Following is the speech delivered by John Pepper to the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center for Education and Research awards luncheon on March 25, 2010. John Pepper is the former Chairman and CEO of the Procter & Gamble Co., and is currently Chairman of the Board of Disney Companies. He has had a lifelong interest in and involvement with education at the local, state and national levels.
OUR MOST IMPORTANT PRIORITY:
THE DEVELOPMENT AND EDUCATION OF OUR YOUTH
LEARNINGS AND ACTIONS FOR THE FUTURE
John E. Pepper – March, 2010
A quarter of a century ago, I heard a talk which changed my life. I was in Washington, DC. The then Assistant Secretary of Labor, Roger Semerad, spoke that night about the peril our nation would find itself in if we did not make a dramatic improvement in the education and development of our youth. He talked about the increasing demands of the jobs to be filled and increasing global competition. This shouldn’t have surprised me. If I had read the report, “A Nation at Risk,” published 2 years earlier in 1983, I would have known what he was talking about. That report began by saying, “Our nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre education performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves….”
It would be hard to imagine a more concise summary of the situation we face today with the even greater competitive challenge posed by the emergence of third world countries, technology requiring higher levels of education, and the social challenges caused by the decline of two-parent families and the persistence of poverty.
Numerous education reforms have been launched to address this challenge: “No Child Left Behind,” “Classrooms without walls,” charter schools, new curricula, vouchers and many more. Make no mistake, progress has come from that — nationally and here in Cincinnati. But the fact remains that, to meet this imperative — the development and education of all our youth — we have a long way to go. We are still languishing, ranking somewhere between 17th and 25th in the world in science and math. President Obama is saying what President Reagan probably was saying in 1983: “The future belongs to the nation that best educates its children.” I would add, “The future belongs to the community that best educates its children.” Bob Wehling, retired Chief Marketing Officer of Procter & Gamble and a leader in education reform puts it plainly: “We will never have a robust economy again until more of our people are better educated.”
After I heard the talk by Semerad that night in Washington, I came back to Cincinnati committed to making education and child development my highest priority outside of my career at P&G and my family.
Together with the then Mayor and School Superintendent, we founded the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative (CYC). Our focus was on mentoring and tutoring, improving college access and early childhood development.
About the same time I heard Semerad speak, I read a book that changed my life: Ron Kotulak’s “Inside The Brain.” Here I learned that the importance of the first three years of a child’s life was not just some intuitive belief but a biological fact. Kotulak documented that the development of the brain was hugely influenced by the emotional and early learning experiences surrounding a child. The implication was clear: we should do everything in our power to make sure that those experiences were positive.
In preparing this paper, I have talked to more than forty leaders in education and childhood development. I want to thank them for sharing their experience and for what they are doing for our children.
These discussions have reinforced two personal feelings:
• Humility – As I recognize the challenge of doing what it takes for all — not just some – but all of our children to be prepared to successfully enter adult life. We should recognize — no society has set out to do that before.
• Hope – for, as I’ll report, in preparing this paper, I have discovered there are many “bright spots” that say we can do this. As Ginger Rhodes, Principal of Hughes High School put it: “We don’t know everything about what works. But we know a lot.” The question, as it usually is, is whether we have the will and the perseverance to act on what we know to be true – starting from the conviction that the education and development of our youth really is our top priority.
There are many vital educational reforms which I could discuss, including the adoption of national standards (urgently needed!), extending the school year: (the current schedule is arcane, originally designed to accommodate the need for children to help their family at harvest time); the funding of public education (imagine if we funded our roads or our defense budget the way we do K-12 education; without a change, we will not eliminate the gap between the “haves and have-nots”) and “pay for performance.” As important as these issues are, I am not going to discuss them here. Rather, I will focus on three opportunities which, I think to a greater degree, are within our control in our community today.
Where Do We Stand Today?
To begin, here are the bright spots and the challenges as I see them today.
As to the bright spots:
• The graduation rate from Cincinnati Public high schools (CPS) has increased dramatically from 52% in 1990 to 82% today.
• We’re seeing strong leadership in schools produce amazing results, among even the most underprivileged children. We have proof that all kids can learn.
• We are seeing increased teacher professionalism with the establishment of lead teachers and content specialists.
• We have launched promising programs for early childhood development in Every Child Succeeds and Success by Six.
• We have fresh organization models to enable our community to better support student success in STRIVE, more integrated mentoring, tutoring and college access programs and Community Learning Centers.
• We have the access to data to better inform and improve the learning experience for individual students. Larry Johnson, Dean of the University of Cincinnati’s (UC’s) College of Education, describes this as a revolution – a move from faith-based education to data-based, student-oriented education. We are just at the infancy of this opportunity.
As to the challenges:
• Nationally, 30% of young people drop out of high school. That is 6,000 every day, over one million per year. It’s like the whole city of Cincinnati is gone.
• The price a high school dropout pays is horrible. Forty-four percent are not in the labor force and 15% more, while in the labor force, are under-employed.
• Locally, 40-50% of students in Grades 3-8 test below proficiency levels in reading, math, science and social studies.
• And we continue to see a 20-30 percentage point difference between minority and non-minority students in meeting grade standards. By the 4th grade, minority students on average are three years behind their White peers.
• Only 9% of young adults from low-income families graduate from college by the age of 24.
• We are covering only about one third of the total population that should be served with our early childhood development programs. And the extraordinarily tight state budget is reducing that, placing more importance on private support.
• We are facing what I believe will be a significant, ongoing gap in our government revenues vs. our societal needs. To bridge that gap, we must make better strategic choices on how we spend the money we have and make bold changes in organization design.
To cite just one possibility, in K-12 education, Ohio ranks 47th among the states in the share of spending that goes into the classroom, but 9th in the share that goes into administration. With 614 districts today, compared to, for example, 180 in Georgia and 170 in North Carolina, we appear to have an opportunity for consolidation. This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the kind of organizational restructuring we need to be able to support our societal needs. Business has been doing this for years. Government leaders have no choice but to do it now.
Against this background, I have asked myself what are the key learnings and what actions should we take?
