The DeHavilland Blog

Friday, March 30, 2007

Almost back up to speed...

I haven't been able to post for a while - too many things happening too fast lately. Everything's secret at the moment, but in the next few days I'll be making a BIG announcement on behalf of a client (and I never use all caps, so you know it must be a doozie), and in the weeks to come I'll unveil some new developments for the company. And after I get through this week, I'll be able to start blogging again (finally).

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Ford approach to public education

I was rereading a classic marketing article – Marketing Myopia, by Theodore Levitt (found in this excellent book) – and came across the following:

In a sense [Henry] Ford was both the most brilliant and the most senseless marketer in American history. He was senseless because he refused to give the customer anything but a black car. He was brilliant because he fashioned a production system designed to fit market needs.

We habitually celebrate him for the wrong reason, his production genius. His real genius was marketing. We think he was able to cut his selling price and therefore sell millions of $500 cars because his invention of the assembly line had reduced the costs. Actually he invented the assembly line because he had concluded that at $500 he could sell millions of cars. Mass production was the result, not the cause, of his low prices.

This is a fantastic new take on a classic story (and apparently a true one, based on Ford’s writings). And it illustrates a critical difference between how most people fulfill a market need, and how a visionary like Henry Ford does.

Most people look at what they have, or what they do, and try to figure out where to sell it. Ford figured out what people wanted – in this case, an affordable car – and figured out how to give it to them. Hence, the invention of the assembly line, a means to an end which enabled him to provide that car affordably.

What if we applied this to public education? It seems as if the tremendous legacy system we have limits our vision, forcing us to think in terms of what the current system can do, and preventing us from thinking about what it is our customers need. What if we wiped the slate clean – forgot about all the buildings, the standard course of study, the bus schedules, the textbooks, the lunchroom, and everything else – and started from square one? What if we looked at what the customers of public education (students, parents, other stakeholders) really need, and how we can fill that need?

If we identified any of the following as a true want/need of education consumers, how would we retool the system to make them possible a la Henry Ford?

  • Make education more affordable by spending $2,000 per student rather than the current $9,000
  • Have all students master a high level of STEM knowledge and skills before graduating to address global competitiveness concerns
  • Reduce energy usage by 75% to accommodate global warming concerns
  • Require that students leave high school prepared for the workforce, with college considered as an “extra” rather than a prerequisite

Any of these would involve a fundamental restructuring of the system – but conceptually at least, it would be no greater a challenge than the one Henry Ford faced and met.

Henry Ford created something revolutionary in order to meet the needs of a market; is it unrealistic to believe that we can do the same thing today? I believe it’s possible, as long as we can determine what it is the customers really want, and make the needs of the market the prism through which we look at everything else – and not make the current system the prism, as we’ve done for far too long.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Great new resource

Working with the support of the GE Foundation, Achieve Inc. has just launched an online resource called Business Tools for Better Schools. It's a great resource for businesspeople interested in learning about, and getting involved in, K-12 education; well worth checking out.

Monday, March 12, 2007

It ain't over till it's over

A good reminder from Mike Antonucci of Intercepts that just because a reform is enacted - by law or by mandate - you can't assume your work is done. Reforms are often challenged, as he notes, and you can end up fighting the same battle several times before you see your reform actually put in place.

As arduous as that may be, I would argue that your work doesn't stop there. In order to create the change you intended to create, your reforms have to be launched successfully (funding, training, etc.) and account for issues relating to long-term fidelity and sustainability. All in all, not a process for the faint-hearted.

Friday, March 09, 2007

National standards: skipping the hard part

Some big names in education - Rudy Crew, Paul Valles, and Michael Casserly - got together to write a commentary in Education Week titled "The Case for National Standards in American Education." They push hard for the idea, and there are certainly some real advantages, such as having a single set of academic expectations that transcend state lines. But then they punt on the most important questions in this debate with the following:

But right now it is more important to make national standards a national priority than to debate how they might be achieved.

The questions they skip over, of course, are these: Who sets the standards? and To what end?

As I've argued previously, there's no point in building lists of what can be learned until we decide what should be learned. While there are logistical advantages to having a single set of standards, we're really just replacing 50 groups of experts with one group, and they'll give us the same thing the others gave us: a list of all that can be taught, with no judgements as to what's important and why.

We as a national need to answer the fundamental question of why we educate - only then can we decide what should be taught. Once that happens, national standards will make eminent sense,and I'll support them - but until we take that step, moving to national standards will be a pointless exercise akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Lots and lots of education report cards

Many different organizations have recently published report cards on various facets of education, and The Center for Public Education, an arm of the National School Boards Association, does us all a tremendous favor by listing and describing all of them in one place.

Hat tip to Alexander Russo of This Week in Education for highlighting this resource.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Deflating the potential for grade inflation

I’ve argued elsewhere that we should begin to treat students as customers, not products, of the system. This invariably raises questions about grade inflation – “if students are customers, and have the ability to take their money elsewhere,” the argument goes, “then they’ll use that newfound leverage to demand higher, undeserved grades!”

And you know what? Based on the way the system has been managed to this point, that’s exactly what would happen. In fact, it’s already happening: this article, for example, highlights the widening gap between reported grades and NAEP scores, while this one showcases the gap between reported grades and performance on state tests.

But it doesn’t have to be that way; in fact, one simple change has the potential to flip the entire dynamic to make the most challenging schools the most desirable.

That change is independent assessment.

