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Yearly Archives: 2007

The Education Challenge: Preparing Students for a Changing World

By Dean Whittaker

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Willard Baggett, President of the International Center for Leadership in Education (www.leaderED.com) speak. His topic was “Preparing Students for a Changing World.” In his well researched and documented presentation, he made several observations about the state of education in the United States.

He pointed out to the audiences of business leaders, teachers and administrators that
students are different today. They are natives in a technological world to which their parents are immigrants. Student brains function differently due to the use of video games. Our 19th-century teaching methods are a challenge for the students from the 21st century. The appropriate use of technology is critical to engaging students and preparing them for a technological society.

The skill gap between what is taught in school and what students need in the work place and in their personal lives is growing. In particular, entry level positions for most jobs now require a higher level of reading skill than is currently being taught in our schools. Daggett calls our schools museums because the world is changing 4-5 times faster than they are: 40% of what is required to be taught in our schools today is not relevant to the needs of employers or, for that matter, the students themselves. Dr. Daggett pointed out that globalization, technology, and demography are the three major factors impacting education today, and that it needs to be rigorous and relevant.

Our students will be competing with those of India and China, countries with a much longer school day (8 1/2 hrs.) and school year (239 days). Chinese and Indian students are required to have biochemistry before entering the 10th grade. My own state, Michigan, has the shortest school day and school year in the country, with the most required topics in each subject area of any state in the nation. That means fewer days for more subjects, not exactly a recipe for an in-depth, rigorous education.

The latest government mandates do little to allow teachers to do their best for their students. “No Child Left Behind” enforces specific requirements on what is to be taught and how it is to be taught, resulting in little or no flexibility for the teacher to tailor the lesson plan to the needs of the students. Teachers in training are even discouraged from interest-directed learning themselves: those studying to become teachers have as little as one credit hour of electives during their four to five years of college due to requirements of this program.

Through funding from the Gates Foundation, The Center for Education Leadership has studied the 25 top-performing schools in the United States. Some of their findings suggest that flexibility, depth, and relevance are more important than regimented coverage of “the three R’s” and even big education budgets.

1. The top performing schools focus on applied knowledge, making subjects relevant and meaningful.
2. The top schools have integrated curriculum with teachers preparing joint lesson plans.
3. The more art in the curriculum, the better the schools performed.
4. It was not the most affluent schools that performed the best.
5. High performance schools taught reading in content areas rather than as a separate subject.

The Model Schools Conference On June 30 – July 3, 2007 will feature representatives from these top performing schools, where they will tell their stories. To learn more, visit their website at www.modelschoolsconference.com.

Dr. Baggett stated that the education system will not change until the pressure to change exceeds the resistance to change. Among the highest performing schools, the pressure to change most often came from the business community and not the schools. Achieving equity and excellence in our schools is very difficult to do.

Prospecting by Appointment

By Patrick McConahy

If you were to put together a list of the most underpaid and underappreciated job positions out there, I think you’d find economic development professionals a very close second behind public school teachers. The amount of time, effort, and energy that goes into board meetings, site visits, pleasing this constituent, catering to the needs of that donor, listening to the community, lobbying for more funds, attending conferences, and meeting with prospects leaves very little time for much of anything else, especially attracting companies to your area. As we all know, the best way to make the economic pie in your area bigger is to build relationships and rapport with companies that would fit well in your community. But with all of the time-consuming responsibilities listed above, how do you even start?

One of the fastest growing services Whittaker Associates has been asked to offer over the past year is appointment setting. What’s appointment setting? Imagine being hand-delivered a list of dates and times where all you have to do is show up and you’ll be speaking with the key decision-makers inside recently growing companies who want to hear more about what your area has to offer. All you have to do is what economic and community development groups do best: show outsiders their cities’ strengths and assets. Instead of sending brochures to hundreds of random companies, you meet face to face with a few companies that have expressed a specific interest in your area.

Often you can control when the appointment takes place. You carve out a few days when you are free to travel and the rest is taken care of. Even better, you can use appointment-setting services to piggyback on top of other attraction efforts you already have planned. For example, if you are attending CoreNet in Atlanta this October, why not stay a few days longer and meet with key decision-makers inside Atlanta-based companies that are both desirable and feasible for your community?

