The DeHavilland Blog

Friday, April 28, 2006

The public wants partnerships

Just came across the results of a very exciting survey the Carnegie Corporation put forth as part of their Schools for a New Society initiative. Conducted by Widmeyer Research and polling, the survey collected data from a nationally representative sample of urban adults, assessing attitudes about public education offered at urban high schools and the role of school districts and other organizations in improving public education.

Carnegie found overwhelming support for the idea of community partnerships in urban education, with groups including local not-for-profits, colleges, teacher unions, local businesses, and parent groups all involved in the call to action. Specific survey results include:

  • 91% of Americans agree with the statement that every public high school should be as good as the community’s very best.
  • 92% agree with the statement that successful high school reform must include changes in how the school district manages its high schools.
  • More than 4 in 5 Americans (86%) agree with the statement that political, education, and community leaders must work together to change the situation where high school resources are not handed out fairly among high schools.
  • More than 4 in 5 Americans (83%) say that community members and organizations should share either a “great deal” or “some” responsibility for reforming or improving urban public high schools. These include community not-for-profit organizations that focus on education and children.
  • More than 9 in 10 Americans (94%) say that parents and other adults should share some of the responsibility for reforming or improving urban public high schools.
  • More than 4 in 5 Americans (85%) say the larger community outside of the school district should play an important role in improving the quality of education offered by urban high schools.

These are extremely positive results, and need to be heard both by the various education stakeholders who can provide support to schools, and to the schools, who more and more and dedicating the resources needed to reach out to the community and invite this type of participation.

The survey, of course, does not address the barriers to such partnerships, such as the fact that many members of these groups do not feel that they are invited in as partners (helping to determine educational outcomes and processes), but rather as donors or laborers working towards the schools’ predetermined ends. Or the fact that some members of these stakeholder groups, businesses in particular, need to see some kind of ROI on their investment (recognition, community goodwill, etc.) in order to justify their participation. I’ve written about the first, and will be addressing the second in the very near future.

But the fact remains: such a resounding call from the community cannot help but strengthen the case and the call for inviting all stakeholders to participate in the education process.

Today's vocational education

Interesting article this week from the Associated Press on the modern face of vocational education (“Vocational education: ‘It’s not your grandfather’s trade school,” 4/23/06).

According to the article, one can now find a wide array of classes within the vocational education department that provide practical career knowledge involving current technologies, practices, and skills, resulting in students ready for immediate employment or better prepared to take advantage of postsecondary education opportunities. These are exactly the kind of high school graduates we say we need for today’s modern workforce.

From the article:

That high-tech list [of programs] is long: students building solar panels and wind turbines to produce electricity used in classrooms; races with classroom-built robots; computer networking certifications – even the carpentry students are using plastic foam to build a better insulated press box for a minor league baseball team.

“It’s not your grandfather’s trade school,” said Upper Cape Principal Kevin Farr.

In Mesa, Ariz., the East Valley Institute of Technology launched a golf course management class with about 50 students spending part of their day learning about different types of grass, growing vegetation in a desert climate, and designing new greens, fairways, and water hazards.

The Greater Johnstown Career and Technology Center in Pennsylvania has 30 teenagers wading into the world of DNA. In a biotechnology lab, the students match mock criminal suspects with crime scene evidence, grow cell tissue cultures and plan to begin working with stem cells.

“People still think of it as a vocational education instead of career education,” said Rosalind Servinsky, who teachers Johnstown’s biotechnology class. “We are trying to change that thinking. These are no longer the slow kids that can’t go to college.”

There is so much that’s right about programs like these. Engaging, real-world content; access to current technology; opportunities to work as a team towards a common goal; projects with real-world applications and potentially immediate real-world outcomes; and an opportunity to actively explore possible careers or industries rather than just speculating about them while being ushered through a general-interest college prep schedule.

