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Posts tagged ‘education reform’

Pinellas County presents the “Learn and Succeed Network”–New focus on education from cradle to career

Link to full article here:

Education from cradle to career: Learn and Succeed Network

I was invited by the JWB Children’s Services Council of Pinellas County and the Health and Human Services Coordinating Council for Pinellas to conduct a one-on-one interview with David Lawrence. Who is David Lawrence? He is the former publisher of the Miami Herald and head of The Children’s Movement of Florida. When I sat down with Lawrence, he began to interview me at once. He wasn’t subtle about it, and I didn’t resist. I was intregued–having been with myself my whole life, I’ve never found myself to be very interesting. I’m curious when others do.

Anyway, the few questions I did present to Lawrence ended with me being extended an invitation to attend a small, invitation only meeting–a gathering of some very influential leaders in Pinellas County spanning nonprofit, government and business sectors. It was here that I learned a little about the formation of the Health and Human Services Coordination Council’s establishment of Learn and Succeed Network, but more why the formation of this Network is of critical importance to our community.

From the article:

Lawrence has researched and stays up-to-date on many compelling facts to make his case for children in Florida. He reported alarming facts about the state of education right now. These facts illustrated enormous need in that 28 percent of third graders cannot read proficiently, and 3/5 of eighth graders are not reading at grade level. About 80 percent of childcare is nothing more than storage and warehousing with little to no education and learning taking place. When 90 percent of a child’s brain growth ends at the age of five, it is clear that early learning is critical to the future success of our county and its children.

Lawrence also is a man of intriguing etiquette, fully knowledgeable on Pinellas County statistics as well. He knew his audience. He went on to discuss some of the strengths that Pinellas County has, which can be leveraged to make an impactful change for this initiative, including diminishing unemployment, a manageable population growth rate, higher than most Florida counties’ per capita income, strong foundation and infrastructure.

Lawrence also mentioned that Pinellas County has in its midst a pioneer for children’s services—the JWB Children’s Services Council of Pinellas—which was the first children’s services council in Florida. JWB has served as a model for the other 10 children’s services councils in the State.

Yet, while Pinellas County has many strengths, one overarching concern that commonly plagues discussions about education is finances. The cost of reform and new initiatives is a marked concern across the nation, state and even locally.

Recently, Governor Rick Scott allocated an additional $1 billion to education for the State. At first glance, that may seem like a helpful move, but it isn’t. In February of last year, Governor Scott cut Florida’s education budget by $1.3 billion. Now that $1 billion has been added back, the State is still $300 million behind while the State has approximately 30,000 additional students to serve. Additionally, as property taxes support schools, and as property is valued far less than it was two years ago, this is even more revenue subtracted from education.

While this does sound dismal, hope rests in the fact that Pinellas County considers education and children a priority. Lawrence said, “It is not that [we] lack resources. The resources need to be reallocated to reflect the priorities of the people.” Lawrence stresses that for education reform to really be effective there cannot be a focus on “those kids—the disadvantaged ones, the minorities, the ones living in poverty. The focus must be on equality—equal access to high quality education, resources and opportunities of all children.”

One sixth of our schoolchildren are living in poverty and about 50 percent qualify for free or reduced lunches. Many of these same children come to school with more base problems that trump the need for reading, writing and math today such as food insecurity, homelessness, neglect, etc. Schools must then divert its role away from education to managing social problems and triaging issues.

In the end, all of this knowledge needs to translate to change. And this is what the Learn and Succeed Network is hoping to accomplish. The biggest return on investment is in early childhood development. This knowledge is echoed even through St. Petersburg College President William Law. Dr. Law states that even St. Petersburg College is examining pre-kindergarten and elementary school as an initiative, because it is the foundation of all education. Beyond this, career training, apprenticeships and diploma programs are being examined to provide greater employment opportunities to provide a smoother transition from education into careers.

As for the Learn and Succeed Network, it is currently under rapid development. I was invited by the JWB Children’s Services Council of Pinellas and the Health and Human Services Coordinating Council to interview David Lawrence and to learn about the emerging Learn and Succeed Network. I ended up attending a meeting with a select group of rather powerful individuals comprised of local leaders and business persons in Pinellas County. These individuals have been asked to consider participating with this new Network due to the wide breadth of pertinent knowledge and resources that could help ensure the Network’s success.

As a native to Pinellas County and a graduate of Pinellas County Schools, I for one am grateful for these efforts, and I hope for much success as the Learn and Succeed Network forms and begins its important work. On February 8, 2012, the first official activity of the Learn and Succeed Network will take place at the St. Petersburg College, Seminole Campus. This event will focus on creating a common agenda through identifying key goals and measures. Additionally, workgroups will begin developing strategies to achieve these goals. This is an open event and registration is required through the Health and Human Services Coordinating Council here:

America’s education system is broken. Here’s how to fix it.

America’s youths are in trouble. They are about to inherit a complete disaster. We not only broke government and our economy; allowed big corporations to go rogue gangsta, encouraging them to eat up every small business in nearly every industry; permitted several whole industries to become federally mandated organized crime (insurance, agriculture, etc.), we’ve disallowed youth to develop the tools–critical and creative thinking/problem-solving–required to fix the broken thing we’re giving them. Likewise, we have denied youth the knowledge, experience and resources needed for America to continue to sustain their position as a world leader in innovation, creativity and cultural capital.