Sure, you’ll come back to work facing all the economic development tasks you’re responsible for every day. But you’ll have made contact with valuable prospects and have a pipeline of prioritized companies for follow up. Appointment setting isn’t the only way to find prospective partner companies, but its value explains why so many of our clients like having an intermediary to target the companies with the best potential fit and make face-to-face visits easy.

Corn's New Career

By Jami Miedema

In my opinion, there is no better way to spend a hot day than boating on Lake Michigan. As I’m sure many would agree, this time of year is perfect for enjoying watercraft or taking a long, lazy drive to observe the beauty that summer has to offer. Unfortunately, these leisure activities are impacted by soaring gas prices, and fewer people are willing to pay such a high cost for a day of fun. Will gas prices fall in the near future? With the ongoing gas versus renewable energy debate, chances are they will not. One alternative to gasoline that may help us save money on fuel is ethanol, but not everyone is happy about its widespread use.

Ethanol is a fuel made from corn and grain products, and typically comes from the Midwest when produced domestically. It is also the main component in E85, an alternative fuel comprised of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. The ethanol industry is booming right now due to tax breaks and subsidies given by the government under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to firms that are active in producing renewable energy and technologies that use renewable energy. Companies such as Archer Daniels Midland Co. and VeraSun Energy are just a few of the many producers who are planning to expand their production capacity to meet the nation’s demand for ethanol. GM is also jumping on the bandwagon by manufacturing more of their FlexFuel autos that use the E85 fuel. They plan to produce approximately 400,000 flexible fuel vehicles in 16 different models, in addition to the 2 million that are already on the road.

The benefits of using this renewable energy source are many. First, ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline, so it reduces the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. Second, it improves vehicle performance because of its higher octane rating. Finally, in addition to being a renewable energy source, it also reduces our dependence on petroleum from foreign nations, as well as supports our country’s agriculture. Despite these advantages, the use of ethanol for fuel has run into some disadvantage, as well.

Ethanol is mainly produced in the Midwest, and bottlenecks may occur when trying to distribute it to meet demand on the U.S. coasts. With an increased supply from expanding capacity, but no efficient means of transportation, the ethanol industry will face an oversupply of their product, and a decrease in the price at which it is sold. Since corn prices are rising, it may be hard for ethanol producers to make a profit. While this is a fear of producers, it is necessary to create a demand for ethanol. Ethanol is estimated to have two-thirds the energy content of gas, so a significantly cheaper price of E85 compared to gasoline is needed for anybody to want to switch to using the alternative energy.

For those who use gas guzzling vehicles, do not expect the prices to fall anytime soon. Because the government is pushing for increased use of renewable energy, players in the oil industry are scaling back plans for expansion. Gas prices will stay high since the gasoline supply will be lessened. Even so, don’t despair if your leisure activities have dwindled – a bike ride or walk can be just as enjoyable!

Source: Herber, H. J. (2007, June 18). It’s oil vs. ethanol, and you pay. The Grand Rapids Press, pp. A1-A2.

Taking it to the Streets…of the World

By Rebecca Rooy

Concerning the future of solidifying a global community, I had always envisioned a face-to-face, border-free sort of collaboration. However, dependable global communication is more immediate and accessible than what I thought. Although I have encountered the social network applications such as Facebook and MySpace, I had yet to discover one that embraced a global social network. Enter: TakingItGlobal.org (TIG). The purpose and mission of TakingItGlobal defines its version of forming a global community. “TakingITGlobal.org is an online community that connects youth to find inspiration, access information, get involved, and take action in their local and global communities. It’s the world’s most popular online community for young people interested in making a difference, with hundreds of thousands of unique visitors each month. TakingItGlobal’s highly interactive website provides a platform for expression, connection to opportunities, and support for action. Join now and connect with thousands of other young people around the world!”

In order to fully explore this emerging social connection (which began in the year 2000), I created my own profile. First of all, although the site explicitly states it was generated to connect youth, I did not stumble across any age limitations. I suspect the “youth outreach” mission is morphing, since the creators and webmasters began it in their youth and are now growing together. Also, although the other social networks of Facebook and MySpace exist solely to meet people based on common interests and to stay in touch with past friends, TakingITGlobal emphasizes both community and global outreach by sparking connections among people individually or organizationally active and interested in social, global, and political justice and development.

