Tag Archives: education

Neo-Progressive Watch: Rahm Emanuel vs. Teachers Union

Anyone who read Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope will have been struck with the amount of time the then aspiring presidential candidate spent writing about public education policy. More notably, he seemed to acknowledge that any effort at education reform was, at some point, going to butt heads with teachers unions and that new approaches were either going to have to be negotiated or imposed. It was a point of tension that wasn’t much talked about in the reviews I read. But it always struck me as interesting that here was Obama, a next generation progressive, railing against the conservatism of what is possible the original pillar of the progressive movement: public education.

All of this has, of course, been decidedly forgotten given both the bigger problems the president has faced and by the fact that he’s been basically disinterested in monkeying around in public education policy since taking office. That’s why it is still more fascinating to see what his disciples are doing as they get involved in levels of government that are in more direct contact with this policy area. Here, none is more interesting to watch than Rahm Emanuel.

This Saturday my friend Amy L. pointed me to a New York Times article outlining the most recent battle between Rahm Emanuel and the teacher’s union. My own take is that the specifics of the article are irrelevant, what matters is the broad theme. In short, Rahm Emanuel is on a short timeline. He needs to produce results immediately since local elections both happen more frequently and one is much, much closer to the citizen. That said, he doesn’t have to deliver uniform results, progress, in of itself may be sufficient. Indeed, a little experimentation is profoundly good given it can tease out faster and cheaper ways to deliver said results.

In contrast, the teacher’s union faces few of the pressures experienced by Rahm. It can afford to move at a slower pace and, more importantly, wants a uniform level of treatment across the entire system. Indeed, its entire structure is built around the guarantee of uniform treatment for its members. This uniformity is a value that evolved parallel to but not of progressive thinking. It is an artifact of industrial production that gets confused with progressive thought because of the common temporal lineage.

This skirmish offers a window into the major battle that is going to dominate the our politics in about a decade. I increasingly suspect we are moving into a world where the possibilities for education, thanks to the web and social networks, is going to be completely altered. What we deem is possible, what parents demand, and the skills that are seen as essential, are all going to shift. Our educational system, its schools, the school boards and, of course, the unions, are still bound in a world of mass production – shifting students from room to room to prepare them for the labour and production jobs of the 20th century. No matter how gifted the teachers (and there are many who are exceedingly gifted) they remain bound by the structure of the system the education system, the school boards, and the unions, have built and enforce.

Of course, what is going to be in demand are students that can thrive in the world of mass collaboration and peer production in the 21st century -behaviours that are generally viewed as “cheating” in the current model. And parents who are successful in 21st century jobs are going to be the first to ensure their children get the “right” kind of education. Which is going to put them at odds with the current education system.

This is all this is to say that the real question crisis is: how quickly will educational systems be able to adapt? Here both the school boards and the unions play an enormous role, but it is the unions that, it would appear, may be a constraining factor. If they find that having Rahm engage schools directly feels like a threat, I suspect they are going to find the next 20 years a rough, rough ride. Something akin to how the newspapers have felt regarding the arrival of the internet and craigslist.

What terrifies me most, is that unless we can devise a system where teachers are measured and so good results can be both rewarded and shared… and where parents and students have more choices around education, then families (that can afford to) are going to vote with their feet. In fact, you already see it in my home town.

The myth in Vancouver is that high property values are driving families – and thus children – out of the city. But this is patently not true. The fantastic guys over at Bing Thom Architects wrote a report on student populations in Vancouver. According to their research, in the last 10 years the estimated number of elementary and secondary aged children in Vancouver has risen by 3% (around 2,513 new students). And yet, the number of students enrolled in public education facilities has declined by 5.46%. (around 3,092 students). In fact, the Vancouver School Boards numbers seem to indicate the decline may be more pronounced.

In the meantime the number of private/independent schools has exploded by 43% going from 39 to 68 with enrollment increases of 13.8%. (Yes that does leave a surplus of students unaccounted for, I suspect they are also in private/independent schools, but outside of the City of Vancouver’s boundaries). As a public school graduate myself, one who had truly fantastic teachers but who also benefited from enormous choice (IB, French Immersion) the numbers of the past decade are very interesting to immerse oneself in.

