The DeHavilland Blog

Thursday, June 29, 2006

STEM education is in the house

STEM education is in the house – or at least it was in the Rayburn House Office Building on Tuesday night, when Tapping America’s Potential (TAP) held a math and science fair to introduce legislators, staffers, eduwonks and other interested parties to the education outreach efforts of its 15 coalition members and a handful of others.

I received an invitation to the event and just happened to be in DC that day, so I was happy to have the opportunity to attend. It’s a great idea to host events like these to garner exposure among legislators: while I don’t claim to be savvy about the ways in government works, I do understand that politics has to play a major role in trying to fix a system that is 90% owned by local/state/federal governments.

All the usual suspects were there: Intel, IBM, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, GlaxoSmithKline, Lockheed Martin, Texas Instruments, and many others. What’s interesting about this group is that, in addition to some very strong efforts put forth by individual companies, they’re working together (under the TAP banner) to raise awareness, gather and disseminate research (such as public opinion data), and push for legislative change.

This is a classic coalition model: banding together to fight for common interests without diluting or compromising the efforts of individual coalition members (for another successful coalition, take a look at the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Education).

However, it would be nice to see them open the doors to a larger base: with the exception of one organization (Dana Egreczky’s Business Coalition for Educational Excellence), every organization exhibiting there was either a Fortune 500 company or, as in the case of a handful of nonprofits, was entirely bankrolled by one.

Stephen Jordan of the US Chamber’s Business Civic Leadership Center has highlighted the fact that 90% of education partnerships occur at the local level. I hope that TAP gives serious thought to becoming more inclusive of smaller national, regional, and local companies – the much larger base of coalition members would surely not only be more influential politically, but also more effective in sharing information and driving public awareness.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The secret to partnering with business

From The Graduate:

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

I’ll be sitting on a panel in a few weeks, talking with schools and nonprofit organizations about business/education partnerships – more specifically, how to build support from businesses (in the form of funding, donations of products/services, volunteer hours, etc.) so that they can launch and sustain some cool learning initiatives.

I’ve been thinking through my experiences with such partnerships, wondering what the common thread is – what do businesses want to hear from nonprofits who come calling for support? What’s the one thing (if there is one thing) that, more than anything else, will give you the best shot at establishing the partnerships you want?

And in the spirit of the quote above, I think I’ve found the answer – the thing that opens the door to limitless opportunity for any school or nonprofit organization that takes it to heart. Just one word.


So many nonprofits approach business based solely on the worth of their cause. And yes, that will generate a limited amount of support – you’ll find a small number of businesspeople who identify with your cause for one reason or another and support you strictly out of a sense of personal affinity, charity, or civic duty.

But for the vast majority who don’t feel that irresistible pull towards you over everyone else, a strict need-based approach puts you in a large group of other worthy causes. Sure, education is a worthy cause. But is it more worthy than breast cancer or AIDS? The arts? The environment? Hunger? Animal abuse? Religion? It’s relative to the giver, and again – if the giver isn’t drawn to you based on personal beliefs or experience (and many/most won’t be), you’re just one of many with your hand out.

How do you shape your pitch so that you have the edge – so that these businesses partner with you rather than all those other causes? You give them a return. You present giving as an opportunity that provides clear benefits to them – an investment, not a handout.

Business is a game of limited resources, and the people who succeed are those who invest those resources in ways that provide a return. Sure, some businesspeople set aside a small amount for charitable giving – but even in the world of corporate foundations, the idea of no-strings-attached giving is being replaced by the concept of strategic philanthropy, where gifts are expected to line up with strategic interests and generate verifiable results.

If you can provide a real return to potential business partners, you’ll find two things: first, your success rate will increase; and second, you’ll be able to tap into a much larger pool of money than the small amount they set aside for charitable contributions.

And don’t think that by “return” you’ll open yourself up to crass commercialism – the vast majority of businesses realize that plastering your school with posters for their stores is going to hurt them a lot more than it will help. Here are a few examples:

  • Sales/Marketing returns – Studies show that consumers are more likely to purchase goods associated with a cause, and they’re also more likely to pay a premium price for those goods. You can allow your business partner to promote your partnership to their customer base, or even set up a cause marketing sales initiative through which a percentage of all sales are donated to your organization.
  • Branding/community relations returns – Many businesses see the value in building awareness and a good reputation in the community; studies show that a positive company image can positively affect everything from press coverage to vendor relations.
  • Workforce development returns – While some Fortune 500 companies invest in education as a long-term workforce development initiative to increase the quality of the overall labor pool, smaller companies can realize more immediate and more tangible returns for their investment, including becoming more attractive to new hires, boosting employee morale, and providing employees with opportunities to build valued new skills through volunteering situations.