In many cases, these are the 21st century jobs that can’t be outsourced. You can’t outsource golf course management, carpentry, or auto work, for example, and these programs are preparing students with the 21st century knowledge and skills increasingly required in such fields.

I don’t understand why the Department of Education is trying to zero out the $1.3 billion earmarked for such programs, but I am glad to see that congress refused to let that happen last year. Let’s hope they continue to fight for that funding: it may not make up the majority of a voc-ed budget, but it does make a difference.

And let’s also hope that people start to realize the tremendous value of such programs. I’ve said it before: not every student wants to go to college, and to force every student onto a college track is both unfair and counterproductive.

Regardless of whether a student plans on attending college, I would love to see an explosion in vocational education – it’s an exciting step towards filling schools with engaging, real-world content that can offer tremendous opportunities for building 21st century skills and producing immediate usable outcomes for the school and its community.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

DeHavilland, so far

This is my 100th post, which seems as good a milestone as any to look back - to see where I wanted to go when I opened DeHavilland compared to where I’ve gotten to date.

The vision for the company – the big-picture model I aspire to – is analogous to something Marshall McLuhan said about his work. In a speech he gave on the future of education in 1974 titled “Living at the Speed of Light,” he talked about how his interest in communication theory was different from that of most people in the field: that most researchers and professors looked at communication as a question of transportation, while McLuhan was more interested in the environment created by whatever was doing the transporting.

To use a railroad analogy, most people are interested in getting cargo from point A to point B as quickly and effectively as possible – solid vehicles, good tracks, as few obstacles as possible. McLuhan, on the other hand, was more interested in the effects of the railroad. What did the railroad do for the farmers who could now get their goods to market more easily? How did it change the lives of businesspeople who could now travel across the country in a matter of days, not months? What did it do to cities? How did it change financial markets?

Most communicators focus on the best way to plant their message into the minds of their audience. Do I know them well enough to know what they need and speak to their interests? Should I use direct mail or television? How do I overcome their barriers (skepticism, apathy, other interests) to get them to understand and, ideally, act?

McLuhan, on the other hand, was interested in what changes were wrought by old and new media. How did the telephone change society? How did a family change when you dropped a television into the living room?

I’ve always been inherently interested in communication – getting cargo from A to B – and believe there’s great value in helping clients navigate the often-complicated, often-confusing education market to deliver a message of social and educational merit. I’ve been fortunate enough to find a handful of clients who were looking for some support in this area, and I’m enjoying the work we’re doing together. This sort of work is important, it will always be a part of DeHavilland, and I’m happy about my progress to date in building up this side of the business.

However, I’m also interested in the environments created by communication channels – or, in the case of education, what environments could be created if communication channels were put into place. To belabor the transportation analogy – what would happen between the residents of two towns if we started a rail service between them? Wouldn’t they begin to travel? Wouldn’t they understand one another better? Wouldn’t trade and other types of exchanges vastly increase?

It’s amazing to me that there are so many groups with such a vested interest in education, and yet there’s so little communication between each of those groups and the education system (let alone among the groups themselves). The groups are generally self-contained, speaking their own languages and generally talking past one another. There’s no dialogue because there’s no platform or channel for dialogue.

How would stakeholders behave if we opened up the rails, and they were given a way to truly interact with, and participate in, the education system? Would business, for example, approach education differently if they were invited in as partners and collaborators, instead of as an extra pocket for cash, goods, and volunteer hours? Wouldn’t their support for education increase dramatically, and wouldn’t education be better off as a result of their participation in setting outcomes and processes that tie in to the real world?

This is the side of the business where I’ve failed to move forward. Looking back at post number one, the real game-changing element to DeHavilland is the idea of creating new communication channels to help spark understanding and dialogue – to clear away the fog that seems to sit between education and its stakeholders and help make public education a truly public enterprise. And I’ve been too timid.

