Philanthropists—Butt Out of Education (??)

(also on LI Pulse )

Structure and common core investments are not working. An Edutopia approach is recommended: just help teachers teach. Beyond that, philanthropists need to butt out and let educators and states run education. “The Gates experience teaches once again that educational silver bullets are in short supply and that some educational trends live only a little longer than mayflies.”

This is for those who are concerned with education reform, social well-being, economic productivity and competitiveness, and saving the world….share if you care.

In an LA Times article, philanthropist / education champion Bill Gates (If you weren’t aware THAT Bill Gates is very committed to the greater good!) says structure improvements and investments in furthering common core are not working. He recommends an Edutopia-style involvement for philanthropist funding, with the singular goal of helping teachers teach. (Gates Foundation failures show philanthropists shouldn’t be setting America’s public school agenda

The Gates Foundation has provided significant funding for major education initiatives like reducing class and school size, new methods for evaluating and rewarding (and firing!) teachers, and pushing full implementation of common core before education was geared up to support it.

…the Gates Foundation has spent so much money — more than $3 billion since 1999 — that it took on an unhealthy amount of power in the setting of education policy.”

The foundation is re-thinking its “bust-down-the-walls” approach to education improvement.

The education system needs help, needs to change. Educators already know the issues but their systems are slow to respond to the environment. That’s not intended as a critique, just a statement of the way the education change process works. I’m not sure I agree with philanthropists needing to back off. The Foundation’s message basically says…

Don’t worry about those root causes, philanthropist. You’re not qualified.

Education wants and needs “outsiders” to get involved—they need the help! I’m a private sector guy who has dabbled in teaching for five or six years, enough to see the needs and issues firsthand from both sides. But I’m an academically non-credentialed nobody, easy to ignore.

Mr. Gates, I love what the Foundation is trying to accomplish, and education does need you and your friends, badly. Can I help? If I had any input at all, these things would be on my Wish List, operative word = “wish”.

Education Improvement Wish List

Focus is on the wrong stuff! It’s not structure, not just a matter of class and school size and teaching methods. We focus on process vs people, things vs emotions. Same in the private sector: do things right, fix things when they break, ignore real people issues.

Social-emotional development must become priority one, starting with a better understanding of engagement especially with young people but also teachers, community leaders, parents. And get serious about understanding engagement in the education environment, then DO something about it. Research is clear and consistent in its findings: well-adjusted people young and old perform better, achieve more, have more fulfilling lives. Physical and emotional well-being skyrockets, people are less stressed and live longer, social issues diminish, the community and private sector –general social and economic prosperity—increases.

Social and economic issues are impacted by disengagement too. We need to excite people, involve people. We need solid values and norms to become the anti-bullying / cope-with-the-real-world serum. Too many young people committing suicide, too many people going over the edge and murdering innocents-it’s not just terrorists, it may not always be “somewhere else”.

Establish relevance, purpose, hope for a bright future for young learners by providing an ongoing process that builds self-awareness and becomes a work-in-process portfolio for each learner’s career and future planning. Included: identifying values, vision, strengths and dominant characteristics. Don’t buy “we do that already” from well-intentioned educators. Sure it’s there, but at best it’s a checklist activity that comes and goes then is mostly forgotten. Where’s the lasting impact? Class skills-based project work should also become part of the learner’s portfolio, providing objective evidence of mastery. Result:  a real resume for kids with no job experience, to help them find a career that is both satisfying and rewarding.

Employers complain about the “unprepared talent pool”. But what should the education system prepare learners for? They’re flying blind because expectations have not been clearly defined.

The workplace changes rapidly and the education system cannot match the velocity of change even if current needs were clearly defined. Education cannot provide the right specific knowledge and specific skills, especially with no solid input.

SOLUTIONS: (1) collaborate on a process of identifying and meeting talent pool needs, with a control plan to verify performance and a built-in means to rapidly respond to changing needs.  (2) Develop high-potential candidates with the right foundation skills, the capability to adapt to different work demands and the agility to learn on the job. (3) Education does not have the bandwidth or the knowledge and experience to teach real-world skills. Only employers can provide on-target job skills training, post-hire. (4) Develop all-stakeholder local coalitions directly involved in needs identification, learner development and real-world prep. (5)

Eliminate unrealistic education expectations and re-define “prepared”.  Challenge unnecessary “degree required” restrictions!

The current skills gap is partially self-inflicted by employers who artificially inflate academic requirements for positions and have unrealistic expectations of ready-made expert new hires who will step in and hit the ground running without guidance. College students get “just-in-case” degrees, then try to find a job the degree may fit, unnecessarily increasing college debt. Guidance counselors and parents push college-or-bust and education mass-produces cookie-cutter graduates. Employers jam square pegs into round holes, grads assume half a lifetime of debt, employers get unprepared candidates. Worse, job seekers grasp for any employment they can find, regardless of whether the work is satisfying and they can emotionally survive.

Free or affordable college is not the solution, curriculum relevance is. Scratch where it really itches, not where we think it may possibly start itching some time in the future. It makes no sense to throw more funding at an ineffective system.

Shovel Work is Good for the Soul: put the polish back into “real” work for an honest living, even if it’s entry level or blue collar. Increase the opportunity to enhance skills through tuition reimbursement and targeted in-house skills development only after an employee finds their niche, and after real needs for additional skills training and education are better understood.

Problem and project-based learning in teams is the most effective way both young people and adults learn. Current classroom applications are spotty and ineffective—fuzzy project definition, unclear expectations, not enough ongoing guidance or project control. Project deliverables and the end result are all over the place. And there are team dynamics as well as execution issues, notably alpha team mates taking charge and passives are glad to let them.

Teachers must become better project managers and team leaders, learners must become better team players. Skills training must be provided for teachers and learners on project planning and management, team dynamics and group decision-making. Side note: the same issues prevail in the private sector, an excellent opportunity to learn together!

A systemic, all-stakeholder approach is needed rather than independent classes and programs that are owned and operated by isolated education entities only. Workforce prep is a hot topic in education and economic development right nowthey are intimately related! But social / human development must also be an integral part of the discussion.

Research is abundant and experts agree on the systemic need for all-stakeholder involvement. But most people just don’t get it. “They need to do something” rules the kingdom and the various stakeholders are reluctant to sit down at the same table. Communicate and collaborate!

There’s always more, but this has to do for now….react please, and share if you care.



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