Archive for October, 2010

00802 Finland

October 8, 2010

Every other nation is jealous of Finland with its 1st place K12 education rating among developed nations. There are few preschools in Finland. Their kids have a pre-primary year at age 6 and enter formal (basic) education at the age of 7. Finnish basic education is nine years followed by 3 years of upper secondary education. The upper secondary splits into preparation for vocational or university. The school year is 190 days for the estimated 800,000 students in a stable population of 5,600,000.

Their four level system is national, municipalities, school and classroom. They give only one national standardized test – much like the SAT or ACT. It is at the end of the upper-school studies which entitles the students to go to university or polytechnics. They have shifted from a national curriculum to depend on the local ingenuity of the schools and teachers. Finland has focused on individualized education base on teacher freedom to provide direction and inspire.

Finnish students learn four languages including English, Finnish and Swedish. The country is bilingual with homes with Finnish and Swedish spoken. Schools are highly stable with low growth rates. They have three teachers in a classroom where one is full time to help struggling students. Teaching is one of the most honored professions with only the top 10% of applicants admitted into the teacher colleges. Their homogeneous population spends about 7% of their gross domestic product on youth education. The Finnish citizens, communities and leadership are highly committed to education.

Our Arizona education ranks below average in the U.S. which has a 19th rating world wide. Preschools are abundant. We have 10 fewer days per academic year and one more year of education. We put one teacher in a classroom with maybe an aid and parent volunteers. Arizona has career technical education and academic options, but do not split the schools. Our population of 6.5 million includes about 1.1 million students.

Our five level system is national, state, district, school and classroom. With No Child Left Behind and multiple other standardized tests, including AIMS, the curriculum decisions are spread through out the system. Schools and teachers are assumed to need more guidance and control, and have less freedom to use their own ingenuity. Arizona has worked for decades to standardize education to control what is taught in the classroom.

Arizona students learn one study one language English and maybe another. Many students learn Spanish in the home. We have continually evolving schools with one of the highest growth rates in the US and some with 30% turnover each year. Teaching is not rated in the top rank of professions. Most students entering teaching colleges are in the lower quartile of college entrants. Arizona spends a bit under 5% of gross domestic product ($10 billion/$210 billion) on youth education.

The differences in expectations and results are obvious. Teachers are the powerhouse which drives their success. Their system and culture is totally focused on getting education right and keeping it right. The other major foundations Arizona contends with like competitive workforce, university education, enterprise, and economy can take care of themselves.


00726 Public Education Opinion and Governance Response

October 8, 2010

A recent poll by Gallup and Phi Delta Kappa pried into the minds of the American people to determine their opinions on American schools.  The results:

Teaching was the top priority, well above standards, testing and fixing the worst schools.

Support is high for charter schools.

Don’t fire principals and teachers or close failing schools, just provide comprehensive support.

College education is absolutely necessary.

Funding is the biggest problem.

State, not Federal, government is responsible for public schools.

Teacher pay should be aligned with student achievement.

Teacher time to learn new and better methods is essential.

Increasing student motivation by paying students money is opposed.

The “grades” respondents gave their schools have been stable for 35 years.

Our governance leaders at all levels are supposed to reflect the wishes of the American people. So what have they focused on for American’s 55 million K12 students, 3 million teachers and 100,000 schools for the past couple of decades?

Standards, testing and trying to fix the worst schools, a host of new federal mandates and a single innovation – charter schools.

What did they not address in any substantial way?

Teacher (pay, education, professional development, practice, placement, support), funding (regulations, levels, and sources), student motivation (success, individualization)

If you will put up with my engineer-entrepreneur bias I will have a go at the mismatch of citizen opinion and leader action:

Our governance leaders are actually pretty smart. Although ideology varies there is an overriding realism in their decision making that keeps them from putting major investments into unproven areas. Standards and testing cost almost nothing (a few $million). They closed only a few of the failing Arizona school (a few more $millions). Hundreds of charter schools are supported since the teaching results compare to District schools and cost is usually less. Charter schools also provide a venue for innovation.

Aggressively improving the current legacy pedagogy within the teacher and student relationship carries risk. No other state has done it. The increased annual investment would be significant about $2 billion a year for Arizona. At best the results would be only a modest increase in academic performance.

The alternative way to address the opinions of the American and Arizona people is to break from the 19th century legacy system and embrace the 21st century means and methods.   More to follow….

