The Power of US is an ambitious, nationwide initiative that aims to transform K-12 education, and provide a customized learning experience for every child in America. This is a call for a major effort, similar to a ‘NASA moon shot’, with every student, teacher, school, and community involved in lift-off!
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We Know What Works!
The Power of US will create a public/private partnership and a national movement in collaboration with teachers’ unions to unleash America’s largest, unlimited, and virtually untapped source of renewable energy: the minds of all of our children! Customizing education for every child will ensure that never again will our children’s hopes, futures, and dreams be determined by the color of their skin, their gender, the quality of their health care, the poverty in their home and/or community and – last but far from least – the teachers’ and students’ ability to withstand the frustration and boredom inherent in today’s public education systems. The needless NCLB ‘teaching to the test’ which dominates our schools is really the result of public policy made by legislators, business leaders, and policy makers often against the wishes of teachers and others involved in education.
“There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come”
~~ Victor Hugo – 1857
This is the idea and now is the time!
The problem of K-12 education is systemic and can be solved only with a holistic approach.
We realize that simply fixing K-12 education will not fix all of the problems facing the country. On the other hand, we do not believe that you can tackle the rest of the problems unless you fix education. In November of 2009, the Wall Street Journal convened its CEO Council to discuss national issues. In an interview following that event, John Chambers, CISCO CEO, stated, “Each of us during our tenure as CEOs has sat in an ‘education-is-our-top-priority’ type of discussion every year. And each year, you walk out a little bit frustrated. You say the timing’s not right, we’re not really serious about it, etc. But as we went through the discussion today, it was a unanimous vote that it needs to be the top national priority—way above the economy, health care, energy or the environment.” Two of the several additional chief executives participating in the meeting were Accenture Ltd. Chief Executive William Green and AT&T Inc. Chief Executive Randall Stephenson.
There have been countless commission and organizational reports validating the WSJ CEO Council’s conclusion and describing the extent and impact of the lagging quality of America’s K-12 public education system. The following are excerpts from a few current ones.
- In April of 2009 McKinsey & Company took a close look at the impact of the education deficit between the U. S. and leading foreign countries. They concluded: “If the United States had in recent years closed the gap between its educational achievement levels and those of better-performing nations such as Finland and Korea, GDP in 2008 could have been $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion higher. This represents 9 to 16 percent of GDP. … Put differently, the persistence of these educational achievement gaps imposes on the United States the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession. The recurring annual economic cost of the international achievement gap is substantially larger than the deep recession the United States is currently experiencing. (Based on GDP decline in the fourth quarter of 2008 of minus 6.3 percent.)” 
- The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) recognized and addressed another major issue. Without belittling the need for students to have a solid understanding of the content represented by the academic standards, P21 advocates the inclusion of another essential body of knowledge and/or skills as illustrated in the following quote from their website: “to help the U.S. education system keep up by fusing the traditional 3 Rs with the essential 4 Cs (critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration, and creativity and innovation).” (http://www.21stcenturyskills.org/) The problem is, in many of today’s classrooms students are passive, dependent listeners, not active, engaged learners. As a result, they do not have an opportunity to learn or use critical 21st century skills.
- America’s leaders frequently bemoan the dropout problem, and rightly so. However, we also have a diploma problem – people who graduate from high school without actually receiving an education. To quote a recent study called “Diploma to Nowhere: “A hoax is being played on America. The public believes that a high school diploma shows that a student is ready for college-level academics. Parents believe it too. So do students. But when high school graduates enroll in college as many as one million students fail placement exams every year. Well over one third of all college students need remedial courses in order to acquire basic academic skills.
- Of the 40,000 freshmen admitted each year into California State University — the largest university system in the country — more than 60 percent need help in English, math, or both.
- Seventy percent of students in Indiana’s community colleges needed remediation in 2005.
“The students who enroll in remedial education include some of the nation’s most motivated students. Our 2008 survey of remedial students found that:
- Nearly four out of five remedial students had a high school grade point average of 3.0 or higher.
- More than half described themselves as good students who worked hard and nearly always completed high school assignments.”
