Thursday, November 17, 2005

Voicing My On Choice Education, Pt. 1

So, given my general skepticism about the enterprise, why did I attend Voices and Choices Saturday? Because I have some things to say about education. When I hear people outside the education activist community talk about education in Ohio, they generally skip off the tracks in the first sentence.

From the left, the first sentence is usually something like: “the school funding system has been declared unconstitutional four times and they still haven’t fixed it.” From the right, it’s something like “public schools cost more per student now than they did 50 years ago and they perform worse.”

Not helpful.

And based on a lack of fundamental information. Not that it’s easy to understand public school finance. I have friends far smarter than me who have needed a number of run-throughs before they get it. It’s complicated and often counterintuitive. The Back-to-School Mondays project is about having this information out somewhere so we can have discussions about it.

Because of the format of V&C – I was one of 600-900 people in the hive mind – my impact on the information level in the room was minimal. But I have this platform and I’m gonna use it. This will be the first of three posts. This intro post will run through a bit about what the V&C list looks like and how it came to be. The next one will critique the recommendations that emerged from the V&C process. The third will run through my wish list.

A word about the V&C process. When we were discussing Challenges, we did so by looking at topic areas. Groups of tables were assigned one five topic areas and charged with listing challenges within that area. They were: Employment and Economic Growth, Education and Skills, Fairness and Equity, Quality of Life and Place and Cooperation and Governance. Some tables got done with their area and moved on to another. In every topic area but Governance, one of the top two challenges was about education.

You can check out the V&C’s preliminary report here (pdf). It has top “Challenges” as voted on by Townhall participants. GrowOhio has a post about the Challenges and Solutions that is accurate, as far as my memory goes, though it appears a bit more digested than what we saw on the screens Saturday. The link isn’t appearing on the screen as of this writing (GrOhio tends to be a bit glitchy), so I don’t know where this came from. I’m taking the info off the GrOhio post, and omitting the “Topic Area” stuff. This is just challenges and proposed solutions.

Challenge: Improving education, funding for kindergarten through grade 12, leadership, parental involvement, skills education and isolation.
Solutions:


  1. Create Northeast Ohio regional advocacy group to lobby government for funding reform.
  2. Vote only for candidates who will change the system, including boards of education.

  3. Create an exchange between rural and urban schools to promote understanding.

  4. Encourage school districts and businesses to create incentives to involve parents.

  5. Create community service rewards programs, including ways to pay off student loans


Challenge: The need to educate a skilled 21st-century work force and link people to jobs.
Solutions:

  1. Establish a required regional program to promote 21st-century skills and computer literacy.

  2. Recognize early childhood education as key to academic and vocational success.

  3. Provide adequate opportunities for alternatives to higher education to prepare young people for good jobs.

  4. Engage private sector as a partner in education and preparing students for the world of work through internships and mentoring by expert professionals.

  5. Use data from government, universities and business to target workforce training to protect jobs.

Challenge: Unequal educational opportunities and access, pre-kindergarten through post-secondary education and training.
Solutions:


  1. Identify and apply best practices in education.

  2. Find new sources of funding, such as partnering with business or professional sports teams; comply with the Supreme Court decision; establish a regional tax for education.

  3. Use technology to create more equity across districts.

  4. Develop a regional approach to educational administration and funding.

  5. Align expectations for K-12 through post-secondary.

  6. Create more youth mentoring programs.

  7. Create an environment for learning in all schools.

Challenge: The need to educate a skilled 21st-century work force and link people to jobs.
Solutions:


  1. Establish a required regional program to promote 21st-century skills and computer literacy.

  2. Recognize early childhood education as key to academic and vocational success.

  3. Provide adequate opportunities for alternatives to higher education to prepare young people for good jobs.

  4. Engage private sector as a partner in education and preparing students for the world of work through internships and mentoring by expert professionals.

  5. Use data from government, universities and business to target workforce training to protect jobs.
Also a problematic challenge about “fragmentation” yields a proposed solution that touches education:
Challenge: Fragmentation; too many governments, wasted resources and inefficiency.
Solutions:


  1. Tackle easier consolidation efforts first, such as joint purchasing of road salt and paper products, fire services and waste management. Build momentum for addressing harder issues, such as education and land use.
A few general observations before I sign off. First, we can safely dismiss solutions involving “regional” mandates. First, no such creature exists in the law. Second, well, do I really have make the case that superbureacracies are unlikely create paradise on earth? That what is good for a farm kid in Shreve is not good for a wealthy professional’s kid in Orange, is not good for a poor kid being raised by grandparents in Summit Lake? Or that those wealthy professionals in Hudson and Orange and Medina will be less than enthused about throwing their lot in with Barberton and East Cleveland? Or even point out that largeness has not been a benefit to major urban school districts?

On what planet does this work?

So let’s dump outright:


  1. Develop a regional approach to educational administration and funding.
And the education component of:



  1. Tackle easier consolidation efforts first, such as joint purchasing of road salt and paper products, fire services and waste management. Build momentum for addressing harder issues, such as education and land use.
Second observation: let’s dispense with a couple of recommendations on the grounds that they are already state policy. You might disagree with how the policy is being implemented, but that would be subject of a different recommendation. So we eliminate:


  1. Create an environment for learning in all schools.
To the extent this means shiny new buildings, it is the purview of the current School Facilities Commission. To the extent it means something else, it is too vague to provide any meaningful basis for discussion.

Also:


  1. Align expectations for K-12 through post-secondary.
Aside from the “post-secondary” part, which is too silly for comment, this is the current system. Like it or not, we have an accountability regime in place.

Next: Tackling what remains.

3 comments:

john galt said...

Brilliant deconstruction..in the Lego toy rather than Derrida sense...... great analysis..

Dave Abbott said...

You are absolutely right about the complexity of "fixing" education, but I want to make a pitch for not letting our thinking be confined by current law. If we conclude that certain laws are in the way, we ought to be able to muster the political will to change the law. So much of discussion around education is within the parameters of school systems as we know them. Why don't we start from the perspective of what we need to be doing to educate children to thrive in a world that is radically different from the one that gave us our current approach to education? Surely no one thinks that an honest answer to that question would give us what we have.

Chris Thompson said...

Do we have the political will? Can we have a will when less than half of those who've bothered to register vote? What about those not even registered?

I think it's going to take a lot to light a fire under the region's populace, but I'm not saying don't try. I just need to see more signs of life before my optimism grows.

Studies have shown the value of technology-enhanced learning - video games, computers, virtual reality etc. Can we start a pilot program in one K-6 school that offers an immersion in technology-enhanced learning? Every child receives a handheld and a lap top. Every parent a broadband connection to the home. Could we run the pilot for two school years? And see the results. If they're as good as I believe they could be, would those with hundreds of millions of dollars in their endowments be willing to make a massive investment in overhauling education in NE Ohio?

What would it cost to do a pilot for a single school. One summer of intense training for teachers. Installation of technology?

I'm not good enough to estimate these things. But I'd like to see someone try.

We must invest in our talent and that means investing in creating environments where our talent can learn.

History has shown us that the agrarian model of education doesn't work in the knowledge economy. It's time to try something different.

Let's try making the changes one school at a time.