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We Must Do Better At Tracking Ed Stimulus Spending

Today I would like to refer to an article that came out yesterday in Education Week.  Stete and federal agencies have not been as quick to publicly "track" the money they have received to date as they are at receiving it.  Now I'm not referring to this article to continue to hammer the stimulus process every step of the way, but I refer to it because it is a stark reminder of the need for accountability and transparency whenever taxpayer funds are spent on public projects.

I have not been shy about putting a big "question mark" around the probability of success of the education stimulus funds, and if we are to evaluate the merits of the plans, then all parties must be transparent in tracking the use of such funds.  Hopefully, it is too early to state unequivocally that the American people will not know what the money is being used for, and that over the coming weeks/months, the back-end tracking systems will be enhanced and improved to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.

Everyone should be watching this situation closely, because this is a LOT of our taxpayer dollars being put to work.


Support The Florida Virtual School And Others Like It!

Today I would like to share a link from a strategist I hold in the highest regard:  Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School Professor.  Professor Christensen, author of The Innovators Dilemma and The Innovators Solution, also published Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change The Way The World Learns last summer. His theory of disruptive innovation is one that I have leveraged a great deal over the past few years, particularly when I was working on bringing GameTap to market.

In my opinion, his ideas and suggestions for how we can reinvent our education system are "dead on," and I encourage all of you to read his blog.  His thinktank, the Innosight Institute, has a blog that I have included on my blogroll on the left sidebar of this website.


A few weeks ago, Professor Christensen discussed the troubling events unfolding in the state of Florida, and I ask that you read his commentary about the issue.  The Florida Senate Committee has a bill that in its current form, would remove the FLVS abilty to offer AP courses or any other courses outside of the core curriculum and that it would no longer be able to offer courses for credit recovery or grade forgiveness.  The bill also contains some significant funding cuts that would force the school to only receive state funds if its students pass a class successfully.  Public schools in Florida do not have such a stipulation.

I bring this up because of the larger issue that it personifies:  that our country must not destroy innovation if it serves the greater good, but instead should look to harness and leverage such innovative practices.  This message does not apply to just the FLVS, but to any successful program that is deemed to be a disruptive innovation strategy.

So I send this message out to Floridians but also all Americans:  speak up, because in the greatest democracy in the world, you have that right to do so.  We all know what silence brings........


A Contest ForThe Best Feedback On The 4-Part "Reinvent Ed" Posts

To end the week, I wanted to provide my loyal readers as well as potential loyal readers an incentive to really think about my 4-part post about my framework for reinventing our education system.  So here it goes:


The individual who writes the most thought provoking, logical comment to my ideas will win a complimentary copy of Disrupting Class:  How Disruptive Innovation Will Change The Way The World Learns.  It will be signed by some or all of the authors of the book (Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson).  It is substantive, well research look into how to apply "disruptive innovation theory" to the education system.


I encourage you to participate in this contest and I look forward to reading your responses.  And don't worry - to maintain objectivity, I will be having some expertse also evaluate your comments. The contest will run through next Friday, May 1st, unless I determine that it makes sense to extend a bit.


Good luck and thanks for your continued support!  The contest will run through next Friday, May 1st, unless I determine that it makes sense to extend a bit.


Reinvent Education: Part IV

I hope all of you were able to read the first three parts of my roadmap for "reinventing" our education system.  There is certainly a great deal of tactical details I intentionally disregarded because I felt it most important to outline what I believe are the key ingredients to a successful strategy:  i)  consensus around the curriculum; ii) developing a 21st century assessment plan and leverage funding to align incentives around assessment;  and iii) investment in professional development so that teachers and administrators become comfortable in integrating technology-driven tools into the classroom environment.