- Te problem further manifests itself in post-secondary results. “It’s appalling – it’s really astounding,” says Michael Gorman, president of the American Library Association and a librarian at California State University at Fresno. Referencing a recent federal study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, Gorman observed: “Only 31 percent of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it. That’s not saying much for the remainder.”
“The core problem is that our education and training systems were built for another era, an era in which most workers needed only a rudimentary education. It is not possible to get where we have to go by patching that system. There is not enough money available at any level of our intergovernmental system to fix this problem by spending more on the system we have. We can get where we must go only by changing the system itself.”
If we included measuring Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) proficiency, the results would probably be under 5%.
- The dropout crisis is addressed in Alma and Colin Powell’s America’s Promise Alliance guidebook, Grad Nation, to help communities deal with the issues. The book includes an open letter to America that begins: “You already realize the enormity of the crisis we face. More than 1.2 million students drop out of America’s high schools each year, and at least 15 million children overall are at risk of not reaching productive adulthood. This is more than a problem; it is a catastrophe. America’s failure to educate tomorrow’s leaders and workforce puts our entire economic and national security at risk.” [Emphasis added]
- The 2008 Report of the National Commission on Adult Literacy, Reach Higher America, describes the problem as follows: America is losing its place as a world leader in education, and in fact is becoming less educated. Among the 30 OECD free-market countries, the U.S. is the only nation where young adults are less educated than the previous generation. And we are losing ground to other countries in educational attainment. More and more, the American economy requires that most workers have at least some postsecondary education or occupational training to be ready for current and future jobs in the global marketplace, yet we are moving further from that goal. By one set of measures, more than 88 million adults have at least one major educational barrier— no high school diploma, no college, or ESL language needs.
While all of this is going on, the skills required to earn a living and compete in a global economy are becoming more complex every year.
- In August of 2007 The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), after over 2 ½ years of due diligence by the chief of staff and his team, voted unanimously to approve the following policy statement. “While education is primarily and properly a state responsibility, the federal government can play an important supporting role for applying technology to:
- increase personalized instruction;
- decrease student boredom and teacher burnout;
- stimulate discovery, innovation, and creativity;
- achieve NCLB requirements related to tutorial services, supplemental services, provision of highly qualified teachers, and meeting the reporting requirements;
- and to provide education equity for every student, regardless of location or economic status.”
- In The Flat World and Education, Linda Darling-Hammond identifies another major problem associated with inadequate education – crime. “Because the economy can no longer absorb many unskilled workers at decent wages, lack of education is increasingly linked to crime and welfare dependency. Women who have not finished high school are much more likely than others be on welfare, while men are much more likely to be in prison. Most inmates are high school dropouts, and more than half of the adult prison population is functionally illiterate – with literacy skills below those required by the labor market. Nearly 40% of adjudicated juvenile delinquents have treatable learning disabilities that were often left undiagnosed and unaddressed in the schools. Some states are said to predict the number of prison beds based on 3rd grade reading scores.
This is substantially, then, an educational problem associated with inadequate access to the kinds of teachers and other resources that could enable young people to gain the skills that would enable them to become gainfully employed. States that would not spend $10,000 a year to ensure adequate education for young children of color spend over $30,000 a year to keep them in jail. The strong relationship between under-education, unemployment, and incarceration creates a vicious cycle, as lack of adequate investment in education increases the need for prisons, which now compete with the funding available for education.
Since the 1980s, national investments have tipped heavily towards incarceration rather than education. During the 1980s, incarceration rates doubled, and by 1993, there were more African-American citizens on probation, in jail, in prison, or on parole (1,985,000) than there were in college (1,412,000). Since then prison enrollments have continued to climb. With 1 out of every 100 Americans – more then 2.3 million – now behind bars, the United States imprisons far more people – both proportionately and absolutely – than any country in the world, including China. Representing only 5% of the world’s population, America has 25% of the world’s inmates.” Or as Emaginos founder Jack Taub puts it, “If people can’t make a living, they’ll take a living.” This situation is both morally and financially unacceptable.
