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A Contrarian Perspective on "Race To The Top"

This is my first post since returning from both a NY trip and a family holiday, and I thought I'd start with a bang.....


A lot of articles have been published that discuss the $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" fund, the largest ever single federal investment in school reform.  I'm going to flat out state taht this effort will fail, much to my dismay.  And here's why.


  1. I truly believe that until we create a set of nationally-driven standards for learning, we will continue to fall behind our international peers.  As mentioned in my 4-part vision for reinventing education in America, the roadmap needs to be a hybrid of nationally-driven vision and locally managed execution. 
  2. I think we need to continue to foster competition in local school districts and support alternative schools such as charter schools, virtual schools and other eLearning programs.  Maybe the answer is not to invest in a complete overhaul of underperforming schools, but ensure that these students are offered options in learning environments that are demonstrating measured success in improving student achievment?
  3. If you look at my 4-part vision, we cannot place the blame on teachers or focus on teachers, as the Gates Foundation is currently doing.  While I have the utmost respect for Gates' philanthropy, we must first fix the pedagogy, then train the current teachers, get them off of the tenure program, and then pay them on a merit-based system commensurate with corporate america.  We need to incent students to pursue a career in education, and until compensation and other incentives are at a level where teaching is not considered "the contingency plan" for students who cannot attain jobs in other industries, then the system will not be able to attract the high performing talent into the teaching profession.


There are many, many other issues I have with the current plans; however, I continue to believe that the intense focus on education will eventually bear fruit.  I just wish that the government would peel one layer at a time rather than a panic-driven all-at-once overhaul.


And perhaps I need to be better informed with more details on the program, but from what I have seen, this is the unfortunate conclusion I have come to.


I welcome your comments and be on the lookout for additional posts in the days ahead.  Thanks for your readership!!


Reflections After Visiting South Korea

While my recent trip to Seoul was only a few days, it was a fantastic benchmarking exercise, given I had not visited the country since 2006.  South Korea's innovation in both entertainment and "serious" media development is riveting.  I was wholly impressed with the advances they have made in not only creating truly immersive entertainment experiences, but also in their committment to games and education.  It is wholly inadequate for me to state that they are thinking further ahead than the United States.  I applaud their efforts, and hopefully, my work to encourage knowledge transfer and collaboration between Korean and U.S. media companies will help enhance the already respected talent pool in the United States.

It is IMPORTANT that everyone understand that my comments do not suggest nor diminish the work of a few pockets of innovation in this country.  I am simply stating that taken as a whole, the United States should learn from what other countries are doing, particularly South Korea.

I would also like to give kudos to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, because although I do not agree with some of this policies or tactics, his selfless committment to pushing his agenda to all stakeholders, most recently the powerful NEA, is absolutely required in order to eventually be successful in reinventing education in America. A recent article talks about the substance of his recent keynoe at an NEA conference.  If you go back to my 4-part treatise on reinventing education, obviously teachers are one of the key elements, but not the only element. Know that teachers are only a piece of the current problems; they are not the cause of the problem nor should people use teachers as the scapegoat to the education problems in America.  My mother was a 25+ year teaching veteran in the public schools, so you will NEVER hear me trash talking teachers.

In this month's eSchoolNews magazine, there is a great op-ed authored by retiring Intel Chairman Craig Barrett titled, "American Education Reform:  Stranded on Islands of Excellence."  I was unable to find a link to it, but I suggest everyone find a way to read it.  Mr. Barrett boiled our action plan to remain globally competitive down to three "pillars":  Smart People, Smart Ideas, and Smart Policies.   I want everyone to read this article in detail, but here is one quote that refers to datapoints that come up time after time after time:

"Out of 30 industrialized countries we rank 25th in mathematics; in science, 21st; in reading, 15th; and in problem solving, 24th.  You would think that this data would make headlines in the daily newspapers.  But in America, our intellectual and academic decline is a non-event."


With that, I thank all of my readers for their continued loyalty and support, and until next time......


Games And Learning

Before I leave for a business trip to South Korea, I thought it timely to use today to highlight some recent perspectives about the video games and learning outcomes.  As many of you know, I am very passionate about the need to develop fun, learning tools for the classroom using the video game medium, and it's time for the education system to not only allocate dollars for these products, but to train and incent their teachers on how to incorporate these into their lesson plans.  Assessment can be built into game-based learning products.

My friend Michael Horn of the Innosight Institute posted a blog post about "serious games."  I do not like that terminology because it could denote that the games are not "fun."  However, Michael is correctly using the term that the segment is know by:  games developed for serious purposes (e.g., health care, education, military, corporate training, etc.).  Michael is correct when he points out that these products will likely have to enter the market in pockets of "non-consumption." or through online learning providers before going head-to-head with the school systems.  But it's important that learning games as a genre continue to showcased as the education industry tried to reinvent itself.

Another article of interest came out in today's eSchoolnews also provides a fresh reminder that learning games have moved beyond a Quixotian quest.  I have predicted for quite some time that eventually, investors will follow the research and other market trends and realize that this segment is a wide open playing field of opportunity, and that profits can be made here.

To those of you who are game developers, keep making these games!  Our children's educational future depends on it.


Happy early July 4th to all.


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.