Thursday, January 1, 2009

Stimulus Spending

So what's your "elevator pitch" to President-elect Obama on stimulus spending for education? What do you say when then the President-elect steps into elevator with you, presses the button for the 47th floor and asks "how would you spend $40 billion on education so that it boosts employment immediately and enhances education in the long run"?

The Edmonds Community College (EdCC) newsfeed and twitter feed highlighted an op-ed from USA Today that said don't forget the critically important role that CC's play in the education of our society. Their concern stems from a set of 2-page ads by a group of major universities calling on the incoming administration to spend 5% of the stimulus package on education and "shovel-ready" projects at the universities. USA Today is right to call for that money to be shared more equitably with the CC's.

A quick search of the web turned up an Inside Higher Ed article on the topic including separate statements from the American Council on Education and a coalition of universities, plus some rather strong contrarian views that higher-ed doesn't deserve the money without strings attached (like the car companies). And to round out the spend-fest, this USA Today article discusses the stimulus spending that might go to K-12 education.

So here are the 5 points I'll make on the elevator with Barack:
  • Fiber optics are the new concrete. Our fascination with buildings and roads is a decidedly 20th century preoccupation. We need to spend less (not $0, however) on buildings and more on broadband, data centers, learning management systems and business intelligence.
  • World class K-12 education is the foundation. Money should first be spent on K-12, then community college and finally on 4-year universities. Sorry, but the number of people not getting a great high school education is far more concerning to me than people not getting to go to college right after high school. Bill Gates received a great high school education and part of a great college education - take a lesson.
  • Create computer-ready jobs too. Why are we preoccupied with creating construction jobs all of a sudden. How about an IT Corp that paid for unemployed IT professionals to work in school IT departments for 2 years? Or perhaps a Online Ed Corp, where unemployed educators would not teach, but focus entirely on the migration of existing in-class curriculum to an effective online format?
  • Education for the educators. You can't just throw computers at teachers and say "here, do something useful with them". The internet and collaborative tools make the situation even worse. Teachers need to rethink everything to turn a good on-site class into a good online class. We need to spend money revamping teacher education and we need to send existing teachers back through the system (they can become part of the Online Ed Corp mentioned above).
  • Learning starts when education ends. In a world where continuous personal and professional education will be the norm, we need to stop focusing on degrees and start focusing on learning. We need to pay attention to libraries and librarians (see this ALA statement on stimulus spending). I'd like to see a few tens of million go to turning Suzzallo into the physical hub of Washington's virtual Library of Alexandria.
Oh, this is my floor. Nice talking to you.

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