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A Legislative Bill To Spur Innovation

It's unusual that I find legislation in my state of residence that I put my support behind, but its timing fits into my recent blog posts about building an "innovation ecosystem."  This recent article shows how a Georgia state legislator is trying to leverage the tax code much as I outlined in a previous post about "building a sustainable innovation ecosystem." While I will not formally support the entire bill so as not to appear "partisan" in any way, Georgia state representative Tom Graves wants to create a $10 million annual angel investment tax credit pool.  While the $ amount is not nearly sufficient to fund many startups, it's a start, and it should be explored and hopefully, enacted in some shape and form. Early-stage investors would receive an income tax credit of up to 50 percent (capped at $50,000) of an investment made in companies with 20 or fewer employees. The tax credits would be available after two years of investment.


One of the key ingredients to a healthy ecosystem is how to incentivize investors to fund startups in "socially responsible" areas whose profit fundamentals may be less mature than other established industries.  If we wish to innovate in education, then we need to spur investment from both established players and emerging entrants.  It's the latter that will force established players to innovate, and we should use every tool in the toolkit to make that happen.




Some Bright Spots in the Education Stimulus Plan

While I'm sure many of you have been trolling over the various funding programs that make up the education stimulus bill, I think there are two programs that should be worth investigating further, as they could become invaluable catalysts towards systemic change in our education system if implemented appropriately.


1.  The National Center for Research in Advanced Infomation and Digital Technologies:  this is something that should be applauded and utilized to maximum effect.  My understanding is that the FY 2010 budget is miniscule and this MUST be amended.  It seems that 2010 funding is primarly towards launching the center.  The mandate is "to support a comprehensive research and development program to harnes the increasing capability of advanced informatino and digital technologies to improve all levels of learning and education, formal and informal, in order to provide Americans with the knowledge and skills needed to compete in teh global economy."  My close friends, Henry Kelly and Michelle Fox (formerly at the Federation of American Scientists), were instrumental in developing the managemetn plan and research "road map" for the facility.  Two of the immersive learning environments, Discover Babylon and Immune Attack, were developed by FAS under their watch.  This could be a very, very influential funding vehicle of utilized to maximum effect.  At present, my only concern is that the commitee formed to oversee its implementation is the right mix of leaders, and should come from both traditional and digital backgrounds.

2.  The Investing in Innovation Fund:  this $650M fund that is part of the education stimulus bill where districts can partner with the private sector.  So long as the project meets the key criteria earmarked by the progrsm and is 20% matched by the private sector, it can go a long way towards creating a number of local "research pods" for innovative product ideas.  I suggest that all school districts and startup companies in the area of Ed Tech to thoroughly review this program.  All funding will be allocated by September 30, 2010 so move quickly!




The Cockeyed Optimist

Before I move into my education-based themes for the day, I wanted to share with my readers a well-known set of lyrics that was introduced to me over the holidays.  It was included in a recently published collage of poems, songs and lyrics titled Julie Andrews' Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies  It's titled The Cockeyed Optimist from The South Pacific and written by the legendary playwriters Rogers & Hammerstein:


When the skies are brighter canary yellow
I forget ev'ry cloud I've ever seen,
So they called me a cockeyed optimist
Immature and incurably green.

I have heard people rant and rave and bellow
That we're done and we might as well be dead,
But I'm only a cockeyed optimist
And I can't get it into my head.

I hear the human race
Is fallin' on its face
And hasn't very far to go,
But ev'ry whippoorwill
Is sellin' me a bill,
And tellin' me it just ain't so.

I could say life is just a bowl of Jello
And appear more intelligent and smart,
But I'm stuck like a dope
With a thing called hope,
And I can't get it out of my heart!
Not this heart...


It resonated with me because despite the tumultous 2009 that many people, including myself, endured, I remain hopeful that our resilient country will once again find its indentity in a rapidly evolving global community.  Education is one of those paths that may be long and winding, but eventually, we will reach a successful milestone.

Now, back to education......


Yesterday, my co-author, Reid Daitzman, forwarded me a NYT article that had numerous data points of interest to ALL of you, and I will be thoroughly reviewing it during the writing of my book.  It was titled, "If Your Kids Are Awake, They're Probably Online"  It links to an 85 page report just released by the Kaiser Family Foundation and is titled:  Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-Olds.  We need to spend more time talking about the pedgogy.  How we transmit the content to students is as important, if not more important than what we communicate to them.  Children ages 8-18 spend more than 7.5 hours a day with smart phones, computers, television, or other electronic devices.  This does NOT include the 1.5 hours they spend texting, or the 0.5 hours they talk on their cellphones!  Most importantly, they are multitasking and are thus packing many more hours of content into that 7.5 hours! 

