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More School Closings in Urban America, but is it a Bad Thing?

So today, I'm sure many of you have seen the news that Detroit will be shuttering 44 schools.  The adverse economy is really battering the urban schools at an alarming rate. 


Today I'd like to be a bit provocative.  Maybe this isn't such a bad thing for our education reform efforts. Let me offer my evidence and you, the jury, can weigh in, deliberate, and decide:


  1. Many of these schools are broken, not only from poor physical infrastructure, but broken from the lack of academic performance resonating from their learning environments.
  2. Of course, in the short-run, this is going to be very, very painful for these communities, the laid off adminstrators, teachers, and most importantly, the students and their families.  But in the long-run, perhaps starting over with a new school design will have a higher probability of success compared with trying to re-engineer an existing institution.  Consider this analogy, which may be a bit oversimiplisitic: isn't it easier to sometimes start an essay or letter from scratch than trying to edit an existing one, which could have been written by another person and in another person's unique writing style?


I know what you all might be thinking.  I'm not cold-hearted when it comes to our children.  But analyzing through the eyes of a strategist, it is my fiduciary responsibility to present this as a viable, necessary ingredient in systemic change.  Maybe we're at the beginning of the "bottoming out?" Maybe not.  But either way, it seems clear to me that we may be reaching a "defining moment" in our journey to reinvent educaion in our country which may or may not win a lot of accoldates.  Is this situation a necessary or "logical" consequence of the times? Or are these distressing decisions being made ones that could have been avoided?


I have asked my friend and colleague, Michael Horn, who is far more revered and credible than this author, to provide his insights on the evolving school consolidation underway across the country.


My next post will address another interesting article that hit today's press about the continuing emergence of gender differences and the lower male performance in schools.


Education in Georgia: In Crisis Like The Rest of America

I have not been able to blog regularly in recent months, but I just had to post today based on this very troubling article posted in the local Atlanta Journal Constitution on Friday. Another article talks about the fact that these problems are not hapenning solely in the Atlanta metro area, but in other counties across the state as well.


This is a very alarming trend, that schools are having to cut critical programs that will harm the learning development of today's students.  The arts are, in many ways, as critical, if not more so than STEM subjects.  Lets not let Sir Ken Robinson's vision (which this author agrees with) linger in this country, that our schools are stifling the creativity of our children.


This country can do better!!!


The Challenges of Building An Innovation Ecosystem in Atlanta

I respected colleague of mine recently asked me to author a blog post about the challenges that innovation faces in my own community. This is a timely post because a rather small, immature venture market just got hit by a Category 5 Hurricane:  the official (although expected for some time) announcement that Imlay Investments, the conductor of the Atlanta startup train for many years, was winding down.  Regrettably, this has material implications for a market trying to lure entrepreneurs, early-stage investors, and people talent. In most cases, other early-stage investors and angel networks have said "we'll only invest if Imlay invests."  Who will take over as "lead investor" for the Atlanta startup market?  I'm afraid that replacing this fund won't come easily.


Recently, I blogged about a very eloquent presentation that Shirley Jackson, Ph.D., President of Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute, made about the critical ingredients to a sustainable innovation ecosystem.  They are:  strategic focus, idea generation, translational pathways, and financial, infrastructural, and human capital.  Not to pick on Atlanta, but it appears that the community has to solidify each of these areas before it can even suggest it possesses a viable ecosystem. 


I talked recently about extrapolating this premise to the education industry.  People are suggesting that the best approach for systemic change in education is to go straight to the student and disintermediate the other stakeholders.  I'm afraid this is only wishful thinking, not reality.  People are also saying that providing tax cuts for investment in areas such as education are just padding the pockets of the rich.  Again, this is naivite at its finest.  These tax cuts are not like capital gain tax cuts.  These are being steered towards innovation and job creation, two elements this country badly needs at this time.

"Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained."  - former president James Garfield, July, 1880


A Georgia Tech professor, Dan Breznitz, last year released a study that sheds light on the root cause of Atlanta's inability to retain companies that were incubated inside its borders.  Many of the same ideas were echoed in his report.  He talks about entrepreneurs' lack of "deep-rooted networks" in Atlanta, which is the same thing as not having "translational pathways."


Education is the foundation of our democracy, but we must be courageous enough to admit that we don't know everything, and that it's ok to learn from other countries.  This humility would be a major step in ensuring that our children will be able to compete for the jobs that haven't even been created yet.






A Great "TED 2010" Article, and Clarifications To Yesterday's Post

Today I offer my readers another chance to experience the wonders of TED.  CNN.com has formed a content partnership with the TED community and created a landing page called "TED Talk Tuesdays."  I think you'll all enjoy this article around TED 2010.  Enjoy! 



One clarification to yesterday's post. It is important that my readers understand that my interest in the Georgia tax incentive bill is not an endorsement of "tax cuts to aid the rich."  It is rather an acknowledgement that tax cuts with the right conditions can create jobs, and steer investment towards areas in dire need of them.  So rather than trying to discount the bill entirely, don't you think that a tax credit towards investmens in certain "socially responsible" businesses such as education would gain some level of bi-partisan support?  I hope this dialogue can continue in a civil and constructive manner.  It's critical to our economic recovery.




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.