Correct or incorrect, it would seem parents are opting for schools that offer a range of choices around education. Of course, it is only the parents who can afford to do this that are doing it. But that makes the outcome worse, not better. With or without the unions, education is going to get radically rethought. It would be nice if it was the public sector that lead that revolution, or at least was on the vanguard of it. But if our public sector managers and teachers are caught arguing over how to adjust the status quo by increments, it is hard to see how our education policy is going to make a quantum leap into the 21st century.

Smarter Ways to Have School Boards Update Parents

Earlier this month the Vancouver School Board (VSB) released an iPhone app that – helpfully – will use push notifications to inform parents about school holidays, parent interviews, and scheduling disruptions such as snow days. The app is okay, it’s a little clunky to use, and a lot of the data – such as professional days – while helpful in an app, would be even more helpful as an iCal feed parents could subscribe to in their calendars.

That said, the VSB deserves credit for having the vision of developing an app. Positively, the VSB app team hopes to add new features, such as letting parents know about after school activities like concerts, plays and sporting events.

This is a great innovation and without a doubt, other school boards will want apps of their own. The problem is, this is very likely to lead to an enormous amount of waste and duplication. The last thing citizens want is for every school board to be spending $15-50K developing iPhone apps.

Which leads to a broader opportunity for the Minister of Education.

Were I the Education Minister, I’d have my technology team recreate the specs of the VSB app and propose an RFP for it but under an open source license and using phonegap so it would work on both iPhone and Android. In addition, I’d ensure it could offer reminders – like we do at recollect.net – so that people could get email or text messages without a smart phone at all.

I would then propose the ministry cover %60 percent of the development and yearly upkeep costs. The other 40% would be covered by the school boards interested in joining the project. Thus, assuming the app had a development cost of $40K and a yearly upkeep of $5K, if only one school board signed up it would have to pay $16K for the app (a pretty good deal) and $2K a year in upkeep. But if 5 school districts signed up, each would only pay $3.2K in development costs and $400 dollars a year in upkeep costs. Better still, the more that sign up, the cheaper it gets for each of them. I’d also propose a governance model in which those who contribute money for develop would have the right to elect a sub-group to oversee the feature roadmap.

Since the code would be open source other provinces, school districts and private schools could also use the app (although not participate in the development roadmap), and any improvements they made to the code base would be shared back to the benefit of BC school districts.

Of course by signing up to the app project school boards would be committing to ensure their schools shared up to date notifications about the relevant information – probably a best practice that they should be doing anyways. This process work is where the real work lies. However, a simple webform (included in the price) would cover much of the technical side of that problem. Better still the Ministry of Education could offer its infrastructure for hosting and managing any data the school boards wish to collect and share, further reducing costs and, equally important, ensuring the data was standardized across the participating school boards.

So why should the Ministry of Education care?

First, creating new ways to update parents about important events – like when report cards are issued so that parents know to ask for them – helps improve education outcomes. That should probably reason enough, but there are other reasons as well.

Second, it would allow the ministry, and the school boards, to collect some new data: professional day dates, average number of snow days, frequency of emergency disruptions, number of parents in a district interested in these types of notifications. Over time, this data could reveal important information about educational outcomes and be helpful.

But the real benefit would be in both cost savings and in enabling less well resourced school districts to benefit from technological innovation wealthier school districts will likely pursue if left to their own devices. Given there are 59 english school districts in BC, if even half of them spent 30K developing their own iPhone apps, then almost $1M dollars would be collectively spent on software development. By spending $24K, the ministry ensures that this $1M dollars instead gets spent on teachers, resources and schools. Equally important, less tech savvy or well equipped school districts would be able to participate and benefit.

Of course, if the City of Vancouver school district was smart, they’d open source their app, approach the Ministry of Education and offer it as the basis of such a venture. Doing that wouldn’t just make them head of the class, it’d be helping everyone get smarter, faster.

The Challenge of Open Data and Metrics

One promise of open data is its ability to inform citizens and consumers about the quality of local services. At the Gov 2.0 Summit yesterday the US Department of Health and Human Resources announced it was releasing data on hospitals, nursing homes and clinics in the hopes that developers will create applications that show citizens and consumers how their local hospitals stacks up against others. In short, how good, or even how safe, is their local hospital?

