Monday, April 26, 2010

The Public Education and Business Coalition - an Interview with Rosann Ward

As the Public Education and Business Coalition’s annual business and education luncheon approaches with keynote speaker Dr. John Medina, author of “Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School”, I have been taking a closer look at PEBC and wanted to learn more. Their work is impressive and worthy of more attention. Rosann Ward, the President of PEBC was enthusiastic about sharing information about the work of this organization.

First, what is the history and mission of PEBC?

It started out as two separate organizations. One of them started in 1983 and was called the Public Education Coalition. It was founded by two business people, both lawyers looking for ways that the community could improve overall school quality. They convened with superintendents from Denver, Cherry Creek, Jefferson County, Douglas, Littleton and Boulder and the participants concluded that the most pressing need was help with professional development for teachers. This was the first of nine of organizations funded with Ford Foundation funds. This was part of a larger public education network – there are many around the nation.

The other organization was started in 1982, called the Colorado Business Alliance for Youth. This group had the same leaders, though no superintendents and their goal was to understand how to support student achievement. This group developed mentoring programs, internships, and modules for health, science and math toward that aim.
In 1995 the two organizations merged and all board members stayed on. It is comprised of about 60% business people and the rest are superintendents, school staff, and the President of the teachers union.

Over time, we have spun off some direct student service programs to groups like the Chamber of Commerce, Good Will, etc. and we are now focused primarily on professional development. Our footprint is Colorado especially the Front Range from Thompson to Douglas County, but we do work nationally as well.

How have the vision and goals changed over time?

In the first 15 years we worked primarily in suburban elementary schools. Over the last 13 years we have focused more on urban K-12 schools, or suburban schools with high needs. We focus a lot on literacy and literacy in the content areas. Often the issues around math and science proficiency have more to do with literacy problems. We work a lot now in math, science, and social studies, as well as in the language arts with the focus on strengthening literacy in K-12 classrooms and schools.

PEBC prides itself in working on site with school staffs. Describe the direct work done with schools.

Each year, we work in about 50 schools in Colorado. We coach in classrooms working with teachers directly on site with kids. We work with principals, coaching and mentoring them to increase their instructional and organizational leadership skills. We create professional learning communities involving whole school teams or departmental teams. We support educators in employing best practices in instruction in a sustainable way without significant ongoing support from us. We also consult at the district level, and have multi-school projects. For example, in Cherry Creek we are working with the literacy coaches for all Title I schools.

Another example of the direct impact we have is the Boettcher Teachers Program. This is a program that recruits teachers from the across the country; many are second career folks from the business world. There are typically 100 applicants for about 30 spots. They get a fellowship that pays for the cost of their teacher certification and master’s degree along with a stipend, in exchange for a five-year commitment to teach in high priority schools in the partner districts. This puts high quality teachers in the classrooms.

Another important project of the PEBC is EdNews Colorado. With the closing of the Rocky Mountain News and the diminishing attention paid to education information and news in our state, we felt that there was a gap in education journalism, so Ed News Colorado was created. The site gets 1800 hits a day and is updated multiple times a day so that influencers, policy makers, parents and school staff can keep abreast of policy and other education news.

Why should business leaders care about schools?

Public schools are in their interest, especially in terms of the workforce pipeline and the implications of a highly prepared workforce on the economy of our region. A recent study done by the Alliance for Excellence Education calculated what would happen if Denver Public Schools halved their drop out rate. It showed that if there were 4400 additional graduates, Denver would see an increase of $69M in earnings, $47M more in spending, and $18M more in investing. Good schools are beneficial for students, communities, and businesses.

How can we see PEBC’s impact in community and schools?

The Boettcher Teacher’s Program boasts a 98% teacher retention rate. This means that highly trained, committed teachers in high needs schools are staying in the profession, far more than the national average. This is correlated to improved student achievement.

The schools we serve have 19% more growth in reading tests than at other schools. Over 27 years we have touched 18,000 teachers, 700 principals, and one million students.

Our staff has written and published 21 books, primarily action research from their work in classrooms and as classroom teachers. These books have sold nearly five million copies nationally. Normally it takes 10 years from research to actual practice to show up in the classrooms. The work we do abbreviates that time considerably.

What are the sources of PEBC’s revenue and how are funds spent?

87% of our funds go directly to program work. This is impressive because the average for organizations like ours is around 75%. We spend 11 cents on the dollar raising money (the average is 35 cents per dollar).

One third our revenue comes from fees. We charge districts in Colorado only 50% of the cost of the programs.

One third of our revenue is from national programs. When our programs are done nationally, they are charged cost plus and that revenue generated from national work is spent exclusively in Colorado.

About a third comes from philanthropy and all of that money is spent within Colorado.

We also have one big event per year, which is the annual business and education luncheon you mentioned. This event is May 6th and Dr. John Medina, whom you mentioned, will be the keynote speaker. This is an event open to the public and tickets can be purchased by April 29th at

When can you say “our work here is done”?

