Yesterday I discussed the first ingredient of a successful redesign of our education system. I believe unequivocally that we need one comprehensive curricular roadmap that every state adheres to. The states should then be incented in what tools they utilize to enforce these concepts/skills, and in my recent exchanges with teachers in various parts of the country, it is clear that we are not reaching them satisfactorily. You can't teach digital natives with Industrial Revolution methods!!! Why should students be "bored" in school? So part I is essentially this: we need to look through one lens for our skills roadmap.
Today, I will talk about two areas that I believe go together: assessment and funding. Once we are in agreement on what these basic skills are, how do we assess them? I can't stress enough how frustrating it is for me to see and hear educators say: "If it's not required to be tested, we don't teach it." Well, I'm here to say with as much passion as I can: THE TESTS ARE WRONG! What should we be testing, and how do we test it? NCLB has resulted in us teaching to the lowest common denominator, and thus "dumbing down" our education system. As many educators and psychologists may tell you, we need to stretch our kids. Why does Finland, for example, have such a narrow confidence interval in its student achievement?
The Internet has offered us with a number of methods to assess performance. I believe our tests have to change. They can be more qualitative, they can utilize more online learning tools such as games and other web-based products, and we should find ways to test the "soft skills" mentioned yesterday, such as problem solving, critical thinking and leadership skills. Independent projects using real-world experiences, collaboration with others, are both good tools that can be expanded upon. When I lectured in academia, I asked the graduate students to raise their hands if they had used group case studies in ther undergraduate or even K-12 classes. Practically no hands went up. That was very telling.
The states should have the flexibility to push more empowerment down to the teacher level and let them use whatever stimuli is necessary to teach the requisite skills. I will discuss professional development in my next post, because you can't change the system without retraining the workforce and making the teaching profession something that people are "inspired" and "motivated" to enter.
Funding has always been the area that educators hide behind every time someone mentions the word "change." Change doesn't have to mean incremental, but it can also mean a "redeployment." I would like to outline a couple of suggestions for how to use funding to reallocate the incentives and subsequent behavior of our educators. They are as follows:
- Federal funding should be allocated based on student population, but additional incentives should be offered to states that do the following:
- maintain education spending as a certain % of its total annual operating budget - innovation doesn't happen in "quick bursts" like the current stimulus package. We need sustained investment over time.
- achieve agreed upon success metrics over 1 year, 3 year and 5 year targets
- receive credits or additional federal $ for upgrading its technology infrastructure and learning environments to a level that is considered "acceptable" by current commercial standards
- agree to an "education audit" on a periodic basis that is mutually agreed upon and conducted by a third party. School districts should be audited in the same way that companies are audited. Accountability is something that all stakeholders should share.
- Penalties must then be established if thresholds are not maintained by the states.
- States must also re-evaluate and establish funding guidelines for their school districts
- Consider the creation of a state-funded education innovation fund that offers entrepreneurs and businesses significant tax credits and/or rebates for bringing ed technology products to the school system. Contrary to what the venture capitalists might say, I see no reason why the states can't get in the venturing game, so long as the process is stewarded by a combination of education experts and external venture capitalists who know how to seed new businesses.
- In the short-term, states must look to disproportionately fund low-income areas and ensure that we take steps to "open" access to a quality education for all citizens, much like some of the countries I have previously mentioned (such as Finland).
- states can replicate some federal practices outlined above by offering local incentives to school districts that meet certain performance threshholds, including graduation rates, achievement, teacher satisfaction, etc.
- again, in areas where tax revenues are insufficient to meet acceptable standards, both the federal government and states should over-invest in the short term to open access and revitalize these areas. This should also include an investment in after-school enrichment and summer programs that can provide additional learning options for students in these "high-priority" areas.
- Again, states that fail to meet "success criteria" would incur penalties to be determined by the Department of Education. In addition, perhaps these students would be able to go outside their public school district and charter schools or private schools could be offered tax credits or other subsidies as incentives to take these students. They could apply for "grants," not loans, so that the schools are protected but the families are not required to repay these amounts in full.
Another idea I am intrigued about is again looking at "best practices." We should understand why in Finland, the students are not divided by level until the age of 16. Maybe we should be taking a hard look at how we stratify our education system. I'm not suggesting that we should adopt Finland's system, but don't you think it's worth taking a hard look at?
Still to come are discussions around a few additional elements: professional development, "success metrics," and other topics of interest. My point to today's post is best summarized like this: money can be used as a motivator and to align incentives, if architected properly. We can create a system where assessment and funding can be aligned, and also ensure that the allocations are "fair and balanced." Accountability should be a part of any funding provided at the state or federal level, and it is important that the funding generate tangible results.
I will discuss what results are most important in the coming days. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more insights.