Fortunately, it's not too late to start. Therefore, I’m officially taking the first step by announcing the creation of a new online forum for anyone involved in business/education partnerships: businesspeople, educators and public outreach specialists, education foundations, nonprofits, policymakers, and anyone else who wants to jump into the fray.

This forum will be noncommercial: I’m doing it because it needs to be done. It will reside as a standalone site and will offer a directory of organizations involved in business/education partnerships, resource and best practice sections, and a bulletin board to allow all parties to share thoughts, suggestions, war stories, and to generally engage in a dialogue that’s not possible anywhere else online.

It’s a start – but it’s definitely not the end.

I’ll announce it here once it’s live, of course, and ask people to spread the word (as a pro bono initiative, it won’t have much of a marketing budget). So check back here or keep your ears open for updates; you can also register at the DeHavilland site to make sure you receive updates as they occur.

I greatly enjoy helping clients move from point A to point B, navigating unfamiliar terrain to share the resources they wish to dedicate to teachers and students. But I also see great promise in blazing new trails, building new communication channels for the benefit of all stakeholders. It’s an opportunity to not only change the landscape, but to actually change the people connected by these new channels – and I can’t imagine a greater vision for a communications company than to enable productive dialogue in a field as fundamentally important as the education of our youth.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

New white paper from DeHavilland Associates

A new white paper on education outreach is now available on our white paper page. Click here to read or download "How to Measure the Performance of Your Outreach Programs," which provides some thoughts on setting up a tracking/measurement system for your education outreach program.

Don't hesitate to share your thoughts on this or other DeHavilland resources - we love feedback!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Can we change our fundamental assumptions about education?

An article by John Taylor Gatto over at Education Revolution - "The Richest Man in the World Has Some Advice About College...(PS - he didn't take it himself)" - started me thinking about the futility of conventional education reform, and the need for a bold new vision.

In his article, Gatto notes that Bill Gates, a college dropout, has been telling anyone who will listen that in order to remain competitive, the US needs to make college prep the sole function of secondary school and ensure that every student is ready for, and attends, college. He then goes on to highlight what Gates is not talking about when it comes to international competition:
They (China and India) don't make things better than we do, but they do make them just as good and cheaper, by a factor of from six to thirty. It is fanciful to say, as Mr. Gates did, that if we just have more schooling, we'll be okay. In the next 10 years, China and India, et al., will release ten million well-trained engineers in excess of domestic needs on the world's skilled labor markets.

These men and women will bid for work against your own techie sons and daughters.

At sixteen cents or so on the dollar, the effect on wages will be a catastrophe for this important segment of middle-class life. Mr. Gates didn't bother to tell his audience that Microsoft has already opened large colleges in China and India to train young people in those nations to its own specifications.

That puts a new spin on his appeal for universal college training doesn't it? Perhaps you believe the corporate policy of Microsoft will prefer to continue to pay high wages when a stream of its own foreign graduates becomes available.

Unless you do believe that, it becomes a duty for all of us to wake up and warn our children because one thing is certain: Schools won't.

For those unfamiliar with John Taylor Gatto, he spent several years as a teacher in New York City and was proclaimed New York's Teacher of the Year on three separate occasions. He resigned while still NY Teacher of the Year with an op-ed in Wall Street Journal, claiming that he was no longer willing to hurt children by being part of the educational establishment.

It's refreshing to hear the thoughts of people like Gatto: most reformers operate in parallel to the school system, hollering for tweaks to the system (more or less technology, more or less testing, changes in teacher training methodology, etc.) without ever questioning the underlying assumptions. As Mike Sullivan notes in an essay titled "Needed Now: A New Model for Pedagogy" in Future Courses:
Educational practice has changed very little since Horace Mann convinced the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to establish common schools. The two primary observable changes have been in class size and instructional materials. The pupil/teacher ratio has shrunk from 35:1 in 1890 to 17:1 in 1991. Instructional materials have changed from what we now call "authentic" materials, such as actual works of literature and the Bible, to basal-type texts with specially written, illustrated material contained in comprehensive books. And, of course, the average time spent in school has increased from 8.1 years in 1910 to 12.7 years in 1991, and the length of the academic year has increased from 135 days in 1890 to the present 180 days.

