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.


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