In Canada we already have some experience with this type of measuring. The Fraser Institute publishes an annual report card of schools performance in Alberta, BC, Ontario and Washington. (For those unfamiliar with the Fraser Institute it is a right-wing think tank based in Vancouver with, shall we say, dubious research credentials but strong ideological and fundraising goals.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, private schools do rather well in the Fraser Institute’s report card. Indeed it would appear (and I may be off by one here) that the t0p 18 schools on the list are all private. This does support a narrative that private schools are inherently better than state run schools that would be consistent with the Fraser Institute’s outlook. But, of course, that would be a difficult conclusion to sustain. Private schools tend to be populated with kids from wealthy families with better educated parents and have been given a blessed head start in life. Also, and not noted in the report card, is that many private schools are comfortable turfing out under-performing or unruly students. This means that the “delayed advancement rate,” one critical metric of a schools performance, is dramatically less impacted than a public school that cannot as easily send students packing.

Indeed, the Fraser Institute’s report card is rife with problems, something that teachers unions and, say,  equally ideological but left-oriented think tanks like the Centre for Policy Alternatives are all too happy to point out.

While I loath the Fraser Institute’s simplistic report card and think it is of dubious value to parents I do like that they are at least trying to give parents some tool by which to measure schools. The notion that schools, teachers and education quality can’t be measured, or are too complicated to measure is untenable. I suspect few parent – especially those in say, jobs where they are evaluated – believe it. Nor does such a position help parents assess the quality of education their child is receiving. While they understand, may be sympathetic to or even agree that this is a complicated issue it seems clear based on the success of Ontario’s school locator that many parents want and like these tools.

Ultimately the problem here isn’t the open data (despite what critics of the Ontario Government’s school comparison website would have you believe). Besides, are we now going to hide or suppress data so that parents can’t assess their kids schools? Nor is the problem school report cards per se. If anything is the problem it is that the Fraser Institute has had the field all to itself to play in. If teachers groups, other think tanks, or any other group believes that the Fraser Institute’s report cards are not too crude, why not design a better one? The data is available (and the government could easily be pressured to make more of it available). Why don’t teacher’s groups share with parents the metrics by which they believe parents should evaluate and compare schools? What this issue could use is some healthy competition and debate – one that generated more options and tools for parents.

The challenge for government is to make data more easily available. By making educational data more accessible, less time, IT skills and energy is needed to organize the data and precious resources can instead be focused on developing and visualizing the scoring methodology. This is certainly seems to be Health and Human Services approach: lower transaction costs, galvanize a variety of assessment applications and foster a healthy debate. It would be nice if ministries of education in Canada took a similar view.

But the second half of that challenge is also important, and groups outside of government need to recognize they can have a role, and the consequence of not participating. The mistake is to ask how to deal with groups like the Fraser Institute that use crude metrics, instead we need to encourage more groups and encourage our own organizations to contribute to the debate, to give it more nuance, and create better tools. Leaving the field to the Fraser Institute is a dangerous strategy, one that will serve few people. This is even more the case since in the future we are likely to have more, not less data about education, health and a myriad of other services and programs.

So, the challenge for readers is – will your organization participate?

Millennium Scholarship Foundation: A Case Study in Sustaining a Network

For those who haven’t heard, one of the worst decisions of the current government has been to not renew the Millennium Scholarship Foundation.

The foundation, created by Chretien in 2000 had a 10 years of funding to pursue three goals: 1) improve access to post-secondary education, particularly for students facing economic or social barriers; 2) encourage a high level of student achievement and engagement in Canadian society; and 3) to build a national alliance of organizations and individuals around a shared post-secondary agenda.

After 10 years of dispensing scholarships and bursaries there is now a large alumni group of Millennium scholars, many of whom have met one another as a result of an annual conference the foundation which brought scholars from across the country together to learn from external speakers and one another. In short, the Millennium alumni network is a relatively vibrant community composed of some very compelling people.

But now the organization that created that community is ending. So one question the foundation has been asking itself is: how does the community continue to have impact once both its funding has stopped and the alumni network ceases to grow? This is a challenge common to many groups. For example, I’ve frequently heard conference organizers ask how can the participants can continue to grow and learn from one another once the conference ends. In theory, new social networking tools like LinkedIn and Facebook should make this easier. In practise, it is not always the case.

As I look at Millennium and reflect on its strengths, its community and the tools it has available, a couple of thoughts come to mind.

First, neither overestimate nor underestimate the power of one’s brand.