Learning #1 - Strong school-based leadership makes all the difference
If I were to choose the single intervention guaranteed to significantly improve the education of our children in a reasonably short period of time, the choice is easy. It is to have a school led by an outstanding principal and empowered, committed teachers dedicated to the proposition that every student not only can learn, but will, learn—this accompanied by the die-hard commitment to do whatever it takes to achieve that objective. Bob Seuss, former Principal of Hughes, and now leading Gear Up, says it simply: “We are always looking for the latest technique. This suggests we don’t know the answer. But we do. We need great principals and great teachers. A great principal makes the school a great place for great teachers to come and stay.”
It’s the same everywhere. Several years ago an intern at Procter & Gamble asked me what was the single most important thing I’d learned in my entire business career. My answer was instantaneous: “Personal leadership makes things happen.” Nowhere have I seen that more clearly than in our schools.
Taft High School
Through the late 1990s, Taft had dropout rates of 60%; 30% in the freshman year alone. Ten years ago, Anthony Smith came to Taft as Principal, leaving Bloom, a school where he already had great success. As he arrived, some of the teachers said, “we need to get rid of the kids; replace them.” Anthony would hear none of it. At an all-staff lunch and orientation session, he told the teachers, “We are at the bottom of the totem pole; if you don’t want to give all you can, don’t bother to come back after lunch.” One of his colleagues said, “You’ve lost them all.” Not the case. They all returned from lunch and they were all on-board.
Since then, Taft has gone through one of the most remarkable transformations of any school in this country. Almost all of the children continue to come from disadvantaged backgrounds. But that is not stopping Smith, and the teachers and parents and the community from doing what it takes to ensure these students succeed. Their graduation rate today is close to 90%. Ninety-nine to one hundred percent of students are scoring proficient in the 11th grade tests. These scores are right up there with Walnut Hills which is ranked in the top 100 high schools in the nation.
You only have to spend a few minutes with Smith before you understand why this is happening. He knows every one of the 500 kids in the building personally. “It is critical to develop relationships,” he says, to convey that “there is no limit to what you can achieve. You can go as far as you want to go.” Every child has a personal advisor.
He talks to every teacher, every cafeteria worker, every security guard, one on one. “Every one of them has to understand why they are here – to serve young people. I don’t have teachers do anything I don’t do. I lead intervention tutoring sessions.” No wonder people want to work at Taft, challenging as it may be.
Anthony emphasizes student responsibility. Each student has an individualized plan, informed by performance data. Each sees and reviews his or her transcript at least 12 times before graduation. Anthony uses CPS dashboard data to pair up tutors with strengths in a particular area where the student is weak. Cincinnati Bell is partnering in all kinds of ways with Taft. It’s most important contribution, Anthony says, are the tutors.
Anthony makes it clear: “I help make decisions for children.” He shared an example with me of a student who he was told needed tutoring. The student said he didn’t. Anthony said he didn’t get it; he was going to receive tutoring, to which the student responded saying he was playing basketball, and he was too tired after practice to be tutored. Anthony said he would fix that. “No basketball!” The student quickly concluded that he could do both!
Make no mistake, Anthony has his challenges. Homeless children; kids coming to school from lockup facilities. But what progress. Disciplinary cases now run 20/year compared to 150/year in the past.
A similar transformation is happening at Withrow University. When its principal, Sharon Johnson, was asked to rebuild Withrow in 2002, shortly after she had rebuilt Parham elementary school, the percentage of students passing the 9th grade proficiency test ranged from 7% in science to 30% in reading. Today, over 85% of the students are passing these proficiency tests. Ninety-eight percent are graduating and 75% are going on to college and another 10% into the military.
Sharon Johnson’s mantra is PRO. P for Preparation: what can we do to be sure children are ready to begin learning reading and writing? R for Resources: such as getting computers for students. Sharon estimates that less than 20% of the students have a computer at home. “We forget that kids do not live in our world,” Sharon says. Sharon is working on getting those computers. O is for Opportunities: counseling, for example, on how to apply for scholarship aid and help with applications for job internships.
Sharon is all about innovation. She splits classes by gender: boys only; girls only. The result: much more focused attention.
Sharon emphasizes the need for better teacher preparation. “We need our aspirant teachers to spend at least a year working with a strong teacher and we need to do the same for aspirant principals.”
The key, Sharon emphasizes, is quality teachers: “teachers who know the content; who know how to teach; who know how to assess the outcomes of their teaching and what to do with that assessment.”
Sharon sees the root causes of our challenge as two-fold: “Kids without hope and teachers looking for excuses.” Sharon, of course, acknowledges there are big issues: drugs, problems at home. But her message to the teachers is, we simply have to deal with these issues. “We must constantly revisit our mission. Our job is to have students light up like a flashlight; help them see the light; that is our job; to inspire them.”
The sign in the Withrow conference room says it all: “We will empower students!” ….. “Is what you’re doing empowering students?”
Carson Elementary School
Ruthenia Jackson, Principal at Carson Elementary, creates the same kind of spirit. Like all great Principals, Ruthenia is everywhere – in the classroom, coaching teachers, at athletic events, role modeling parent/teacher conferences. Her focus with her teachers is simple: data driven; keeping their spirits up; reinforcing what they do well; conveying that she believes in them just as they need to believe in the kids.
Ruthenia emphasizes the importance of our understanding how children feel and why. She told me this story. One day recently, an 8th grade girl, in great anger, told her teacher to “shut up.” The student was brought to the Principal’s office. Rather than just going at the student on a tear, Ruthenia asked the student what had caused her to do this. She quickly learned that the student was very worried about her three-year-old brother who that morning was going into a serious operation. Ruthenia and the young girl called her mother to see how the operation was going. Fortunately, it was going well. Ruthenia urged the student to pray for her brother. In subsequent days she frequently asked “how is your little brother doing?” You can imagine how cared for the student felt. At the same time, Ruthenia told the student that she needed to apologize for having said “shut up.” And she did. Ruthenia took the time to understand.
“As long as I can make a difference for kids, I am here,” Jackson says. “If we are not successful with our students, all of us in the community will fail.”
