Archive for the ‘Priorities’ 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….

00628 Invention Driven Innovation for Education

October 8, 2010

AP’s Kathy Matheson’s article on educational invention is at http://tinyurl.com/322y3cr. 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.

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.