Firstly, in relation to not underestimating the power of brands, try to think about what it is that your brand has enabled, and why people might be grateful or interested in it. In the case of Millennium, it has helped make a post-secondary education possible for thousands of people. But it did more than that, it found people who were creative, smart, interesting and passionate about life and their communities. It also brought them together to meet and engage one another. If its alumni network did nothing more than serve as brand that allowed people to connect to on another over the next 40 years that would be in of itself a powerful outcome. It may sound trite but in my own life I’m always willing to meet with someone who participated in either Action Canada or Canada25 (two other discontinued program with a fixed alumni group). Both those groups consisted of people who I know want to make the world a better place, and if I can help them, I’ll try. Same with the Sauve Scholars. The fact that I can call on people in these networks and ask for their help, thoughts or advice is one of the most important legacies of these projects.

On the overestimate side, people should recognize that just because it is easy for people to connect, doesn’t mean that they will. Getting a broad network of people to sustain action on a given subject matter (especially if that subject matter didn’t bring them together in the first place) is very, very, difficult. In the case of the Millennium Foundation, it could encourage its network of alumni to tackle global poverty. This is a laudable goal, but it is not the issue that initially brought the group together so attachment to this issue is likely to be highly varied. This is a group with diverse interests. Some may want to focus on technology start-up, others on the environment, others on surviving grad-school. Trying to shoehorn a large group into a single goal is hard, especially if the group make up is now fixed and can no longer grow/evolve to focus on it. A powerful and/or well regarded brand does not mean you can do anything.

My hope is that the alumni are trying to figure out what it is that they, as a  group, do have in common. In the case of Millennium, my sense is that one thing everybody in the network can agree on is that education is important. The very fact that they are Millennium Alumni means they have benefited from access to high quality education. So if the network was, from time to time, going to focus its energy, something related to this issue area might have the greatest resonance. Activities, actions or an annual event that attempted to do something simple around promoting education might be a good place to start. This could sustain the network’s relevance in the lives of its alumni as well as maintain connectivity among a certain percentage of its members. I’d also argue that the country could stand to have a 5000+ army of smart, engaged, interesting and increasingly powerful people who continuously champion the importance of education.

Open data in local education: broader lessons for government, citizens and NGOs

Last months I remember reading a couple of news stories about a provincial government ministry in Canada that was forced to become less transparent.


Yes, this was not a voluntary move. A specific group of people pressured the government, wanting it to remove data it had made public as well as make it harder for the public to repurpose and make use of the data. So what happened? And what lessons should governments, NGOs and citizens take away from this incident?

The story revolves around the Ontario Ministry of Education which earlier this year created a website that mashed up performance data (e.g. literacy and math scores) with demographic information (e.g. percentage of pupils from low-income households and percentage of gifted students). The real problem – according to a group representing teachers, parents and stakeholders – occurred when the Ministry enabled a feature that allowed the website’s users to compare up schools to one another.

The group, called People for Education, protested that the government was encouraging a “shopping-mentality” in the public school system.

Of course, many parents already shop for schools. I remember, as a kid, hearing about how houses on one side a street, but within the catchment area of my high school, were more expensive than houses on the other side of the same street, but within the catchment area of another school. Presently however, this type of shopping is reserved for the wealthy and connected (e.g. the privileged). Preventing people from comparing schools online won’t eliminate or even discourage this activity, it will simply preference those who are able to do it, further reinforcing inequity.

The real problem however, is that the skills and analysis involved in school shopping are the same as those required in accessing and being engaged in, the performance of one’s local school. Parents, and taxpayers in general, have a right to know their childrens school’s performance – especially in comparison to similar schools. If parents don’t have information to analyze and compare, how can they know what systemic issues they should ask their childrens teachers about? More importantly, how can they know what issues to press their local school board about?

Ironically, People for Education states on its “About Us” page that it works towards a vision of a strong public education system by a) doing research; b) providing clear, accessible information to the public and c) engaging people to become actively involved in education issues in their own community.

And yet, asking the government to remove the comparison feature runs counter to all three of its activities. Limiting how the Ministry’s data can be used (and as we’ll see later, suggesting that this data shouldn’t be shared):

  • prevents parents, and other analysts such as professors or politicians, from doing their own research
  • runs counter to the goal of providing clear and accessible information to the public. Indeed, it makes information harder to access.
  • makes it harder for parents to know how they should get involved and what issues they should champion to improve their local school

What is interesting about this story is that it reveals the core values and underlying motivation of different actors. In this case People for Education – which I believe to be a well intentioned a positive contributor to the issue of education – is nonetheless revealed to have a conservative side to it.