00719 eSATS 3 Scenario Redesign

October 8, 2010

From the date above, you can see that I am a couple of months behind on my weekly blog. I will be catching up over the next few months. The main reason is a combination of vacation activities and hours a day committed to the redesign of the 2004 eLearning System for Arizona’s Teachers and Students (eSATS) design document.

For the past 6 years, we have attended hundreds of community organization and legislative gatherings, collected their ideas, studied the experts and research, and synthesized this information into the redraft. The 2010 eSATS draft recasts the K12 transformation effort into Grand Challenge mode. The heart of the challenge is for eLearning adoption to transform education which in turn reverses the downward spiral of workforce capability and employment, and economic development and prosperity. The 60 pages include new graphics and a revised 10 year time line based on three scenarios:

Freeze eSATS: holds eLearning at the existing 5% of learning but builds data decision support systems, broadband telecommunications to all communities, and increases legacy teacher professional development by a factor of ten. This low probability scenario maintains the current 68% graduation rate and is the baseline for the next two scenarios.

Current eSATS: forecasts a continuation of low growth of eLearning from 5% to a 30% level. There is State support, but most progress is by District/School initiatives. This scenario aligns with the current national trend. Graduation rate is increases to 80% due to significantly higher but fragmented motivation to learn and academic achievement.

Full eSATS: has Arizona doing a carpe diem with adoption of the eSATS Grand Challenge design. The State builds out 21st century class intellectual infrastructure and physical infrastructure to support adoption at the District/School level. Finance, laws and regulations are changed, costs savings due to accelerated learning pay most of the bill, and eLearning savvy teachers get a 15% raise over normal inflation. Districts and Schools refocus the teacher professional development to produce eLearning savvy teachers, install 1:1 computing interfaces for students and effective digital curriculum and content for every class. The individualized, competency based education for all students results in not only a graduation rate of 95% but students are prepared for post-secondary careers and education. Arizona becomes the vision, poster child, and center of the vortex for eLearning transformation of the Nation’s education system.

eSATS task team had a fruitful meeting on Friday, September 17th. We addressed how we can use this design to influence dozens of community organizations and hundreds of Arizona leaders to embrace K12 eLearning as the main dish on their plate to “fix” education.

We are redoing our web site and it will be up shortly. If you want a copy of the 2010 “Grand Challenge, Transforming Arizona’s K12 Education by Adopting an eLearning Systems Design” August 2010, send me an email.

00712 From Genteel Pleasures to Hard Headed Mentality

October 8, 2010

David Brooks, a New York Times op-ed writer recently reframed our current situation within the context of the genteel mentality. What made England, Japan, Germany and the United States and may other nations great at various times over the past one hundred years is that technicians started putting scientific knowledge to practical use. But for every nation the saying of “shirt sleeves to shirtsleeves in X generations” set in. The great, great … grandchildren of inventors, mechanics and entrepreneurs change their attitude to a more genteel way of life. It is difficult for a culture to maintain a hardheaded and practical drive after decades of affluence.

In the U.S. many of our newly educated mathematicians, engineers and physicists eschewed the practical field of manufacturing and science. They found a genteel way of life in the financial industry. Industrial manufacturers that used to attract the best minds now see these prospects going into professions of law and other societal helping disciplines. The current mismatch between the need for employees in the manufacturing trades and the surplus of mortgage, real estate, consulting and service professionals accounts for about 3% of the our 9.6% unemployment rate. Closer to home this issue is highlighted in surveys of manufacturers by the Arizona Technology Council.

Over the past twenty years the upper class has aspiring to the aristocratic life style, the middle class has been funding their life styles with debt, and the lower class has been struggling within social breakdown and failing schools.

Frankly this class description of Dickens’ merry-olde-England needs to be broken up once and for all.  K12 education is where it should happen. eLearning transformation will individualized, engage, and deliver success for students. eLearning simulation programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will attract a much larger set of students into the practical professions. A healthy balance and stronger integration of helping, creating, and rearranging professions and trades will prepare our 21st century citizens for the highest pleasure the genteel miss out on – practical success by one’s own hands that helps others.

00705 From Reason to Uncertainty

October 8, 2010

Doesn’t it seem irrational that after all that, with the abounding knowledge that eLearning can make vast improvements in student learning, that almost nothing has happened. After running across a number of other similar instances over the past couple of weeks, maybe we need to move beyond rational. Stick with me for the next half dozen thoughts/ideas.

