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Educationally Speaking

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017


No matter your circumstances, married/involved/single, there are probably kids somewhere in your world.

I read a lot of articles about education, but three about kids really stood out for me and I believe will be of value to you.

The first looks at the unpleasant fact that our so-called modern education is producing workers more fit for 19th and early 20th Century jobs than those that will be available when they enter the workforce. In other words, acing standardized tests does not prepare you for anything more than functioning in rote.

In the future, if you want a job, you must be as unlike a machine as possible: creative, critical and socially skilled. So why are children being taught to behave like machines?

Speaking of behind-the-times teaching.

The only thing that can be said for the traditional approach to math, which, along with critical thinking, is one of the most critical skills needed in the future, is that it stinks.

Whether you look at the results by age (including adults), race or gender math skills are sadly lacking in the US and many other countries.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

John Mighton, a Canadian playwright, author, and math tutor who struggled with math himself, has designed a teaching program that has some of the worst-performing math students performing well and actually enjoying math. There’s mounting evidence that the method works for all kids of all abilities.

Finally, or maybe foremost, is culture.

Just as in companies, the culture in a school is the determining factor on whether kids learn — or not.

The prevailing culture of many schools, especially the vaunted charter schools, has been one “no excuses.” A culture focused on regimentation and inflicted mostly on poor children of color.

But as any idiot knows, regimentation is not going to produce the next Marc Benioff or Larry Elison, So what does?

Ascend Public Charter Schools network began to retrain teachers to focus on social and emotional development. This provided the framework for creative problem solving to help prevent conflicts between students, or between teachers and students, from escalating.

Does it work? Is it making a measurable difference? Short answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

Around the same time that Ascend was transforming its culture, it put in place a new curriculum, more closely aligned with progressive schools, that focuses on intellectual inquiry rather than received knowledge. At Ascend’s lower and middle schools in Brownsville, passing grades on the annual state English test increased to 39 percent in 2016, from 22 percent in 2014, while the rate on the math test increased to 37 percent, from 29 percent. It’s hard to isolate the cause for the improvement, but it is likely to be a combination of both the academic and cultural changes, which makes Ascend a bold testing ground for the theory that children from low-income homes can be educated the same way as children from affluent families.

Finally, what about adult education, specifically the much ballyhooed MBA? Does it provide the education that provides the skills to climb the corporate ladder?

Not really, according to Henry Mintzberg, Cleghorn Professorship of Management Studies at McGill University, who looked at CEOs from what is considered the most elite university on the planet: Harvard.

Joseph Lampel and I studied the post-1990 records of all 19. How did they do? In a word, badly. A majority, 10, seemed clearly to have failed, meaning that their company went bankrupt, they were forced out of the CEO chair, a major merger backfired, and so on. The performance of another 4 we found to be questionable.

I sent the article to another Harvard-educated CEO I know. His reaction?

Excellent  article. Very true. It took me years to unlearn what I’d been taught at business school…

The article is well worth your time, especially if you, or someone you know, are considering spending the money/going into debt for your MBA.

One more irreverent note, compliments of CB Insights, that is oh, so, true.

Hack: How to hire MBAs
My co-founder Jon stumbled upon this hack to get lots of MBA resumes which I’m going to let you in on.
Whatever the job title, throw the word “strategic” in front of it.

Image credit: .waldec

Wasting US Research

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

snow INSIDE classroom window

There is something wrong in the US.

We do the research, but the results are often implemented in other countries, with enviable outcomes, but ignored here.

It was adoption of the work of American Edwards Deming by Japanese industry, especially automobiles, that changed “made in Japan” from a symbol of shoddy work to one of world-class quality—decades before the US moved in that direction.

Despite being honored in Japan in 1951 with the establishment of the Deming Prize, he was only just beginning to win widespread recognition in the U.S. at the time of his death in 1993.

When it comes to education, it’s Finland.

Year after year, Finland is ranked as one of the world leaders in education while America lags far behind.
But it’s not that Finland knows more about how to build effective schools than the US does.
Almost all education research takes place in the US, and American schools can’t seem to learn from any of it — and yet Finnish people do.
Over time, the ideas have helped shape the Finnish education system as one that prizes autonomy, peer learning, collaboration, and varied forms of assessment. These were all ideas developed at one time or another by American theorists, yet modern American classrooms — noted for their heavy reliance on tests and teacher-guided lectures — bear little resemblance to those up north.