Our current education system kills creativity, and replaces the development of critical thinking skills and applied education with solely valuing standardized testing outcomes. Tests? Test scores are the most valued outcome for today’s youths spanning elementary school through state-run universities. Test scores not ony determine whether youths with graduate from colleges in their field and progress in grade levels from elementary through secondary schools, the combined test scores of students help determine how much money a public school will get to pass on to their students. The better the test scores of the students, the more money the schools get. Supporters of this policy call it capitalism. I call it extortion, racism and classicism.

Even with all of this testing, too many American students are graduating from colleges with poor writing skills, poor math skills, poor knowledge of history, geography and sciences and applied critical thinking skills. Q.E.D. testing alone does not accurately assess the quality of a student’s education. We have many over-educated students entering the workforce who are barely capable of performing the job functions required of entry- to mid-level professional positions. This is inexcusable and a pure abuse and neglect of the collective knowledge our country has regarding best practices in education, differing learning styles and intelligences.

America’s leading minds in education, philosophy, psychology, globalization, communications, sciences, the arts, interdisciplinary studies and futurism have the answers to fixing our broken education system. Collectively, they have the answers that would lead to designing an education system that will produce students who know how to seek out and find success based on their particular skills, interests, talents, composit of intelligences and learning styles.

This will not only lead to cultivating and nurturing students who are uniquely successful in their own brand of “work,” it will revitalize America’s lead in the global community as thought-leaders, innovation designers and culture instigators. Students could have the opportunity to be a product of the best minds today and can help lead the world of tomorrow in a revolution of open-thinking, creativity and collaboration. But only if we teach them how.

If executed without regard to poison spread by special-interests and traditionalists, America may actually develop a generation of thinking, confident, empowered professionals who are as at ease in group development as they are in independent studios. They will have learned the secrets to balancing collaboration with independent thought; leadership minus hierarchy; coaching- and mentoring-figures versus authority; cooperation and celebration of greatness versus cut-throat “win-at-all-costs” competition. They will see the altruistic result in development as the goal, celebrating successes towards the mission and experience authentic shared accountability for any set-backs.

Impossible? As an absolute, certainly. As a general rule, it is quite possible. American businesses have already developed and experienced such successful models and replicated them. Yet, this is still a great minority of business practices for the very reasons mentioned above. What would serve to develop more of these models, and more forward-thinking young people in our culture to lead the way to this type of model?

A brand-new look at interdisciplinary studies is needed, at the core. The arts (visual, performing, literary, new media) are a most effective vessel to introduce youth and adults alike to applied interdisciplinary studies and to help cultivate creative critical thinking and problem-solving skills. There is also the potentiality of immersing wide generalized  and focused specific concepts from limitless disciplines: science, social science, mathematics, engineering, communications, anthropology, technology, etc.

Wake County, NC students practice for Odyssey of the Mind 2010

This is not to say that education should do away with teaching “basics,” but instead it should seek innovative ways to teach the basics by combining it with a mixture of other disciplines.

This allows for immediate applied knowledge, for students to see the inherent links in subjects, how one enhances the other and is interdependent on other subjects. Age is not a deterrent from this type of critical learning. Children learn how to measure and count while cooking–they see an immediate applied link between arithmetic and cooking. Children learn about history while learning to read–instead of having them read about Sam and Ann, have them read stories of historical significance–short, overly simplified, but an introduction to something meaningful such as Henry Ford’s car. Have them learn at a young age how to collaborate in teams and combine this with independent work to increase the overall team project. Help them “get” the concepts of shared accountability, good sportsmanship, team leadership and celebrating team successes over individual competition. The earlier these critical lessons begin, the more natural these concept become to the students as they begin developing their own ideas about leading and teamwork.

Why the arts as a vessel? They are a perfect interdisciplinary medium: Music–mathematics, languages, diction and science; Theatre–literature, history, speech and debate; Painting–mathematics (scale and measurement), social science, anthropology, communications, chemistry and history; Dance–sports, history, anatomy and physiology; Literature–sociology, history, social sciences and communications; New Media–communications, technology, engineering, mathematics and science. <– Just to name a few.

More than this, the arts allow for a creative approach to all of these subjects. They allow students to approach all of these subjects with their own brand of critical thought and experimentation while still guided by teacher-mentor-coaches to ensure that students understand the “basics” as they learn to identify and build on their strengths and weaknesses. Testing in this frame will consist of assisting in identifying personalities, talents, strengths, learning styles and less developed areas. Grading will consist of whether the student applied all of their strengths to the greatest benefit of the projects assigned, whether team or individual, and will take part in a shared portion of a group grade to promote the concept of shared accountability.

Moreover, students need to learn how to use web-based systems as communication tools–social sites and freeware: Wiggio, Project Pier, Basecamp, Mind42,, MINDOMO and Prezi, for example. This is the future–using freeware and web-based solutions in creative ways to communicate and to cultivate and share knowledge. Brining teams to the forefront of thought-sharing and mining collective intelligence for problem identification and innovative solutions. Can America dare to take a risk to think about education differently? The world has changed immeasurably over the past few decades, but what we teach, how we teach and what we expect from students has not changed at all to meet the vastly different demands of our culture. Will America dare to change? Will America dare to be great?


Note: You will notice that I have not cited my sources here to back up my claims. This is an opinion article, but the facts do exist. What I am asking for, however, is not for you to merely fact-check my claims. Frankly, I can produce “facts” that would support nearly any claim I might like to make in any direction on any topic. Instead, I’m challenging readers to judge this writing based on their logic and their own knowledge, a thought experiment. And I invite you to conduct your own research; come to your own conclusions and present your own ideas. Utopia needs your thoughts, my thoughts, our passion–not merely regurgitating thoughts and opinions of others with greater titles who may or may not agree with us.

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