The DeHavilland Blog

Friday, May 26, 2006

How the British connect business and education

The BBC has an interesting article on increasing communication and coordination between businesses and colleges (Colleges and Firms 'Must Listen' - May 24, 2006). Colleges are not meeting business needs for prepared workers, both in the area of basic skills (the conventional college education) and ongoing professional training, and to address the disconnect between these two groups, the government is setting up a network of 450 'skills brokers' to liase between businesses and colleges.

Like the British, we tend to operate in silos - there seems to be limited interplay between education's stakeholders. While I've heard about isolated attempts at true collaborative efforts (see here for one example), it's more common to see groups talking past one another - schools trying to bring in businesses on the school's terms (donations of money or volunteers into programs designed by the schools) or, on the flip side, businesses trying to dictate reform to schools (something Larry Cuban writes about here).

If we can't get people at the top of the business and education communities to sit down of their own accord and work out a partnership plan that incorporates shared responsibilities and mutually agreed-upon outcomes, perhaps we do need an independent liaison to tackle the job. Because it needs to happen before business will ever make a real investment in education, and it needs to happen before we can expect to see schools producing a majority of students who are ready for the next stages of their lives.

Great new business/education partnership resource

The Daniels Fund, a foundation in Denver, has just published a new report on school/business partnerships titled "What Works: Seven Strategies for Success." Well worth checking out.

One thing I've found surprising is that, despite the number of relationships between business and education and the many forms those relationships take, there is so little published on the subject. I'm continuing to look for such resources as I build up the
Business/Education Partnership Forum - if you know of any, please send them my way.

PS - Thanks to Howie Schaffer's PEN Newsblast for the tip!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Business Education Partnership Forum goes live!

I'm proud to announce the launch of the Business Education Partnership Forum, an online resource and community hub for anyone interested in business' involvement in education at the local, state, or national level!

The site offers resources for schools and businesses, an index of organizations, a center for case studies, and an online forum to facilitate networking and discussion - I hope it becomes a true resource to people working in this area.

Please visit the site and do the following:

  • If you have any thoughts on how to make it more valuable and relevant to people in the field, email me with your thoughts.
  • If your organization is involved in business/education engagement in some way, please add it to the Organizations section
  • If you know of resources that would be of interest, please submit them
  • Join the Forum section and start posting!

While I've been able to add some content to the site, there's a lot more to do (particularly in building up the organizations section). Please remember that the site is ultimately going to be a byproduct of its participants - that means if you want to see it succeed, you should be proactive in recommending resources and regularly posting/responding on the Forum.

Thanks for your interest - I look forward to seeing you on the Business Education Partnership Forum!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Cheating the system

From The Simpsons:

Bart: Well Dad, here's my report card. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Homer: [incredulously] A-plus?!? You don't think much of me, do you boy?
Bart: [almost proudly] No sir!
Homer: You know a D turns into a B so easily. You just got greedy.
-- from the 'Kamp Krusty' episode

Cheating and education have gone hand in hand for a long time. But we usually think of it in terms of students, not the administrators, right?

According to Education Sector, individual grade-changing is small fry - a real achievement would be rigging the grades of an entire state, which is exactly what many are doing to varying degrees. From their report "Hot Air: How States Inflate Their Educational Progress Under NCLB":

Critics on both the Left and the Right have charged that the No Child Left Behind Act tramples states' rights by imposing a federally mandated, one-size-fits-all accountability system on the nation's diverse states and schools.

In truth, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) gives states wide discretion to define what students must learn, how that knowledge should be tested, and what test scores constitute “proficiency”—the key elements of any educational accountability system. States also set standards for high school graduation rates, teacher qualifications, school safety and many other aspects of school performance. As a result, states are largely free to define the terms of their own educational success.
Unfortunately, many states have taken advantage of this autonomy to make their educational performance look much better than it really is. In March 2006, they submitted the latest in a series of annual reports to the U.S. Department of Education detailing their progress under NCLB. The reports covered topics ranging from student proficiency and school violence to school district performance and teacher credentials. For every measure, the pattern was the same: a significant number of states used their standard-setting flexibility to inflate the progress that their schools are making and thus minimize the number of schools facing scrutiny under the law.