South Avondale School
Yzvetta Macon, Principal at this, one of CPS’ previously lowest performing schools is riveted with her staff on achieving excellence. Her mantra: “Whatever we need to do for children, we will do. Sometimes the contract gets bent. At the same time, no one wants to leave.”
Her teachers talk to individual children every two weeks; “kids are constantly looking at their own data. Teachers ask what goal they will pursue and what strategy they will set to reach it. At parent open houses, the room is now so jammed we sometimes run out of seats,” Yzvetta notes. What a change for the better! She has mentors from UC Medical School and a CYC Girls Club. Everybody is on the field!
“The teachers and I are exhausted at the end of every day, but it is the kind of exhaustion that makes you want to come back the next day,” she says.
Her attitude towards her students is uncompromising: “You will master this program. You will be prepared for high school. South Avondale is your pathway to success.”
It’s the same everywhere – high expectations drive progress.
I love the story of Molly Howard which is told in the superb book “Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard.” Molly had been a long-time special education teacher in Louisville, Georgia, when she decided to apply to become the Principal of the new Jefferson County High School. She got the job — and with it a tough challenge: 80% of the school’s students lived in poverty; only 15% of students in the previous high school had gone on to college. She found teachers had a nearly defeatist attitude. “There was this belief that some children can and some children can’t. That we are here for the ones that can get it and we must accept that we are going to lose some. I knew I’d have to challenge that,” said Howard.
She acted quickly to sell a new identity. She believed that every student should aspire to go to college so she abolished the school’s two-track system that had separated “college-bound” students from “vocational” students. From now on, everyone would share the college-bound identity. Her boldest change was to the grading system. She offered only four grades: A, B, C and NY. NY stood for “not yet.” In the new system, students couldn’t stop until they cleared the bar. “We define up-front to the kids what it takes to receive an A, and a B and a C,” says Howard. “If they do sub-standard work, the teacher will say ‘not yet.’ That gives them the mindset: ‘my teacher thinks I can do better. It changes their expectations’.”
What happened? The school was re-born. Students and teachers became more engaged, the school’s graduation rate increased dramatically, and student test scores ran up so much that remedial courses were eliminated. In 2008, the National Association of Secondary School Principals declared Howard the U.S. Principal of the Year, out of 48,000 candidates. She flipped Jefferson from a fixed mind-set school to a growth mind-set school, one committed to the belief that every student was capable of doing acceptable work, that no student was doomed to failure. There is no “never” at Jefferson anymore. There is only a “not yet.”
Princeton High School
William Sprankles, the 30-year-old dynamic Principal of Princeton High School has the same attitude: every child has the capability to go beyond a high school education. Shortly after becoming Principal two years ago, he eliminated the “General Level” class; he made College Prep the new base level. “There is nothing I will not do to enable every disadvantaged kid to succeed”, William says. His commitment is total: “God gave me this opportunity to lead. I will not fail. I love these kids.”
His belief in the importance of teachers is also total. “The #1 most important variable in student learning is the teacher. If I don’t pick the right teachers and help them develop, I can’t succeed.” Sprankles is a zealot for transparency and for data. Students see how they are doing at least quarterly. The results at Princeton have improved sharply under Sprankles’ leadership. The graduation rate is 97.4%. I relished, but was not surprised by, Sprankles’ comment on this: “I’m worrying about the other 2.6%”.
Proficiency test results have increased by an average of six percentage points.
Seventy-five percent of the graduates go on to a 4-year or 2-year college and another 10% into the military.
Yet, there is not a hint of complacency. To the contrary, there is intense energy to close the gaps to meet the school’s academic goals, overall and for each sub-group. Sprankles sums it up this way: “I will not leave this school until it is where it needs to be and it has the people and systems to sustain it.”
The Secret of Success
What is happening in these schools and in many others in Cincinnati and across the country, is what makes for success in any organization – a strong principal leader is empowering strong teacher leaders, and enlisting parent and community support to advance the development of every single child. They are enlivened by one overarching ethic: every child can and will learn. Teachers have a deep, caring interest in children – their character and their future. There is a sense of mission, a moral contract between children and teachers.
In a constructive, but very clear way children feel pressure to succeed. Whether or not they are going to take school seriously is a choice that has been made for them by adults. They help instill a mindset for their students that sees their biggest responsibility, and biggest opportunity as achieving the best possible education. As I grew up, and as you probably grew up, I viewed school as “my job.” I knew that doing well in school was the way I was going to make it and I didn’t want to let my parents down.
Colin Powell talks about this matter of mindset. “There was never any discussion in my home about whether I was going to college. It was just an expectation,” Powell recalls. Whether explicit or not, Powell heard his parents and aunts saying: “We’re poor, we’re immigrants, but we’re proud and your responsibility is to make sure you never shame this family. We have expectations for you.” Not every child feels such expectations.
Far too many kids in urban areas today are focused on achieving competency in street life. It’s education vs. street life for them. They see their job as being competitive on the street, not in the classroom. The classroom can be an anachronism for them; something they have to put up with, or leave as soon and often as they can.
What can we do about this all-too-frequent reality? It’s not a simple question to answer. But we can start by linking the student with an inspiring teacher or other adult role model – a person who can open their mind to another path to success; someone who lets them know they matter and who helps them experience the joy of learning and success; someone who builds that commitment we all have experienced to do something for another person beyond what we would do for ourselves.
The “Smell of the Place”
Outstanding schools have something else and it can be detected immediately: a positive “Smell of the Place.” The late Professor Sumatra Ghoshal, who taught at the London School of Economics, described the “Smell of the Place” for me. He contrasted an environment marked by “contract, control and constraint” to an environment marked by stretch (“we’re pursuing a great goal”); support (“we’re all in this together”); discipline (“we know we have a job to do and we’re going to do it at the top of our game”) and, underlying it all, trust in one another. I have found that I can spend a half hour in any school or classroom and I can pick up the presence of – or the absence of – a positive “Smell of the Place.” I can see it in the eyes of the children and in how they are engaged with the teachers.
