Education Goal ideas

By Steve Kirsch  (650) 279-1008
November 20, 2002
Version 1

This is an email I sent to the head of the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group which is determining what its focus should be in the education area. Points 2 and 3 apply to national education policy as well.


I have a three suggestions I hope you will pass on to the SVMG committee tackling education:

1. Make your impact statewide. Making a difference just in the local area would be great, but making it statewide is at least 10 to 100 times better. But it isn't 100 times more work. If you want to make a difference in a way that impacts SVMG companies, you must focus on making it in a way that it can be leveraged statewide and ideally, nationally as well.

2. Pick a single aggressive bold goal, not a tactic. Teaching training programs etc. are a dime a dozen. You have the power to make a difference. California typical ranks in close to last place in student performance relative to other states. If we were doing everything right and it is just a function of the composition of the population, that would be one thing. But we're hardly at the forefront of cutting edge education reform. We don't even have a goal for education in California. There is LOTS of room to improve the system in California. Connecticut is a superb example of a state that really made a dramatic change. They put together a very serious package of reforms that have proven to be effective. That's what you want here because that is what is needed. If you look at the TIMSS data, the US ranked in virtual LAST place. That is appalling! There is so much room for improvement, but you must be willing to think big. If our goal is to get all our students performing at a level on par with other countries, that would be a great goal.

3. Do your homework and copy what works, rather than invent something "new" or unproven. The US is the international laggard on how to educate kids. Copy worldwide best practices. Get briefed on how the most improved states did it. Get briefed on what other countries do that is so successful (people at NCEE spent 11 years studying other countries....leverage that expertise). Get a briefing on the California schools that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been involved with and the California schools that have adopted NCEE's program. These schools have done really well. Then pick those PROVEN programs and start lobbying to get them implemented in California as a package of reforms. This can be done. Other states have. But it does take effort. The best thing is to carefully choose a committee of five or six education experts who already know all this stuff cold and then have them create a business plan on how to best adopt worldwide best practices to achieve your goal. That's the secret to why other countries beat us...they study the competition and adopt best practices; in the US, we are mostly ignorant to best practices in other countries. That's a big mistake.

Our kids are entitled to the best education system in the world. Let's give it to them. We won't do it with incremental improvements. That will not move the needle. We'll still be in last place internationally if we keep focusing on little incremental changes. That is unacceptable. Yet this is what we continually do again and again. Stop the madness. We need to make a big shift in our thinking if we want to catch up with other countries. We need bold goals and proven strategies that will get us to international parity in the short term, and international leadership in the long term.

The only question remains is are you ready to make the commitment to excellence and compete on a worldwide basis? We can do this if we have the commitment. It was done in Connecticut. It can be done in California.

Thanks for listening,