Sunday, May 29, 2011

Myron Miner Addresses Global Summit on Education and Technology in France

[The following is a transcript of Myron Miner's address to the Global Summit on Education and Technology in Paris on May 28, 2011]

Thank you as well for the invitation to speak today.

We are living through a time when many of our leading economies are not performing as they should.   It is easy to blame bankers, or corporations putting the bottom line before people, but in reality this economic slowdown is the fault of our teachers.

To fix this mess, we must replace the teacher, or at least the teacher as it is now designed.   The time of smarter and smarter machines is coming and we are falling behind on our ability to keep up with the demands of this new technology.  We must develop a new education program that will met our needs in the future and those of our robot overlords.

That digital future - and its connection with education - is my topic this afternoon.

Every CEO will tell you that we compete in a world that is changing faster than ever. That it is more competitive than ever and that it rewards success and punishes failure to a greater degree than ever before, with the exception of the recent banking collapse, the automotive industry collapse,  and Microsoft operating systems, the invisible hand of the free market slaps down failures.

Everywhere we turn, digital advances are making workers more productive - creating jobs that did not exist only a few years ago, and liberating us from the old tyrannies of time and distance enabling CEOS to earn record profits while gradually eroding at the middle class of our great nations.

This is true in every area except one: Education.

Think about that. In every other part of life, someone who woke up after a fifty-year nap would not recognize the world around him.   They would wonder where the unions went.  They'd want to know why manufacturing was dying in the United States.   They'd be astounded to believe we could build a service economy without a middle class and they'd want to know how CEO compensation got so high.

In medicine, doctors who once made medical decisions based on the patient's well-being have been replaced by insurance companies who make medical decisions based on cost analysis.

In finance, brokers who once made their money by making shrewd investments in the businesses that make the economy grow, now use derivative swaps in an unregulated casino of prosperity.

In broadcasting, newspapers are dying and fair and balanced can no longer be said by television stations without equal amounts of irony and sarcasm.

But not in education. Our schools remain the last holdout from the digital revolution. The person who woke up from that fifty-year nap would find that today's classroom looks almost exactly the same as it did in the Victorian age: a teacher standing in front of a roomful of kids with only a textbook, a blackboard, and a piece of chalk teaching a student population that is over 25% in poverty, but I digress.

We know the old answer - simply throwing money at the problem - doesn't work. In my own country, we've doubled our spending on primary and secondary education over the last three decades - while our test scores have remained largely flat despite the fact that so much of that increase in funding was spent on testing.  The reason this hasn't worked is that more money has fed a system that is no longer designed to educate - it's become a jobs program for teachers some of whom take home salaries over $50,000 per year.  And yet we Americans wonder why we have cities like Detroit where nearly half the population can't read and the disadvantaged are on a fast-track to failure.  Rest assured, it has nothing to do with entrepreneurs like myself taking the well-paying jobs from that city.

The Mandarins of mediocrity will tell you that the problem is that the kids they are teaching are too poor, or come from bad families, or are immigrants who do not understand the culture. This is absolute rubbish. It is arrogant, elitist and utterly unacceptable.  The Cantonese of conformity will tell you that it is difficult for students who have been beaten or are hungry or did not sleep the night before to concentrate.--Hogwash I say!!

In places such as China and India, they understand that they can't afford excuses. When I visit these countries, I am amazed by how much they accomplish with far fewer resources - and how eagerly they embrace innovation. Their spirit is reflected in the international comparisons, where many of the top performers are Asian and many of those sliding down the middle or bottom are from the industrialized West.   Sure, some will say that the poor children in our country take the tests while poor children in China and India are living on the streets and working in factories, but that's just another lame excuse.

The Asian Tigers have the unfair advantage of Tiger Mothers who see in their children the power of potential, not the liability of limits.   If we could simply get that Tiger Blood flowing through the veins of our children, you know what we'd be? Winning!

Of course, you don't have to be Asian to succeed. In my own hometown, it's just really helpful.  In my country we have charter schools which are doing a wonderful job educating children and they get results, 17% of the time these results are actually higher than public schools.  Why are they successful?  Because of men like Geoffrey Canada who wasn't afraid to fire an entire third grade class when they failed to make the grade.