- The report of the 1983 National Commission on Excellence in Education entitled, A Nation At Risk is frequently quoted for the following conclusion: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” In the ensuing quarter of a century America has spent trillions of dollars trying to reform a fatally flawed system. The Power of Us intends to break this pattern of futility by leading the transformation of the total system.”
- Sir Ken Robinson summarizes the issue by pointing out: The idea that traditional academic education still provides a direct route to permanent employment is simply irrational. Yet many national governments cling to the belief, presumably because they don’t question the assumptions on which it’s based. In the interests of raising traditional academic standards, schools are now encased in standardized testing regimes that shrivel the creativity of teachers and students alike. This can’t go on. To prosper, in every sense, we need radical, not reactive change in education … It’s often said that education is the key to the future. It is. But a key can be turned in two directions. Turn it one way and you lock resources away: turn it another and you release them. In education as in business, it’s no longer enough to read, write and calculate. We won’t survive the future simply by doing better what we have done in the past. In the future, we must learn to be creative.
The overall objective of The Power of US is to lead a national transformation that will result in a customized education for every child in America. This effort will make learning an enjoyable experience by eliminating boredom and frustration, thereby greatly reducing dropouts and the accompanying poverty, crime, hopelessness and despair while building a sustainable science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) talent pool for innovation.
In addition to the 88 million undereducated adults described in the Reach Higher America study mentioned above, America’s public schools contribute an additional 4.5 million more graduates or dropouts to that number each year. That last statement may sound confusing, so let me restate the underlying issue. Many of those who ‘graduate’ and receive a ‘diploma’ are still undereducated and incapable of gainful employment in today’s economy – let alone into the future. If we are to restore America’s middle class and the domestic manufacturing base, which is urgently necessary for the economic future of America, we must reduce the existing pool of under-qualified adults and eliminate the enormous number that is added each year. We must also eliminate the need for depending primarily on foreign-born students to provide the creativity and innovation that is the fuel of America’s economic engine in a global marketplace. The Power of US goal is to begin the process of transforming America’s K-12 public schools into schools of discovery, innovation, and fearless imagination. These schools will be built upon high-performance computing and broadband technology. They will use a curriculum that integrates STEM with a comprehensive, multidisciplinary, small-group, project-based learning environment, beginning in elementary school.
The solution must be scalable and transformational. America has approximately 100,000 public schools, nearly 4,000,000 teachers and 55,000,000 students. It is both impractical and unnecessary to replace them. Instead we need to transform them. To be scalable, the solution, must eliminate student boredom, be supported by the teachers and affordable to all schools within existing budgets.
The Power of Us has examined several possible transformational models and selected one for its initial efforts. The proposed system integrates virtually every known research-based organizational and student-centered-learning best practice into a smoothly operating system. As a result, all of the elements have already been thoroughly researched and proven in multiple locations. The integrated system has been in operation as the Discovery Learning Systems (DLS) program at the three schools of the Tracy Learning Center for over eight years, representing over 8,500,000 hours of student and teacher experience, with outstanding results. The DLS model was originally implemented as a charter school in order to allow the designers to start with a clean slate, but from the start it was intended to be a model for transforming public schools.
There are a number of examples of schools that work. KIPP Academies, Harlem Children’s Zone, Green Dot schools are a few that are frequently cited. Because they are built upon the traditional model with a selected set of proven reforms layered onto the program, they all cost more than the public schools in their local areas. There are also some excellent public schools like the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, VA that are delivering outstanding programs. The DLS solution is unique in that it can be implemented within existing budgets and is based upon a totally transformed system. It is not just a few selected reforms but a comprehensive integration of virtually every student-centered learning and organizational best practice.
The DLS solution is not an education management system that takes over and operates the schools. DLS is a subscription-based education transformation service that includes unlimited usage of all of the best practices listed below. It also includes providing all of the district technology and refreshing it every three years and providing primary healthcare to every child and teacher in the program. AT&T will assist the DLS team in designing, implementing, managing, operating, and refreshing the participating schools’ technology infrastructure. As a transformation service, the DLS program empowers the local school districts to retain their community values and priorities with local management in the traditional American model of school district control and management. The transformation enables the local district to provide its students with an education that creates self-directed active learners who are prepared to thrive in the present and future economy.
