a kind of wish fulfillment: students doing what they want to do when they want to do it. Without a doubt, students should do hands-on work. They should use technology that makes learning vivid and exciting. They should see the relevance of their studies to their own lives and aspirations.

What happens, though, if we condition our students to believe that every moment in school or life should be sublime, or at least entertaining? The truth is that just about any work worth its salt includes peaks and valleys. You'll have to slog ...

We've been getting lots of comment spam on this site recently. Usually we delete it as soon as it comes in, but two comments that came in today deserve to be immortalized.

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Sorry if I've strayed from our normally earnest work here at LFA. I just couldn't let these comments fade to black. ...

Amanda Ripley ran a piece in The Atlantic this week praising Teach for America for its work to define what a great teacher looks like. That article had me running all hot and cold. Here I'll focus on what left me cold: The overuse of standardized tests to define greatness.

We're already creating students in the image of these tests. If I'm to believe The Atlantic, we'll be creating teachers in their image, too. Not only will we use test scores to determine which teachers are doing the best teaching. We'll use them to decide what character traits, academic background, hobbies and who knows what else teachers should possess. We could hitch everything, everything to that engine. (See Diana Seneshal's provocative piece on why that should ...

Recent debates about charter schools are shedding more heat than light. There's enough evidence out there now to keep both the critics and the boosters busy. But as most people know by now, arguments over whether charters are "good" or "bad" are a waste of time. The real question is whether we can create enough of the good ones to make a real dent in student achievement. And that's not at all clear.

Charter boosters got some more wind in their sails after Stanford's CREDO released a study of New York City charters. Their findings: students at charter schools make more academic progress than students at traditional public schools do. This study echoed earlier findings by another Stanford researcher, Carolyn Hoxby. The United Federation of Teachers countered that charters enroll fewer special education students and English language learners. (The City Education Department's data seem to bear this out.) Charter supporters responded in ...

Shocking news! You can turn around a struggling school without firing all or even most staff. You can even keep the principal. All you need is a little--or a lot of--help from your friends.

This is one of the big lessons I draw from a new study (PDF) of work by Strategic Learning Initiatives (SLI) to turn around 10 troubled schools in Chicago. SLI worked with existing school principals and teachers to improve instruction, and student performance gains accelerated by a factor of six. And SLI did this work without resorting to the slash-and-burn turnaround techniques that are all the vogue these days.

Here's an excerpt from Education Week's report on the study:

"The results that SLI has achieved, and that [the American Institutes for Research] has validated, are very impressive and suggest that well before decisions are made to reconstitute schools under the mandates of [the federal No Child Left Behind Act], school districts would be wise to consider far less drastic, but clearly powerful, interventions such as the Focused Instruction Process," write AIR analysts Steven Leinwand and Sarah Edwards in their July evaluation.

The U.S. Department of Education's four models for turning around low-achieving schools using federal stimulus money all require the principal to be fired; one calls for the school to be closed. But [SRI CEO John] Simmons argues that it's less expensive, and often more effective, to invest in the people already working in the schools. With the right tools, he says, school staffers can produce different results....

"That is the heart of our story--the application of research to the work of improving schools. High-performance schools aren't just born, they are trained and coached."

This story flies in the face of many current policy trends. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that great teachers are born, not bred. Why else spend all our ...

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