It’s all about organizational culture. Great principals create a culture that breeds innovation, that overcomes traditional barriers, that does what it takes to get the job done. I recently read a book that presents a very simple and compelling model of organizational effectiveness. Organizations are plotted against two axes: The extent to which people agree on what they want and the extent to which people agree on how to get there. A company which they place in the upper right-hand quadrant, denoting the highest level of people agreeing on what they want and how to get there is Apple. I would put Procter & Gamble up there as well. In the bottom left-hand quadrant are organizations where there is no consensus on either what people want to achieve or what to do. The authors argue that most schools are in that bottom left quadrant. They overstate the problem. However, it is true that people in a school system often have different objectives, and certainly there is a wide disparity of views on what most impacts student learning. What is clear is that thanks to strong leadership, the most effective schools are up in that upper right-hand quadrant: they are very clear on what they want: the education of every child. And they are equally clear what to do. They are enrolling every student, every teacher, every staff member, parent and community organization in doing what it takes to enable not just some, but every child to learn.
As Larry Johnson, Dean of UC’s School of Education, told me, “We need to be wary of always looking for the magic bullet; the one new school model that will make everything work; the new piece of curriculum that will get everyone to read correctly or understand math. It’s much less about the content today than having the content understood and applied correctly in a school culture dedicated to hard work, to understanding the data and acting on it, to high expectations for every child and an absolute commitment that this expectation will be met.” The results we’ve witnessed at Taft and Withrow University are vivid proof of this.
It’s A Tough Job
There’s a particular reason why we need extraordinarily strong leadership in our schools: It’s a very tough job. The challenges are obviously complex. Beyond that, education is one of the most politicized businesses in the world. Just consider the number of constituencies that a principal has to serve: parents, the boards of education, local steering committees, state departments of education, mayors, unions, the voters. And the list goes on. You’re in the spotlight about how you are handling student discipline and neighborhood relations. You’re campaigning for levies and receiving mandates from the state and federal governments. All with limited resources. This takes strong leadership, focused within all the swirling requirements and pressures on doing all it takes to ensure that every student will learn.
So What Do We Do?
My celebration of the great results achieved by the leadership in our best-performing schools raises a simple question: Why can’t we have more great principals and more outstanding teachers? This brings me to what I believe is our single-biggest realistic opportunity for progress — significantly improving the preparation and continued professional development of principals and teachers.
The development of our principals today, nationally and locally, is woefully inadequate. As a country we are under-investing in developing the next generation of great principals by creating and maintaining strong principal feeder and preparation programs.
It’s not that we aren’t doing anything. We have principal performance standards in Ohio. CPS has our best principals interviewing aspiring principals. The State of Ohio is establishing an Urban Principal endorsement program. All good. But we are a long way from having the pipeline development and leadership training that we need for our principals.
Again and again, I have heard from those with whom I talked that principals need more training and more experience in how to lead an organization: how to establish a shared vision; how to mobilize and inspire schools and the surrounding community; how to make critical budget decisions; how to use data and engage in tough personnel discussions. As Virginia Rhodes acknowledges: “this is not pleasant work, but you need to learn how to do it. It all comes down to organization development.” Put simply, principals need to learn to be leaders, not only managers.
Today, P&G spends more time than ever on leadership development. So does every other great company. And so should our school systems.
We have a good model emerging here. With coordination from Deputy CPS Superintendent Laura Mitchell, the principals of our 16 lowest performing Cincinnati public schools are receiving leadership training at the University of Virginia using the combined resources of the Darden School of Business and the Currie School of Education. The reports on the value of this are encouraging. Yzvetta Macon says “it is showing us how to be more data driven, how to think outside the box, how to develop 60-90 day action plans”. Craig Hockenberry, Principal at Oyler School in Price Hill, describes it this way, “we (the 16 principals) are working as a team. We are learning a lot from each other. We are being taught by great professors and they are presenting things that have worked in businesses”.
There is an important lesson here. Accessing the talent and resources of our Schools of Business and, perhaps, Arts & Sciences alongside our Schools of Education can better prepare aspirant Principals for the job ahead. I understand UC’s Larry Johnson is exploring this. I hope he makes it happen. It makes sense. This is an area in which business leaders can likely help as adjunct lecturers. David Joyce, CEO of GE’s Aircraft Division, goes further, raising the possibility of creating “virtual universities” which would partner businesses with schools in particular areas of expertise. I believe his idea deserves careful study.
Formal schooling will only take you so far, however. I am convinced that aspirant principals should spend at least a couple of years as an assistant principal working with one of our strongest principals. We’ve done this from time to time in CPS but, sadly, budget cuts have too often eliminated the position. We should not let that happen. Craig Hockenberry describes his two-year internship as “by far his most important development experience”. “I couldn’t believe the things I saw”, he says. “I had to learn on the job.” As one principal said to me: “Without this experience, we just stumble about.” We all know it: we learn on the job, working with a great leader.
William Sprankles emphasizes the importance of principals’ learning from one another through collaborative reflection and shared, interactive discussion. How ironic it is he notes that we stress collaborative learning for our students and don’t practice it enough as principals and teachers. “Just putting principals in a room and talking with them, even with an inspired speaker, won’t do it,” he says.
Mary Ronan, Superintendent of CPS, puts it plainly: “It is so important that a principal come into the position with experience and a bag of tricks and credibility. A principal should be a teacher of other teachers and certainly be able to create the educational culture in a school”. You only learn these kind of things by doing them.
We also need to remove what I can only call nonsensical barriers, such as asking an experienced teacher who is considering becoming an assistant principal to take a pay cut. Mary Ronan is looking into this. As she says, “We need to make the principal position more attractive”.
In conclusion, we need to do a lot better in preparing principals as leaders. It all comes down to people: their quality and their experience.
Teacher training needs improvement as well. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan asserts that “America’s university-based teacher preparation programs need revolutionary, not evolutionary, change.” Too often, our Schools of Education are treated as “cash cows” by the Universities that house them. Admission standards are too low. The schools of education are not doing what they should. We need to do better – a lot better.
Sharon Johnson sums it up succinctly: “We need teachers who know the content; who know how to teach it; how to assess the outcomes of their teaching and what to do with that assessment.”