Some states claimed that 80 percent to 90 percent of their students were proficient in reading and math, even though external measures such as the federally funded National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) put the number at 30 percent or below. One state alleged that over 95 percent of their students graduated from high school even as independent studies put the figure closer to 65 percent. Another state determined that 99 percent of its school districts were making adequate progress, while others found that 99 percent of their teachers were highly qualified. Forty-four states reported that zero percent of their schools were persistently dangerous.

This sort of dishonestly boggles the mind - one, that people try it, and two, that we let them get away with it. You've got to admit that we make it easy by not setting uniform definitions of key educational metrics - for example, we don't even have consensus on how to define a dropout, much less what it means to be "proficient" in any particular area. But that doesn't excuse this kind of trickery - it's simply unconscionable.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Textbooks: an overlooked piece of the reform puzzle

According to industry research, between 80-90% of teachers rely on the textbook as a fundamental instructional tool. So what happens to learning when those textbooks are, as a rule, terrible? explores this issue as part of a special report titled "Can America Compete?" in the article "A textbook case of failure." From the article:

If America’s textbooks were systematically graded, Wang and other scholars say, they would fail abysmally.

American textbooks are both grotesquely bloated (so much so that some state legislatures are considering mandating lighter books to save students from back injuries) and light as a feather intellectually, flitting briefly over too many topics without examining any of them in detail. Worse, too many of them are pedagogically dishonest, so thoroughly massaged to mollify competing political and identity-group interests as to paint a startlingly misleading picture of America and its history.

Textbooks have become so bland and watered-down that they are “a scandal and an outrage,” the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit education think tank in Washington, charged in a scathing report issued a year and a half ago.

“They are sanitized to avoid offending anyone who might complain at textbook adoption hearings in big states, they are poorly written, they are burdened with irrelevant and unedifying content, and they reach for the lowest common denominator,” Diane Ravitch, a senior official in the Education Department during the administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, wrote in the report’s introduction.

“As a result of all this, they undermine learning instead of building and encouraging it,” she added.

The problem, according to the article, is that textbooks are hugely expensive to produce, which means that they must find a ready market upon publication. In order to be acceptable to the market, they must be approved by committees in each state - and, since California and Texas make up 1/3 of the market, the committees in those two states hold tremendous sway over what is produced. And the power held by those committees is being directed by activists with a political, not educational, agenda.

Also from the article:

In Texas, the Board of Education is dominated by political conservatives who are heavily lobbied by conservative activists, among them the evangelical group Focus on the Family and the husband-and-wife team of Mel and Norma Gabler, whose tireless campaigning for religiously centered teaching materials has made them among the most influential forces in the production of American textbooks.

Texas’ textbooks, which are often adopted by other states that have few alternatives, have included board-ordered passages mandating politically conservative definitions of marriage, abortion and same-sex relationships and instructing students that pregnancies are best prevented by “respecting yourself” and getting “plenty of rest.” They have eliminated any mention of condoms, even though Texas leads the nation in teenage pregnancies.

In California, by contrast, the controlling forces are “social content standards” that insist that the state’s textbooks — even those in math and the sciences — portray ethnic groups, women, the elderly, the disabled and religious groups in precise proportionality to their representation in the population.

Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley, now part of textbook giant Pearson Prentice Hall, developed a 161-page manual titled “Multicultural Guidelines” in 1996 just to navigate the process in California. As summarized in the Fordham Institute report, the manual says company textbooks:

must include illustrations of tall and short people, heavy and thin individuals, people with disabilities, and families headed by two parents, by one parent, by grandparents, by aunts/uncles, and by other adults. When writing about the development of the U.S. Constitution, authors are directed to cite the dubious claim that it was patterned “partially after the League of Five Nations — a union formed by five Iroquois nations.”