Easy multiplying and dividing: An Indian mathematician created the decimal system in 500 C.E. and it took a thousand years for European adoption.

Teacher quantification: A master kindergarten teacher’s one year effort is worth $300,000 a year in future earnings of her class.

Slim people: Corn subsidies support high fructose corn syrup in sodas.

Booming economy: Modest salaries rewards for educators and technical folks, sky rocketing bonuses for financial folks.

Innovation bonanza: We hold spelling bees for memorization instead of idea bees for fluency.

From Middle Age math charts and tables to sugar soft drinks to today’s memorization these protocols are all products of rational thought. It takes a long time for rational new ideas to take hold and a much longer time to replace them. What was OK in a pre-industrial world may not be serving us very well in the 21st century. In the 19th century the steam engine was invented and fossil fuel power multiplied animal power a thousand fold. In the 21st century we are transforming our human culture with the digital age of information and communication. First we leveraged our bodies with technological innovation, and now we are leveraging our minds with next generation technological innovations.

The age of reason was fine for the slow moving run-up to the industrial age. But for the digital age, invention driven innovation is so rapid, and systems are so complex that deterministic models are not working. Change is caused by rapid triggering of transformation. Outliers such as the Berlin Wall, the Internet, the PC and financial crisis came out of nowhere. Experts and econometric models that our incumbent culture uses to forecast the future are useless. More over, they are actually dangerous because they get in the way of intuition and innovation.

I say it’s time to refocus from reason to intuition. Change from facts we know to concentrating on what we don’t know. Learn to live in uncertainty with a loose set of empirical rules. Escape the structured world based on limited knowledge, embrace unknowns and seek out the unknown unknowns.

There are a number of professions that practice uncertainty: “piracy, commodity speculation, professional gambling, working in some branches of the Mafia, and serial entrepreneurship.*” Looks like I am in good company! I will be taking this refocus onto embracing uncertainty and intuition into future blogs.

*Nassin Taleb, “The Black Swan.” Random House, 2007

00628 Invention Driven Innovation for Education

October 8, 2010

AP’s Kathy Matheson’s article on educational invention is at It seems that at last a national support system is emerging for eLearning products and services – maybe.

Our U.S. technology based and innovation driven industries enjoy a total of $150 billion in research funds annually. Defense gets half, National Institutes of Health $30 billion and National Aeronautics and Space Administration $20 billion*. Educational technology? Just about zip – maybe $100 million on a good year. Education is just now being recognized as an industry to be driven by technology based innovation.  With research lagging far behind, where are the other vectors of support. The market?

The U.S. formal education industry spends $1 trillion each year, and is willing to invest for access, efficiency and effectiveness. For most entrepreneurs the lack of technology infrastructure, turnover in policies, leaders and curricula, and cumbersome purchasing procedures presents a significant marker barrier. Entrepreneurs have tended to invest their talent and funds in more attractive markets. How about the public sector?

The Department of Education has a $650 million fund to boost education innovation that is focused on entrepreneurship. University of Pennsylvania wants to create an entrepreneur incubator linked with their Department of Education. ASU has grouped their world class ed-tech research groups into SkySong with its enterprise incubator under the leadership of Julia Rosen, Assoc. VP for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. They held the first national education entrepreneur summit this spring. It was modeled after Michael Moe’s similar eLearning industry conferences in the 1990’s.

The expectation is that the education market for technological innovation will become a rival to health care. It’s an admirable goal but we have a long way to go if the health care model of technology is a model.

Another down side for entrepreneurs is that the Venture Capital system destroyed itself ten years ago with its dot-com melt down. During the 1990’s half of VC funded entrepreneurs could expect an initial public offering where they could take their enterprise to the next level. Almost all they can expect now is to be acquired by another company where the entrepreneur leaves with a big pay day. On the brighter side, let’s do a visionary road map:

Factor of 10 and then another factor of 10 increase of federal R&D funding for eLearning research.

A boom in entrepreneurship driven marketing of innovative digital content, curriculum, assessment and delivery systems.

A return of the IPO and a healthy VC dynamic to grow $5 million enterprises to $500 million.

I know that there is a fine line between road maps and wishful thinking. But maybe the Black Swan is about to alight on the eLearning entrepreneurs’ pond.

* “Federal Research and Development Funding: FY2008,” 2007, Congressional Research Service.

