public education

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Educational innovation in Puebla

Education Futures and Fundación Ceibal (Uruguay) are pleased to share the outcomes of their 2-month research project for the Secretary of Public Education of the State of Puebla (“SEP-Puebla,” Mexico). Dr. John Moravec served as the primary investigator for the study La innovación educativa en Puebla: Las voces de los actores.

Click this link to read the full report (in Spanish).

Project background and objectives

The SEP-Puebla identified the need to assess the main achievements, challenges and future actions for developing a better future for education in the state of Puebla.  The innovative feature of the study relied in directly involving and listening to local actors (students, teachers and parents), who are affected by educational policies. Moreover, this is related to the increasing use of digital technologies, its associated practices along with the new challenges and opportunities for the teaching and learning processes. In the case of Mexico, it is particularly important to assess the challenges associated with the implementation of the national program for inclusion and digital literacy, the Programa de Inclusión y Alfabetización Digital.

The research was developed in three phases. The first was based in a survey to assess people perceptions about different topics. The data collected informed the development of the second phase of the study, based in the World Café methodology. The use of this open and inclusive methodology fostered a collaborative exchange between participants around four thematic areas: New ways of knowing, learning, teaching and assessing; Teachers in the Digital Age; Social uses of ICT and digital culture; Resources and Platforms. The third phase included the data analysis and final reporting.

Main questions addressed by the research:

  • Which achievements of the current administration of SEP-Puebla you consider more relevant?
  • Looking forward, which are the main challenges faced by education? What kind of innovations are needed in the educational agenda?
  • Which actions and actors should be taken into consideration in the educational agenda strategic planning in Puebla?

The questions above, were jointly developed with SEP-Puebla. Despite the fact that the use of tablets in schools and the implementation of the program were relevant parts of the study, the research trascends those topics and is focused in capturing the voices of the actors involved.

The research concluded with recommendations that aim to help thinking in innovative strategies for promoting ICT access and use in the state of Puebla. These are structured around three main areas: Flexibility for promoting new teaching and learning mechanisms. Self-efficacy through the promotion of sustainable and decentralized models that stimulate innovative practices, collaborative work and solidarity. Community culture that creates value from the exchange of knowledge among communities.

Click this link to read the full report (in Spanish).

Grim outlook on college affordability

Today, the New York Times reports that, “the rising cost of college — even before the recession — threatens to put higher education out of reach for most Americans,” rapidly outpacing increases in family income … and even outpacing increases in health care expenses. Citing a report by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the paper reveals that, “college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007, adjusted for inflation, while median family income rose 147 percent. Student borrowing has more than doubled in the last decade, and students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families.”

I touched on the “cost disease” of higher education a bit in my doctoral dissertation:

Baumol and Wolff (1998) state that, “improving education is the approach that is most likely to have substantial and lasting results” (p. 5). Education, however, is subject to his second prediction, a “cost disease” hypothesis, which describes a productivity lag in labor-intensive industries that struggle to keep pace with accelerating change (see esp. Baumol & Bowen, 1966; Baumol & Towse, 1997). This results in reduced growth in productivity, and, as a result, the cost of educational services increases. Writing on Baumol’s related work on rising costs in the performing arts services sector, Heilbrun (2003) states the cost disease problem is not necessarily bleak: “The problem of productivity lag exists only because there is persistent technological progress in the general economy which causes a rise in output per work hour and in real wages, in other words a rise in per capita income, which, in turn, increases the demand for the arts” (p. 99).

But, there’s more. The recession is impacting the ability of states to cushion against rising college expenses, with many considering reducing contributions to public universities. Coupled, however, with the unique element of this particular economic downturn that makes it difficult for students to secure student loans, the middle class is particularly stressed and may lead to a larger gap in higher education access. Is public education becoming a luxury for the wealthy?


Baumol, W. J., & Bowen, W. G. (1966). Performing arts, the economic dilemma: A study of problems common to theater, opera, music, and dance. New York: Twentieth Century Fund.

Baumol, W. J., & Towse, R. (1997). Baumol’s cost disease: The arts and other victims. Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA, USA: E. Elgar.