These are just a few examples of the types of returns you can offer business partners through a well-structured partnership plan. (And if you’d like hard data to back up the claims above, look here and here – free registration required for the second, but very much worth it.)

And once they see what’s in it for them, they’ll also want to hear about your own returns: what outcomes you’ll create for your kids if they bankroll you, and what evidence you have that your approach will work. Once they’re invested with you, they’ll identify with your successes, so they’ll want to know you have a credible path and a realistic chance of meeting your goals.

As I plan for this session, I’ll post more on this subject - definitely something I’ve wanted to address for some time, and I’m very happy that this speaking opportunity has provided a compelling reason to explore it.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Partnering with schools may not be easy...

...but it can produce a great payoff, as illustrated in this story from the School Me! blog from the Los Angeles Times. In "Asphalt is easy, green takes guts," they detail the challenges that local advocates faced in creating a garden for an inner-city school. The payoff:

Then [Emily] Green leads us all to a swath of land alongside the freeway. Sirens wail. Exhaust wafts. But with big piles of dirt looming where there was once only cracked asphalt, we have no trouble imagining the urban Eden the district is already sculpting into the land: More than an acre of green, including a three-quarter-acre garden with shaded areas for families to join their children after school and a “woodland” the school’s students said they craved.

Canary Island pines will muffle the freeway. A native plant garden is also in the works, paid for in part by the $25,000 first prize the project received last month from the Garden Club of America.

Finally, the conspirators are now confident that the district will help them build a new teaching kitchen, where Silverton and others will supervise children as they turn what they’ve grown into meals. The hope is that their garden school will be a model for any campus that wants to become more pleasant.

A very inspiring story.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Asking new questions

Christian Long (of Think:Lab and DesignShare) is always thought-provoking. Consider the following excerpt from a Think:Lab post on June 9, 2006 titled Education as Industry? Provocation on the Path of Innovation:

Truth be told, schools as we know them have been a remarkable experiment, and even more so a remarkable success story. As long as we wanted factories at the end of the corridor and lunch line. And perhaps -- provocation to inspire innovation here -- it's time to admit "we won", schools were a success as we knew them, and its time to rethink the original question based on our world now...and the world we're creating every second of our collective lives.

Schools were specific institutions that grew rapidly in number and value in the last 200-400 years (think post printing press, post modern democracies, post enlightenment, post American/French revolutions, post slavery, post Industrial revolution, etc.), specifically in a rapidly changing agrarian-to-industrial nation such as the US (and most developed nations)...whose sole purpose early on was to hasten the transition from field to factory.

Mass literacy, factory whistles, urban population spikes, anti-child labor laws, Sputnik, a changing professional landscape, the GE Bill, civil rights, desegregation, technology, and the vacuum created by the other myriad of institutions and networks that no longer provided a tapestry of guidance/protection helped schools move from an elite few and a basic penmanship experience until the 8th grade, to the default exodus of all formal learning for all citizens, and in theory for free (minus taxes and paying for the latest-greatest Trapper Keeper for back-to-school needs).

Several years ago, I heard Paul Houston say that, despite news reports to the contrary, our schools are better than ever; the problem is that, in his words, “our schools are making incremental improvements in a time of quantum change.” In other words, the schools are doing what they’ve always done – as Christian points out, preparing kids for an assembly-line world – but our world, and therefore our expectations, have changed radically. Our schools have maintained a straight-line trajectory over time while the real world has veered off in new and unexpected directions.

So what if we were to take Christian’s advice? Come right out and say that our education system was a grand experiment, and it was a rousing success, meeting the needs of its time incredibly well – but now it’s time to put that aside so we can move on to the next phase?

I think it would change the debate drastically. We wouldn’t have to talk about reform; we could talk about reinvention. We could put the legacy systems aside and start from scratch, just like Horace Mann did the first time around, looking at society and deciding what kind of education our children need in response.

What does the next iteration of education need to accomplish, and what does it look like as a result? I don’t have those answers – but I applaud people like Christian who demand that we recognize that the landscape has changed, and that we need to unchain ourselves from old assumptions and an old world view in order to ask new questions that will lead to new answers.

