Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Generation We

In our New Generation of Learning work, we’ve been talking about the rise of “Generation We.” And now comes an interesting manifesto—on YouTube of course—from a group of these folks. Notice the dialogue about education here and the aggressive connection they make between education and opportunity. Interesting!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Joe the Governor

For all the talk about Joe the Plummer in the last few weeks, it was the commentary of another Joe—Joe the Governor—that impressed me.

As Governor Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and I talked over lunch on Thursday, he made one thing clear – he needs the education leaders and teachers in his state to take their efforts to a new level, to educate more citizens at higher levels than ever before. Even more impressive, was the fact that he got up after lunch and issued the same challenge to a room full of college presidents, faculty, and staff.

“I hate to put this pressure on you,” he said, “but let me say it straight: you hold the future of this state in your hands. I can bring the best companies in the world in, but if we can’t produce a world-class work force, there is no way we can compete. Tax breaks and give aways aren’t what it’s about anymore. These folks want an educated, motivated, and ready workforce. Whatever we need to do to change and help more of our children and adults be successful, let’s get to it. I’ll support you in any way I can. But you have to be willing to try new things, to step up to this challenge. I’m talking about flexible schedules that aren’t tied to an agrarian calendar—six-week, six-month, nine-month training programs, different kinds of credentials, and new technologies. Everything needs to be on the table.”

This Joe said it as plainly as he could—for West Virginia to continue its positive growth, the education system needs to transform. Coal and natural gas resources will not be enough to ensure a positive future.

My job was to follow Joe the Governor and catalyze the conversation on what’s possible in education transformation. But he was a hard act to follow. However, his closing statement provided the needed impetus to drive our dialogue. Pointing at the audience, he said, “I have more faith in you than you do. I know we can do this. We must do this. Let’s all do this for West Virginia.”

While Joe the Plummer’s getting some major media right now—and probably a book deal as a result—I liked Joe the Governor’s message better. He’s the kind of Joe we should be listening to!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Debating Reflections on Education

As I reflect on last night’s Presidential Debate between Senator Obama and Senator McCain and the conversations about education and America’s future, I am debating the value of the debate. It’s always encouraging to hear education being placed front and center in these debates. Education is indeed a lynchpin in today’s economy, and as such has both economic and national security implications—i.e., no country has retained prominence when their economy falters. However, education is so much more than a utilitarian tool to power local, state, and national economies. Education is also about personal transcendence – giving people a pathway to possibility. A progressive society has to embrace this role as aggressively as it does the others. I’m not sure we marry both roles in our education debates as we should.

Moreover, we continue to discuss education in terms of discrete silos and systems – reifying a model of education that no longer exists. We predominantly talk about K-12 and “educating our kids” and higher education as “going to college.” Today’s education world in the US is so much more dynamic. We have dual enrollment programs and early college high schools helping high school students earn two or more years of college before they graduate from 12th grade. We have incumbent worker programs in community colleges that provide credit courses for workers during their breaks. They aren’t “going” anywhere when they go to college. Moreover, the static conversations about college as a one-time event cause even more challenges. Sure we still have a segment of higher education that attends college in a traditional way—4 years, on campus. However, an increasing number (if not the majority) of students in higher education are swirling in to and out of the system at different ages and stages. Students transfer between institutions in ever-greater numbers and they return on a regular basis to upgrade skills or change career directions. (Often not by choice!)

Today’s debates about education need to move beyond the static “improve K-12” and “increase access to higher education” arguments. We need to talk about supporting policy and practice that enables a dynamic system of learning that spans early childhood programs, K-12, early-college high schools, dual-enrollment offerings, AP courses, adult literacy programs, community colleges, universities, workforce development, and contract training in on-campus, online, and blended formats – at the very least.

Education debates need to be about more than just improving our economy and protecting our national status—they need also to be about helping individuals move to the next level. Education debates need to be about more than advocating new models for K-12 and better financial aid for universities—they need to be about fostering a dynamic system of multiple providers using a myriad of tools to reach individual, local, and national learning goals.

It’s time to change the debate and possibly change our education system for the better!