Education is a complex system, and the changes we are focusing on in a relatively few areas will absolutely fail if the rest of the system is not addressed simultaneously. What happens if you improve teacher training/education and then stick teachers with these textbooks as their foundational instructional tool? Can a better-qualified teacher get better results if these are the types of materials s/he has to work with?

I've been thinking a lot about systems theory - will post more on it soon - but it's so clear that with instructional tools like these, targeted education reform efforts will trip and fall before they ever make it out of the gate.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Report: Counting the Cash for K-12

Excellent report here on education spending titled "Counting the Cash for K-12: The Facts About Per-Pupil Spending in Colorado," published by the Independence Institute. While the report is focused on education spending in Colorado, they use national data in several instances for comparative purposes, and the information they provide is relevant to people across the country with an interest in K12 spending.

Their primary conclusion is that we should look less at how much we spend per student and more at how we’re spending, since school budgets and per-pupil spending do not correlate with achievement. What’s more, people can manipulate or reframe spending figures to make them look better or worse depending on their purposes – a trick that can confuse the entire discussion.

Some particularly interesting pullouts:

  • An analysis by a professor at Stanford found that only 27 of 163 studies showed a positive relationship between per-pupil spending and student performance. Two-thirds of those studies showed insignificant correlations, and the rest actually showed a negative relationship.
  • According to data from NCES, there is no significant relationship between per-pupil spending and NAEP scores, nor is there a correlation between an increase in spending and a change in NAEP scores over a 10 year period.
  • In the 2004-05 school year, ten states claimed to be 49th in education funding: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Utah. This is only possible through various interest groups filtering spending data and presenting it in a way that supports their objectives. (In Colorado’s case, comparisons were made in terms of student spending as a percentage of personal income – because of Colorado’s fairly affluent population, per-pupil expenditures looked unreasonably low. In real dollars, spending on students in Colorado is ranked 31st in the country according to NCES data.)

Well worth reading the entire report to learn more about real spending, manipulation of numbers for political purposes, and the lack of correlation between spending numbers and student achievement.

Friday, May 12, 2006

An impasse on civic science

This comes from one of NASSMC's email briefs last week:

News Brief #3565 Category: Postsecondary Education

TITLE: “Civic science”

Harvard president Lawrence Summers emphasized the importance of creating a more science-literate student body when he was inaugurated to his post in 2001. But when he leaves Harvard in June, not much will have changed.

Plans to revamp Harvard’s undergraduate science curriculum were stymied by faculty disagreement over what constitutes science literacy. A Committee on General Education that meant to overhaul Harvard’s core curriculum considered three definitions, but never reached a consensus.

“One was the view that to understand science you actually have to do lab work,” said Louis Menand, a professor of English who sat on the committee. Another theory favored courses “of relevance to the average citizen.” The third called for knowing “something about the history and philosophy of science.”

There was also disagreement within each theory. In trying to decide which science fields are most socially relevant, for example, members came up with a wide range of answers, including environmental studies, evolutionary biology, genetics, immunology, and computer science.

Many experts outside of Harvard advocate teaching the practical side of science to nonscientists so that they will be able to make sense of it in their everyday lives. Yet few scientists appreciate the civic importance of making science understandable for all students, said Jon Miller, a professor of political science at Northwestern University.

“General education courses need to be, for scientists, your last chance to speak to someone before they are elected senator,” he said.

SOURCE: Boston Globe, 30 April 2006 (p. E01)
The NASSMC Briefing Service (NBS) is supported in part by the National Science Teachers Association, International Technology Education Association, Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education, and National Science Resources Center. Briefs reflect only the opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the source articles. Click to SUBSCRIBE, COMMENT, or FIND archived NBS briefs. Click for information about NASSMC. Permission is granted to re-distribute NBS briefs in unmodified form, including header and footer.

