Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The state of our educational system is costing us jobs and investment

Manufacturing Journal ( pointed out this article "Toyota to build 100,000 vehicles per year in Woodstock, Ont., starting 2008 " at It says Toyota choose Ontario for the plant over US states willing to offer twice as much in incentives because the work-force is better educated, and they've had bad experiences trying to train under-educated American workers.

This article is a great and painful example of the importance of education. One person in the article is quoted as saying: "The educational level and the skill level of the people down there [Mississippi and Alabama] is so much lower than it is in Ontario." This echoes what was said at a Univ of California panel back in January: “The big difference between Europe and America is the proportion of people who come out of the system really not being functional for any serious role. In Finland that is maybe two or three percent. For Europe in general maybe fifteen or twenty. For the United States at least thirty percent, maybe more. In spite of all the press, Americans don’t really get the education difference. They generally still feel this is a well-educated country and work force. They just don’t see how far the country is falling behind.”

This is not a new view, and it is supported by research. In 1998, the World Bank's annual report said: "Education is one of the best investments, outstripping the returns from many investments in physical capital. Indeed, ... the total stock of human capital worldwide has higher value, by far, in terms of its contribution to production, than the stock of physical capital." The Economist reported last year on this study of 14 developed nations showing that investment in basic education had a direct and positive impact on economic growth. (

As with so many critical issues that face us as Americans, we've been sucked into a politics of divisive "moral" choices (e.g., vouchers & charters, religion in schools, inequity of property taxes) while the problems fester and grow. American education is 15th-20th in the world and slipping, and this article is an example of how it's costing us jobs and wage growth as well as civic solidarity and peace.

(By the way, the other 21st century infrastructure investment - health care - was also implicated in the Toyota move: Canadian workers are $4 or $5 cheaper per hour because of their health care system.)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

OneCleveland can help reinvent K-12 education

(originally written as a response to another blog entry about the potential of OneCleveland)

OneCleveland has the potential to help transform K-12 education in Northeast Ohio. Recognizing that, Lev Gonick worked hard to get the Cleveland Municipal School District involved in OneCleveland. The Mayor convened meetings of the CIOs and their bosses at the major public institutions and universities in town to encourage such membership. CMSD has yet to join, though other school districts have and I'm sure CMSD eventually will.

Earlier this year, it was reported that one in four public schools offer distance learning in some form and, as one observer (Billie Wahlstrom) has noted: "The acceleration has been amazing …the [adoption] curve is moving to the vertical."As this accelerates, schools need the bandwidth OneCleveland offers. Schools can also take advantage of the partnerships within OneCleveland - distance learning among colleges and universities, between K-12 and higher education, from arts and medical institutions to K-12 and higher ed, etc.

Less clear but potentially more (financially) compelling is the opportunity to standardize and then pool technology infrastructure - servers, operating systems, even back-office applications and processes like finance and human resources, email, web development and content management. True "grid" computing resources pooled among institutions could reduce software and personnel costs and speed the spread of best practices.

This merging of higher order infrastructure and back office processes will take time and will be harder among different types of organizations (e.g., colleges and city government) than among like ones (e.g. public school systems). But this latter group is a terrific place to start: There are too many school districts (Cuyahoga County alone has CMSD and 30 others with an average enrollment of 4,300 - plus over 50 independent "community schools"). Collapsing them isn't politically feasible, but each duplicates back-office functions that can be shared - and merged - much more than is common today, and OneCleveland can be a catalyst and vehicle for that.

But the real opportunity OneCleveland provides K-12 education in this region is longer term. We usually over-estimate change in the short run and under-estimate it in the long run. We are seeing affluent places like Cobb County, Georgia reject 1-1 laptop programs, so we forget that the $100 wireless laptop IS coming ( "Electronic paper" (e.g., hasn't made any splashes lately, so we forget that we WILL have books that can re-write themselves and then power off.

Students 15 years from now will ALL carry a networked laptop or tablet PC (younger students may have something different) and a re-writable book. These will be paid for by textbook budgets because they are cheaper. Part of the work of school districts between now and that moment of economic benefit is to move their curricular, instructional, and assessment resources out of the filing cabinets and into databases. Once there, collaboration can reduce costs and speed the sharing of best practices.

What's really exciting is that once all these resources are electronic and every student can access them anywhere and anytime, the boundaries between school and the real world collapse. Class can be anywhere teachers and students gather, and public education can become a flexible blend of classtime (hosted by multiple institutions) and homeschooling. Each student will need a different blend, and it will continue to make sense to group students into "classes" and "schools" to efficiently match the best adult skills to the most important student needs. But the old school paradigm of "time and methods are fixed, student achievement varies" will be completely up-ended. The promise of the academic standards movement can finally be fulfilled: (minimal but substantial) student achievement must be universal, resources and methods will vary.

Getting there from here requires a lot of institutional collaboration and reinvention. I see lots of potential for OneCleveland to catalyze and support this revolution. It might even help Northeast Ohio regain a competitive edge by helping our students get to world class academic outcomes in more numbers faster than other places. At the very least, it will eventually be necessary for us simply to keep pace and control costs.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Education Matters

Cleveland (and not just the city), like most of the country, faces a "perfect storm:"
  • 4 years of No Child Left Behind has raised awareness (mostly negative) of school performance to a fever pitch
  • Property tax-based school finance is a century out-of-date and gets more and more intolerable for everyone
  • The ever-rising cost of quality education is slamming into fundamental economic constraints like regional property values, global wage competition, national debt, federal war and state medicare costs
  • One hundred years of educational improvement (e.g., high school graduation rates were 10% 100 years ago, 50% 50 years ago, and are now over 85%) have not been fast enough - by most measures, we're 15th-20th in the world and slipping
  • What students learn and how they learn is not well aligned with what we think we know about the needs and challenges of the emerging 21st century

Schools have been, since the days of the Pilgrims, been our most important community institutions. "Community" and "institution" both imply conservativism, as neither changes quickly. But fear of the storm has led too many of us to quit the battle, comforting ourselves with blasts at the special interests and rantings about the good old days. And others are comfortable with the conservativism, telling ourselves that the need for change is overblown.

Our region, more than most in this nation, needs to tackle its educational agenda with disciplined urgency. Taxpayers are rejecting operating levys, schools are underperforming, and our population remains under-educated even by American standards. My next post will suggest some directions I think we need to go.

This blog had brief beginning as "Politics that Matter." I didn't get very far, and I've refocused. I'll try again, but leave the original pieces because maybe they'll be of interest and spark some creative thinking.