These changes are more cosmetic than substantive, for the basic practice of instruction is still very much the same as it was 100 years ago. A teacher presents a lesson orally, perhaps with homemade illustrations; students read corresponding information and answer questions about the material; students then recite or otherwise demonstrate mastery of the material. Following a number of lessons of this type, the students take an exam of some sort, and the grades are reported home.

Gatto has cut ties with convention and questions education at its roots, which makes him a hero to the alternative education movement and a fringe radical to people invested in our current system. Which is unfortunate: while our education system may at one time have paralleled our society, the radical changes in society, compared with the virtual standstill of our education system, has created a tremendous disconnect, and it is only through questioning and rethinking the underlying principles of education that we will be able to realign the two. Tweaking just won't cut it.

Gatto states this more eloquently:
Saturation schooling, kindergarten through college, was a leadership response to the demands of a centralized corporate economy that replaced American/Canadian entrepreneurialism between 1880 and 1920.

What corporatism required was two things: A laboring mass - including a professional laboring mass of doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects and schoolteachers - who did what they were told without question, and a citizenry in name only, one which defined itself by non-stop consumption, one which believed that choosing between options offered by management was what democracy was all about.

Lockstep schooling, driven by standardized testing, testing not to measure learning but obedience, was the mechanism used to drive out imagination and courage. It worked and still works superbly, but, like the little mill that ground salt when salt wasn't needed, this brilliant utopian construction is about to kill us.

And also offers a solution, if only at the conceptual level:

We need to follow the path opened by our unparalleled jazz domination of the planet.

Over in China, at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music (the oldest continuous music school on earth) they have a hard time believing that jazz can even exist, that with imagination and courage you can hear a piece of music once and ring dazzling changes on it forever.

Jazz writ large has always been the key to North American genius. As David Richardo, the great philosopher of capitalism often said: The road to wealth comes from understanding what it is that you do best, then doing it. It's time we abandoned the cowardly path of imitating what China and India will do best in the future, realizing that our own security can only be preserved by encouraging imagination.

Are we bold enough to rethink our assumptions? Can we forget about reforming schools and establish a new form of pedagogy based on the needs of contemporary society?

Mike Sullivan (from the same essay in Future Courses) suggests how Horace Mann would look at things:
Of course, Horace Mann did not base his concept of the common school on research findings. He observed the world and designed a school that reflected the needs and practices of the world. He observed the impact of the Industrial Revolution, the efficiency of mass production, the need for a moderately well-trained work force to emerge from a huge group of immigrants, and he created the appropriate school.

If Mann were alive today, he would most likely look at the world around him and conclude that a new form of pedagogy is needed. He would not have to examine the research or endlessly debate the meaning of standardized test scores or public opinion polls. Mann simply would observe that the theory of pedagogy reflected in current educational practices no longer reflects the needs and practices of our world.

Where is today's equivalent of Horace Mann - and will anyone listen to him? Or will anyone offering new thinking from the ground up be heard against the vested interests of our juggernaut of an education system, 3.5 million teachers and 50 million students strong?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What do our customers think?

Saw this on a marketing site recently:

A study by Bain & Company found that 80 percent of companies surveyed believed that they delivered a "superior experience" to their customers. But, when customers were asked to indicate their perceptions of the experiences they have in dealing with companies, they rated only 8 percent of companies as truly delivering a superior experience (James Allen, Frederick F. Reichheld and Barney Hamilton, The Three "Ds" of Customer Experience, Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, accessed Nov. 7, 2005). Do you sense just a little bit of disconnect?

(Click here for the full article on customer experience.)