Baumol, W. J., & Wolff, E. N. (1998). Side effects of progress. Annandale-on-Hudson, NY: Jerome Levy Economics Institute of Bard College.

Clayton Christensen on innovation in education

Yesterday, HBS Working Knowledge posted an interview with Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School and author or coauthor of five books, including The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution. The interview focused on his latest book (co-authored with Michael B. Horn and Curtis W. Johnson), Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, which focuses on which ideas around innovation can spur much-needed improvements in public education.

HBS Working Knowledge, notes three key ideas from the book:

  • “As an industry, education has certain elements that have made the market difficult to penetrate and lasting reform hard to come by.”
  • “As a general rule, the most promising areas for innovation are pockets or areas that appear unattractive or inconsequential to industry incumbents and where there are people who would like to do something but cannot access the available offering.”
  • “To improve education as an industry, businesspeople might consider investing in technological platforms that will allow for robust educational user networks to emerge.”

More in the interview…

McCain and Obama on educational change

Few topics are as political as education, in which at least basic schooling is compulsory for all Americans. It is fitting, then, that we conclude this week’s focus on change with a look at the changes that presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama each propose for U.S. education. After analyzing educational policy statements on each candidate’s website, one contender clearly presents an agenda for educational change: Barack Obama. Unfortunately, Sen. McCain only provides a short statement on his educational stance, while Sen. Obama, in addition to an outline for action he proposes, provides a comprehensive plan for lifetime success through education.

McCain focuses his statements on education on school choice –that is, if a school fails a student, then the student should have the freedom to move to a different school. McCain believes that many schools are failing, and No Child Left Behind helps to illustrate the problem. Obama believes that public education was broken before NCLB –and that NCLB was intended to fix the problem, but was poorly conceived, never properly funded, and was poorly implemented.

Excerpts from statements made by each campaign:

On No Child Left Behind

McCain: No Child Left Behind has focused our attention on the realities of how students perform against a common standard. John McCain believes that we can no longer accept low standards for some students and high standards for others. In this age of honest reporting, we finally see what is happening to students who were previously invisible. While that is progress all its own, it compels us to seek and find solutions to the dismal facts before us.

Obama: Reform NCLB, by funding the law. Obama believes teachers should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests. He will improve the assessments used to track student progress to measure readiness for college and the workplace and improve student learning in a timely, individualized manner. Obama will also improve NCLB’s accountability system so that we are supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them.

On Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (STEM)

McCain: Unknown.

Obama: Obama will recruit math and science degree graduates to the teaching profession and will support efforts to help these teachers learn from professionals in the field. He will also work to ensure that all children have access to a strong science curriculum at all grade levels.

On Non-Formal Education

McCain: Unknown.

Obama: Obama will double funding for the main federal support for afterschool programs, the 21st Century Learning Centers program, to serve one million more children.

Obama’s “STEP UP” plan addresses the achievement gap by supporting summer learning opportunities for disadvantaged children through partnerships between local schools and community organizations.

On Higher Education

McCain: Unknown.

Obama: Obama will make college affordable for all Americans by creating a new American Opportunity Tax Credit. This universal and fully refundable credit will ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans, and will cover two-thirds the cost of tuition at the average public college or university and make community college tuition completely free for most students. Obama will also ensure that the tax credit is available to families at the time of enrollment by using prior year’s tax data to deliver the credit when tuition is due.

Obama will streamline the financial aid process by eliminating the current federal financial aid application and enabling families to apply simply by checking a box on their tax form, authorizing their tax information to be used, and eliminating the need for a separate application.

On Responsibility for Education

McCain: If a school will not change, the students should be able to change schools. John McCain believes parents should be empowered with school choice to send their children to the school that can best educate them just as many members of Congress do with their own children. He finds it beyond hypocritical that many of those who would refuse to allow public school parents to choose their child’s school would never agree to force their own children into a school that did not work or was unsafe. They can make another choice. John McCain believes that is a fundamental and essential right we should honor for all parents.

Obama: The Obama plan will encourage schools and parents to work together to establish a school-family contract laying out expectations for student attendance, behavior, and homework. These contracts would be provided to families in their native language when possible and would include information on tutoring, academic support, and public school choice options for students.