The importance of a strong teacher is well-documented — and it is staggering. One piece of research shows not a 10, not a 20, but a 50% point difference in proficiency test results between students having a strong teacher compared to a weak teacher for three consecutive years. A Stanford economist found that while the top five percent of teachers were able to impart a year and a half’s worth of learning to students in one school year as measured by standardized tests, the weakest five percent advanced their students by only half a year.
Great teachers do something more than instill students with the knowledge to do well in standard tests. They instill the love of learning and high expectations. I’m sure every one of us in this room can recall those teachers who did this for us.
As UC’s new President, Greg Williams, says: “Great teachers provide a sense of hope. They don’t let students put a limit on what they can achieve due to their current circumstances.”
Bob Herbert, writing in the “New York Times”, celebrated Debora Kenny, who created three successful charter schools in Harlem. Debora says that, with all the talk about improving schools in this country, we tend, more often than not, to miss the point about the importance of teachers. There is an overemphasis on “the program elements” – things like curriculum and class size and a longer day. “If you have an amazing teacher who is talented and passionate and give them the freedom and support to teach well, that is just 100 times more important than anything else”.
She attributes the difficulty of repeating the successes of outstanding schools to the fact that “they were trying to replicate programs instead of trying to develop people.” Not that program elements are unimportant. They are, but much more important is what she describes as her “obsession with how to develop great teachers.” Kenny attributes the success of her schools to having “created a culture that brings out the passion of the teachers and they bring out the passion in the kids.”
We have some positive things going for us in our community with regard to teacher training. The Mayerson Academy is a great resource. CPS is benefitting hugely from a $20 million grant from General Electric to improve teachers’ math and science skills. Teachers are learning how to use student performance data to design a better learning experience. They are saying, “this is what we need”. This program relies on team teaching. As a result, Mary Ronan and Kathleen Ware, Director of the Mayerson Academy, are seeing a more collaborative culture, not only among Cincinnati teachers, but with the teams from the other four cities where GE has made grants.
CPS’s career ladder also now provides incentives for lead teachers to become content specialists and coaches to younger teachers.
Still, we are not where we should be.
Almost everyone I’ve talked to emphasizes the need for better teaching of math and reading content. Ideally, all our math and science teachers will have majored in the subject before getting their teaching license.
There are not nearly enough trained special education teachers. Up to 25% of the children in our local schools need special ed support.
Teachers also need training on how to use technology to provide the education children need. Kids are into technology in every possible way: social media, games, etc. The core question is how to employ technology to enhance learning, particularly for those who have dropped out of the traditional classroom environment.
Most importantly, however, I share the conclusion that teacher education should include a full year of in-classroom experience as an intern paired with a great teacher. That is the only way teachers will learn how to engage students where they’re coming from – and if they love teaching them. Craig Hockenberry of Oyler sees no alternative but for a teacher to actually serve in the classroom in an urban setting. “I’ve spent countless hours with teachers, telling them they need to suck it up. Yes, parents will scream at you. Some of them may even throw something. Of course, they shouldn’t do that, but it happens. You need to know where they are coming from and where their kids are coming from. You can’t learn that from a book or in a college classroom.”
After graduating, teachers should have extended mentoring by an outstanding and caring teacher.
UC’s Dean of Education, Larry Johnson, urges that we “rebrand” teaching as a practice-based profession, like medicine or nursing, with a more-closely monitored induction period, akin to a doctor’s residency, and career-long professional development. Surely he has it right!
Dick Brodhead, President of Duke, presents this challenge: “We must take pains to entrust the work of teaching to the most devoted and inspiring of our contemporaries, those best geniuses who can make education happen.” To which I would add: we must give them the quality education and continuing development we would expect in any profession.
Encouragingly, increased funding to support stronger teacher training is becoming available, including through The Gates Foundation and the Obama administration. One way or the other, we need to provide it. Nothing is more important.
The Importance of Continuity
There’s one more point about leadership I want to highlight, and that is the importance of continuity. Principals and teachers need to be in place long enough to make their plans work. Mary Ronan makes the point that “we start and stop too many things. We don’t provide enough time for something to work”. All of us in business have encountered this trap. Tony Smith told me it took him 3-1/2 years before he knew he had the culture at Taft developing in the way he wanted. Ruthenia Jackson expects it will take 3-4 years to create the culture of excellence she strives for at Carson.
The lack of continuity in our school administration and teaching profession is debilitating. Sixteen percent of all the teachers in this country will leave their jobs before the end of this year. This lack of continuity for teachers is greatest in the schools serving disadvantaged students who often need this continuity the most. In New York City, for example, 44% of teachers are gone by their fourth year, while in Scarsdale, a nearby affluent suburb, 82% of its teachers are there after five years.
In Cincinnati, in the last ten years, we have had four superintendents. Not one of them had a tenure lasting longer than three years. This produces an inevitable churn of new ideas, leaving too little time to follow up on what has just been started. Can you imagine if the heads of our corporations had average tenures of just three years and that this went on and on over the course of a decade? These would not be companies you’d want to invest in. Observing the leadership of Mary Ronan, Superintendent of CPS, I can only express the hope she will be around for a long time. I was encouraged though not surprised to hear this assessment of Ronan’s leadership from Melissa Young, who recently came to CPS from Orlando to oversee math content. “They (CPS) are grabbing best practices from all around the country”.
Finally, we need to celebrate our most outstanding teachers and principals. They are not going to receive five- or six-figure bonuses. But they – the best of them – deserve our unvarnished appreciation and recognition.
Learning #2 Investing more in proven infant and child care and pre-kindergarten educational programs is the best possible investment
There is no other way we are going to have all children enter kindergarten on an equal playing field.
It is impossible for me to fully appreciate the day-to-day challenges which many children experience. More than ever, our community lives in two different worlds, often only a few miles apart. In one, children do not have enough food (many principals worry about how their students will eat over the weekend); they may encounter domestic violence – or have a parent in jail or working two or three jobs or being unemployed. It is so easy to separate ourselves from or fail to appreciate the challenges that others face. It is hardly surprising that children from the highest economic group start out at about the age of five with kindergarten reading readiness scores 60% higher than children from the lowest economic group. We should not allow this to continue.