Now the authors like to raise concerns that parents have about excessive device usage amongst their children.  While there may be some merit to this, it is important that parents monitor their children's usage, not to look over their shoulder, but to ensure they are using this time wisely.  "Play" can take many forms, and physical play is absolutely expected in addition to other forms of play.  But what if some of this time was converted into real "learning?"  I would like to hypothesize that children are learning certain skills during much of their technology interaction; however, if we could more directly tie learning objectives into thsi media consumption and incorporate into school curriculums, imagine the impact it would have on both motivation and student achievment!

I encourage all of my readers to read this report, and for a provocative discussion to take place at every school board in the country.  Think about what this report means.  Inventions have always been exploited for good (and evil) purposes.  That is called "free will."  Lets start looking at real solutions that leverage this data for the benefit of our children, who expect to be qualified to enter the future work force and take positions that have not yet been created.

Who will answer the call?



A New Year, A New Attempt To Reinvent Education

Happy New Year to all of my loyal readers.  Thank you for your continued support and interest in this blog, where I continue to highlight provocative research and progressive ideas to reinvent our education system.  And why not start the new year with a whopper!

I was asked by a very respected college professor to offer my support to a research project being conducted to demonstrate how games can be used to re-engage boys into the K-12 classroom.  A study in 2008 by the National Education Association showed that the number of male teachers hit a record 40-year low.  Males comprised 24.5% of public school teachers.  Even more stunning is the statistic that men account for only about 2% of all teachers of children from birth to age 8!

Just this week, I came across an author by the name of Richard Whitmire, a former editorial writer for USA Today and past board member of the National Education Writers Association, who has written a book titled Why Boys Fail.  His blog of the same title was recently added to the digital version of the popular trade magazine for the education industry, Education Week.  I am looking forward to reading this literature and evaluating the insights and perspectives of the author.  Certainly, the lack of male teachers should be cause for alarm, but not in the manner you might think.


I'll let you think about my open-ended statement until I add a new post after I read more about  this very provocative topic.

May you all thrive in the new year and share my optimism the fortunes of all Americans will revive in conjunction with the arrival of a new decade.



A Post That Is Both An Epilogue and A Prologue

What it year it has been!  I'm sure that I was not the only one to have faced a tumultous twelve months, which included significant business and personal obstacles.   And what to make of our external environment?  There is always turmoil when a society faces not one, but several major reform plans simultaneously.  It hardly matters who was to blame; what matters is that for whatever reason, 2009 became the year where a "perfect storm" occurred, and with it exposed America's vulnerabilities in its economic, education and health care systems, to name a few.  This is a critical period in our nation's history, but again, a historian could easily argue that every era had its own set of major obstacles. 

Maybe the time of the American Revolution and shortly thereafter was the gravest moment in our history?  Maybe not.  What I would rather propose, is that it is times like these where we need great leaders to emerge, people who are not afraid to make mistakes, not afraid to try new things, yet have the charisma and leadership to create a movement and rally a very large group of people.  As the year winds down, and a new year is about to emerge, I can think of no more eloquent quotation than this redacted section of a letter than our founding mother, Abigail Adams, wrote to her son John Quincy (our 6th president), on January 12, 1780 on the eve of embarking on a long journey with his father (our 2nd president) to France to broker their alliance with the colonies in the struggle for freedom. 

"Some author, that I have met with, compares a judicious traveler to a river, that increases its stream the further it flows from its source ; or to certain springs, which, running through rich veins of minerals, improve their qualities as they pass along. It will be expected of you, my son, that, as you are favored with superior advantages under the instructive eye of a tender parent, your improvement should bear some proportion to your advantages. Nothing is wanting with you but attention, diligence, and steady application. Nature has not been deficient.

These are times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. Would Cicero have shone so distinguished an orator if he had not been roused, kindled, and inflamed by the tyranny of Catiline, Verres, and Mark Anthony? The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. All history will convince you of this, and that wisdom and penetration are the fruit of experience, not the lessons of retirement and leisure. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities, which would otherwise lie dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman. War, tyranny, and desolation are the scourges of the Almighty, and ought no doubt to be deprecated. Yet it is your lot, my son, to be an eyewitness of these calamities in your own native land, and, at the same time, to owe your existence among a people who have made a glorious defence of their invaded liberties, and who, aided by a generous and powerful ally, with the blessing of Heaven, will transmit this inheritance to ages yet unborn.

Nor ought it to be one of the least of your incitements towards exerting every power and faculty of your mind, that you have a parent who has taken so large and active a share in this contest, and discharged the trust reposed in him with so much satis faction as to be honored with the important embassy which at present calls him abroad.

The strict and inviolable regard you have ever paid to truth, gives me pleasing hopes that you will not swerve from her dictates, but add justice, fortitude, and every manly virtue which can adorn a good citizen, do honor to your country, and render your parents supremely happy, particularly your ever affectionate mother,"

A. A.