Bjarke Ingels, Danish architect of Two World Trade Center, Google North Bayshore and many others, made a telling comment that the US would do well to take to heart.

“The education of our youth is one of the best investments any society can make. In that sense, not investing in our future is simply the worst place to cut corners.”

It took the US 40 years to embrace quality and we’re still playing catch-up.

We don’t have 40 years when it comes to education.

Image credit: @ Detroitteach

Ignoring Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016


It is said, “as you sow so shall you reap.”

If you had any doubts the results of our educational system over the last five decades should end them.

It’s too bad politicians, especially those in the GOP, ignored (and continue to ignore)  the words of one of the truly great Republicans.

Abraham Lincoln.

Teach the children so it will not be necessary to teach the adults.

“Children” is plural and, since there is no modifier, inclusive.

Something the US educational system isn’t.

Or perhaps that’s what our politicians want.

An ignorant and unthinking population.

Poor Abe.

He must be spinning in his grave like a top.

Image credit: JBrazito

What Value Liberal Arts?

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015


I constantly read/hear that if you want your kids to have a good life focus on a purely STEM curriculum and they’ll be home free.

Moreover, if they are great at coding they don’t even need college.

While it may be true, at least at this point in time, that they can get a good job if they have strong coding skills, what they are unlikely to get is a promotion that takes them beyond coding, whether in a technical or leadership/management role.

Pulitzer Prize winner (twice) Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, with 1.4 million followers on Twitter, 1.3 million followers on Google+ and 600,000 followers on Facebook (click ‘more’ to see his bio) sums up the value of a humanities, AKA, liberal arts, degree 1, 2, 3.

First, liberal arts equip students with communications and interpersonal skills that are valuable and genuinely rewarded in the labor force, especially when accompanied by technical abilities.

My second reason: We need people conversant with the humanities to help reach wise public policy decisions, even about the sciences.

Third, wherever our careers lie, much of our happiness depends upon our interactions with those around us, and there’s some evidence that literature nurtures a richer emotional intelligence.

Even the most rabid coders don’t want to do it for 40 years.

But if your knowledge of society is limited to code and your ability to interact with others is negligible, then you are left with little choice.

Even a degree in STEM or business won’t give you the broad outlook or emotional intelligence it takes to be promoted, let alone start a successful company.

The best way to assure yourself a bright future, whether you decide to code or earn a “useful” degree, is to patronize your library as so many “self-made” folks did/do

Stay away from your area of expertise, instead wander sections of which you have no knowledge, select books randomly and read at every opportunity.

Image credit: Susanne Nilsson

Ducks in a Row: What to Hire

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/simon_cocks/4308515919/Here are the three main things to consider when hiring in order of their importance.

They aren’t rocket science, but they work.

  1. Attitude—convincing someone to change it is like convincing the horse to drink the water.
  2. Skills—can be learned; look for the frequency of job moves that required new skills.
  3. Degrees—are like new cars that lose value the minute you take them off the lot.

Make sure the culture and management style they expect, based on discussions when interviewing, is what they get.

And practice daily the three main actions that will keep them loyal.

  1. Appreciate them.
  2. Provide ways for them to make a difference and notice when they do.
  3. Provide feedback and challenges to help them grow.

Again, not rocket science.

Flickr image credit: Simon Cocks

Expand Your Mind: Real Innovation in Higher Ed

Saturday, October 20th, 2012

Education, at least higher education, is finally changing and moving forward. And like a jar of olives after you pull out the first one the rest come out faster and faster.

The exorbitant cost of a college education and the spiraling debt of new grads have led many to question the value of a college degree; what no one questions is the need for continual, ongoing education just to stay relevant.

The need to constantly adapt is the new reality for many workers, well beyond the information technology business. Car mechanics, librarians, doctors, Hollywood special effects designers — virtually everyone whose job is touched by computing — are being forced to find new, more efficient ways to learn as retooling becomes increasingly important not just to change careers, but simply to stay competitive on their chosen path.