What accounts for this disparity? Many things, surely, but none as important as the socio-economic environment in which a child grows up. I recently saw a striking report on the conversations that parents have with their child in their first three years. It turns out that on average, parents speak 1500 words per hour to their infant children. That average masks a huge difference. “Talkative” college-educated parents spoke on average 2100 words to their infants, while children in what were described as “welfare families” heard their parents speak only 600 words. The researchers estimated that by age 36 months, children of talkative college-educated parents had heard their parents speak 48 million words while children in welfare families had heard 13 million words. What’s more, the most important words in terms of subsequent cognitive achievements seemed to be those which were spoken in the first year of life.
This obviously puts enormous emphasis on parental education, stressing the importance of talking to their children as well as having high quality infant daycare centers.
While we still have far to go, we are in a better position today than ever before in our community to make good on the opportunity and the responsibility to invest in early childhood development. Why? For starters, more people are realizing that the first three years of a child’s life are hugely important. The word is out. Most important, we now have programs that work.
Every Child Succeeds is serving 3,000 children in our community from pregnancy to three years. We’re seeing a reduction in infant mortality rates by two-thirds; over 90% of the children in the program are on track developmentally, and over 70% of mothers have returned to school or gained a job. Moreover, thanks to grants from Toyota and the Charles H. Dater Foundation, Every Child Succeeds has, over the past four years, engaged with the National Center for Family Literacy to develop a very promising “Bringing Literacy Home” curriculum. Information collected from home visitors and parents indicate that this curriculum is expanding parents’ understanding of how their children learn to read. It is being implemented in homes with great enthusiasm. Research to further quantify the impact of the curriculum is underway, as are discussions on how to market and distribute the Bringing Literacy Home curriculum to a broader audience.
“Success by Six” is providing about 2,500 children with pre-kindergarten education. We have seen a 20% increase since 2006 in the percentage of children achieving target reading skills as they enter kindergarten. And we’ve seen even greater improvement for those children who have been in a quality pre-kindergarten program for 2-3 years instead of one.
I have been very impressed by the leaders of these early childhood programs. They are all focused on continuing improvement in these key areas:
• Creating more high quality accredited child care and learning centers, particularly for infants. Only 30% of eligible families are in the Every Child Succeeds program. Less than half of the children ages five and under in low-income homes in the county are receiving Pre-K readiness training. And only about 18% of the estimated 5,582 children who are in center-based Pre-K programs are in quality-rated programs.
Doing this will not be easy. It is the area in which, more than any other, I believe we need more funding. And as Sallie Westheimer, President of 4Cs, explains, “there is no ‘system’ for Pre-K. There are thousands of delivery vehicles; individual homes; various programs like Head Start. It is hard to dictate quality standards”. Still, offering higher reimbursement for the higher rated quality programs is helping. We need to continue to drive broader awareness of this incentive.
• Obtaining better data so teachers can improve the development of each child, year-to-year, prior to entering kindergarten.
• Recruiting more qualified teachers and addressing their dismally low compensation. Teachers, even with BA degrees, are sometimes starting at $18,000 per year, an income that qualifies for food stamps, just like most of the families they serve. No wonder the turnover rate for day-care providers in children’s centers is 40%.
• Developing innovative programs like the “Bringing Home Literacy” curriculum which offers the possibility of expanding reading readiness far more broadly and at lower cost.
It’s going to take more money to provide the broad coverage of Child Care and Pre-K Education programs we need. We’ve made a good start. Led by Jim Zimmerman, former CEO of Macy’s and Founding Chair of Success by Six, the “Winning Beginnings” campaign was launched two years ago under the auspices of the United Way. This campaign has raised about $10 million for Every Child Succeeds, Success by Six and 4Cs. The need for private support is greater than ever as the state’s budget challenges have wreaked havoc on early learning programs. Spending in the current biennium has been cut by 15% or $130 million. The state’s Early Learning Initiative was eliminated, affecting roughly 1,000 children in the Cincinnati area. And eligibility for vouchers, critical to poor families affording child care, was cut from 200% to 150% of the poverty level or about $27,000 for a family of three.
We also must be smarter in how we spend the funds we do have. We are under-investing in the early years. Only about 7% of the State of Ohio’s total education spending goes to the early childhood years (0-5).
Study after study shows that high quality pre-school programs deliver returns of up to $7 per dollar spent. Do you know what the biggest component of those returns are? I’m sure you’d guess one of them: lifetime income. The other one you might not guess: lower costs related to crime. Sadly, the reality of that tradeoff is clearer today than ever. This year, in the State of Ohio, we will spend $3.2 billion in the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. That’s 40% as much as the State spends on K-12 education. The number of prisoners incarcerated in prison today in Ohio has increased three-fold since 1980 to over 50,000. We all know it: one of the penalties we pay for not doing what we should do in the development of our youth is higher rates of criminal activity. That doesn’t even begin to calculate the more important loss of human life and potential.
The challenges are large: funding, reaching families in need, and getting more qualified teachers. Yet, as Patti Gleason, who has overseen early learning centers for 30 years, says: “We are moving in the right direction. We have to do the best with what we’ve got. We need to strive toward out long-term goal”.
Learning #3 It Takes A Community And That Means All Of Us
Over the course of American history, the school has been asked to take on more and more problems and become the solution to more and more social ills. What’s wrong with this picture? Simply that Superintendents, principals and teachers cannot do it alone. They know it and we know it. As Eileen Cooper Reed, President of the CPS Board, says, “External relationships aren’t going to solve all your problems, but they can help you reach the next level of success”.
Kids are in school for less than half their waking hours. The environment they are in outside of school is vital to how they develop. There are many services, like psychiatric, eye, and dental care, which schools cannot provide on their own. The time isn’t available, nor are the funds or capability. There is the need for adult role models and character-building activities. That is why it takes a community — businesses, churches, synagogues, social service organizations, all of us working together — to achieve the shared vision of meeting the needs of individual children and families. Eileen Cooper Reed says it this way: “Drawing on partners from the local neighborhoods helps propel everyone forward to give them a sense of pride and ownership in what is happening.”