The Strategy (Phase 1 – up to the tipping point)
This phase is to transform 1,350 schools over the next five years to the DLS model as demonstration sites across the country. The program will begin by extending the Tracy DLS program across the state of California to between ten and 100 schools. As funding and other resources become available, the Power of Us will continue to assist in growing support for transforming more schools with the goal of transforming all 1,350 schools across the country. To be clear, we are not simply mass-producing widgets here, we are transforming schools. So reaching the tipping point in this model does not imply that we can greatly reduce the cost or time it takes to lead a school district through the transformation process. In this model the tipping point is a psychological one where the demand for transforming additional schools/districts rises exponentially.
These initial 1,350 schools will be located with the cooperation and insight of leaders from the various participating local, state, and national agencies and encouragement from grass-roots organizations like the Power of Us. Every district that elects to participate must sign a binding contract obligating them to complete the activities essential to ensure sustainable transformation. The number and location of schools comes from the following model.
Allocation of Demonstration School Sites
|1||2 for every senator||100|
|2||2 for every representative||870|
|3||1 in every state capitol including DC||51|
|4||1 to every governor||50|
|5||50 to U.S. Secretary of Education||50|
|6||25 schools in Iowa||25|
|7||All public schools in Delaware||175|
|8||DoD dependent schools (400 total)||29|
In addition to demonstrating the effectiveness of the educational program, transforming the initial 1,350 schools will enable DLS to refine and improve the effectiveness of the implementation program and transformation process, as well as identify and correct any scalability issues. The distribution of schools based on the preceding chart ensures that the network of transformed schools has representation across the country. The identification of schools will be made by the Commission to Transform K-12 Education working with the DLS research center through letters of interest submitted by school district superintendents. The Power of Us will provide resources to local grass-roots organizations to assist them in their efforts. This includes Unanimity Planning – a proven program for assisting communities in making important decisions. The final selection will be made based on established criteria and applied to all districts submitting a proposal for participation.
The Discovery Learning System has been thoroughly tested and has achieved remarkable results. To cite just a couple of factors that demonstrate the validity of the system, the DLS demonstration model at the three schools of the Tracy Learning Center is in its eighth year of operation and has had no student dropouts or teacher defections. The students test well above the rest of the local school district and near the top of the state on the high-stakes tests – without the students ever having been taught to the test. The DLS model program uses a customized, multidisciplinary, project-based, small-group, learning model that ensures that all students learn the content standards while also acquiring STEM concepts and 21st century high-performance skills such as communication, analysis, teamwork, research, creativity, innovation, etc.
The discovery and innovation system has fundamentally changed the process of learning for all teachers. In the DLS learning environment students solve problems. The learning is done working in small diverse groups within a multidisciplinary context that connects the content to its application for solving a problem. As a result, students perform much better than students in a traditional classroom setting. Students working in the DLS environment are held accountable for high performance. Students working at the high school level have their performance based work translated into grades for purposes of meeting college and university entrance requirements. And like the students in the traditional model, the best learners will be rewarded with an “A”.
But there is a difference between a DLS competency or “A” and an “A” in a traditional classroom. The students in the traditional classroom who memorize for the purpose of testing soon forget what they memorized or are not prepared to use it even if they can recall it. On the other hand, the DLS system students do not focus on memorizing information but concern themselves with thinking about the context and the problem that they need to solve. They understand that information can always be found when needed but that thinking skills need to be practiced. During the learning experience, students also acquire and use a set of 21st century skills. Perhaps most important, the students in a DLS learning environment enjoy the learning experience. All children are born with unlimited curiosity and a genetic need to learn. The DLS environment fosters and encourages learning. The DLS system is predicated on the understanding that children are not born with a need to memorize, and they become bored and frustrated in many of today’s traditional classrooms – and in too many cases drop out.
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
These words of ancient wisdom from Confucius are still applicable today.