This, to me, is a very interesting quandary. We want to raise the profile of STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), and it's hard to argue against that sentiment in theory. But when it comes down to brass tacks - what gets taught in (assumedly) a very limited time frame - who gets to say what will be covered, and to what end?

The changing face of education

A very important article in the Washington Post on Wednesday – apparently, “Of US Children Under 5, Nearly Half Are Minorities.” To put that into perspective, the country is currently 2/3 Caucasian – and, as Jeffrey Passel of the Pew Hispanic Center states in the article, “As the children age, they are the ones who in 20 years will be having children.”

That throws two tremendous challenges into the face of public education – challenges that will manifest on an epic scale.

First, we have a poor track record of educating African-American and Hispanic children. They consistently trail whites and Asians on
NAEP tests, and they also have much higher dropout rates than other populations. If we don’t learn to reach these audiences much more effectively, our problems will only accelerate and intensify.

Next, this brings up real issues of school funding. As Andrew Rotherham
has noted, as the population ages, they will feel less inclined to outlay more and more money for public education. As the article states, some older people will be even less inclined to lend their support if the school population looks less and less like them.

Solutions? Anyone?

New resources for community partnerships

Thanks to the Public Education Network's weekly newsblast for highlighting the following new resources:

If you don't subscribe to the PEN newsblast, you should - it's one of the best resources available for anyone interested in public involvement in education.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Quitting smoking, changing schools

I started smoking in 1986, towards the end of my freshman year in college. Everyone was doing it, so I did it too. And I did it well: I was hooked, and kept at it for more than 12 years.

I knew it was a stupid habit: it’s expensive, has terrible health effects, and makes you and everything you own smell horrible. And yet, I couldn’t stop. I tried over and over – but I couldn’t do it.

And then I met Mary Brubaker. Beautiful, smart, funny – and a nonsmoker who, despite all odds, was willing to date a smoker like me. But she also made it clear that, while she enjoyed spending time together, she couldn’t see a future with someone who smoked.

I quit on Thanksgiving Day, 1998, and haven’t touched a cigarette since. As for Mary, we were married the following year and now have two little ones under our roof - quite something for a couple that didn’t have a future together :-)

The moral is that it’s incredibly hard to change by moving away from something without having something to move towards. If you want to change in any material way, you need to have something to move towards that’s so compelling it allows you to summon the strength to overcome habit and inertia and undergo a real transformation.

There’s a parallel here to education reform. We have a laundry list of what we don’t like about our current education system, and it’s a long list indeed. So why haven’t we been able to reform education? Why have we been unable to create any real change?

I submit that it’s because we’re trying to move away from something without having any idea of what we’re moving towards. We don’t have a vision of what we want education to look like: a clear, concrete vision that excites us, rallies us, and gives us a ruler against which to measure our common progress.

Create the vision of Education 2.0 – then we’ll be able to create positive change.

The third rail

When we commit to fixing some aspect of public education, the solutions pour forth. Take literacy, for example: to enable every kid to read, we’re increasing funding, commissioning (and actually reading!) research, boosting classroom time, testing (and testing again), increasing professional development, installing scripted programs, bringing in tutors, holding rallies, and pushing formal schooling down to younger and younger children. (Have I missed anything? I’m sure I have.)

But there’s one component to the development of literacy that we dare not mention. It doesn’t show up in any policy discussions, nor do we talk about it (publicly, at least) as being a part of any of the solutions mentioned above. It is The Solution Whose Name We Dare Not Speak.

Parents. There, I’ve said it.

Research has clearly shown that parental involvement - parents seen reading in the home, parents reading to their children, parents ensuring that children have an array of reading materials available to them - is one of the most critical indicators of success in helping a child learn how to read.

And the education community treats this as an unmentionable secret.

Sure, we address it to an extent at the local level: schools send home tip sheets, bring parents in to sign reading compacts, and do their best to keep parents apprised of kids’ progress through updates and report cards. But we’re asking too late – so many of the building blocks of literacy happen before a child ever walks into a formal school – and I think we’re probably beating around the bush, hinting and cajoling without ever laying things out in black and white.

