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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Skyhook: A K-12 Extraction

The Skyhook: A K-12 Extraction

Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

You may remember it from the movie The Dark Knight or from a television episode of The Unit or The Human Target.  The Skyhook technique involves the rescue of a person who is wearing a harness and lift line attached to a self-inflating balloon, which quickly rises to an altitude where an airplane’s “hook” can grab the person from the ground, launch him or her into the air, and carry to safety beyond.

Originally used by the Central Intelligence Agency, it was entitled the Fulton Surface-to-Air Recovery System, developed by inventor Robert Edison Fulton Jr. in the mid-1950’s (Sources below: Eger, 2007; Robert Fulton, n.d.; Wayback Machine, n.d.).

This past Friday, I enjoyed lunch in Mid-Michigan with School Operations Official Christopher Shropshire from The Governor John Engler Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University.  Chris currently oversees Michigan Public School Academy performance and has a background in higher education.

Of the many interesting things Chris shared with me, one stuck out above the others.  It involved notions of The Skyhook, although he didn’t use that metaphor.  Our conversation had to do with student preparation for college and our K-12 responsibility to ensure that this happens.

I listened to Chris with great interest as he shared how college admissions officials factor-in considerations of whether or not to enroll certain graduating high school students.

Chris mentioned (and I paraphrase), Colleges consider students’ academic skills at the point of application and asked themselves, “Are these students positioned for academic success in higher education?”  If students’ skills upon high school graduation are such that colleges can meet their needs with the programs they have at their disposal, they will accept them.  If skills are too low, they typically will not. 

Chris is a champion of student academic readiness and “walks this talk” in his professional leadership.

As I drove back to Terre Haute thinking of my lunchtime conversation and how these decisions were made at the college level – decisions that affect livesThe Skyhook came to mind. 

I thought, “Are students upon high school graduation ready for their own Skyhooks?” 

Are they positioned properly for the “life saving ride” that a college education can provide.  I thought of students who were harnessed and ready for colleges to snatch them up.  Then, I thought of others who were not. 

Upon exit from K-12, who is geared-up at the extraction point?

With life’s Skyhooks, positioning is everything; so are one’s preparedness, readiness, and capacity for surviving this whirlwind of intensity.  Do we in K-12 embrace the incredibly arduous training regimen required of students and see as “all important,” a student’s ability to be ready for the metaphorical Skyhook grab?   Or … do we settle for the path of least resistance – simply allowing them to meet graduation requirements?

Other K-12 metaphors regarding The Skyhook experience came to mind as I drove. 

The need to hold off an enemy, just long enough to escape circumstance. 
The need to be armed with just enough firepower to gain an advantage. 
The need to reach the extraction point, no matter how far it was from the theatre of operation or place of imprisonment. 

The aforementioned might include a student’s rising above circumstance, honing skills competitively, and gaining early-on access to college and career information, so that rising above any soft bigotries of low expectations is possible.

I have been an ardent supporter of growth models of student achievement for many years, those that are calculated logically, anyway.  Thinking back to when I would enroll at-risk students into my own high school (those who had 2nd and 3rd grading reading levels upon admission), I would celebrate when I saw a couple of years of academic growth for each year they were enrolled in my school.

Yet something more mattered, as well … “Reaching a Standard.”  

These students were relying upon us for positioning, readiness, and capability.  They deserved preparation for The Skyhook’s extraction, so that they could ascend from where they were in their lives to a better place.   

The clock was ticking; the plane had left the base. 

“How much have they grown?” was the wrong question. 

The better one was, “Are they ready?”



Dr. Ryan Donlan is very fortunate to visit schools and study educational programs as part of his scholarship at Indiana State University, all the while meeting incredible people like Christopher Shropshire.  Great minds like Chris’s allow Dr. Donlan to think deeply as he drives home to teach and serve.  Please feel free to give him a call and share your own great ideas or write him at

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