The DLS project-based curriculum comes close to the “I do…” element of the saying when it connects the students learning directly to the solving of a problem. Using today’s technology, DLS students can take the “I do …” to one more level – simulations. The DLS team is working with organizations like the Shodor Center in North Carolina (http://www.shodor.org/), AgentSheets in Colorado (http://www.agentsheets.com/index.html), and Globaloria (http://www.globaloria.org/) to integrate their rich treasures of learning tools and simulations into the DLS curriculum projects. The DLS team has also begun working with TeraGrid (https://www.teragrid.org/), an network composed of eleven national supercomputer centers funded by the National Science Foundation.
As a part of their outreach program, the TeraGrid institutions are working to improve STEM and computational thinking experiences for K-12 public school students. DLS’s goal is to have every curriculum project contain at least one game, simulation, model, or visualization. Within this framework, every student will virtually “do” what they have studied in solving the problem. The team of TeraGrid, Shodor, AgentSheets, Globaloria, with DLS and AT&T will identify, design, build and integrate STEM simulations into every project. Because these simulations will be national educational treasures, DLS plans to whenever possible make them available in the public domain for anyone to use.
The following is a list of many of the best practices integrated into the DLS solution that will be used to transform all 1,350 schools. Experience has shown that a comprehensive integration of all of these best practices is essential to implementing and sustaining an affordable and effective transformation.
In addition to these best practices, there are a number of other beneficial outcomes that include:
- The Goal is no dropouts – students or teachers – The campus culture is a place where students and teachers want to be. The day and year are longer, the work is more rigorous and expectations are higher than the local public school, but children are still signed up on a waiting list to get into the Tracy school. The average daily truancy rate at the Tracy Learning Center is only 4%. By comparison, the Tracy Unified School District average truancy rate is somewhere between 11% and 22%.
- Primary Healthcare – DLS provides primary healthcare services through telemedicine to all students, teachers and staff. In addition, the curriculum includes wellness and prevention projects relating to personal health and well being with emphasis on eliminating obesity and substance abuse. The career development program includes opportunities related to healthcare.
- Grassroots support – The Commission is working with the Power of Us, labor unions, Blue State Digital, the Council on Competitiveness, the United Way of America, and La Raza to build a national movement of over 1,000,000 volunteers to grow local support to encourage school boards to transform their schools.
- Accountability and Continuous Improvement – As a result of the DLS extensive data-gathering, analysis and reporting program, the DLS solution will have a comprehensive multi-year database for education research across the country. This will enable and support longitudinal and programmatic analyses of a wide assortment of inquiries. The online data management system provides reports and key performance indicators that will trigger alarms if any element of the program goes outside the performance parameters DLS sets. DLS will also be able to provide a desktop digital dashboard for teachers and administrators with criteria and parameters they set to notify them when the selected data exceeds some predetermined limits. For example, there is a known correlation between attendance problems and other performance issues in a school. So a superintendent might set a truancy alarm for student and teacher to flash an alarm when attendance at any school in the district drops below a limit set by the superintendent.
- Incubating Innovation – The DLS program will bring design into every learning experience. In today’s world it is not enough to acquire new knowledge it must be used for the benefit of others. That knowledge must be used to create something that has value to the learner, community and country. This is the cycle of moving from data and information to new ideas and products through creativity and innovation. In addition to the integrated classroom activities, STEM innovation labs in every high school will encourage the advancement of science through hands on experiences. The program will provide commercial grade CAD/CAM software with individual fabrication stations to revitalize America’s innovation, design, and manufacturing base. Future phases will extend this program into a community-based innovation and incubation center.
- Longer School Day and Year – How do we use the time?
- Equity – The longer school day and year level the playing field for students who come from communities or families lacking the resources to support learning through homework or field experiences. Students have immediate support and intervention to ensure learning opportunities.
- Community Service – 200 hours required for graduation.
- Internships – Required as a part of career education.
- College Courses – Most of DLS graduates have already completed some college courses before graduating.
- Latchkey Kids – Reduces the problem.