It fears a world where citizens and parents are equipped with information and knowledge about schools. On the one hand it may fear the types of behaviours this could foster (such as school shopping). However, it may also fear a weakening of its monopoly as “expert” and advocate on educational issues. If parents can look at the data directly, and form their own analysis and conclusions, they may find that they don’t agree with People for Education. Open data would allow those it represents to self-organize, challenging the hierarchy and authority of the organization.

For whatever reason, we see an NGO bending over backwards to advocate for an outcome that runs directly counter to the very vision and activities it was founded to serve. More ironically, this result in some paradoxical messaging as an organization that champions Ontario’s school system essentially arguing that it doesn’t trust the products of that system – the citizens of Ontario – to use the information and tools provided by the Ministry that was responsible for their education. It is an unsustainable position – particularly for a group that was originally founded as a bottom up, grass-roots organization.

So what lessons are there here?

For government:

A key mistake made by the Ontario Ministry of Education is that it didn’t open up the data enough. While the website allowed users to look at school performance data they could only do this on the Ministry’s website using the Ministry’s tools and interface. Had the data been available as an API or in downloadable format someone else could have taken the data and created the system for comparing schools. People for Education were mostly upset that the Ministry’s website encouraged a “shopping-mentality.” Had the Ministry simply shared the data then People for Education could build their own interface using criteria and tools they though relevant. The Fraser Institute or a multitude of other organizations could build their own as well, and people could have used the tools and websites they found most useful and relevant. Let People for Education go head to head with the Fraser Institute and whoever else. This is not a battle the government need fight.

Lesson: Always provide the data – a goal that is hard to argue against – but sometimes, leave it to others to conduct the analysis. A marketplace of ideas will emerge, and citizens can choose what works best for them.

For NGOs in general

First, understand what open data means for your cause. One of the news articles had this highly disturbing quote from the Executive Director of People for Education:

Among her complaints about the type of information available, Ms. Kidder took issue with the ministry’s contention the Web site merely consolidated information already available to the public. “You can’t walk into your child’s school and say ‘What’s the average income of parents at this school?’ ” she said. “It’s not true at all [that this is public information].”

This is a shocking statement. In actuality, all the data assembled by the Ministry is publically available. It was just that, until now, it had remained scattered and isolated. Just because it was hard to find (and thus reserved for an elite few) or located on the school property (and thus easy for parents to locate) does not mean it didn’t exist or wasn’t public.

Lesson: Transparency is the new objectivity. People increasingly don’t trust anyone – governments, the media, or even NGOs. They want to see the analysis themselves, not take your word for it. Be prepared for this world.

Second, be careful about taking positions that will deny your supporters – and those you represent – tools with which to educate themselves. Organizations that are perceived as trying to constrain the flow of information so as to retain influence and control risk imploding. I won’t repeat this lesson in detail but Clay Shirky’s case study about the Vatican, written up in Here Comes Everybody, is a powerful example.

For educators in particular

In the past, educators have been deeply concerned with ranking systems. This is understandable. Ranking systems are often a blunt tool. Comparing apples to oranges can be foolish – but then, sometimes it is helpful. The question is to know when it is helpful and ensure it is used accordingly.

The fact is, ranking is an outcome of data. The two simply cannot be separated. The moment there is data, there is ranking. A ranking by school size, number of teachers, or amount of gym equipment is not different than a ranking of class sizes, literacy rates, disciplinary trends, or graduation rates. What matters is not the rank, but the conclusions, meaning and significance we apply to these rankings. Here, the role for groups like People for Education could be profound.

This is because we can’t be in favour of transparency and accessible information on the one hand and against ranking on the other. The two come hand in hand. What we can be opposed to are poor ranking systems.