The recognition that the game needs to change is being combined with an entrepreneurial spark to form new ventures that could make all the difference.

“Higher education will change; the system is unstable,” says Kevin Werbach, a Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor, who is teaching a MOOC on Coursera this summer. “It’s an industry that will be in severe turmoil in the next decade. There are so many schools in distress, and the student loan burden is [huge]. In that environment, online platforms like Coursera are an interesting opportunity.” (…) In April, Coursera announced it had secured $16 million in funding from two Silicon Valley venture capital firms. Udacity is also venture backed. MIT and Harvard contributed a combined $60 million to launch edX, which is overseen by a nonprofit, but program directors have said they plan to make the initiative self-supporting.

The new efforts dwarf the few classes that started being offered online about ten years ago. There are no actual course credits, but with major universities, such as Harvard and MIT jumping in things are getting interesting.

In what is shaping up as an academic Battle of the Titans — one that offers vast new learning opportunities for students around the world — Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Wednesday announced a new nonprofit partnership, known as edX, to offer free online courses from both universities.

Other startups are jumping in along with edX to offer Massive Open Online Courses, AKA, MOOCs, which are true game-changers.

In a new report, Moody’s Investor Service calls MOOCs a “pivotal development” that has the potential to revolutionize higher education. Questions remain whether these online courses can be profitable and whether traditional colleges will award credit for them. But if successful, MOOCs could lead to lower costs for families and access to higher-quality instruction for anyone in the world who has Internet access.

As to the grads, according to the media most of them want to be entrepreneurs or are still looking for riches on Wall Street, but not all. What other career path is attracting interest these days—would you believe farming?

For decades, the number of farmers has been shrinking as a share of the population, and agriculture has often been seen as a backbreaking profession with little prestige. But the last Agricultural Census in 2007 showed a 4 percent increase in the number of farms, the first increase since 1920, and some college graduates are joining in the return to the land. (…) “You don’t get into farming for the money. You do it for the love of the game.” –Calvin Kyrkostas, 25

Flickr image credit: pedroelcarvalho

Drugged Grads for Hire

Monday, June 18th, 2012

http://www.flickr.com/photos/thejavorac/6556949031/Note that the following questions refer to high achievers and not the educationally disenfranchised.

Do you like to hire from top schools?

When filling entry-level positions do you rely on GPAs for insight to candidates’ performance?

Would you hire a candidate who abused prescription drugs?

What will you do when the first two are dependent on the third?

At high schools across the United States, pressure over grades and competition for college admissions are encouraging students to abuse prescription stimulants, according to interviews with students, parents and doctors. Pills that have been a staple in some college and graduate school circles are going from rare to routine in many academically competitive high schools…

Kids are smart and many of them find it easy to con the family doctor in to writing a prescription, which turns them into entrepreneurs as they keep some and sell the rest to their schoolmates.

How will these kids perform when cramming isn’t an option and success depends on more than correct answers on a test?

How will these kids build sustainable, long-term careers, let alone companies?

How will they raise their children?

What will their effect be on America’s ability to compete globally?

What are you doing about it?

Flickr image credit: The Javorac

Expand Your Mind: Innovation Beyond he Norm

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

What is innovation? Is it really embodied in a good deal playing Farmville on Facebook for hours? I found an excellent definition of innovation in a fascinating article about Bell Labs and Mervin Kelly, who, over the course of 34 years, worked his way up from researcher to chairman of the board (something few people today would consider doing—assuming they could even find a company in which to do it).

By one definition, innovation is an important new product or process, deployed on a large scale and having a significant impact on society and the economy, that can do a job (as Mr. Kelly once put it) “better, or cheaper, or both.”

Sometimes that ‘large scale’ is within a small world; such is the case of the handball zealots of NYC.

“On a winter day the ball is cold, which makes the rubber harder, the air in the ball denser, so the ball doesn’t really expand and contract off the bounce,” said Ruben Acosta, 32, a hotel concierge who is known on the court as Superstar. “Boiling the balls gives them back their zing.”