In the current, grade-based system, there’s no independent verification of learning: the person who teaches is the same person who assigns grades. And, since assessment is subjective - there’s no external evidence of achievement – it’s easy to game the system. There’s no way for anyone outside the classroom to know what kind of learning went on. If you got a high grade, was it because you excelled in a rigorous class, because you stayed awake in an extremely easy class, because the teacher liked you and gave you those mysterious “extra points for effort,” or because the teacher grades on a scale, and you were the best of the worst? There’s no way to know – and that opens the door wide open for demands for undeserved higher grades.

And of course we have to give a hat tip to the administrators who override those teachers who are trying to maintain standards. While I’ve not seen hard data, there are innumerable anecdotal stories about this (see here for a particularly compelling story).

Of course, it’s not like this outside the classroom. Where there is independent assessment of some sort, the equation changes from “give me the best grade” to “teach me to excel” – a profound difference.

The football team isn’t judged by the coach; it’s judged by its performance against other teams, and therefore the players and their supporters want preparation to be as rigorous as possible. The dance teacher isn’t the sole judge of a student’s progress – they hold performances so others can see how well students are doing, giving teachers and students an incentive to prepare. And karate students aren’t evaluated by their sensei – they participate in competitions and demonstrations to work for new belts, an independent evaluation that forces them to strive to meet a predetermined standard.

And so it can be in formal education. If we build an external measurement model that’s respected, allows for comparison across schools and states, and that has some weight (such as being a graduation requirement, and offering comparative scores that are looked at by colleges for admissions purposes), it won’t be possible to game the system. I don’t care if it’s a national test or an independent review panel, as long as the evaluator is an independent entity and the standards and assessment method are known, objective, and uniform.

At that point, since evaluation is out of the hands of the instructor, the conversation will have to change from “give me an A” to “help me become capable of getting an A.” And I believe that simple change in dynamic would revolutionize public education as we know it.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Who gets to support education?

Interesting article on CNN today titled "Critics Denounce Pizza Hut Reading Program." It's a reminder that education outreach programs can be controversial - while most schools want business support, there are others in the community who would prefer that they not get involved.

The case for Book It, Pizza Hut's reading incentive program:

...the program -- which has given away more than 200 million pizzas -- has deep roots and many admirers at the highest levels of politics and education. It won a citation in 1988 from President Reagan, and its advisory board includes representatives of prominent education groups, including teachers unions and the American Library Association.

"We're really proud of the program," said Leslie Tubbs, its director for the past five years. "We get hundreds of e-mails from alumni who praise it and say it helped them get started with reading."

Dallas-based Pizza Hut says Book It is the nation's largest reading motivation program -- conducted annually in about 925,000 elementary school classrooms from October 1 through March 31. A two-month program is offered for preschoolers.

Teachers find the program an enjoyable way to build interest in reading, Tubbs said. "We're helping them to do their jobs," she said.

Additional (tempered) support from principals:

At Strafford Elementary School in Strafford, Missouri, the roughly 500 students collectively read 30,000 books a year with Book It's help, said principal Lucille Cogdill.

"I don't have any negative things at all to say about it," Cogdill said. "I know there's concern about obesity, but Book It is not causing it, and the schools aren't causing it."

Chris Carney, principal at Bennett Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, also is a Book It fan, saying it encourages family togetherness and provides a tool for persuading children to try books instead of video games.

"I don't want to see kids gorging pizzas," he said. "But the positive effects outweigh other effects."

The case against:

Book It, which reaches about 22 million children a year, "epitomizes everything that's wrong with corporate-sponsored programs in school," said Susan Linn, a Harvard psychologist and co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

"In the name of education, it promotes junk food consumption to a captive audience ... and undermines parents by positioning family visits to Pizza Hut as an integral component of raising literate children," Linn said.


Among those campaigning against Book It is Alfie Kohn, an author whose 11 books on education and parenting include "Punished By Rewards, which questions the value of incentive programs.

"The more kids see books as a way to get pizza or some other prize, the less interest they'll have in reading itself," Kohn, a former teacher, said in a telephone interview. "They tend to choose easier books to get through faster."

Another critic of Book It and the broader phenomenon of corporate incursions into schools is Alex Molnar, director of the Commercialism in Education Research Unit at Arizona State University.

He described Book It as a "dreadful program" that puts pressure on parents to celebrate with their reward-winning children at Pizza Huts.

"This is corporate America using the schools as a crow bar to get inside the front doors of students' homes," he said. "It's very hard for children whose parents who don't want to engage in this to not feel ostracized."

Personally, I think programs like this are great - it gives principals and teachers an incentive at no cost to encourage academic performance. It's not mandatory - if schools or communities feel it's not appropriate for kids, they're perfectly free not to participate as individuals or as a group. And remember that obesity is a lifestyle issue - one piece of pizza (or one birthday cake, or one christmas cookie, etc...) won't make you fat. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the occasional reward to mark an occasion or an accomplishment.

Moreover, I'm always wary of "experts" like Linn, Kohn, and Molnar deciding what is and isn't right for other people. Their opinions certainly don't start and end with pizzas: rest assured they have other thoughts on how we should all live our lives. And that's not a responsibility I'm willing to give up.

But I'd love to hear other thoughts. Should businesses only contribute to education if they're "pure"? Should they only provide financial contributions? Should they be required to work anonymously?

And what do you think would happen to the already limited amount of investment businesses make in public education if we follow that path?

Hat tip to Joanne Jacobs for highlighting the article.