Creative destruction

I have great fun playing Legos with my four-year old. Using the pieces from various sets that we’ve thrown into one big bin, we’re able to build lots of cool vehicles, machines, forts, and more based on where our imaginations take us. (And as you may tell from this passage, he’s not the only one enjoying himself. :-)

But what always surprises me is how quickly he wants to destroy our handiwork and start over. Me, I’d like to play a while with our cool new vehicles. But Thomas would rather tear it all down and start over as soon as possible.

It frustrated me at first, but then I realized how much learning is going on. He’s not interested in building something per se – he’s interested in learning how to build. His vehicles are not ends in themselves, they’re a means to an end – just one more lesson as he perfects his craft. With every vehicle he’s learning what worked and what didn’t, and plowing that newfound knowledge into the next vehicle.

Suppose our education system was like that? We try lots of things (small schools, tech-based instruction, project-based learning – the list goes on and one), evaluate the results, and tear those systems down to create new ones. In other words, we stop trying to tweak the first structure we ever built (and our schools qualify for that description in a number of areas) and instead work with lots of different models, churning towards ever-better models as we learn what worked and what didn’t along the way.

The counterargument, of course, is that it would require taking children from what we know works and possibly submitting them to a system that won’t be successful. But the truth is, our current system – the one originally developed hundreds of years ago – has no basis in empirical research. So why not start experimenting, generate some hard evidence of what works and what doesn’t, and use the principle of creative destruction to begin building better schools?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The NEA's new slogan

Mike Antonucci of Intercepts revealed the NEA's new slogan on May 22; turns out he was misinformed, and reveals the complete slogan here. I mention it here because a) it shows the challenges (more accurately, the failures) of meaningful education communication, and b) his riffing on the slogan made me laugh - a lot.

This took two years?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Sending the leaders back to school

Great article today on - "Navy sets course to train admirals in business." It describes a brilliant idea - helping leaders of large institutions (in this case, the Navy) learn to apply proven business principles to their enterprises. From the article:

The U.S. Navy, in an effort to run more efficiently, is sending its admirals back to school to learn how to think more like entrepreneurs. On Thursday, a dozen admirals and a handful of other Naval leaders completed a week of executive education classes at Babson College.

The admirals spent four days attending sessions on such topics as "Organizational Innovation" and "Using Effects-Based Thinking." They ditched their uniforms in exchange for khakis and casual sweaters and dispensed with formal titles to call each other by nicknames like "Sully" and "Arch."

Emphasizing collaboration and negotiation is new for many admirals, but retired Vice Admiral Phil Quast, one of the architects of the program, said things are changing.

"There was a rice bowl mentality where people would protect their resources and not share with others," he said. "People who are dictatorial don't command ships anymore."

One of the biggest challenges for the new students was applying principles from the for-profit sector to the Navy. Thornberry explained that in the business world, an opportunity is a way of creating economic value. In the Navy, however, an opportunity is a chance to use resources efficiently.

Clear applications to education here - I'd love to provide an opportunity like this to principals and superintendents.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Lunch with Christian Long, DesignShare

Lunch with Christian Long, DesignShare

I was very fortunate to be able to take Christian Long to lunch Thursday while he was in Charlotte on business. For those of you who don’t know Christian, he’s the man behind Think:Lab, and he recently became CEO of DesignShare, a forum and clearinghouse for anyone interested in the impact of design (broadly defined) on learning.

Christian is an incredibly sharp guy, and he wears his passion for education – on his sleeve. And while I’m fascinated by the potential for DesignShare, and anxiously await news as to his plans for the future of this organization, Christian kept me on my toes with his questions about the Business/Education Partnership Forum.

Debating ideas with Christian is a little bit like diving headfirst into a blender – not a great analogy, as it’s all spinning and no blades (ie, dizzying but not painful). It was a great experience: you can’t generate strong ideas without having someone playing devil’s advocate, pushing back on your assertions, questioning your assumptions, and then finally pulling back to the big picture and asking “so what?”

He gave me a lot to think about, such as:

  • What am I trying to accomplish – not only with the Biz/Ed Forum, but with my business and life?
  • What does business want from education?
  • Can businesspeople and educators talk? Can they really understand one another? Will they ever agree on outcomes and methodology?
  • Why frame it as business/education? Why not a more holistic view of the community?
  • Where’s my passion? What keeps me up until 3am? What do I want to be THE authority on?

Perhaps the most important question is the last one. It’s so, so easy to drill down into the day-to-day things, closing this project or completing that deliverable, that you can quickly lose sight of the big picture: why you’re doing it all, and how it all fits into the grand scheme of things. It was an excellent reminder to revisit the vision that launched DeHavilland, update it, and find some way to turn it into an everpresent compass that can guide everything I do.