00621 K12 is Risky Business

October 8, 2010

ames Bagian – a NASA astronaut, engineer and currently a hospital patient safety expert engaged by the Veteran’s Administration at their National Center for Patient Safety – was recently interviewed by Kathryn Schultz in her series on “being wrong.” Their discussion focused was on health care safety vs. aviation safety.

Aviation is a highly hazardous industry, but it has so much safety designed into the system, there is very little risk of a bad event. The field has a systems perspective, and there is a huge investment in safety. They are not interested in punishing the individual but rather learning what led up to the event and how to change the system to prevent a repeat in the future.

In his current job with the VA, Bagian found the opposite. Health care is all about,”finding out who made the mistake and punishing them for being stupid.” The profession trains them “the right way” and then blames them for mistakes. But a systems analysis and transformation in one area, medication, can reduce the error rate from the current 7% to 10% (!!!) to less than one tenth of one percent.

Admonishments to double-check, be careful, be diligent, and to read the literature do not work. But reporting close calls in a non-blame environment can be highly effective. Developing a culture where breaking the law (rare) remains blameworthy but human errors are expected and capitalized on leads to both a better work environment and a safer work environment. Punishing errors is a terrible policy because it chokes off reporting the very data needed to change the system.

The most similar industry to health care is education. Each is an integration of public and private entities within a large and complex system. They deliver critical human to human service where errors can cause serious problems. Errors in medical systems usually cause immediate harm, where in K-12 education the accumulated harm is only evident after many years.

Many K-12 reform efforts produced a range of admonishments — such as more parent involvement, hire better teachers, more money in the classroom, fewer administrators, and students should work harder — but practical systemic K-12 solutions are rare.

eSATS was founded based on the use of systems analysis applied to education. We discovered a number of serious systemic issues. The isolated classrooms and schools hampered close-call and error reporting, that could support systemic changes to correct for errors. The focus on summative assessments of students, teachers and schools on a weekly to yearly basis were of little value for continuous systemic reduction of risk of student academic performance failure. This results in significant risk to the probability of student academic performance success. The labeling of schools and judging of teachers and principals on summative assessments has been framed as a solution instead of being recognized as part of the problem.

eSATS focuses on real time, data driven formative assessment within the teacher-student relationship as the most important means to assure each student performs, and rises to, their academic potential. The automated data warehouse and decision support systems in our State are being developed for legacy summative data which is a necessary step forward. But only with the application of eLearning systems that include real time student-teacher formative assessment capability, will Arizona have the capacity to remove risk of student failure from of our K-12 education system.

00614 Transformational Triggers

October 8, 2010

My annual one month crunch of model airplane building-flying-competing at the Nationals in Muncie, IN is now behind me. I am settling back into a more “normal” routine. The challenge for 2010-2011 school year is upon us. The question is whether our associations with their advocacy will have any effect on transforming Arizona K-12 education. History has the answer, but to a different question – one of turning points leaping out of the blue. For example:

Forty years ago Yosef Mendelevich, a Soviet Jew, tried to hijack a plane in Leningrad to fly to Sweden, and then on to Israel. He was arrested with a number others by the KGB. The heavy handed trial cause a global protest and back lash against the Soviets. As a direct result, hundreds of thousands of Jews were allowed to emigrate over the next decade. A transformation in Soviet attitude toward human rights was triggered that resulted in the Berlin Wall falling and an empire collapsing.

A decade or two from now, an educational historian (yes, we have these folks at our universities) will do a study on what triggered the massive transformation of Arizona’s K-12 education into a 21st Century powerhouse. She will probably find one person that for her own reasons bucked the system and triggered the transformation. Instead of Yosef’s “unrequited longing for a homeland” her driving force will be “unrequited longing for equity to serve the learning needs of her child.”

The best we can do is keep plugging away. The tipping point may be soon or may have already happened. In a decade or two I hope to be reading the real story of what had triggered the turning point for Arizona.

00607 Innovation vs. Disaster

October 8, 2010

I am blessed by people who respond to the eSATS blog with comments and support. One person recommended a list of the leading organizations in Arizona who are focused on improving education. Another thought we would be better served if we focused on “getting inherent” vs. focusing on implementation.

We are in the middle of a four month effort to redesign eSATS to reflect the latest thinking in eLearning for K-12 education. Our Grand Challenge must also determine a path to bring a rapid and effective transformation. I will describe three scenarios below. But first we must be careful to both cause no harm.