It seems that too often, service providers rate their quality of service based on how hard they worked, or on how nice the final deliverable looked. But as Harry Beckwith can tell you, it's the experience that counts. How we were treated. Whether we were heard. Whether we felt the service provider was working for us, or working for themselves. Whether they met our needs, stated and unstated. Whether we saw the personal value in the recommended outcome.

So what results would you see if you administered this same survey to teachers and students? I haven't seen any self-reporting on the part of teachers, but Indiana University's annual student survey, "High School Survey of Student Engagement," provides some insight as to how students - our customers - feel about their educational experience.

Results from the 2005 HSSSE survey include:
  • 50% of high school students devote four hours or less per week to homework, reading, rehearsing, etc.
  • 57% said they frequently contributed to class discussions.
  • Only 39% frequently discussed ideas from their classes with others, such as family members or friends (45% of females compared to 32% of males).
  • 53% stated that they care about their current school.
  • 31% think that school rules are fair.
  • Only 47% would select the same high school again if given the opportunity.
  • 55% feel safe at school.
  • Respondents were more likely to say that their school places substantial emphasis on athletic achievement (72%) than on academic achievement (63%).
  • 49% indicated that they have a voice in making classroom decisions.
  • Only 53% of all respondents agreed that what they learn at school is useful.
  • 88% of respondents agreed they have the skills necessary to complete their school work, but only 38% agreed that the support they get at school encourages them to learn more, and only 35% are excited about their classes.
  • 53% stated that they put forth a great deal of effort in their school work.
  • 51% agreed they are challenged to do their best work at school, and less than half (47%) said that their school work makes them curious to learn about other things.
(download the complete report here)

It goes without saying, but I'll say it: obviously, a large percentage of our customers are not engaged in the education experience.

Now, one could certainly put forth an argument that this isn't the fault of our schools. After all, students are afflicted with an entitlement mentality, right? They don't know what it means to "earn" something, or the sense of achievement and accomplishment that comes with gaining something through hard work. And besides, school isn't supposed to be fun: you pay your dues and then you get out.

But it hurts everyone - them and us - if we don't find the reasons for this disengagement, address them, and make school a place of excitement, engagement, and achievement. We're creating kids who don't see the value in the education we're giving them, and who are certainly not becoming the lifelong learners and critical thinkers we need going forward.

Yeats talked about education as not filling a pail, but lighting a fire; this survey makes it clear that we're not doing either for a large percentage of our kids.

It's time to change that.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Doesn't have to be all or nothing...

Great article in the LA Times (registration required) about students' interests in real-life content - specifically, a stronger career track option. In this article, "Struggling Students Want Vocational Education, Poll Shows," Mitchell Landsberg writes:

Most American high schools phased out vocational education years ago, motivated by complaints that it was used as a tool to "track" African American and Latino students into low-paying careers.

But the idea of combining traditional academics with career training is making a comeback, and a poll released Wednesday suggests that it is popular among one particularly important group: struggling high school students.

The poll of California 9th- and 10th-graders, conducted for the James Irvine Foundation, found that six in 10 students didn't particularly like school and weren't motivated to succeed. But of those disaffected students, more than 90% said they would be more motivated if their school offered classes relevant to their future careers.

It's laudable to want to make everyone ready for a four-year college education. But the survey referenced in this article reminds us that not everyone wants that. We should be helping students explore, identify, and pursue the lives they want to lead, not dictate that they follow a path that holds no interest or value for them.

How can business make an impact?