- Digital Equity – Portable technologies such as laptop computers are available for students to check out and use at home as needed/desired.
- Unique Student Identifier – America is a very mobile society. Every student in the DLS database will have a unique national student identifier. The identifier will enable students to move from school to school, district to district, or state to state without losing their educational or medical history.
Phase 2 (Beyond the tipping point)
As we approach the completion of Phase 1, the Commission will have brought the country to the tipping point for transforming the rest of the country’s 100,000 schools. We will have validated both the DLS model and the process for transforming large numbers of schools. Those remaining schools/districts that want to participate in the transformation will access an innovative funding model that will enable the transformation, no matter how poor or remote, without additional outside support.
In order to restore America’s international economic and industrial leadership, beginning with restoring the middle class, we must transform America’s public schools. This can only be achieved by transforming our current national K-12 public school system to one of discovery, innovation and fearless imagination. Eliminating sub-prime education by creating schools of discovery and innovation is the best way to restore America’s international competitiveness advantages. Customized education will enable every child to graduate with the creativity, knowledge, and skills required to thrive in a global economy.
In closing, a recent editorial by Tom Friedman in the New York Times says it best: “Robert Litan, who directs research at the Kauffman Foundation, which specializes in promoting innovation in America: “Between 1980 and 2005, virtually all net new jobs created in the U.S. were created by firms that were 5 years old or less,” said Litan. “That is about 40 million jobs. That means the established firms created no new net jobs during that period.”
Message: If we want to bring down unemployment in a sustainable way, neither rescuing General Motors nor funding more road construction will do it. We need to create a big bushel of new companies — fast. We’ve got to get more Americans working again for their own dignity — and to generate the rising incomes and wealth we need to pay for existing entitlements, as well as all the new investments we’ll need to make.”
Putting people back to work by enabling them to create their own economic opportunities has a compound effect as it raises their ability as consumers to be better customers of the existing major corporations for their goods and services. We believe the DLS model can be the social and economic engine the country so desperately needs.
This is the idea and now is the time!
Academic Performance Index Comparison Table – Tracy School District
|School Name||Decile (10 is best)||API raw score 2009||Number of Students|
|Primary Charter School||10||911||275|
- The Decile column is not a comparison to all schools in the district or the state. It is a comparison with 100 ‘similar’ schools in the state – based upon a broad set of criteria. As a result of some demographic and other statistical factors, the Tracy Learning Center (TLC) schools end up being compared to the schools in much more affluent districts.
- The Millennium High School numbers are greatly and adversely affected by lower performing students who transfer in to the school at grades eight and above. An informal examination of the comparison between students who have spent more of their earlier school years at the TLC with those who transfer in shows a significant advantage to the longer attendees at the school. If you look at the Elementary school where the students have only attended the TLC, the impact is very evident. The middle school has some transferees and the high school has more. As a higher percentage of the students grades six and up come from the Primary Charter School, we expect a significant improvement in their performance index.
As the leadership team of the Commission to Transform K-12 Public Education, we support and endorse the Power of US Foundation and this Call to Arms.
 McKinsey Report, “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools; April 2009
 Diploma to Nowhere: Strong America Schools.
 Lois Roman; Washington Post Staff Writer; Sunday, December 25, 2005; Page A12; Literacy of College Graduates Is on Decline: Survey’s Finding of a Drop in Reading Proficiency Is Inexplicable, Experts Say
 America’s Promise Alliance; Grad Nation – A guidebook to help Communities Tackle the Dropout Crisis.; February 2009
 National Commission on Adult Literacy; Reach Higher America – Overcoming Crisis in the U. S. Workforce; 2008
 Barton and Coley
 Gemignani (1994)
 Bobstingl (2004)
 U.S. Bureau of the Census (1996), table numbers 281 and 354, pp.181 and 221
 Pew Center on the States (2008)
 Principle Voices White Paper; Creativity in the Classroom, Innovation in the Workplace; http://www.principalvoices.com/voices/ken-robinson-white-paper.html
 Tom Friedman, NYTimes; April 3, 2010; Start-Ups, Not Bailouts