Again, I am pleased to tell you that we are in a better position to make that community support happen today in Cincinnati than ever before. Why? Because we have new organizational models that are “bright spots.”
We have in STRIVE, the most well-organized program I have seen to bring together all the activity that it takes for the development of children, prenatal through high school. It is leading the formation of alliances of our many mentoring, tutoring, mental health and college access organizations. It is helping these organizations to work together to establish clear and aligned measureable goals and gather data to show how those goals are being met and drive improvement. STRIVE, while still young, offers great promise to our community.
COMMUNITY LEARNING CENTERS – Of great importance, we now have schools that have become Community Learning Centers (CLCs). Deeply informed by the local community, they are bringing in a wide variety of needed services from organizations not only during the school day, but after school, on weekends and over the Summer. We have fulltime mental health partners in 42 of our 52 CPS schools. Over the past four years, we have gone from 70% to 94% of schoolchildren receiving immunizations.
We have full-time Resource Coordinators leading these Community Learning Centers in 23 of our public schools. Funding and coordination is provided by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and United Way.
Earlier this month, I visited the Community Learning Center at Oyler. What a sobering experience. Yet hopeful and inspiring! I learned first-hand what challenges many of these students face. I saw what Principal, Craig Hockenberry, and his staff and the many on-site organizations were accomplishing. I visited an on-site Boys and Girls Club and a center operated by the City’s Health Department which provides full health services, including routine check-ups and mental health counseling. (Over 20 children each week receive dental treatments at the Price Hill Clinic.) The City Recreation Center is operating after school and evening programs. Students come to the “Kids Café” for free hot meals provided by the Free Store Foodbank. Oyler has the largest mentoring and tutoring program in the nation: over 350 mentors from 65 different organizations. It also houses a college access center that partners with Jobs for Cincinnati Graduates and the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative. An early childhood center is being installed to serve infants and toddlers.
Since Oyler’s high school program started two years ago, there has not been one single dropout. Contrast that to the terrible situation not long ago when over 50% of graduating 8th graders failed to pass even beyond the 10th grade.
There has been real progress in academic performance. On my visit, I met some wonderful teachers accounting for that progress. Bonnie Rowe, a 3rd grade teacher, was one of them. Four years ago, a dismal five percent of the 3rd grade students at Oyler were passing the proficiency tests. That has now increased to 60%, and it’s going higher. I could just see the engagement of the eight children sitting around Bonnie in her chair, doing their reading exercise. (I was struck by the fact that Bonnie was able to work with this small group only because the rest of the 3rd grade class was being tutored one-on-one in another room.)
Truly, Oyler is a bright spot” to build on.
Another example of a Community Learning Center which is making a big difference is at Carson Elementary School. Two mental therapists from Beech Acres are there every day. Family Forward provides after-school programs and is creating a “kids café” to serve dinner. Breakfast is already served, as is lunch.
The CLC at Winton Hills is open seven days a week. Joe Wilmers, an outstanding in-school leader, observes, “Many of our families make less than $10,000 per year. They need help in filling out paperwork for scholarships and grants. In addition, we have as many homeless students as any school in the city. Every week we have at least one new homeless family. A big part of my job is to refer them to shelters and make sure they have some emergency food.” You know what Joe Wilmers is doing is preventing dropouts.
CLCs are also bringing arts education to schools. The Museum School at Silverton Paideia is a good example. With leadership from the Art Museum, every major museum and cultural organization, including the Playhouse in the Park, Museum Center, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and even the Reds Hall of Fame, are working with the school to create a unique curriculum during the day and an exciting menu of cultural programs for the community in the evenings and on the weekends.
The Fine Arts Fund, working with the Cincinnati Public Schools, is coordinating a pilot that has 12 arts organizations partnering with the 3rd grade classrooms in four community learning centers. They are seeing a significant benefit to the students’ learning experience as students not only connect more closely to content, but take real joy in their discovered creativity. Arts organizations are going to where the students are. An example: the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra will perform shortly at Princeton High School. We need more of this.
Business partnerships also play a big role in these CLCs. Cincinnati Bell at Taft, General Electric at Aiken, P&G at Hughes, to name just three of dozens. Louise Hughes, who leads local community relations at Procter & Gamble, points to the opportunity for businesses to share what they are doing so that we can take advantage of each other’s learning and synergy where it exists.
Bottom line, the Community Learning Centers are helping to provide children with the conditions needed for learning to take place.
What is next on the agenda for the CLCs? Helping teachers take teaching to the next level. We will be helped to do this by, for the first time, having a data pool. Darlene Kamine, who coordinates the CLCs, notes that “we now know not only how an entire school is doing, but how every individual student is doing. In this way, we can be sure the right services are getting to the right students in the right way. Parents can see how kids are doing, too.”
Yes, these are bright spots. In STRIVE, in the alliances of our mentoring, tutoring and college access organizations and in the Community Learning Centers, we have a more systemic and coordinated way to bring already existing community resources to students and their families. This improves services and, by taking advantage of existing resources, reduces cost, a must in these budget-strapped times.
And, yet, we can and must do far more. These programs I have described are still reaching far less than half of our children and the families who need them. And there is agreement they should focus even more on improving academic results.
Doing this will involve just about every one of us.
It’s An Issue of Mindset And Will
This brings us to the gut issue – the issue of mindset and will. It is an issue that has become increasingly clear to me over the years.
It’s vital that we not only express but act personally on the belief that the development and education of our children is our top priority. Not someone else’s priority but – OUR priority.
I am struck by the fact that while we all avow the importance of the education of our youth, we don’t bring to it the intensity of conviction that it is an absolutely top priority imperative; the kind of conviction that we bring, for example, to national defense or having a police force that keeps us safe.
Do we really think the development of our youth is vital to the future of our community? If you look at what we do, there are some reasons to question whether we really do mean it. Or at least whether we’re acting on that belief. Look at how we spend our money. How many of our disadvantaged children receive the early childhood development support that we know, based on experience, will help them enter school successfully and go on to graduate? How often, when government officials stand up to talk about the state of the city or county or state, is the first thing they talk about how our children are doing?
