How Successful Schools Thrive

Every year for the past 25 years, we’ve scoured the country to identify our nation’s most rapidly improving schools. Every year, we bring them together at our Model Schools Conference, a platform for these schools to showcase and share their innovative practices.

And every year I’m asked, “What makes these schools work?”

The answer is surprisingly simple – although not simple to implement.

Creating a Culture that is Focused on the Future
Above all, these schools focus on getting their students ready for the world after school!

They are not as worried about the next test, the next grade or the next level of education as most schools are. Rather, they try to envision what society and the workplace will look like in three to five years.  They then build their programs back up from that point. They analyze how technology, information systems and the global economy will change what employers expect graduates to know and do.

Our Changing World
These schools understand that technology has vaporized many entry-level and middle-class jobs. They know global competition is dramatically increasing because businesses can move work to workers anywhere in the world.

They know their students live in a digital world, which has transformed how students communicate and socialize. They understand that social media will replace today’s newspapers, television networks and radios.

Creating a Culture
The successes of these model schools are not based on any single initiative. Rather they take a systematic approach: They start by creating a culture that supports change at all levels – specifically, organizational leadership, instructional leadership and teaching.

What is your vision for students? What are your core values? What are your goals? How will you achieve them? What do you believe about student learning and achievement?

You’ve heard me say this again and again: Culture trumps strategy. Until you can articulate a vision, you will be spinning your wheels. Until you create a positive culture for change, any strategy you employ ultimately will fail.

That’s where you start.

I can help you create that culture. Please do not hesitate to contact me.

College Ready Is Not Ready Enough

Can we please bury this myth once and for all?
I’ll grant you that many students benefit from college, and some graduates earn significantly more than those who drop out or don’t attend.
That said, college no longer is the guaranteed gateway to good jobs which ensure lifelong self-sustainability.
            The reasons are clear:
-  Cost: In 2015, college graduates took on the most student debt in history.
-  What students study: I preach this to groups everywhere – what you major in matters.
In 2014, only 17 percent of graduating seniors left with jobs.  Most students are more likely to work as waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined.
We could go on, but this is depressing enough.

The Career-Ready Student
Here’s the point: It’s not about being college ready, it’s about being career ready!
We must prepare our students to know what to do when they don’t know what to do!
We need to prepare them for an increasingly unpredictable future. The world will continue to change dramatically. The gap between the skills our students need to succeed, and what they are learning today, has never been greater.

Train, Train – And Train Again
Ever heard of ASVAB?
It stands for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. If you want to join the military, you must pass this test. ASVAB focuses on four broad areas: arithmetic, mathematics knowledge, word knowledge and paragraph comprehension.
The Department of Defense develops the test and updates it every six months!
Technology is critical to job performance in the military. If you screw up, someone gets hurt. Someone dies. Military leaders understand they must constantly retrain their men and women as standards change and technology grows more sophisticated.
We’d better get a handle on this. As technology grows more complex, we must make our academic requirements much more stringent.
The academic demands of the workplace will only increase.

Computers Don’t Need Health Insurance
If your job is routine, concrete or sequential, watch out! Today’s technology can complete that job more quickly, more efficiently and for less cost than a worker.  
Computers and robots don’t need to be paid. They don’t need health insurance. They don’t get sick or take vacations. As automation technologies become more mainstream and affordable, companies will choose them to save costs. It’s inevitable.

Raising the Minimum Wage
As you likely know, our country is roiling in debate over the minimum wage.
Let’s avoid the politics of the issue and look at it as educators.
First, some quick calculations:  Let’s say you’re a fast-food worker making $9 an hour. Let’s say you work a 40-hour week, 50 weeks a year (highly unlikely, by the way). Your wage, before taxes, is $18,000.
That same worker earning $15 an hour will make $30,000 before taxes.
Is that worker better off? No question! Is he or she self-supportive? Well, I’ll let you make that call.
So far, New York and California have adopted a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
Meanwhile, have you seen these popping up?  No matter what workers earn, this is the future.

Food ordering kiosk at a fast-food restaurant.

Journalists Noam Scheiber and Ian Lovett, writing in last March’s New York Times, said this: “Many economists, even some on the left, worry that a potential loss of jobs in a number of cities where wages are comparatively low could largely offset, and perhaps even more than offset, the boon of higher incomes at the bottom of the wage scale.”

Teach What Technology Can’t
To survive, workers will need to do what technology cannot do.
To succeed, we must teach students to collaborate – for it’s certain they will work with people who hold different values and ways of communicating.
Students will need self-discipline and the ability to solve their own work-related problems. They will need to analyze data quickly. They will need to know basic statistics. They must learn technical reading and writing.
Student success will depend on creating, evaluating and analyzing material and applying solutions to read-world, unpredictable situations.
Too few schools teach these skills.
We’ve got a lot of work to do!