Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Leaders Need to be in the 21st Century Too!

I was a bit surprised to learn from a recent investigative report that there are a number of Congress members who have never sent an email. The reporter of this story did a little digging and discovered that nine such members of Congress proudly make this claim. I thought, really? How does that even work? The use of email has become so ubiquitous in society I can't imagine a productive work day without it. Further, for a member of Congress to make this proclamation hardly seems praiseworthy. These members of Congress certainly have email addresses that are answered by staffers. Many of them also have Twitter accounts--although they too are probably run by staffers.

To illustrate the importance of 21st Century communication, the reporter on this story decided to see if she could go a mere 24 hours without sending or receiving email. She found it incredibly difficult and the antithesis of efficient. Instead of emailing sources for information, she first had to locate a phone number, only to call and not have anyone pick up on the other end of the line! The reporter was then greeted with a message that said something like, "Thanks for calling. Please send me an email and I will respond as quickly as I can."

I have shared in this blog numerous times the importance of 21st Century communication tools. We have discussed how the business of school relies so heavily on the Internet that it makes it practically impossible (if not incredibly inefficient) to do business without this connection. To not use them does a disservice to constituents and fails to accept the fact that the steady beat of time marches on. 

Along with our members of Congress, there is another group of folks who need to stay up to date with emerging technologies or they too will find themselves slowly fading into obsolescence. I speak about those who live in our schools, leading them and working daily in classrooms with young people. Luckily, I am not aware of anyone that doesn't at least understand the basics of sending and receiving email.

But the use of email is a mere fraction of the tools available that enable schools to create a more transparent and robust system of communication. In our efforts to share our message, we must be willing to engage our constituents with the tools they are currently turning to when looking for information. We must not be afraid to use social media--we should instead leverage these tools to broadcast our message and share our story!

All too often I hear examples where this is not happening in schools. Perhaps there is a fear of the unknown. A feeling that we are too busy. Or that this is a tremendous waste of time that could better be spent on something else. Maybe we feel this is just something that is for the amusement of our kids. But shouldn't we be engaging our kids where they are?

Our failure to use these tools robs us of an opportunity to engage our communities. It forces us to be so naive as to believe the only place where people get information is through the tool of our choosing. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Does Class Rank Still Matter?

A month or so ago I received a letter from the Board of Regents discussing the fact that some schools in Iowa are no longer using class rank. Included in the letter was the list, some 36 high schools in length. The letter from the Regents was neither for or against school districts using this metric, but was merely sharing information about how they would move forward with admissions in light of some school districts making this change.

In 2006, the Regents created the Regents Admission Index (RAI) that uses a formula with a number of variables (including class rank) to grant automatic admissions into any of the three Regent Universities in Iowa. The use of the formula is designed to streamline the admissions process and allow universities to grant admission without the need to scrutinize each college application individually. High school students: you can view the formula and check your RAI score at this website. If you need any help, I am sure Mrs. Baltz would be more than happy to assist! The variables used are class rank, ACT Composite, cumulative GPA, and the number of high school courses completed in the core content areas. The formula worked well, that is of course until high schools began to drop class rank. That was the purpose of the letter, to share that the Board of Regents has come up with and alternative RAI formula that does not include the class rank.

Again, the letter was not to argue one way or another the value of class rank, but rather to share that an option was available for high schools to calculate the RAI without the class rank variable. It does beg the question though, doesn't it? Does the use of class rank matter that much? Does it hurt or help? The fact is, the jury is still out on the answer to that question, but it did make for an interesting topic of conversation at a recent superintendent meeting that I attended.

Those in favor of retaining class rank argue the value of the metric when applying for college scholarships. While there may be a legitimate point in the alternative RAI formula, what if the student is uninterested in attending a Regent University? What if instead, they are interested in attending a university out of state? Then there is the argument that some scholarships have cut score requirements that make them available only to the top 10% of the class. Obviously without class rank this could not be measured. As a practical matter, class rank also serves as a reward. Those students who are in the poll position are in many cases the class Valedictorian. It is not uncommon for those with that title to have other monetary rewards awaiting them in the form of generous scholarships.

On the other hand, those in favor of eliminating class rank suggest competition for the coveted top slot may be forcing students to make decisions they may not otherwise make. For example, a student may elect not to take a high rigor class in favor of a class in which they are more likely to earn high marks. Even if that particular high rigor class may better prepare the youngster for post-secondary education. Of course there are also examples of those students who do elect to take those high level courses, and perhaps earn high marks--but not perfection. Are they then penalized because a classmate made a different decision and if so, should they be? Let's take it a step even further. What happens when students take those high level courses, earn high marks but still fall outside the top ten percent? Did you know the median GPA for the class of 2015 is 3.51%?  A 3.5% GPA is pretty impressive, but this particular student is right in the middle of the class. And about that top 10%? In the class of 2015, a GPA of 3.90% is not in the top 10%! You may think this is an anomaly, but it's not. Year after year class after class post these kind of numbers. These kids are wicked smart!

An interesting conundrum indeed! I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this! High school students, please respond to my blog! Parents, I would be interested in hearing from you as well!