While not all innovation makes money they do make waves. When large-scale corruption is uncovered it receives plenty media coverage, but how to address the endemic petty corruption that millions of people face around the world is a tougher question. In 2010 Swati and Ramesh Ramanathan and Sridar Iyengar started ipaidabribe.com, a site that collects anonymous reports of bribes paid, bribes requested but not paid and requests that were expected but not forthcoming.

Now, similar sites are spreading like kudzu around the globe, vexing petty bureaucrats the world over. Ms. Ramanathan said nongovernmental organizations and government agencies from at least 17 countries had contacted Janaagraha, the nonprofit organization in Bangalore that operates I Paid a Bribe, to ask about obtaining the source code and setting up a site of their own.

On a totally different scale is Tony Hsieh, whose dream is to fix the world by fixing cities, starting with Las Vegas, not as dictator, but as facilitator. According to his friend Sarah Nisperos, “But he wanted all these things based on happiness and merit and how nice you are. I said you shouldn’t build a strip mall, you should be downtown.”

Hsieh’s working through Downtown Project, a company he created with $350 million to spend, to seed technology startups, invest in education and attempt to build a walkable, vibrant downtown.

“You can’t dictate what the neighborhood is going to look like. But you can definitely help support and accelerate people’s dreams and visions,” Hsieh says. “That is really our belief as to what drives our culture. It needs to be organic.”

IBM is also focused on fixing cities, albeit with an eye to creating a multibillion-dollar business, starting with Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro.

But never before has it built a citywide system integrating data from some 30 agencies, all under a single roof. It is the handiwork of an I.B.M. unit called Smarter Cities…

Innovation often borrows from the existent to create something new; that process is especially thrilling when something relatively frivolous is used to make something with the potential to truly change the world. Such is what is happening as MMOG expands to MMOC. This is one link to share with everyone you know.

Welcome to the brave new world of Massive Open Online Courses — known as MOOCs — a tool for democratizing higher education.

Flickr image credit: pedroelcarvalho

Written Communications

Monday, July 11th, 2011

From the comment section of an article on best places to work:

“i used to work for [X] it was realy grate would work there if i could there not hiring”

I was appalled, to say the least.

Also curious, since I am familiar with the company and the quality of its employees.

So I followed the links and found the person’s Facebook page.

Yes, the person has a college degree. No, the person is not that young (early-mid thirties at a guess).

No, I did not make this up or “improve” the comment.

Yes, I saved the links, but have no interest in embarrassing the person. To what end?

If it wasn’t so tragic one might suspect a somewhat twisted sense of humor.

I have to assume the person made good use of spell and grammar checker at work, but those aren’t available when dashing off a comment.

To one degree or another this is who you will be hiring now and in the future.


And considering the extensive federal, state and local cuts to education don’t expect it to improve any time soon.

All I can say is good luck.

Be sure to stop by Wednesday for a look at just how important words can be.

Flickr image credit: dougbelshaw

Quotable Quotes: Lincoln Steffens

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

I read a review about a new Lincoln Steffens biography and it was interesting enough that I looked for quotes and added (as usual) my own interpretation.

There’s been a lot of discussion on the value of college, mostly as a result of the recession. Steffens thoughts are from long ago, but they certainly resonate today, “It is possible to get an education at a university. It has been done; not often”

I puzzled over this one and finally decided that there is one incorrect word. “Somebody must take a chance. The monkeys who became men, and the monkeys who didn’t are still jumping around in trees making faces at the monkeys who did.” To make sense it should read, “Somebody must take a chance. Some monkeys became men, and the monkeys who didn’t are still jumping around in trees making faces at the monkeys who did.” Or, if it was rewritten for today’s entrepreneurial media frenzy, it might read, “Somebody must take a chance. Some people became entrepreneurs, and the people who didn’t are still jumping around in trees making faces at the people who did.”

Did you know that Steffens is responsible for the truism, “Nothing fails like success?”

He also said, “Power is what men seek and any group that gets it will abuse it.” Totally accurate, but these days it should read ‘any group or individual‘.

But when all is said and done, remember, “Morality is only moral when it is voluntary.”

Wikimedia Commons image credit: Rockwood, New York, New York [Public domain]

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