Right now, Sen. Obama is the only candidate who shares a plan for educational reform. As the election nears, we will revisit the positions on the two candidates. If the McCain campaign comes forward with a plan for educational change, we will share it with you at as the election nears.

Move over Kansas, here comes Oklahoma!

Phil Plait says it better:

The Oklahoma House of Representatives has passed a bill that says that a student can receive a passing grade in an Earth Science class if they say that the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the Earth an hour ago, and then planted false memories into every single living creature on Earth to make it seem like they’ve been around longer.

That’s right. There’s a bill in Oklahoma that will allow religious beliefs to trump education –especially science education. So you think people lived with dinosaurs? No problem! And you think the sun revolves around the Earth? No problem! According to Phil, the legislation states that “a student cannot be graded down if they say that what they are being taught interferes with their religious beliefs.”

This bill still has to pass Oklahoma’s state Senate before it becomes a law. If that happens, Oklahoma will have taken a long stride back into the Dark Ages. I’ll be honest: if I were an employer, or a University recruiter, and the bill becomes law, I would look very skeptically at any application that came to my desk from a student who graduated in Oklahoma. That makes me sad, but that is the reality Oklahoma is aiming toward

Again, Phil really sums this whole thing up better. Go read about it at Bad Astronomy Blog.

The Cape Town Open Education Declaration

Planet Creative Commons from

Calú twittered this yesterday evening: Declaración de Ciudad del Cabo para la Educación Abierta

The English version of the document can be found here. In short, Mark Shuttleworth’s foundation and the Open Society Institute are launching a campaign to “transform education” by calling for open, free educational resources to be placed online:

According to the Declaration, teachers, students and communities would benefit if publishers and governments made publicly-funded educational materials freely available online. This will give students unlimited access to high quality, constantly improving course materials, just as Wikipedia has done in the world of reference materials.

This brings up a good idea: if public education systems are paying top dollar for the creation of textbooks and other course materials, why aren’t these materials being made available to the public for free?

The rest of the declaration calls for open source education, but I’m concerned that, even if adopted, opening course materials would do little to change education. The key problem is that we’re looking to new technologies and new social models based on these technologies to drive educational change –but, in reality, we’re using new technologies and social models to teach what eventually amounts to “the same old garbage.” Such a pathway can only lead to failure.

Is there something else that we should focus on where we can use new technological and social models to develop innovative tools for education?

Two grant opportunities for innovators in education

keyhole2.gifTwo grant opportunities for innovators in education landed on my desk recently. The first is a little bit of old news: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation recently announced a public competition that will award $2 million in funding to emerging leaders, communicators, and innovators shaping the field of digital media and learning. The competition is part of MacArthur’s $50 million Digital Media and Learning initiative that aims to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life. Awards will be given in two categories:

  • Innovation Awards will support learning entrepreneurs and builders of new digital environments for informal learning. Winners will receive $250,000 or $100,000.
  • Knowledge Networking Awards will support communicators in connecting, mobilizing, circulating or translating new ideas around digital media and learning. Winners will receive a $30,000 base award and up to $75,000.

h_logo.gifThe second is The Mind Trust’s Education Entrepreneur Fellowship. The Fellowship will provide promising education entrepreneurs with an opportunity to develop sustainable solutions to the most daunting public education challenges. The prize is intended to revitalize the educational competitiveness of Indianapolis. Corrie Heneghan, the Trust’s COO, writes:

In short, the Fellowship is for people who envision entirely new approaches to the challenges of public education, and possess the relentless drive necessary to exploit opportunities to fulfill their visions. Fellows will receive a full-time, competitive salary, benefits, office space, and customized training and support. Fellows will be based at The Mind Trust’s offices in Indianapolis. The term of the Fellowship is two years, with the first fellows beginning their work in late spring 2008. The Mind Trust is currently accepting applications. While all fellows must include Indianapolis in the areas served by the ventures they launch, they will by no means be limited to that geography. In fact, we hope and fully expect some fellows to start regional or national enterprises.

The perks look good. The two-year fellowship includes a $5,000 annual stipend for travel and a $5,000 annual stipend for professional development in addition to a $90,000 salary.