So thank goodness for Christian, and for people like him. I have no doubt that DesignShare is bound for great things with him at its helm.

(If you’re interested, you can see Christian’s notes on lunch here.)

How badly do we want it?

I took my son to a birthday party on Saturday and got the chance to talk with the dad of another kid in Thomas’ Montessori class. He was from India – came to the US when he was 21 – and we quickly transitioned from pleasantries to an interesting discussion about the difference between education in the US and in India.

When he first enrolled his son and daughter at Montessori, he was surprised at the number of Indian families who were sending their kids to the school; I had been similarly surprised at the high numbers of non-US families involved, not just Indian families but also a good representation of Asian families as well.

He chalked it up to the extremely high value that Indians place on education. India, he said, is not like a mini-America – he continues to be surprised at what is considered to be “poverty” here (I believe that poverty is officially around $13K/year in income, but you’re not asked to pay any income taxes unless you’re at least $22K/year or so). In India, poverty is real poverty, and education is understood to be the only way out.

And it’s not just “an education” loosely defined. A high school degree is irrelevant: if you have just a secondary school degree, you’re going to be pulling a rickshaw for $5 a day. And even a non-technical college degree isn’t sufficient: even if you get into college (which is a highly competitive process), if you wind up with a degree that’s not of a technical nature (think mathematics, science, engineering, etc.), you’re still pulling that rickshaw.

There’s also no pretense at equity or universal schooling – while kids can attend school up to a certain grade, it’s really only a small percentage of the population that can make it all the way to the top of the education ladder. So a good education is not only a ticket out, there are also very few tickets – a great combination for creating a sense of value. And the competition is intense: he said that if he took his son (5 years old) back to India, he’d already be at least two, perhaps three years behind other students in terms of math skills!

Contrast that model with the US version: up until recently, there were many well-paying jobs to be had by people with little to show academically (think manufacturing in Detroit, call centers, etc). Our focus on equity further dilutes the value of an education. (And please don’t get me wrong, I believe everyone should have an opportunity for a great education – but if everyone gets a high school degree, and that can net you a good-paying job, where’s the sense of competition or the sense of value?).

Of course, the US is losing its footing – those good-paying, low-education jobs are going elsewhere, and they’re not coming back. And with the increasing numbers of highly educated workers in other countries, we can expect to see more and more types of jobs – further and further up the professional ladder – start to slip away. Today it’s call centers and processing facilities, tomorrow it’s accounting and legal work, starting with the lower-profile elements and working up from there.

Do the American people really understand what’s happening? And do we have the political and moral will to really deal with it?

How badly do we want it?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Getting mad, and checking your facts

Two great pieces in the Washington Post recently:

"Getting Mad About Schools" (June 6, 2006) raises a critical question: why are we so apathetic about public education? Why aren't we mad as hell about poor test scores, a 30% dropout rate, and inadequate facilities and resources for poor schools? Jay Mathews highlights two poeple who got mad - Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin (co-founders of KIPP schools) - and what a difference people can make when they refuse to accept the status quo.

"Heard the One About the 600,000 Chinese Engineers?" (May 21, 2006) debunks the frightening report (originally in Fortune Magazine): in the past year, 600,000 engineers graduated from schools in China, 350,000 from schools in India, and only 70,000 in the US. After a number of people questioned those numbers, some hard-nosed research revealed the reality:

After an exhaustive study, researchers at Duke University also pummeled the numbers. In a December 2005 analysis, "Framing the Engineering Outsourcing Debate," they reported that the United States annually produces 137,437 engineers with at least a bachelor's degree while India produces 112,000 and China 351,537. That's more U.S. degrees per million residents than in either other nation.

Another warning against taking education data at face value...

Communicating for Change

For anyone interested in the value of communications and community relations in education, I recommend reading "Communicating for Change: What Educators Must Know and Be Able to Do," a commentary in Education Week by Scott Widmeyer, founder/president of Widmeyer Communications. It's one of the single best pieces I've seen on the subject: simple, direct, and insightful.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Blogging light...

I made a commitment to start blogging at least three times per week, and already I'm breaking it - the energy that I had planned to put into the blog is instead going towards the development and launch of the Business Education Partnership Forum, which is already getting much larger (content-wise, at least) than I had anticipated.

The latest section to go up is the Organizations directory, which already has more than 90 state and national groups. There are many more out there, but this first round feels like a good start.

Between the Forum and some deadlines on client initiatives, the blog may not get much attention for the next week or two - in the meantime, head over to the new site and help me start the conversation!