Friday, April 29, 2016

5 Bold Actions for Our Minister of Education

Our Minister of Education, Hon David Eggen, did something interesting this last week. He spent several days with teachers, Principals and system leaders at the Alberta Teachers Association uLead event in Banff. He also offered a workshop and spoke on a panel (with the Minister from New South Wales) about the future. He spoke about the sovereignty of the profession and the work of school boards. He spoke of equity and rationalized his campaign for LGTBQ community as part of this equity struggle. He is clearly passionate about the role and a compassionate man. He deserves to be successful.

But I have doubts – about his focus, his capacity to be bold and about the speed at which he is willing to work. I have five suggestions for bold, aligned and creative actions which would show courageous yet relevant leadership for our schools:

  1.      Immediately announce the end to the Grade 3 SLA’s and the end of the Provincial PAT’s before the next election. Move to a sampling system of outcome assessment, rotating across all subjects, not just maths, literacy, and science. Withdraw from PISA, TIMMS, and other international assessment and demonstrate faith and commitment to rich accountability and the profession. These actions will signal both our confidence in our work as well as a recognition that standardized testing has little to do with the work of schools and teachers
  2.      Rescind the Ministerial order related to curriculum. It's a nonsense and gets in the way. Adopt a “less is more” approach to curriculum and partner with the specialist councils of the ATA to secure curriculum development. See the work as simplifying the curriculum while enabling the work of the profession to reflect local conditions.  Focus not on workforce competencies but on a broad, liberal education and creativity.
  3.     Reduce the number of school boards, which are no longer able to engage in meaningful collective bargaining. Move to regional boards. End the requirement that Superintendents, appointed by Boards, should also require the approval of the Minister. Why does a population of less than 5 million need so much infrastructure and so many "sunshine" leaders?
  4.      Transfer full responsibility for the profession – certification, review, discipline, and recertification – to the profession. Treat teachers like Doctors and elevate their status.
  5.      Reduce the size of the Ministry from its 700+ personnel to no more that 250, signaling that the role of the Ministry is to support and enable, not to manage and control. Stop it getting in the way of the work of schools.

We need to recognize that the infrastructure of control and accountability was built for a different time. It is time to change. Be bold, Minister. Do this work now.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Privatizing the University and the GERM

The Government of the UK is consulting widely on the future of higher education. They have issued a green paper (a discussion document reflecting what they are “minded” to do) and are gathering feedback. You can read the green paper online here.

One feature of this is to make it easier for a new entrant to become a degree granting institution. This is what Universities UK says about this:

The Green Paper signals a strong desire to create more competition, particularly through new market entrants and to streamline or speed up processes. The proposals cover what is a complex set of mechanisms around Degree Awarding Powers, University Title and designation processes.  The main objective is to create a single route which has clear steps, is appropriately risk based and can ‘manage’ new providers into the system in an effective way (and indeed manage providers out through market exit if they are failing). The system is clearly complex and needs to be looked at, and the proposed competition and diversity these changes could bring is good for students and institutions. These proposals will, however, require extremely careful scrutiny so that they don’t inadvertently lead to a lowering of the necessary high entry requirements to higher education. Streamlining and speeding up processes where possible yes, but let’s not undermine public and student confidence. Recent experience suggests that the risks of getting this wrong can be significant.

There is a helpful summary of reactions to the Green Paper here.

The growth of private players in education in the UK is a clear part of the neo-liberal agenda. Its based on an idea that the quality of education will improve if there is market based competition for students, programs and outcomes.  The divestment of public education to the private sector, with an interim move into non-profits before rent-seeking and profit corporations become legal, has occurred in the K-12 system in the UK. The development of academies and free schools represents a sign that the neo-liberal agenda – what my colleague Pasi Sahlberg at Harvard calls the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) – is alive and well. What this green paper seeks to do is to infect higher education with this GERM.

There is no convincing evidence anyone can show that the marketization and privatization of education produces either improved learning outcomes, innovation or higher levels of student engagement. Indeed, Diane Ravitch was able to demonstrate that the opposite occurs, at least in school systems.

Private online higher education providers, such as the University of Phoenix (owned by the Apollo Group), are experiencing difficulties. The largest U.S. for-profit educator has lost more than half of its students during the past five years, ending its fiscal first quarter with 227,400 enrolled students compared with 458,600 in early 2010. Its operating loss in this forst quarter was $45.2 million. There is then the case of Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit rival of University of Phoenix, which collapsed in 2014 amid lawsuits and slumping enrollment.
Moody’s Investors Service, which rates over 500 universities in the U.S., including 230 four-year public schools and close to 275 private colleges and universities, found that public institutions have a total of $125 billion in outstanding debt. Private college/university debt stands at $85 billion. Moody’s is also forecasting that operating revenue growth will slow below 3 percent, at the same time that expenses are expected to increase at around 7%. Although state government funding is growing modestly, it is still below pre-recession levels and now comes with a lot of strings attached.

