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In medicine, doctors who once made medical decisions based on the patient's well-being have been replaced by insurance companies who make medical decisions based on cost analysis.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

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Meet Monica Caldwell: Our New East Coast Director of Teacher Development

Hello, my name is Monica Caldwell and I am the new East Coast Director of Teacher Development for Last Stand for Children First.   What does that huge title mean?  Well, basically I'm in charge of helping to improve the quality of instruction by getting good teachers into the classroom and bad teachers out.  I believe that nothing is more important to a child's education than having a great teacher and I aim to see that every child on the East Coast has just that.

To tell you a little about myself, I'm 25 years old and I've spent the last year teaching in inner city San Diego as a Last Stand for Children Fellow.   Before that, I was spent 2 years managing an Extreme Fitness and Tan and before that I was a philosophy major at the University of Chicago.  I enjoy bike riding, Arcade Fire, and Jersey Shore.

This year in San Diego I learned literally a ton about teaching.   A lot of my kids were literally growing up on the streets.  I put aside the text book and immediately got them journaling.  In my class they wrote about the tough deal they got in life and by Christmas they were writing amazing poetry.  Unfortunately, several of the teachers were jealous and went to the principal who insisted that math class wasn't the place for poetry and journal writing and I had to go back to the text book.

Teacher tenure is a real bummer for me.  I was the victim of last in first out policies this year and was asked not to come back, while the teachers that were jealous of me retained their jobs because of the union contract.  When I tried to tell the principal how wrong this was, he refused to even admit that I was let go because of seniority and blamed it on my teaching methods and one small fire that was set in my classroom wastebasket.

In addition to tenure, I'm also very interested in ending collective bargaining for teachers, eliminating rules that limit class size, and promoting the growth of charter schools.  One thing, I am really looking forward to is working with Mayor Bloomberg.  The parents in New York just don't understand how much he cares about their children's education. I agree with what the Mayor said about New York City parents who oppose his education reform policies,  "There are some parents who ... never had a formal education, and they don't understand the value of education."

I think I'm going to like this place.  I've never been to New York before, but I'm ready to go there and save the children.   The Last Stand for Children First train is coming and I hope everybody can get on board.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Myron Miner on the Chicago Public Schools and Producerism

This week the Illinois Chapter of Last Stand for Children First joined students across the state in celebrating historic legislation that is now only awaiting the Governor's signature.  SB7 will finally free school children from the threat of teachers unions complaining about having too many students in classrooms or going on strike--a problem that has plagued the Chicago Public Schools since their last strike in 1987.  I am not going to write about SB7 though, enough reformers are lauding it already. Instead, I am going to look at an exciting new trend coming out of Chicago that I am referring to as the Bialystock Method or Producerism.  This shrewd move by Mayor elect Rahm Emanuel far surpasses anything I have seen elsewhere.

To understand the Bialystock Method, you must do yourself a favor and go see the original 1968 version of Mel Brooks' classic movie  The Producers.  I love the original version of the movie and the play that spun off of it, but was less impressed with he 2005 movie version of the play.

In The Producers, Gene Wilder plays a mild-mannered accountant named Leo Bloom and Zero Mostel plays a washed up old theatrical producer named Max Bialystock.   In doing Max's books, Leo discovers that you could actually make more money by making a flop than a hit.  If you sold, for example, 1500% of a show and it closed in one night, none of those share holders would expect any kind of payment.  The trick was finding a play so horrible it was sure to be a huge bomb.

In The Chicago Public Schools the mayor has total control and he appoints his own rubber stamp school board.  The result is that the board is almost entirely made up of people who donate heavily to the Mayor.   What's interesting is that much of the leadership that Rahm Emanuel has used for guidance have been the operators of Chicago's charter schools.  These people offer alternatives to the Chicago Public Schools and the worse the schools do the more they thrive.  The more they thrive, the more money they can direct to Mayor Rahm.  The Key is how to make sure the public schools bomb.

Bialystock and Bloom begin an exhaustive search that finally nets them a play called Springtime for Hitler, which is possibly the worst play ever.   The play is a Busby Berkeley style singing and dancing romp through Nazi Germany.   The showstopper is a musical number called Springtime for Hitler.  Surely, this play would flop.

Rahm Emanuel and his team begain an exhaustive search that finally nets them Rochester Superintendent Jean Claude Brizard, who is possibly the worst Superintendent ever.   In a district 1/10 the size of Chicago Brizard managed to get sued 3 times, have a 95% no confidence vote from the teachers, and newspaper poll found 60% of the district's administrator's thought they were on the wrong track.  The only accomplishment he could point to were graduation rates which was actually data from before his tenure.  Surely, these schools would flop.

In the Producers, the final touch was finding a director who could make the horrible play even more unbearable and drive theatre goers from their seats.   In the 1968 version, the actor's name escapes me, but I recognized him as television's Mr. Belvedere. 

In Chicago, the final touch was HB7 which prevents teachers from doing things like complaining if the school district cuts funding and puts 45 students in every room.   As a bonus the mayor could mandate that teachers work the equivalent of 3 additional months of school time without a penny of compensation.  This will give Chicago the longest school day in the country, at the exact time that data from Hawaii is showing no real benefit to more classroom time.

Will the Chicago Public Schools flop?  It's too early to tell.  In the movies, Bialystock and Bloom left the play early to go celebrate only to find the audience had decided it was a comedy and loved it.  They went to prison for their duplicity.  I hope that Mayor Emanuel is more clever than that, because moves like this make him a powerful force in the education reform movement.