The DeHavilland Blog

Monday, July 31, 2006

What if no one owned content?

In The Medium is the Massage (and yes, the spelling is correct), Marshall McLuhan notes that the concept of copyright – private ownership of intellectual effort – didn’t exist before the creation of the printing press. He writes:

The invention of printing did away with anonymity, fostering ideas of literary fame and the habit of considering intellectual effort as private property. Mechanical multiples of the same text created a public – a reading public. The rising consumer-oriented culture became concerned with labels of authenticity and protection against theft and piracy. The idea of copyright – “the exclusive right to reproduce, publish, and sell the matter and form of a literary or artistic work” – was born.

This has created some huge industries, such as publishing, music, and film, all based on the respect for, and protection of, the idea of private ownership of content. But lately I’ve noticed some trends that threaten both the value and the protection of copyright, such as:

  • Volume of authors – One of the underpinnings of the value of copyright is the relative scarcity of content: it’s a basic supply/demand principle. We’ve seen an explosion in authorship of all forms of content – written word, music, video – with any number of people, people who never had access to the high-powered marketing and distribution channels of large publishers, music companies, and film studios, beginning to attract national attention and large audiences. It seems as if the supply/demand equation is changing dramatically.
  • Technology – The waves of authors mentioned above could never reach audiences if it weren’t for technology. Software now allows one guy in a garage to produce music that sounds as good as professional musicians in a studio (assuming he’s got the chops). Perhaps more importantly, the Internet is completely disrupting traditional marketing/distribution channels, not only allowing those heretofore unknowns access to a global audience, but also allowing consumers to easily move copyrighted materials around the world, with music and film piracy rampant despite legal action against organized services like Napster (v1.0), Kazaa, and others.
  • Open source movement – The idea of copyright-free content and resources is growing, again thanks to the Internet. Under the rallying cry of “information wants to be free,” software developers around the world work together to create copyright-free systems and programs on the Linux platform, and some online publishers and aggregators are working to provide copyright-free, and usually community-created, content. One well-known example of this is the Wikipedia (founder Jimmy Wales once bragged that he’s taken the encyclopedia industry from a $10 billion market to a $1 billion market).
  • Rise of China – China is becoming an economic superpower, with some predicting it will overshadow, or at least parallel, the United States on the world stage. And time and again, China has shown little to no regard for ownership of intellectual property. What happens as the country continues to grow in economic power and influence? If China moves to center stage, and continues to essentially ignore private ownership of content, what kind of ripples does that create around the world?

So what we have is a massive growth in production of content, the emergence of a huge underground market illegally trading copyrighted materials, the creation of a free content movement, and the development of an economic giant that has little to no regard for the value and protection of privately-owned intellectual property.

What does this do to a musician – does he have to change his model from getting rich by selling CDs to getting rich by touring? The Grateful Dead pioneered this model, touring almost nonstop and encouraging fans to bootleg their shows and share them with others.

What does this do to an author? It’s much harder for them to take their acts on the road. Will we lose an entire class of professional authors?

What does this do to a filmmaker? As content becomes more plentiful, and films get pirated, the economics of the big-budget blockbuster must become unfeasible at some point. How do studios and filmmakers adjust to the new reality?

And what happens to schools? I think we’ve already seen the first strike in the area of instructional videos, with video being made a commodity thanks to Internet distribution. (The services that provide streaming video to schools do respect copyright, but the advantages of ownership are minimal, and revenues almost negligible). Are supplemental materials the next to be commoditized, given the vast amount of free content available online? And while textbooks are currently safe due to the bureaucratic approval process, how long before copyright-free alternatives (such as Wikibooks) erode their base, just as open source technology are challenging Microsoft’s proprietary systems and tools?

Are the forces outlined simply manifestations of our move towards McLuhan’s global village? Will they be beaten back, with copyright ultimately enforced and maintained, or are we looking at a radically different future? And what does the erosion – or ultimately even elimination – of the idea of private ownership of content mean to our country and our schools?