In setting up a profile, the questions contain the standard “about me” section and job description. However, since this is specifically a global network, one may identify nationalities, countries of citizenship, country of birth, languages spoken, nations visited in one’s lifetime (wherein tiny pictures of each visited nation’s flag virtually materialize to dress up your profile page), and finally, to identify issues that are important or of expertise to a member. There are various categories such as Arts and Media; Culture and Identity; Environment and Urbanization; Health and Wellness; Human Rights and Equity; Learning and Education; Peace, Conflict, and Governance; Technology and Innovation; Work and Economics. Within each of these categories there are about 70 sub-categories, which further specify these interests. Such sub-categories include: International Aid and Debt Relief; Sustainable Development; Peace Building; Political Thought; Internet Governance, Digital Divide; Advertising and Marketing Culture; Citizenship and Belonging; Consumerism and Pollution; Climate Change; Traditional and Conventional Medicine.

The page announces the total members of TakingItGlobal (as of June 21st, it was teetering around 150,074), has an online gallery of artwork submitted by members, features different discussion boards based on global or local issues, encourages different “Groups” to be formed (the largest group appears to be one called “A Well Earth”), and provides “Country Pages” (which compiles quick descriptions of every nation, the number of members hailing from that nation, the number of members that have visited that nation, quick country statistics, national awareness events, financial (or scholarship) opportunities, and professional opportunities).

In order for any representation, either on an individual or company basis, to be successful in today’s world, and to truly make a global impact, these types of social networks and interaction are now necessary. We are moving, in an accelerated fashion, into a digitalized world, where technology is the dominant tool in globalization, innovation, collaboration, and communication.

Bottom Billion

By Joel Burgess

Paul Collier, the director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University, has devoted three decades to the study of African Economics. He recently published The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It.

About 80% of the population of developing countries lives in countries whose populations are becoming better off. But almost a billion people – 70% of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa – are in economically stagnant or declining countries. 58 countries are in this desperate condition.

Collier argues that these countries have fallen into one or more of four traps from which it is virtually impossible to escape. These are:

1.) Conflict Trap – 70% of people in the bottom billion have been through civil war

2.) Natural Resources Trap – 29% are in countries dominated by the malign politics of natural resources

3.) Landlocked with Bad Neighbors Trap – 30% are in landlocked, resource-poor countries with bad neighbors

4.) Bad Governance in a Small Country Trap – 76% are in countries that have suffered long periods of bad governance and poor economic policies

Collier argues that trade, for all its potential benefits, will not help the bottom billion. These countries are uncompetitive exporters of labor-intensive goods and services, given the low costs and established positions of Asian producers. They cannot compete with China or Vietnam. Similarly, private capital does not flow to these countries except to exploit their natural resources. In fact, the problem is the reverse: huge capital flight. Collier estimates that almost 40% of Africa’s private wealth was held abroad in 1990.
Collier is also sceptical of the ability of aid to make much of a difference, at least on its own. He believes aid can and has helped. But it has been a holding operation, rather than the start of sustained growth. He is particularly sceptical of the view that unconditional budget support will work. We have, after all, already had an experiment with the consequences of unconditional finance: oil revenues. Debt relief – the darling of the aid lobbies – is the closest thing to oil revenues that the aid industry can provide, a point its proponents ignore.

Aid will not get countries out of the traps. It cannot stop conflict, though it can help after one is over. It can do nothing about the natural resources trap: indeed, having aid is similar to possessing just another natural resource. It may help landlocked countries with improved transport infrastructure, but cannot eliminate the catastrophe of having bad neighbors.

Collier makes three suggestions:

1.) Military intervention – The case for military intervention is most obvious, if controversial. Civil wars are so costly that well-timed military actions are quite likely (though not certain) to be cost-effective.

2.) Laws, statutes and charters for improved governance – ceasing to take money looted from the poorest countries is one such change; elimination of bribery by their companies is another. It also needs charters of better governance for countries in the bottom billion: transparent management of natural resources is among the most important. Also suggested are charters for democracy, budget transparency, post-conflict situations and investment.

3.) Trade preferences –unrestricted access to the markets of high-income countries for labor-intensive exports from the bottom billion. Only thus, suggests Collier, are the resource-poor countries ever likely to break into world markets for manufactured goods.

Source: Martin Wolf, Financial Times
Paul Collier, Oxford University