To be fair, the picture is not all bleak. The community has passed school levies, even in very challenging economic times. But we need to do more.
It’s vital that we not only express, but act personally on the belief that the development and education of our children is our top priority. Not someone else’s priority, but OUR priority.
Permit me this analogy. In a company like P&G, we, of course, regard training as important to help employees develop their full potential. But it’s more than this. We know training is absolutely fundamental to the success of the total company. That is why we bring the emphasis to it that we do. That is why all our P&G top managers teach classes; that’s why employees come from all around the world, at considerable expense, to attend the training. This is the type of intensity we need for the education and development of our children.
It’s not only a question of “doing right” for children. It’s an economic question. All of us have seen the ROI data showing the payoff of preventing high school dropouts and investing in early childhood education. We see that quality programs pay out in multiples that would make any business person jump at the opportunity to invest in them. Yet we don’t take the action that is indicated. Why? Partly because we have other priorities. Partly because it calls for up front spending at a time of stressed budgets, partly because the payoff seems far away. Yet, we’re called on to make investments like this all the time in business. And, at our best, we make them. We need to do that here – in the most important investment of all.
Too often, I fear supporting education is viewed as charity or philanthropy rather than an investment which every one of us is involved in and which will decide our future.
What Can I Do?
All of this leads to the question: “What can I do?”
A great deal!
• You can become a mentor or a tutor. We need thousands more.
I became a mentor 15 years ago. It has been one of the most rewarding, and frankly educational experiences I have ever had. My first mentee, Kevin Andrew, and his family became part of our family.
The impact of mentoring and college access programs on student lives is amazing. Ninety-eight percent of participating Seniors graduate; 85% go on to college. Promotion rates and attendance go up; disciplinary cases go down. There are many programs to choose from. Big Brothers and Big Sisters, the CYC, Adopt-a-Class and other programs require as little as an hour a week, or even 2-10 hours a year. One way or the other, this is an opportunity to change a youngster’s life forever through the expenditure of a very small amount of time. This is the opportunity to give a young person, often one with few, if any, adult role models, that most valuable of gifts: your belief in them, your expectations of what they can achieve and your support in realizing their dreams.
Would you be willing to spend an hour a week to change a youngster’s life forever? That is the opportunity. It’s hard to imagine a better investment of time.
If asked what has made the biggest difference in our lives, I believe every one of us would come back to a few relationships – with our parents, a teacher or two, perhaps a few other adults. There has never been a time when strong adult relationships are as vital in youngsters’ lives as today. This is especially true for disadvantaged youth, growing up in poverty; subject to peer pressures the likes of which we have never experienced; and many without the support of two parents.
It’s hard to believe what has happened to the family structure in the last 50 years. In 1960, about 5% of births were to unmarried women. Today, almost 40% of births are to unmarried women. That’s not to say that children growing up in a single Mom home can’t do well. Of course they can; millions are. But it often is a big challenge. And it’s a challenge we can do a lot about by becoming a mentor or a tutor. I remember Ruthenia Jackson, Principal at Carson Elementary School, telling me as I left her office: “Key to reaching my goal of achieving Academic Excellence (the top rating in CPS) is to get more tutors.”
Simone Bess, who leads the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative’s mentoring program, put it this way: “To help disadvantaged kids through tough times, they just need a few things:
o An adult role model
o Something they are good at and can take pride in
o And it helps for them to be attached to the religious community”
Simone saw her dad get up every day for 42 years, in great shape or sick, or in between, and he went to work every day. She was one of 13 children; 12 went to college; five got Masters degrees and three received PhDs. “This is the kind of culture and family unit that built success”, she says. It’s what built Colin Powell. Too many of today’s kids, particularly in our urban areas, have not seen this. We can help them see it by spending as little as an hour a week with them. Do this and I guarantee that you will never again view these young people as an abstract statistic. You will see an individual youngster, whose life you have changed for the better.
• You can contribute to “Winning Beginnings”, allowing us to meet the urgent goal of expanding coverage of proven early childhood and kindergarten readiness programs led by Every Child Succeeds and Success by Six.
• Whether a business, or a health or social support organization, you can partner with a Community Learning Center to help the school’s students succeed. In a world of tight budgets and increasing needs, it is especially important that we bring existing resources to bear for children and their families in a strategic and integrated way. This is the only way we are going to close the gap between our needs and our means.
• You can advocate for policies that strengthen the development of outstanding principals and teachers, knowing that, while there is no magic bullet in this business of K-12 education, having a strong principal and empowered, inspiring teachers in every classroom comes close.
Well, there you have it. I hope I have conveyed these three truths:
• With great principal and teacher leadership, all kids can learn, despite their being in the most challenging of circumstances.
• Supporting children, from birth through pre-kindergarten, is a great investment. We need more of it.
• Community support is a must. And by “community,” I mean all of us, believing and acting on the conviction that the development of the children in our community is indeed our highest priority.
To declare the goal of enabling all of our children to develop and learn as challenging is altogether obvious. To declare that more than anything else, it will determine our community’s and nation’s future is, quite simply, the truth. We are linked together in realizing the benefits that a community on the forefront of educating and developing its youth will accrue. We are also linked in the price our children and our grandchildren and our community will pay if we allow the development of our children to languish.
In my lifetime, we’ve never had clearer ideas on what to do to carry out this priority. Now, we need the will and the persistence to do it.
Let us make the years ahead ones of transformational improvement. Let us be able to look back and say we delivered on the imperative we know to be true. Let us identify what we can do to give children the chance to fulfill their God-given potential; to make a difference in a child’s life as others have made a difference in ours; to do something so that five or ten years from now a young man or woman will think back and identify us as someone who changed their life by believing in them as people believed in us.
In closing, I recall these words from the Talmud: “We are not required to complete the work, but neither are we free to desist from it.”
In that spirit, you will find contact information on the attached form to learn more about the volunteer activities described in this paper. Please become involved in whatever way you can. But become involved! If you have any comments or suggestions on what else we can do, please let me know at: Jepepjr@aol.com