(Of course, while copyright still exists, I own this article, lock, stock and bagel. C2006, Brett Pawlowski. All rights reserved.)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Beyond the Profit Motive

The folks at Edspresso, hosted by The Alliance for School Choice, have posted an article I wrote entitled "Beyond the Profit Motive," which answers the question of why business is interested in public education. I'd love feedback, either here or on their site.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Standing corrected

I had a call yesterday from Annabelle Suddreth with the local school district’s Office of Strategic Partnerships (OSP), who had seen my previous post referring to her office and wanted to challenge me on it.

I first met with Annabelle back in January, when I was still exploring the initial concept (a newsletter on business/education partnerships) that ultimately led to the launch of the Business/Education Partnership Forum. She was encouraging and helpful then, and she was gracious on the phone yesterday despite what was essentially an attack on her office. That’s to her credit, and I’m happy to correct the record here.

Despite my assertion, the OSP is certainly willing to loop in business partners at any level at which they’ll commit: they’re more than happy to see someone walk in with grand plans and a big commitment, as long as those plans align with the needs of the schools and they believe the potential partner has the means and the sense of commitment needed to see it through.

In the case I had written about, it was the business that wanted to start out at a more basic level of commitment, not the OSP steering them in that direction. That was my assumption, and I was wrong (you know what they say about assumptions, right?). So I apologize for that. And I also agree with her argument that, for a volunteer or group of volunteers that want to get involved but don't have a clear idea as to how, classroom volunteering is a good initial step.

I will stand by one of my other points, which is not a reflection of the OSP but of what I’ve seen of business/education partnerships in general. And that is that we have a long way to go in fully leveraging the talents of the business community to support education. While the local school district has a dedicated office to facilitate such relationships, 60% of school districts do not have anyone dedicated to partnership development, according to a 2000 survey by the National Association of Partners in Education. And a great deal of work needs to be done in general to help both educators and businesses understand the value and mechanics of good partnerships.

Further, while I have seen countless instances and variations of classroom-based partnerships across the country, I could count on one hand the partnerships I’ve seen with school administration. Schools may not be businesses, but they do need to perform numerous business functions, from payroll to foodservice to fleet management. So why not work with businesses that have expertise in these areas, since they may help improve operations and identify efficiencies? Better operations means that learning can occur with fewer outside snafus, and reducing expenses allows you to move dollars from administration to the classroom.

One such program I've seen comes from the Montgomery County Business Roundtable for Education, which specifically identifies school administration as a partnership area. They describe their work in this area as follows:

Operation Excellence began as a 5-month long, collaborative effort between 25 business leaders and 13 public school system leaders to examine ways in which the school system can improve the productivity of some of its business processes by capitalizing on the best practices used in business and industry. Four areas were investigated in this initial stage, and recommendations for change and improvement emerged, in the areas of Facilities Management, Financial Management, Baldrige Management and Technology Management.

Many of the recommendations emanating from the business-education partnerships were subsequently implemented, leading to tangible cost savings and operational efficiencies for MCPS. These accomplishments were presented to the Montgomery County Council in November 2004. This program has been a shining example of business-education partnership, and because of the successes achieved, Operation Excellence initiatives continue, in particular because much of this work involves long-term engagement to ensure a collaborative implementation of recommendations.

Efforts this year will focus on:

Fleet management: MCPS is the 17th-largest school system in the country and its fleet of vehicles is substantial. Business is teaming up with MCPS to help the school system run a smoother operation and save money.

Baldrige/process improvement: Area businesses are teaming with MCPS on quality and process improvement issues, as the schools have now scaled the effort across the entire system. Business partners are reviewing implementation plans, offering seminars in best practices and assisting MCPS in pursuit of the National Baldrige Management Award.