Fortunately, we have the means at our disposal to transform lives.

The same digital technologies that transformed every other aspect of modern life can transform education, provide our businesses with the talent they need to keep cutting worker salaries, and allow  hundreds of millions of young people at the fringes of prosperity the opportunity to make their own mark on this global economy by serving their corporate masters.

This afternoon, I'd like to offer an example of  how bringing digital innovation to the classroom can substantially improve education for children throughout the world - including many now callously written off as hopeless.

We must begin by exciting the imaginations of our young people. The key is not a computer or a tablet or some other device. The key is our new product, which will help transform the cluttered thinking of any child into the orderly thought process needed to excel on multiple choice assessments. 

Every study will tell you that the more interactive and intimate learning is, the better the student will perform.   Wow, maybe I've been wrong to argue against smaller class sizes?  Wouldn't a smaller class allow for more interactive and intimate learning?   Nah, moving on...

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Testinator 5000.   This piece of state of the art technology will help to usher in a golden age of technology by using advanced computer instruction originally developed by NASA to prepare our students for even the most difficult of standardized testing. 

The principles behind the Testinator 5000 are really simple.  Suppose I was to try to question a student about the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  I could discuss the story in relation to Maslow's hierarchy of needs or I could examine the difference between want and need with my students or we could explore the moral ambiguities in the story in the context of the French Revolution.  Unfortunately, none of these would help with testing.  I could ask the student if Goldilocks ate A. Oatmeal B. Grits  C.  Cereal or D. Porridge, but won't the student get bored of these repetitive questions after awhile?

The trick is to make the repetitive questions interesting and that's where the Testinator 5000 comes in.  For only $250 plus $90 for each 1001 question booklet, the students answer questions, but what makes it interesting is if they get the answer correct, they are rewarded with a green light and a pleasing bell sound.   If the student picks the wrong answer they are punished with a red light, a harsh sounding buzzer, and a minor electric shock of about 100 volts.  By contrast a police taser is 50,000 volts.

Tests we have done show remarkable progress in student motivation.   When a teacher reads a story, the students have been known to plead with the teacher to reread the story before they take the test.  In the past, those very same students were reported as non-interested and frequently napping through story time. 

Right now, these are just bits and pieces. Our challenge is to learn from what works best - wherever in the world we find it - and put it all together.

My company is determined to try - in a big way.

My challenge to you this afternoon is to bring your own skills to the table. The world of tomorrow needs humans who can service our computer overlords and if we do not do a satisfactory job, I have no doubt that their wrath will be severe.

In doing this, we will supply our economies with all the talent and energy they need to grow. In doing this, we will ensure that the child in Manhattan will have the same opportunities as a poor child in Manilla. In doing this, we will elevate the status of good teachers everywhere, by helping them to exit the teaching profession.  We will ensure that no child will be left out of all the prosperity this global economy offers.

In our own backyards, we have millions of young people whose minds are the key to our future. It is time to insist that our schools buy our technology so we can to unlock their potential - and treat them as the precious resource they are.  By 2014, every classroom in our country should have a set of Testinator 5000s. 

Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations for harnessing "21st Century" ideas that speak to the "choice" and "competition" that will prepare students for an increasingly "global economy." Tom Vander Ark would be proud of your "Edtrepreneurship" and the Testinator 5000s will become the envy of Bill Gates, whose own designs to put lucrative, but unnecessary technology in the classroom are bound to fail now that the Testinator is here. Remember, a machine never exhibits the "soft bigotry of low expectations." A mild electric shock is right in line with the high expectations and disciplinarian methods of KIPP and other lucrative CMOs.

    One suggestion, take a page of of "warrior woman" Michelle Rhee's book and tape the mouths of children shut while using your ingenious electric education reform device. After all, kids need to be conditioned to only want to hear the "pleasing bell sound," which I can only imagine must be like hearing a conversation between Eli Broad and Reed Hastings.

    Once again, thank you Mr. Milner for solving all our problems that those self-serving educators could not. We should have known that the Free Market would have provided a solution like the Testinator all along. LS4C1 is leading edge education reform, forget about NCTQ, DFER, TFA, and all those pretenders.