Archive for the ‘governance’ Category

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.

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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….

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.

00524 Refocus on Fundimental Arizona Needs

October 8, 2010

The May 21st issue of Capital Times focused on Arizona’s recently completed legislative session. A section by Jeremy Duda was titled, “10 most significant bills of 2010.” The selection of items for any top ten list is highly subjective. But from a news criterion, which reflects the interest of readers, they have a tale to tell.

The article starts with S1070 the immigration bill followed by bills that;

Ban K-12 courses than focus on racial divisiveness or anti-U.S. sentiment;

Decriminalizes discreet gun carry without a permit;

Remove regulations for gun manufacturers that sell inside Arizona;

Joins Arizona with 18 other states in a lawsuit against the U.S. health care bill;

Requires reporting of corporations and unions on campaign spending;

Legalizes sale of small consumer fireworks;

Criminalizes as a misdemeanor offense the sending of sexually explicit photos by minors electronically;

Allows for private firms and other entities to operate State parks;

Increases to $1000 the amount for private education that can be deducted from state taxes.

We each have intuitive and emotional responses to these widely varying bills. That is why they make the top ten for news. But not one of them has any significant current or long range effect on solving the most important of Arizona problems:

Education that prepares less than half our children for success;

Workforce that is both rife with unemployment and is ill equipped to compete for quality jobs;

Economy that is not only struggling within a recession but has limited capability to transform from its 20th century industries into the emerging industries of the 21st century.

Bills that directly effected Arizona’s major problems were lost or killed in the chaos of sine die. The digital content/curriculum bill and the jobs bill were two that could have had a real effect.

It all comes down to a couple of questions. Will Arizona elect a legislature and a governor that will fade ideology and the news worthy moments into the back ground? Will Arizona’s newly elected 91 person governance focus 80% of their efforts on education, workforce and economy using a mid to long range outlook with deep intellect, rational thinking, prescient intuition and brilliant ideas?

We must make it so.

00509 Social Bonds Trump Governance Policies

October 8, 2010

A May 4th Op-Ed column by David Brooks in the NY Times addressed the issue of government policy and outcomes for the society it governs. His example were Swedes who had immigrated into America a century ago. Today both the citizens of Sweden and their American cousins have 6.7 poverty rates. Their life expectancy rate increases from 1950 were 2.6% and 2.7% respectively. Even though there were huge policy differences between the Swedish welfare state and national healthcare system and the U.S. system, the outcomes were not effected.

So rest easy Arizona, Brooks writes, “The influence of policy and politics is usually swamped by the influence of culture, ethnicity, psychology and a dozen other factors.” A U.S. citizen’s continent of origin is a huge factor in life expectancy. For instance Asian roots will give you 15 years more life than African.

Some U.S. regions happen to be high trust, where highly educated people will produce positive feedback loops, good culture, and human capital programs. Others have low social trust, low education levels, and negative feedback loops.

Government policy has little leverage to improve social bonds, but can be very damaging if it destroys these bonds – like devastating U.S. Native American policies — which take generations to repair. That is rule one, do no political harm to any social group. Second is to establish basic level of physical, economic and social security. Last is to be creative about policies that strengthen relationships.

My gut tells me that there is much truth within Brooks’ take on governance and policy. Without trust, no society will flourish. Without a spirit of collaboration, creativity and long range vision societies give way to wrangling on short term, meaningless issues. Without a total commitment to education of every single student, 70 percent of Arizona’s kids are winding up with the short end of life’s stick.

Arizona is a phenomenon. We are the U.S.’s newest region. Immigration across our north-south-east-west borders has increased our population five fold over 50 years. We have a rich and eclectic mix of social groupings and cultures. Any family that pulls up roots and moves to Arizona has somewhere, down deep, an entrepreneurial – pioneering – innovating spirit.

Arizona is still in play. We are not yet a region of high trust nor a region of low trust. But how we play the game into the future will have huge consequences. So here is the plan:

We must not only celebrate this diversity of social and ethnic groupings but strengthen all aspects. The common linkage that networks all of Arizona is P-12 and higher education. We must refocus all our disparate energies into a single area — our schools. They are the primary linkage for local communities throughout Arizona.

Arizona must become the exemplar of what a “21st Century Education State” means. Any policy proposed that tears the social fabric of any group in any way, we reject it. Any policy that claims to improve our education we try, assess, then adjust our aim as needed. Every leader must be a player on the education team. Every organization must play its part. Especially the local parent, community, religious, neighborhood and business groups that embrace our 1500 schools.