Pearson Corporation, another major player in private education, just laid off some 4,000 staff in addition to the 4,000 in laid off in 2014. It is not securing the kind of revenues it expected from a strategy of being the largest private education “player” in the world.  Pearson is everywhere in education, both in terms of all levels of education and all regions of the world. While they may be struggling to deliver shareholder value at this time, there can be no doubt that the company has a significant influence in shaping thinking about the future of education and its current practice. Pearson suggests that the social impact of their strategy is about making quality learning available at low costs – whether it is essential skills or advanced learning – globally in an effective and efficient way. We will see. So far they are not doing well with textbook sales, sales of their assessment services or other developments.

Higher education students are a seductive prize for new providers, but the quality assurance regimes, regulatory hurdles and competition is tough. Rather than adopt this neo-liberal agenda, would it not be better to invest in public higher education, increase collaboration and co-operation and enable and encourage innovation in public provision?

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Innovation Manifesto

In 2009 as we were working on our book on innovation (Rethinking Innovation), Don Simpson and I developed an innovation manifesto. If you are serious about leading innovation and building a diverse economy, you may want to look through this since this is what it will take:
  1. We will allow events to change us — Rather than fighting change, we will embrace change. We will be open to events and development and permit events to lead to change.
  2. We recognize that process is as important as outcome — When the outcome drives the process, we will end up using the same processes in the attempt to achieve different results. If we permit ourselves to first work the process to ensure alignment around what our priorities are rather than leap to a quick solution, we believe we are more likely to actually identify quality solutions.
  3. We will love experiments — We will embrace attempts, trials, experiments, explorations, errors. We are committed to building a culture of innovation in which disciplined experimentation is both practised and respected.
  4. We will capture accidents — We recognize that the "wrong" answer is the right answer to a different question.
  5. We recognize the critical need for leadership and accept that everyone has the potential for leadership
  In the global knowledge-based economy, leadership development is one of the highest forms of leverage for an individual, an organization, or a nation
   Leadership is first and foremost a way of thinking—a mindset
   Leadership attitudes and behaviours are increasingly expected of people even if they are not in a formal leadership position. Thus, we commit to being ready to be strong supporters of our leaders and to take a leadership role when it is appropriate.
  1. We give ourselves permission to ask stupid questions — We recognize that asking what look to be "stupid" questions often results in true creative and breakthrough innovations. We intend to be "stupid" more often.
  2. We must collaborate — The future is about networks of people collaborating to solve problems. While we cherish individual creativity, we will nourish collaboration as a fundamental feature of our innovative practices.
  3. We will work the metaphor — We recognize that every object has the power to be used in a different way, for a different purpose than that for which it is intended. We will use the metaphor properties of objects, ideas and things to explore other uses.
  4. We will make our own tools and make extensive use of the tools of others — If we need a new tool, we will create it. If we can use an existing tool in a different way, we will do so.
  5. We will make new words and expand the lexicon — If the current language is not strong enough to describe what it is we can see or do, we will create the words we need, so as to promote understanding.
  6. We will think with our minds and not rely on technology — While we recognize that technology can help, it is not a substitute for creative and imaginative use of the mind. We will expand our minds, and use our minds to create, imagine, solve, explore and decide.
  7. We will listen very very carefully — When we meet with others and explore with them, we will listen to the words, what is said, and what is not said. When we ask questions it will be to gain clarity and not just to criticize the ideas of others. We will seek to understand before we act.
  8. We will take field trips — We will engage in global expeditions (sometimes physical journeys and sometimes journeys of the mind. We will explore the world, and examine how others solve problems, make a difference, find out, and understand. By looking at other cultures, and other ways of working, we will know that we can improve our own.
  9. We will make mistakes faster — The more mistakes we make, the more we are on the edge, and closer to true innovation.
  10. We will break it, stretch it, bend it, crush it, fold it and cherish it — We will look at all the angles and all the possible uses for an idea, object or skill.
  11. We will imitate — If we can find a good idea in one area, we will seek to imitate that idea in another.
  12. We will remember and learn — We will learn from the past, we will look to remember our successes and failures, and we will learn from them. We will learn from the successes and failures of others. We will remember those who helped us get there, wherever "there" is.
  13. We will jump fences and explore all edges — We will ignore boundaries between "disciplines" and "areas of work." We will beg, borrow, explore, and leave no stone unturned.
  14. We will enable — We will recognize that others can help, and we will enable others to be in a position to help, engage, and explore with us.
  15. We will laugh and find joy — We intend to have fun in our exploration of what is possible.

So if you are out there and want to lead innovation - biy into this way of thinking. Its not optional.