My jaw would drop – DROP – if I ever saw a public figure call us on this. Just imagine the following speech by a politician:

My fellow parents,

The ability to read is the single most important indicator of success in life. If your child does not learn to read and read well, his opportunities in life are so limited that you may as well buy him a mop and a bucket right now: he won’t get much further than minimum-wage manual labor for the rest of his life.

Despite what you hear from the talking heads in the news, our schools are perfectly capable of teaching a child to read. But we have to have children who are ready to learn, who have a supportive environment at home that reinforces what they’re doing at school.

From almost the time that they’re born, it is your responsibility – and only your responsibility - to prepare them to successfully learn how to read. Fortunately this is simple to do.

Read to them every day, preferably a few times a day. Let them see you reading. Make sure they have access to a wide variety of reading materials in the home.

That’s all it takes: do that, and they’ll be ready to learn how to read when they get to school. We’ll take it from there, although of course we’ll still expect you to do your part at home by continuing to read, continuing to emphasize the importance of reading, and holding yourselves and your child accountable when we send home work that reinforces what we’re doing in school.

And if you don’t? Shame on you. You’re failing your children, relegating them to a life filled with the frustration and despair that come with living on the fringes of society. They will always look longingly at the lives that others are able to build for themselves and knowing that success is permanently out of their grasp. It won’t be the fault of the schools, nor will it be the fault of “society.” It will be your fault, and yours alone.

So please: read to your children. Let them see you read. Give them access to books and other reading materials. And help them lay the groundwork for a life that can take them anywhere they decide they want to go.

Good night, and good reading.

Is it really such a political lighting rod to expect parents to be parents? Why aren’t we stating what is so obvious to so many: that parents have an essential role in the education of their children?

Now, I do realize that we’re not in the age of the stable, nuclear family – that some parents are trying to raise kids on their own, some are working two or more jobs, and some are struggling with things I can’t even imagine.

But the fact is, every kid has a limited window of opportunity here: if we miss it, their potential for literacy, and with it an education and a shot at a good life, shrinks dramatically. There are no do-overs – we get one shot, and that’s it.

It’s time for every parent to be reminded of their role in the education of their children - no sense keeping it a secret anymore.

Bringing young scientists into the classroom

Now this is exciting (courtesy of the NASSMC newsbrief):

News Brief #3557 Category: Postsecondary Education
TITLE: “The Sounds of Science”

Mya Thompson, a graduate student in Cornell University’s department of neurobiology and behavior, is sharing her love of science with middle-school students through a National Science Foundation fellowship.

The $50-million fellowship program aims to get enthusiastic young scientists into the classroom to excite schoolchildren. At the same time, the experience forces the grad students to practice talking about science in a way that non-scientists can understand.

“You have to be able to not just talk like you’re in a scientific conference,” Thompson says.

Thompson teaches boys at the Hillside Children’s Center, in Varick, New York, about the nature of sound. She has taught lessons on how sound is produced, how it travels, and how it looks in soundscapes, scientific graphs of soundwaves.

After recording outdoor sounds on campus for a 24-hour period, Thompson shows the students soundscapes of periodic five-minute intervals. Red spikes indicate a louder sound, yellow spikes represent medium-loud. The boys study the graphs and guess at what the sounds might be.

Ms. Thompson also shares soundscapes from her research in the Central African Republic. She is recording elephant sounds, looking for ways to distinguish between male and female, young and old. She hopes her work will aid in counting the animals and bolstering conservation efforts.

SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education, 28 April 2006 (A64)

The NASSMC Briefing Service (NBS) is supported in part by the National Science Teachers Association, International Technology Education Association, Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education, and National Science Resources Center. Briefs reflect only the opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the source articles. Click to SUBSCRIBE, COMMENT, or FIND archived NBS briefs. Click for information about NASSMC. Permission is granted to re-distribute NBS briefs in unmodified form, including header and footer.