Every profession gets assessed, and teaching should be no different. The challenge is that there is much more to teaching than what gets reflected in the data collected. This means that groups like People for Education shouldn’t be against transparency and open data – they should be trying to complexify and nuance the discussion. Once the data is publicly available anyone can create a ranking system of their own choosing – but this gives us an opportunity to have a public discussion about it. One way to do this is to create one’s own tools for measuring schools. You don’t like the Ministry of Education’s system? Create your own. Use it to talk to parents about the right questions to ask and to promote the qualitative ways to evaluate their childrens’ schools performance. It’s an open world. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be feared – it is rife with opportunity.

Education: where copyrighters and publishers are the pirates

There has been a lot of buzz around both the guilty verdict and now the judge’s alleged conflict of interest in the trial of the Pirate’s Bay operators.

For those not in the now The Pirate’s Bay is a search engine – like Google – that specialized in indexing “BitTorrents,” a file format often used to download movies, tv shows and large quantities of music. Since many of these files contained copyrighted material like Hollywood movies, there was significant interest in shutting down the site.

What is interesting to me is that the music recording industry – which was the first to fight against online file sharing – has always claimed it was working on behalf of starving artists. Fair enough – I too want to ensure that artists are fed and fairly rewarded for their work.

But this is in part what makes a new challenge to the publishing industry so interesting. Now a group of Swedes are enabling students to use file sharing to share educational materials. According to The Local, The Student Bay makes use of software from Rapid Share and encourages students to scan in and upload pages of course literature into an archive that they can then browse and download from.

I suspect that it is here – in the field of education – where file sharers will find the most fertile ground to transforming how media and copyright works. The movie and recording industries have deep pockets and a strong interest in fighting file sharing. Moreover, they will, for a while at least, be able to claim to speak for artists, even as this is less and less the case.

But the educational book industry? They pay professors virtually nothing for their works. Consequently, since most professors make their money from their salary they don’t rely on books as a revenue stream. Their core interest isn’t to make an extra $300-$4000 from a book that took them months to research and write, it is to know that students everywhere are reading and engaging their ideas.

Moreover, here is an industry that gouges its clients. Physics textbooks hardly need to change from year to year (how much has an intro Physics course really changed over the last 5 years? 10 years?). And yet new books, with new page numbers are created to force students to pay outrageous amounts for work that is – essentially – public domain. Even when educational publishers are trying to serve the greater good and introduce a new textbooks, the cost structure is prohibitive. Because of the short print runs of most textbooks, they tend to be expensive simply because margins have to be that much thicker to justify the investment.

In short, try to imagine the awareness campaign against copyright infringement in the educational sector? What % of the $85 for that physics text book we’ve been printing for 25 years really goes to the author or editor? Movies and music can somewhat justify their prices and copyright protection on the basis of fashion and trends. Educational book publishers don’t have that luxury. This is a mode of production that is broken: it is slow, expensive and primarily serves the interests of publishers, not the authors nor the readers. While the public remains uncertain about how to respond to copyright infringement in the entertainment industry I don’t think they are about to rise up and say: Yes! Let’s protect educational book publishers who pay authors nothing, overcharge students for textbooks and increase the cost of education.

And just in case you think the educational publishing industry won’t try to defend its business model, take a look at this story from Finland. Here, the industry is using legal threats to shut down an attempt to facilitate students lending each other books – in essence, creating a perfectly legal and truly “public” library.

Bookabooka doesn’t host any e-books on its site, but instead allows students to rent their textbooks to their peers. Renting is conducted via traditional “snailmail” (i.e. postal service) and it is mandatory that the textbooks are originals (not xeroxed copies). Bookabooka acts only as an intermediate, connecting the students together and doesn’t handle the shipping or returns of the textbooks.

Maybe file sharers will be forced to temporarily retreat, but here in lies fertile ground for the next battle. A battle where file sharing and the use of creative commons license (or no licenses at all) make the most economic and social sense.

An International Baccalaureate Growth Strategy

I recently ran into a teacher from my high school who has been active in the advancement and growth of the International Baccalaureate program (IB). I participated in the IB program – as a certificate, not a diploma candidate – I believe it was a great experience. The program was demanding and interesting.  Equally important, it helped prepare me more effectively for university.

The encounter – and the conversation – got me thinking about how IB should plan its expansion. Clearly one option is that it could expand in a uniform manner – pitching itself to districts in a more or less uniform manner. This is not their approach, and nor should it be. The fact is, some places in North America are going to be more receptive to IB than others. One option would be concentrating resources in places where the ground is most fertile and where success more readily achievable. In its strategic plan however, IB makes it clear that it does not want to only serve an educated elite. Consequentially I would advocate for a two pronged approach. One strategy for places where IB is going to be a relatively easy sell. Another for more hostile environments, where attitudes and resources will be harder to mobilize or change.

