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Highlights From Past Week

It's been an interesting week for education reform (or lack thereof).  I'd like to offer my comments on some of the most recent articles that caught my eye over the past week, and let you, my network of interest readers, decide if you agree or not.

The first article expands upon the TED Talk that Bill Gates made at this year's TED Conference in Long Beach, California.  While I applaud and fully support the efforts of the Gates Foundation to invest in education, they continue to believe that the panacea to our nation's education ailments should be about investment in more effective teachers.  I have to seize on the following quote from new foundation CEO Jeff Raikes, who states, "Almost by definition, good philanthropy means we're going to have to do some risky things, some speculative things to try and see what work and what doesn't."  This, I can tell you, is almost certainly doomed to fail, and let me explain why.

For anyone that read my four part series about how to reinvent education, improving the quality of teaching is only a piece of the solution, not the nucleus of the solution.  And I what I mean by this is that the focus must start with agreement on a common pedagogy and set of standards, and then not only shift to a performance based compensation system for teachers (trade tenure for higher potential compensation) and also more effective training and development, so that teachers know how to incorporate digital technologies into the classroom environment.  Teachers are a conduit; they are responsible for using the optimal stimuli to ensure that students learn the requisite skills.  Good teachers do that well.  It has been proven beyond a doubt that even the best teachers will not be successful if they rely largely on the lecture-based method of instruction.  Finally, in this aformentioned article, I'd be very interested to know more about the research methodology that determined that putting a great teacher in a low-income school helped students advance a grade and a half in one year.  What learning tools were used?  What technology was available in the classroom?  Enjoy the read and let me know your thoughts on this article.

The second article talks about a bill introduced into the Senate on May 13th by West Virginia Democrat John D. Rockefeller.  States that offer students curriculum options that integrate key 21st century skills would receive matching federal funds through this incentive bill.  The senators also refer to the great work of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a body whose research I am very supportive of.  From what I know thus far, this bill should be wholeheartedly supported and is an exciting development.  However, I'd like to see this bill aligned with whatever common set of standards gets ultimately approved by the states and Department of Education.

Finally, there was a big article that discussed Education Secretary Arne Duncan's school reform agenda. I wish I was there to hear all of the details, but if you read the article, the areas he outlines are not strategies, they are tactics.  I don't think this is a roadmap, and I only wished that the honorable secretary would consider bringing on Professor Clayton Christensen (author of "Disrupting Class") as a special advisor.  We can't keep throwing money out there without a clear, well-definined roadmap.

What do I make of all of this?  We will continue to see a mixture of favorable and unfavorable developments, but until we get real consensus around the change strategy, it will continue to face a very, very uphill battle.


An Article Worth Reading: From Clayton Christensen

Today, I'd like to point you to the architect of the "disruptive innovation" theory, Professor Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School and author of The Innovator's Dilemma, The Innovator's Solution, and Disrupting Class:  How Disruptive Innovation Will Change The Way The World Learns.

My passion and interest in reinventing our education system came largely from applying these theories which I leveraged in my previous role in strategy at Turner Broadcasting, to the education system.  And they do apply, as Professor Christensen outlines so persuasively in his recent book.  

Last week, Professor Christensen published an article on cnn.com  that corroborates much of what I have been saying about the education stimulus bill.  Are we really allocating the capital toward the most effective solutions?  Do we have a consensus, or buy-in from the American People?   Christensen actually goes one step further than my assessment, when he questions whether schools will continue to change after receiving such an immediate, massive stimulus of "borrowed money."  I want you all to read the article, so you can see the four criteria that Christensen strongly encourages the government to utilize when allocating the stimulus dollars.

While I admire everything Christensen offers in his article, I doubt the government will listen to him.  Please, please prove me wrong.


A Funny Unrelated Post For A Friday - The Death of the Media

I good friend and former colleague sent me an email that was one of the most brilliant parodies I have seen in a long time.  While my ideas in this blog revolve around reinventing education, the foundation of my ideas stems from years of analyzing consumer behavior and media consumption patterns.  And at the center of any reinvention of our education system, there must be recognition that today's consumers are wired differently, respond to different stimuli than previous generations, and are more tech savvy from being exposed to digital media at an increasingly early age.  So this 9 minute video is a very funny retrospective.  Large organizations always wait for the crisis to happen - successful companies are ones that lead change and "create the crisis."  Just take Pepsi, for example.  So enjoy the video.



A Broad Committment To Common Standards A Positive Development

I don't want to give all of you the impression that I'm critical of everything our education system tries to do organically is flawed.....


So in that vein, let me refer to an article in todays Education Week online that announces that 46 of the 50 states have committed to a common standards framework for math and English language arts.  Now while I would very much like to see the specific standards, it would appear that the process is not too dissimilar than what I proposed in my 4-part education reinvention plan.  Now Texas is one of the holdouts, and I can undersand why they haven't signed on.  I think that the Federal government should find a mechanism to reimburse them for whatever funds they say they've committed towards their own enhanced standards.  Now if Texas had a chance to sign onto to this plan before they committed funds, then unfortunately they're not entitled to a dime of federal dollars.  However, if the reverse occurred, then they have a very valid argument as they should not be held holding the bag on what they say is a $3 billion sunk cost.

I commend the Council of Chief State School Officers as well as the National Governor's Association for their efforts.  However, let me restate my original premise:  shouldn't this great step have occurred before we signed a $115 Billion Education Stimulus Bill?  And hopefully, this group realizes that the work isn't finished, as there are other "21st century skill areas" that need common standards.


But we're off to a promising start.


Highlights of The Week

It has come to my attention that the French Government has also embraced serious games.  This article from December 2008 discusses how France is hoping to incubate 20 serious game prototypes in 2009.  They have broken the grant up into two phases:  30,000 Euros for phase I and 150,000 Euros for phase II.  Northern France has chosen as a "region of excellence" by French government officials.  I wanted to mention this to show that South Korea is not the only venue encouraging the development of serious games.


Now back to reinventing education. As much as I'd prefer to not end the week with more disturbing research, I can't help but mention an article I saw in today's MDR email blast.  While I am taking the full 40 page report home to review thoroughly, how can this be?  How can we have an education system where only 8 of 50 states are providing disadvantaged students equitable access to even moderately proficient public education systems? This is truly amazing.  And worse yet, and I quote:  "as the nation celebrates the 55th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision, the study shows minority and low-income students have only half the opportunity to learn in our public schools as their White non-Latino peers."


I was just speaking to someone at lunch the other day and they talked to me about how we are becoming a "welfare state" because of the stimulus package.  I have one thing to say about all of this:  education is the equalizer, period.  An educated citizen is best able to climb up the social ladder.  We must do better.  Enough is enough, everyone.  When are the American people going to get on the same page and tell our government that it's time to do something to fix this?  Again I ask if we have a strategy in place for this $115 billion stimulus.  What is the plan to reform our education system?  I know that we're not on the same page......