Back to School Leaders


I am struck today by contrasts and contradictions.  In Michigan, today is back-to-school day!!!!  Of course, college football began and the pros roll out this week.  Tigers are roaring.  And go, ahem, Lions.  So, here’s the contrast, then the leadership lessons.


Last week a story ran in the News and Free Press.  It seems the state’s schools had some pretty incredible progress last year:  5% more met statewide standards; 10% more were graded “A” schools; and the achievement of minority-heavy schools also improved significantly.  It’s not all perfect.  Some of the gains were fueled by changes in success measurements (e.g., a five-year high school graduation is now considered a success), and there was an increase in schools on the verge of total failure.  But, all-in-all good news – no, really, great news for a state that absolutely MUST improve educational attainment in this new economy.  Good news, which . . . doesn’t .  . exactly . . . travel . . . fast, or for long.  In fact, the News version of the story had exactly ZERO comments on it; not even one of the habitual cynics rose up to doubt the numbers.  The Free Press had a whopping four comments.  Does that stun you as much as it did me (comment below)?


Yesterday, Labor Day, the day before school was to begin . . . not a single story in the Freep about schools.  (The New York Times had one front-page story about homeless kids in schools; I couldn’t find any others there.)   Meanwhile, online with the Freep: 9 of the top 10 “most read” stories were – you guessed it – sports (Only Walter Reuther as the # 9 story spoiled the shutout!).  My amazement is not with the papers.  They are trying to stay alive and following the interest of their readers.  My question is with us: Are we not interested in this great sign of hope?  Not just for the rah-rah, but for the learning: Why are scores up?  What are we doing better?   How do we stay at it and get even better?  This is amazing stuff, and unlike being a passionate fan, we can actually have an impact on this!


There are some lessons from the data. Here’s a few.  You’re sick of me saying it, but vision, goals and challenge matter.  It’s clear that Michigan’s higher, and clearer, standards have helped.  Goals and markers then drive change, so new curriculum – strategy-aligned-to-goals – has helped.  Data has also helped, as teachers have identified curriculum that works.  Parental involvement continues to drive achievement, and in successful schools it’s up.


I think it’s unpatriotic (if not downright ludicrous) that school boards (in Oxford, Rochester and Warren Van Dyke) would prevent the elected leader of the world’s greatest democracy to speak to their students about effort and achievement.  The President is himself an incredible model of can-do.  But in the end it will be everyday leaders – focusing less on sports (Coach Rodriguez) and more on learning that will make Michigan great.  To our parents, older siblings, grandparents, teachers, principals, secretaries, janitors, bus drivers, superintendents, coaches, social workers, and cafeteria workers I say: Happy Labor Day, congratulations and let’s do it again.  On the field that matters most,


Lead with your best self,