When I was hired 15 years ago the person who brought me on board said that she would like to think that in 10 years we would be obsolete. I bought into that vision, but it is not a reality.

Systems are in flux because of all of the reform measures. Most of the work being done under the guise of reform and is around structure. There is very little reform work that improves instruction. Districts don’t have the ability to get into the classrooms and help with instruction, so that is our niche. This is where the need lies.

For more information about the Public Education and Business Coalition or to purchase tickets to their annual luncheon, go to:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Family Values in Alignment with School Values

When choosing a school for your child, it is important to understand your family values and look for a school that will be in alignment with those values. If your values are at odds with the school's, it will be difficult to fully support your child's education. Here are a few of my favorite types of schools and what those schools tend to value.

Montessori schools might be for your family if you appreciate:
- Independence
- Individuality and practicality
- Self-direction, self-control, and self-reliance
- A strong work ethic
- Purposeful play and realism
- Order and responsibility
- Respect for others and harmony
- Kinetic learning style

Waldorf schools will be attractive If you value:
- Imagination and creativity
- All things natural (materials, foods, crafting handmade items, and nature itself)
- The arts, the classics, and tradition
- Spirituality, reverence, and mindfulness
- Family life without any (or much) TV or video games
- Community, harmony, and peace
- Teacher-directed learning

Expeditionary Learning schools will be a good match if you value:
- Courage, perseverance, and leadership
- Self-control, self-mastery, self-motivation, self-discovery
- Service, responsibility, civic engagement
- Community, collaboration, trust, and teamwork
- Critical thinking and kinetic learning
- Goal-oriented thinking
- Project and field-based learning
- The outdoors, adventure, taking risks
- Teachers as facilitators and physical challenges as learning opportunities

Open/Democratic schools will work for your family if you value:
- Community
- Independence and autonomy
- Self-control, self-reliance, self-motivation, self-discovery
- Responsibility and resourcefulness
- Civic engagement and democracy
- Fairness, justice, liberty, and equality
- Trust and harmony
- Mentoring and project-based learning
- Creativity and adventure
- Teachers as facilitators and advisors
- Project and field-based learning

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mistaken Identity

We mothers pride ourselves in knowing our children. We make it a point to know who their best friends are, what their favorite subject is, and the things they like to do. We catalogue their strengths and weaknesses and likes and dislikes and put them in their permanent record. We are naturally interested in our children, so it's easy to remember facts like weight and height percentiles at each stage in their lives, and share this with every acquaintance. We like to be known and understood, but sometimes this is not in the best interest of the child.

A couple of weeks ago, a new friend asked if Ronan would want to sign up to play basketball with her son. Ronan heard her ask and looked neutral on it (well, mostly because he was engaged in something else). I told her, quietly, that Ronan wouldn't like to do that, and that he was not a very "sporty" kid. But this isn't true, really and I do him no favors by putting him in such a permanent category. He likes biking, skateboarding, and skiing. Those are plenty sporty. Just because he has asked to sign up in the past for such sports as T-ball, gymnastics, and karate and then asked to quit, doesn't mean he is permanently unsporty or a quitter.

Recently, I took a friend's child along on a bike ride through our neighborhood. When we returned, I told his mom how easy he was. She emphatically shook her head, signally the contrary was true. I clarified saying that he stopped at every street corner and waited for me to give the all-clear call before he proceeded. "Oh, yes, well, we have him well-trained for that", she said. Neither of us were right about him though. He is not easy or impossible all the time. He is a complicated human being like the rest of us.

This is how a child can be labeled cooperative, easy-going, or mature one year, but difficult, uncooperative or immature another year. It depends on the teacher making that judgment, the dynamic of the classroom, what is going on in the child's homelife, and a myriad number of other factors. It is safer to talk about the behaviors rather than attribute them to character traits.

One of my favorite parenting books, "Buddhism for Mothers" by Sarah Napthali talks about the well known Buddhist perspective of "no self", meaning there is no essential "you" in any stable, permanent way. The author points out that defining the self in a stable, consistent way is impossible. Descriptive labels change over time and in different situations, so you are not always joyful, optimistic, or mean. We could look to past behavior but perspectives and memories are notoriously unreliable as "the truth". As we mature, as we learn lessons from our past, or as situations differ, we behave differently. We are not the roles we play either, as our circumstances or willingness to play those roles change from time to time. We know our bodies grow, vary in degree of health from time to time, and are constantly renewing cells, so that is not who we are either. If we look to others to define our self, that definition would be different from each person, depending on perspectives, values, and limited interactions with us. We may be flattered if their definition makes us look good, or feel hurt if it does not. Either way, it doesn't mean those definitions are categorically true.

Of course it's good to strive to know your child, but it may be helpful to look at each interaction with fresh eyes and refrain from judgment. Without restrictive images to live up to, our children might surprise us, deciding that they really do like broccoli after all. They also get the opportunity to understand themselves and the world and to grow in a way that is far less static than we think.