Many years ago an article posited that the best way to make a change for the good was to ride in on the chaos generated by a disaster. It is unconscionable to wish for or create a disaster. But the really is that we are living in a time of double crisis: the prolonged recession and a third of our students dropping out of high school, unready for the 21st century world of work and education.

But the real concern should be about potential disasters caused by human innovation and eLearning transformation of education is the biggest invention to hit K-12 since universal education.

Over the centuries America has had many man-made ecological disasters. The most devastation was caused by straight furrow plowing of our prairies 100 years ago. Over a decade, the “dust bowl” caused immense economic lost, displacement of 2 million refugees and human sickness and death. The slaughtering of millions of buffalo and centuries of coast to coast deforestation are also significant disasters. An 18 month oil spill in California in 1910 was twice as great as the current BP spill.

All of these were caused by unintended consequences from technical innovations of the time: axe/saw, mortar board plow, Sharps repeating rifle, and oil drilling rigs. Since there is no history of how large scale systemic transformation of K12 education supported by eLearning – unintended consequences are yet unknown.

Three scenarios face Arizona leadership as they grapple with this opportunity with an eye on avoiding disaster.

One is to call a halt to the innovation and stop any additional online or classroom use of eLearning. This would “pause” the growing eLearning support at about 5% of student learning.
The second is to let the eLearning driven disruptive innovation happen without significant State level leadership or investment. This approach is expected to increase the 5% to approximately 30% in ten years. There would be equity distortions but the average of academic gains might meet (squeaking past) State’s minimum academic goals.
The third is to recognize that eLearning is the means to solve Arizona’s most troubling dilemma and take a systems approach at both the State and district levels. With 95% of student learning supported at the most appropriate level by eLearning, academic goals will be surpassed and significant cost savings secured.

This third scenario would minimize the risk of innovation driven disaster by using a fully integrated data driven decision support system at all levels from classroom to State. It would also address the individual disaster of our 40,000 drop outs and cut short our prolonged recession.

00531 Ambiguous Decisions

October 8, 2010

Being an engineer, entrepreneur, designer and strategic planner, I have long been an advocate of integration of the rational, intuitive, creative and visionary aspects of decision making. This quartet seems to have served me well for most challenges over the decades. The one challenge that seems to be intractable to this approach is the transformation of K12 education to meet the needs and expectations of the 21st century. Many of our eSATS task team have been working on this issue for 20 years – some for 30, and at best the solution has reached the 5% level.

Last week, I had a heated discussion on this issue with my close circle of high-tech entrepreneurial buddies from the 1980’s. They recommended that I abandon this grand challenge and like an entrepreneur, refocus on something that has a reasonable probability for success. I retorted that I had done the smaller summits, and Mt. Everest is the only game worth playing.

But it got me thinking that maybe my quartet of decision making processes was not hacking it. Perhaps what was needed was a new approach that would be effective with our target audiences – Arizona’s governance and education leadership. In reality, it’s their decision process, not mine that is fundamental to this K-12 transformation.

For incumbent leadership, the solving of this education challenge has been disappointing and potential solutions ambiguous. For 30 years they have responded with reforms that have face validity but have had minor effect on the overall challenge a 30% failure rate for student

graduation. Gary Klein, a psychologist and chief scientist at Applied Research Associates, has written a book on how people make decisions in ambiguous situations.*

From an interview in Science News, Gary Klein describes how we are wired for speed and it is impossible to not jump to conclusions in ambiguous situations. Within an unending universe of rules and facts, the logical risk analysis approach leads to inaction, or worse, to inaccurate and deceptive calculations that lead to disaster – like our financial crisis. Experienced decision makers use tacit knowledge to recognize situations based on experience. They create a mental story to understand what is going on while using intuition to make their decision.

Education is the most critical factor in the success of each citizen and for the entire State of Arizona. Leadership is rightfully hesitant to risk a radial change in the status quo without being assured of the outcome. But without a radial and successful change, we will continue our slow economic decline and wastage of 30% of our children. What to do?

I say we trust our decades old intuitively reinforced concept that technology is the key to transforming K-12 education and follow Gary Klein’s advice, “Successful decision makers actively manage a situation and shape their options rather than passively awaiting the outcome of a gamble that has specific probabilities, risks and benefits.”

In other words don’t analyze, synthesize or shade your eyes. Act now knowing that once eLearning  transformation has started your intuitions will serve you well in the follow through to a successful conclusion.

*Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making, MIT Press, 2009.