Thursday, July 07, 2005

Catalyst Cleveland and Open Source Education

While re-sorting my pile of 'I'll-get-to-this-later mail', I uncovered my latest copy of Catalyst Cleveland
Anyone who is interested in education in the city of Cleveland, be it public, private, or charter, must read this publication. There are some periodicals I peruse quickly and others, like Catalyst Cleveland , I set aside time to read carefully.

This issue is one of the best. The cover story by Piet van Lier and Stephanie Klupinski discusses school violence in Cleveland.
This year, there has been a steady drumbeat of violence among youth. It began in January when a 16-year-old was gunned down near a city recreation center. In April, an 11-year-old was shot near the same area. In May, an alleged rape of a student at East Tech made headlines
The report includes school specific statistics and interviews with the police department.
Another article by Jeff Lowenstien from Catalyst Chicago reports on a study done in Chicago that found mid-level district staffers ignored the expertise of principals and teachers, using the top-down approach in attempting to improve instruction. The conclusions from the report could easily have come from the Cleveland Municipal School District. Here is an excerpt from the article which I found particularity insightful.

[The report]recommends that teachers and principals be part of the planning process for any new school reform policy. The report also calls for redefining the role of mid-level district staff to focus more on supporting schools and less on monitoring them.

To understand the complexities involved in changing instruction, district staff needs to spend more time in schools...But Azcoitia of Spry adds that visits alone are insufficient to understand teachers' and principals' work lives. "You have to show up, roll up your sleeves and work in the office or substitute for a class,"

This aligns with my contention. In order to improve the schools, the decision makers must be aware of what is going on in the classrooms.

Finally, along those same lines, Catalyst editor Charlyse Lylse writes an interesting commentary about opening up the lines of communication between city leaders and residents.

Getting a levy passed comes down to this: Those who reap the tangible benefits of education and a middle class life must convince those who reap so little of Cleveland's limited prosperity that they cannot even fathom a future of upward social mobility for their children that schools are worth their hard-earned dollars.

It's not likely that this space between can be closed in the month left before the Aug. 2nd levy vote. Still, much thought ought to be given as to how to create conversation amongst these two groups. It must be a dialogue absent of judgment but full of the understanding and mutual respect that leads to trust and restores powerful hope for the future. Perhaps Voices & Choices, the unprecedented $3-million, foundation-backed effort to conduct a regional civic dialogue, can help to achieve this.

Another move that can help close the space between is to include those with more intimate knowledge, insight and understanding of Cleveland and its diverse peoples in policy-making decisions. In the long run, that can be a major step toward policies, programs and practices that revive the vision and propel the action that is crucial to rebuilding our schools and fulfilling our children's potential.
This could be an interesting challenge for Iopen, Ed Morrison's new Open Source Economic Development organization.

What do you think Ed?


Dale P. said...

Explain to me how you envision I-Open getting involved in the mix. I went to Mr. Morrison's site and tried to learn about it, but I wasn't able to fully grasp his ideas.

marybeth said...


I-open is a brand new organization, founded by Ed Morrison, that will continue the work he had perviously been doing at the Center for Regional Economic Issues at Case Western Reserve University. Ed employed an economic development system called Open Source, which focused on social networking and collaboration as a means to incubate innovation and creative solutions. The Tuesdays program that Ed started at REI were weekly discussions open to anyone. Each week a group of experts (or occasionally an individual) would present a topic for open discussion. Often the conversations would continue outside, after the presentation.
This past year these new collaborations resulted in the creation of many new projects that will have a positive impact on the region.
These proposals have been mentored by Ed and his staff. They helped set up web sites, write proposals and business plans, connect people to sources for funding and legal assistance, provided student interns, donated meeting space...the list goes on.
The key component of Open Source is that EVERYONE is welcome -- company presidents as well as the guy straight from the unemployment line. All are encouraged to participate in the conversation. From these conversations, good ideas are provided the means to evolve from talking the talk to walking the walk.

The command and control hierarchy of public education systems discourages innovative solutions from the people who are at the front lines of education -- students, parents, and teachers.
Communication between the consumers and the policy-makers is next to impossible in large districts. Anyone who has ever tried to speak with a CMSD administrator at the downtown office knows exactly what I mean. Voicemail systems are frustrating, e-mails are not responded to, clerks often do not know the right party to direct queries to, etc.

I can envision Open Source social networking being utilized by the education community to begin discussions and create new solutions to the myriad of problems that plague public education. Community leaders, students, parents, board members, teachers, administrators...all would be welcome to participate in the discussion, planning, and implementation process.
A paradigm shift is necessary, of course. School administrators who are visionary and open to creative problem solving problem would naturally be the first to participate. Those entrenched in topdown management would definitely be out of their comfort zone.

Cleveland has spent millions of dollars importing consultants from other cities to help solve the district's problems. Obviously that strategy is not working. The solutions may very well be right under our noses. We need to start looking to the people who understand the problems first hand for the answers.