The DeHavilland Blog

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Consumer empowerment - in schools?

I've been thinking about something that came up at the recent Business Education Network Summit, specifically the idea that business could serve education by sharing its expertise in certain areas such as change management and the ability to scale new initiatives. The more I think about it, the more I see the applicability of business principles to education in any number of areas - not just lessons from management, but also from distribution/logistics, HR, finance, planning/forecasting, and even marketing.

Marketing comes to mind as I juxtapose some recent education surveys with the idea of customer empowerment, a marketing/customer relations movement that's gaining steam as a result of (or at least at the same time as) the growth of the Internet and the new relationships it allows between individuals and groups. The basic idea - as outlined in the Consumer Empowerment blog (link
here) - is that consumers can start to participate in corporate functions in the areas of marketing and new product development, which results in a product a) they want and b) in which they feel some sense of ownership.

I'm looking over this information and recalling some recent surveys of students which clearly indicate that they're unhappy with the education we're giving them - and, more importantly, they have some ideas on how to improve the situation. Two major surveys came out over the summer - one from the Horatio Alger Association and one from the National Governors Association - that make this point clear.

From "State of Our Nation's Youth Report" (link
here) from the Horatio Alger Association:
  • 31% of high school students believe that their schools have high expectations of them; 57% see expectations as moderate, while 12% see them as low.
  • 88% state that if their high schools raised academic standards and raised expectations for how much course work and homework were required to earn a diploma, they would apply themselves more.
  • 95% state that providing more real-world learning opportunities would improve their schools.
  • 92% state that having teachers or counselors advise them early in their high school careers on courses to take to prepare for colleges or careers would improve their education.
  • 91% believe that providing opportunities to take more challenging courses (AP, IB, college level course) would be an improvement.
  • 86% would like access to more after-school tutoring or learning opportunities on Saturday and/or summer school.
  • 81% say their schools would be improved if they required students to pass an exam in math and English in order to graduate from high school.
  • 75% believe schools should require four years' math and courses in biology, chemistry, and physics to graduate.
From the RateYourFuture.org survey (link
here) by the National Governors Association (answers, it should be noted, come only from high school students who plan to graduate):
  • Only 64% of students believe that high school is giving them the skills they need to succeed, and only 63% find it challenging academically.
  • Only 46% believe high school is preparing them for a skill or trade.
  • 50% say that senior year is either a waste of time (6%) or could be much more meaningful (44%).
  • 65% strongly or somewhat agree that they would work harder if high school offered more interesting or demanding courses.
Teens identified a number of ideas that would make senior year more meaningful for them. A sampling includes "taking courses related to the kind of job I want," "receiving detailed information on colleges," "taking courses that result in college credit," "being allowed to pick and choose the courses I want," and "combining work and high school with internship."

It makes all kinds of sense to bring students into the education reform discussion, just as it makes all kinds of sense to ask consumers what they want in the products they're offered. The sense of ownership that this would allow - not to mention the improvements it would drive - could be a tremendous contribution as we seek to revitalize our education system.

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