As I've said, we have a long way to go - but partnership specialists like Annabelle, and forward-thinking business/education coalitions like MCBRE, are doing their part to help us get there.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Taking decisions out of the public's hands

An article in the Raleigh, NC News & Observer ("Bill lets schools make build-and-rent deals," July 18, 2006) highlights a push by urban counties and developers to pass legislation that allows school districts to lease school buildings rather than build them themselves. The practical effect of this is that it allows school districts to pursue their building plans without needing voters to approve bond packages.

From the article:

The legislation gives school districts another option for getting new classrooms without a bonds referendum.

For school boards, having that option could mean more certainty. Voters in Mecklenburg County turned down selling $427 million in bonds last year. Polls have shown Wake voters are skeptical about a record $1.06 billion construction plan on the ballot this fall.

Wake, Mecklenburg and other urban counties pushed for the legislation, along with groups representing developers. The bill has passed the Senate and the House and now awaits the governor's signature.

The legislation worries Sen. Hugh Webster, a Republican who represents Alamance and Caswell counties and cast the only vote against it in the Senate. He said a long-term contract is just "debt by another name" and should require voter approval.

"You're spending future generations' money," said Webster, a semi-retired accountant. "It's a dangerous thing to allow to happen. It's just too easy to spend into the future. You can't trust politicians to do that."

This is an instance of the public being pushed out of the public schools. Voters defeat school construction bond issues for one of two reasons: they don't agree with the building plan, or they don't trust the school district (often more specifically, the school board) to be fiscally prudent in its work. And sure, some would say that a third reason would be a desire for lower taxes, but I think that's a red herring - if people see the benefit and trust the people in charge, they'll generally step up to the plate.

Public funding, particularly bond issuances, are a mechanism to ensure that our public institutions are accountable to us: if they can't generate our support, they need to rethink what they're doing and step back into line with our wishes. They are working on our behalf, and if we don't support what they're doing the onus is on them to realign their interests and objectives with ours.

Bypassing this control cuts one more strand of public accountability, and that allows ostensibly public institutions to drift further and further away from their constituents under the illusion of autonomy. But they're not autonomous: their mandate is to use our dollars to achieve our objectives.

If the governor signs this bill, it will be a sad event: it can only serve to widen the rift between the public and public education.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Partnering at the lowest common denominator

Well, this is discouraging.

The folks at Topics Education, my old stomping grounds, take the initiative to volunteer their time and talents with the local school district. They talk with the office of strategic partnerships - the point people for business/education relationships for the entire school district - and what do they hear?

"Sure, you can volunteer. Come read to little kids. Or if you're not comfortable with that, you can answer phones and make copies."

This is a company made up of some very bright, talented, and experienced people. They've worked in the education field for years and could bring so much to the table given the opportunity.

Why not tap into their insight into the effective use of ed tech? Or their experience engaging kids? Or their experience in reaching out to other businesses? Or expertise in project management? Or background in print/online publishing? Or their national network of specialists in a multitude of areas?

There's so much these folks could bring to the table, and I have no doubt they could design and implement a project that could make a real impact for CMS and its stakeholders. That's why it's so disappointing to hear the district's response: "No, we don't want any of that. We'd rather you save us $5.15/hour by making copies."

There's no way that this is an isolated case - we have a long way to go in fully leveraging the talents of the business community to support education.

Big news in education

The voucher debate is hitting the courts in New Jersey, where 12 parents, backed by groups such as the Alliance for School Choice and Excellent Education for Everyone, have filed a suit. It's the first of its kind, since the relief sought is not more resources for the system itself, but rather for the students to be able to attend other schools - public, private, sectarian or not - with the money that the state had allocated for them. In other words, assigning the money to the student and letting them decide where to spend it.

Win or lose, this could have huge ramifications - well worth watching.