The only question remains. How to identify the two regions?

The answer, I believe, could reside in Richard Florida’s creative class maps.

If I were to imagine the type of parent interested in IB, it is likely one that believes in science, wants what is best for their child, has a broad, generally progressive, outlook on the world. They are probably interested in AP, but are even keener on something better. In short, present day IB kids are creative class kids. Their parents recognize the value of a strong education, and can generally afford the extra taxes currently necessary to subsidize such an education. Fortunately, Florida has mapped where the creative class lives in the United States. These maps are essentially demarcate the dividing line between areas that will be receptive and areas that will be more challenging for IB to establish itself. In short, IB should devise a “creative class” strategy and an “elsewhere” strategy. The two areas are likely very different in the questions that will need to be addressed, the allies located and mobilized, and the resources that will need to be marshaled.

(note: apparently IB is big in Texas, something that initially surprised me, but a look at this map suggests that, depending on where the IB schools are located, Texas is indeed fertile ground.)

Internationally, I might use Florida’s spiky world maps such as the one below which denotes patents per 10,000 people by region. The higher the spike, the greater the number of patents and the places where IB can most likely adopt it’s creative class strategy. The valley’s will probably require a different approach.

It would be fascinating to cross reference IB programs against these maps. I suspect there is already a high degree of correlation. Perhaps I’ll ask if they have any maps…

YouTube used right

So the academics over at Nottingham University in the UK had a simply and brilliant idea. Create a YouTube video for each element on the table of elements. Pure genius. Can you imagine an easier way for a kid in Grade 9 to learn the elements than a bunch of fun 2 minute videos? For some reason I feel like I had the table of elements drilled into in Grade 9… maybe I was younger… or older…?

Speaking of using YouTube, I also stumbled upon this Atlantic article in which the James Fallows reviews presidential debates. Part of what makes it so great is that he has YouTube clips of all the important moments that come up – both during this primary season and from earlier presidential debates – so you can see what he is referencing. The Atlantic is one of the few old media outlets that really seems to grasp the potential of new media…

Foundations for a Creative Economy

I just finished Max Wyman’s “The Defiant Imagination” and have reviewed it here.

The information age doesn’t give rise to an information economy… when we all have access to vast amounts of information it will be our capacity to use that information that will matter. Those who are creative, you can imagine something new and different, will prosper. Max Wyman articulated that when I met him and it struck me as critically important. His book explains how the arts, and particularly the arts in education, will be essential to equipping us with the skills of imagination we will need to prosper in the creative economy.

Democracy vs. Gender: The Liberal Solution (part II)

Interestingly, as this 2001-02 Statistics Canada spreadsheet shows, 42% percent of registered undergraduates are male while 58% are female. Moreover, it is my understanding that these stats have gotten even more lopsided since this study was published. Indeed, from some professors I’ve talked to it is not unusual to have classes that are split 70-30 or even 80-20 in favour of female students.

I’m not sure that anyone has really grasped the seachange this will have on our society. For example, I’ve spoken to managing partners at law firms who are trying to “figure out” how to retain female attorney’s. They’d better work harder at cracking this problem – otherwise they’ll will wake up one morning and find there are no attorney’s left to make partner.

Many in management seem to still operate in an accomodation mode, trying to figure out how to alter the workplace on the margins in order to retain female talent. Marginal change will simply not cut it. Among professional firms the demand for greater flexibility to ensure a more effective balance between family and career will probably require significant structural changes to how firms are organized. Making women (or men) choose between the work or family is not going to cut it. In an aging workforce where their skills are in demand they will take their labour elsewhere. But here’s the bigger catch. Many, many men are going to demand this same flexibility as well. Consequently, I suspect this issue will be not framed in terms of a gender, but either as a general HR management challenge or a policy challenge that discriminates between married and single workers.

Politically, the interesting repercussion from all this is that, in 30-40 years, I suspect at least 50% of candidates could be women. Indeed we could end up in a world where the challenge is trying to achieve a candidate field that is at least 33% male. Wouldn’t that be interesting…

[tags]politics, gender, education, public policy[/tags]