I’ve been going through some recent announcements by businesses highlighting their involvement in education. There’s some pretty remarkable stuff going on:

  • Cisco’s 21st Century Schools program, through which they’re committing $40 million to help with Louisiana rebuilding activities
  • Intel awarding over half a million dollars in scholoarships to the winners of its annual Intel Science Talent Search (just one component of the company’s annual $100 million worldwide commitment to science/math education)
  • Ford and AAA are awarding $6 million in prizes and scholarships to teens participating in an auto tech challenge designed to highlight auto technician work as a career path
  • IBM’s plan to place its employees into the classroom as full-time teachers is going forward, with 65 of the first group of 100 (their pilot group) already selected and working towards their certifications
  • Dell, Microsoft, and Intel just awarded $250,000 each in products and services to three schools who competed with plans for using technology to improve education
  • Best Buy announced $8 million in gifts – including $5 million in computers and $3 million in awards – to “reboot and rebuild” schools in Mississippi and Louisiana
  • The Lucas Group, a professional recruiting firm in Atlanta, is again running its Dreambuilder program, which connects inner city graduating seniors to summer internships with prestigious employers around the city.
  • General Mills’ Box Tops for Education, which has given $175 million to education over the past 10 years, has opened up a new front with its Box Tops for Education Kids’ Caucus, bringing 10 elementary/middle school children (selected from more than 2,000 entries) to Washington to meet with congresspeople to talk about parental involvement in education
  • ExxonMobil has awarded $250,000 in scholarships through its Texas Science and Engineering Fair
  • Adobe announced its Education Leader program, through which 100 educators will be given free software, curriculum, training, and a forum to share best practices. These teachers will act as technology advocates, creating new resources and training additional educators.

These are just some of the programs I’ve come across in the past month – and really only a small fraction of the activity out there. In addition to the hundreds of other national programs out there, there are hundreds of thousands of business/school partnerships occurring at the local level, including volunteer programs, cash or product contributions, and other likeminded efforts.

I’m in awe of these people: the time and money they contribute to education is staggering. While workforce development and community relations/CSR considerations undoubtedly play a part in their decision and help to justify the expenditure, the fact is that they could contribute their resources to almost any social issue – or even better, give it to their shareholders (as Milton Friedman would argue).

So it’s almost ingrateful to ask the question – what impact are we realizing from that tremendous investment?

Since “A Nation At Risk” came out in 1983, businesses have re-engaged in education at a quick pace. According to a report by the National Association of Partners in Education (now defunct) comparing data from 1990 and 2000, districts reported that partnerships with large corporations increased during that time from 29% to 42%; partnerships with medium corporations rose from 34% to 61%; and partnerships with small corporations rose from 41% to 76%. They further report that the value of goods and services from such partnerships rose from $924 million to $2.42 billion in that same time span.

Yet at the same time, accepted education metrics have barely budged. NAEP scores have been stagnant since 1973, when the first longitudinal test was administered. We’re continuing to fall in international comparisons (although to be fair, most people believe that this is more a matter of other countries improving while we stand still, not that we’re doing worse while everyone else stays the same).

So what’s going on?

I don’t know the answer, but I can think of a few possible explanations:

  • The level of investment isn’t enough to move the needle. Education is a $600 billion juggernaut; putting $2.4 billion into it (0.4% of the total budget, for those of you without a calculator handy) barely makes a ripple.
  • This investment actually is making a difference – if it weren’t for this investment, we’d actually be in steep decline, and maintaining the status quo with this limited investment is actually an achievement.
  • The money isn’t being invested strategically. We’re supplementing an existing structure that is not performing, and not taking a seat at the table to redefine desired outcomes and rethinking the ways that we can get there. Using the Titanic as a metaphor (how’s that for leading the reader?), we’re painting the ship as it sinks, not turning the wheel to avoid the icebergs.
  • We’re wasting a lot of that money through duplicated efforts. There’s no national forum or clearinghouse on business/education partnerships, so we’re all making the same mistakes and not learning from one another’s successes. (This is a personal priority – if anyone wants to talk about changing this, call me.)

As I said, I almost hate asking the question – feels like looking a gift horse in the mouth. But the fact is, we’re not moving forward, and the people who dedicate their time and money to education deserve to see results – not just the inevitable anecdotal impact at a school or two, but a meaningful, systemic change that improves the experience and the outcomes of public education.