The Alliance for School Choice's press release, in its entirety (as it's worth reading all of it):

PHOENIX — In a landmark case that could test the vitality of states’ constitutional guarantees of public education standards, the Alliance for School Choice today joined the New Jersey Black Ministers Alliance, the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey and Excellent Education for Everyone in supporting parents filing a class action lawsuit. Seeking for the first time meaningful and immediate relief for New Jersey’s failure to provide essential basic education to thousands of its children, the lawsuit demands two remedies for children in failing schools.

“This is the first class action education case seeking a remedy not for the system, but for the kids. It is a milestone in the quest for educational opportunity,” declared Clint Bolick, president of the Phoenix-based Alliance for School Choice, the nation’s leading advocacy group for school choice programs for disadvantaged schoolchildren.

“A quality education is a civil right, and that is being denied to far too many of our children. While we continue to press to reform the public school, we cannot allow another child to lose the opportunity to a better and productive future,” said Rev. Reginald T. Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey. “The future waits for no one and neither must we wait. We take this action today not because we want to, but because we must. For far too many of our children it is already too late,” he added.

“The right to the education the constitution demands belongs to the students of this state, not those who run these schools who continue to demonstrate their inability to educate these same students. The denial of a constitutional right, a civil right, is a violation that demands immediate action, and an immediate remedy,” said Martin Perez, president of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey .

Like most state constitutions, New Jersey’s constitution guarantees a particular standard of public education—specifically, a “thorough and efficient” education. For 33 years, New Jersey courts have ordered massive funding increases and new programs to redress educational inequities in impoverished school districts. Unfortunately, thousands of children, both in and out of districts that received these court-ordered remedies, remain mired in abysmally poor-performing schools, in which fewer than half of the children tested demonstrate minimal proficiency in basic educational skills as determined by the state itself.

It is difficult to argue that the deficiencies are a result of lack of resources. The average per-pupil expenditure in each of the defendant school districts exceeds $10,000 — in many cases, closer to $20,000 — far above the national average.

Crawford v. Davy was filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey in Newark, against State Commissioner of Education Lucille Davy and 30 more defendants. The case represents a class of more than 60,000 students in 96 failing schools in 25 districts . The lawsuit argues that the denial of basic educational opportunities violates the children’s right to a thorough and efficient education under the state constitution, and to equal protection of the laws under the state and federal constitutions.

It seeks two interrelated remedies: an end to district-based residential school assignments, in which children are forbidden to cross attendance zone lines to attend a different state-supported public school; and a pro rata share of public funds allocated for the child’s education, so that the family can secure a better education in another public or private school.

“The lives of far too many children are at stake here. This inaction cannot continue. I have four children, and in each one of them I see hope for my community, for this state, and for this country. Too many of our children are having their chance at a good future extinguished in schools that persistently fail them. It’s been happening for far too long, and this lawsuit aims to put an end to it,” said Van-Ness Crawford, father of three sons who, by reason of residency and financial circumstances, are forced to attend Malcolm X. Shabazz High School, where fewer than one in five students tested exhibit basic proficiency in mathematics.

Crawford is a national test case. Nearly four million children are in failing public schools throughout the United States. The vast majority of state constitutions contain educational guarantees similar to New Jersey’s, or their courts have interpreted them to create a fundamental right to education, or both. By establishing a state constitutional precedent that children are entitled to leave failing schools with the share of educational resources devoted to their education, this case could establish a precedent of national significance. A successful outcome in this case can provide a beacon of hope for children in failing schools across the nation.

“For too long, education litigation has been aimed at securing more money for failing schools, in the hope that the remedy would trickle down to the students. This lawsuit seeks a real remedy, so that kids can obtain a high-quality education when they need it — today,” Bolick said.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Great sites for business/education partnerships

Very little time in the office, between the July 4th holiday and a conference at the end of this week, so I'm blogging light. But I did want to share a flyer I created for the conference - click here to access a list of great sites for business/education partnerships (PDF file).

Back on the job - and posting more - next week!