U.S. Senator: Ban Wikipedia from schools

Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), the lawmaker behind the pork-barrel Bridge to Nowhere and an infamous revelation that the Internet is constructed of a series of tubes is at it again. This time, he wants to ban Wikipedia at schools that receive federal funding. From Computerworld:

    Early in January, Stevens introduced Senate bill 49, which among other things, would require that any school or library that gets federal Internet subsidies would have to block access to interactive Web sites, including social networking sites, and possibly blogs as well. It appears that the definition of those sites is so vague that it could include sites such as Wikipedia, according to commentators.

Remember, this is from the senator, who, on the floor, said:

    Ten movies streaming across that, that Internet, and what happens to your own personal Internet? I just the other day got… an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o’clock in the morning on Friday, I got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially. […] They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes. And if you don’t understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it’s going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material It seems to me that communications and new media literacy needs to be taught in the halls of Congress as well as in our schools.

It seems the senator is concerned all the knowledge distributed through Wikipedia would dangerously tangle the tubes of the Internet. What do you think?

How Minneapolis can reinvent itself and thrive

I’ve been participating on the Minneapolis Public Schools Technology Planning Steering Committee. The committee has adopted the Leapfrog Paradigm and leapfrog thinking into its planning. Leaping frogs are showing up in presentations, and leapfrog is becoming a metaphor for creativity in the district. The committee’s work has, however, thus far focused on discussion on the use of technologies to promote its vision to advance student achievement and improve staff productivity. I think MPS can still do better. Leapfrogging can allow the district to lead in achievement, productivity, and meaningful knowledge production.

Here are five quick thoughts on what I believe MPS can do to reinvent itself and thrive as an institution:

  1. Commit to leadership in the reinvention of education in Minneapolis, the state, and in the world. The technology planning group can be the catalyst for this new orientation toward global leadership.
  2. Total success is possible. Do not set any goal too low, and do not be afraid to set any goal too high. Set big, hairy, audacious goals –but, make sure to align them with a Noble Quest in a broader leapfrog strategy.
  3. Don’t worry about breaking the rules. Bypass them. Better yet, leapfrog them! The disruptive change required to revolutionize MPS requires a new set of rules on a new playing field.
  4. Collaborate! Advances in communications technologies and socioeconomic globalization now means that MPS competes with the world in creating meaningful education. Rather than compete, why not leverage technologies and resources available to build global-reaching partnerships and collaborations?
  5. Forget about planning for the 21st Century. It’s meaningless to continue to plan for educating in the 21st Century. We’re already here. We need to start planning for the 22nd Century –and reassess our goals and priorities today based on where we need to be in the future.

That’s my two cents. I hope that these ideas will help to build a new MPS that is vibrant, edgy, hard-charging, and value-creating for Minneapolis, the state and the world.

Report on the second Horizon Forum

Last Friday, 26 leaders from Minnesota’s PreK-17 spectrum gathered for the second meeting of the Horizon Forum. Dr. Tom Tapper, superintendent of Owatonna Public Schools, presented a compelling argument that public education is nearing obsolescence. He states:

Today, the system of public education has a choice: it either leads change, or is led by it. The essence of our society is dynamic and is becoming innovative in nature. Changes in public education will follow, to refuse change is not an option, however, how we change is. The power to decide lies within it.

Dr. Arthur Harkins (University of Minnesota) followed with a presentation on undergraduate knowledge production and its innovative potentials in the College of Education and Human Development. The College, also, needs to decide whether it will lead or become obsolete, and that it has several alternatives:

  • Help upgrade the USA culture, starting with families and schools
  • Help massively (and selectively) encourage emigration of outstanding families and individuals to the USA
  • Advocate funding of all ‘performing’ students fro PreK through 17 to create required human and social capital. (no student debt)
  • Utilize advanced technology

The next Horizon Forum meeting will be on at 12:00pm on December 12 in Coffman Memorial Union at the University of Minnesota.

The current topic of the third forum is Human Capital Development and PreK-17 Education. More details on this upcoming event will be posted soon.

(Thanks to Tom Elko for providing notes from the meeting.)