So once all of these elements are incorporated, we then come to the final question:  "How do we define success?"  Let me say upfront that this question was posed to me by a colleague who I have come to respect very quickly, Dr. Mike Hall, formerly the Deputy Superintendent for Technology at the Georgia Department of Education.  We recently spent a few hours together and he posed that question to me.  What will be the benchmarks for success.  What he told me initially shocked me, but I tend to agree with him.  Success will take at least ten years to effectuate.  Why?  Because we need to go through a complete K-12 cycle with a group of students.  So I think Dr. Hall is correct in that regard.  I would also suggest the following additional success factors for this exercise:

  1. Benchmark our performance versus our international peers by either using existing exams or creating a new assessment platform for this comparison.  A measure of our "global competitiveness" must be a part of any success criteria.
  2. Literacy against 21st century skills.  We need to create a baseline and then compare ongoing performance against the benchmark.
  3. Graduation rates:  this must still be a benchmark, and I would also include in here the dropout rates, because we must not only ensure that dropouts decreases, but we must also ensure that we everyone, regardless of income, has access to a quality education.  I would also not include transfers to vocational programs in the dropout rate calculation.
  4. We will need a metric around measuring students eventual migration into the workforce.  Are we churning out high quality talent, or are the jobs going to international students?
  5. Teacher satisfaction and teacher competency:  we will need to create metrics around demonstrating that teachers and educators are evolving commensurate with the rest of the ecosystem.

There are likely other "success factors," but at the end of the day, we will need an appropriate evaluation of a successful "reinvention" strategy, because what good is all of this investment and change if we don't know exactly how we will be held accountable.  If someone thinks that the government or the education system has crafted this already, then please do tell!


I hope that some of these ideas can become part of the dialogue that needs to happen, and it needs to happen NOW, before all of the education stimulus funds are put at risk.


Everyone needs to participate in this dialogue.  The future prosperity of our country depends on it.


Reinvent Education: Part III

So lets recap what I've covered so far:

  1. Element 1:  get everyone to buy into a common roadmap, a "vision" for what the curriculum needs to be, and thus curriculum was the first area I outlined in the steps to reinventing our education system.
  2. Element 2:  once you have the common vision, funding and assessment becomes something that everyone (or at least a majority of American families) can support.  But using funding as a way to align incentives and change behavior is critical to a successful redesign of our education system and its underlying processes.


So what is element 3?  You can't change the system without ensuring that you train the educators in how to integrate 21st century learning tools into their approach to teaching.  That also includes how to utilize technology.  One of the major areas of dysfunction in our education system was best said by my colleagues at the Innosight Institute.  They are also the co-authors of the thought provoking recent book called "Disrupting Class:  How Disruptive Innovation Will Change The Way The World Learns."  Essentially, their premise is that schools deployed technology without creating content that was customized for the experience of the digital technology being deployed.  We've seen magazine companies put their exact content onto websites, and textbook publishers create eBooks.  All it is, is the same experience on a different platform.  That strategy is a losing strategy.  The textbook publishers just don't know it yet, but history would tell otherwise.

So we need to train educators how to use this technology, and that requires part of the investemtn to go into professional development.  I see a few areas worth exploring here:

  • School districts must make professional development time a requirement as part of their teacher evaluation process.  Without creating the incentive, teachers won't do it.
  • States should create their own professional development programs in the area of technology literacy and its use.  They should ensure that teachers are exposed to the latest technology developments so that they are current in their approach.  Educators should also be required to be trained on best practices for integrating technology into the curriculum, and incentives must be put in place to use them.
  • The NEA must accept a commitment to this process.  In my mind, this may be the biggest obstacle to the entire reinvention plan.  I equate the NEA to the MLB Players Union - it's that strong.  Teachers salaries must be raised, but with that comes accountability and no tenure.  As a tradeoff to being paid like a corporate employee, they should be held accountable like one.  Honest evaluations must be established so that every child is assured of a high quality educational experience.  While technology helps "level the playing field," so to speak, a student's learning experience is still influenced primarily by the teacher.  But with technology, teachers become mentors, and can get closer to a one-to-one relationship with their students.
  • A very radical idea, but used in places such as Finland:  perhaps let teachers be trained by the students on how to use technology?  Students love to role model and demonstrate mastery of skills, and I think we all know that our children are quicker to pick up technology than us adults.  Of course there are some exceptions to that rule, but by and large, this is true.


These are just a few ideas I have about professional development.  The key to the entire reinvention of our education system is to ensure that our teachers are adequately trained, paid sufficiently, and then held accountable so that they are incented to constantly improve.  We need to make the teaching professional the revered position that it once had, not some underpaid, underappreciated role that it holds in many locations around our country today.


Next week I will talk about the final piece to the puzzle:  how will we define success?


Thanks for reading and stay tuned.  The journey continues.....