Steve Peha: Agile Schools - How Technology Saves Education

Uploaded by yuilibrary on 23.11.2011

>> STEVE PEHA: My name is Steve Peha. I'm the president of Teaching That Makes Sense.
I've been working in education for about 16 years. Prior to that I was a software developer,
and kind of lived the life of many small software developers, making tiny little projects in
my house with two or three other people and hopefully selling them to somebody who would
pay us money for them. So I have a little bit of experience with software development.
The last work I did in software development was 2000-2001. I had my chance at the brass
ring. An old friend from college invited me to be the Vice President of Product Development
-- doesn't that sound great? -- for an internet company in 2000 and 2001, and we made CMS
software. It was great. And then the bubble burst and the money went away, and all that
stuff happened. But while we were doing that I got my first introduction -- not as an engineer
because I don't write code, but as a manager -- to XP. Extreme Programming was all the
rage in about 1999-2000. We were just starting to look at it. I was wondering why we weren't
very productive, and I thought we'd use some XP ideas. That's where I learned a little
about that.
Right about, oh I don't know, let's see, the company closed down at the end of 2001, so
the Agile Manifesto came out in like February of 2001. So we had the Agile community kind
of beginning, we had Scrum for a few years; that looked interesting to me. Even though
I couldn't get any engineers to use it on our team, it still was attractive to me.
Here I am 15 years later and I'm looking at this problem that Doug spoke to. The problem
is really very simple: we have an education system that is very much based on a factory
model, an assembly line model, and we want a different kind of graduate now. We want
a different kind of person coming out. We want people coming out of college who can
go right to work at places like Yahoo! In fact, we have record unemployment and a record
shortage of software engineers in the United States. I think people choosing software engineering
as a major in college is at an all time low, since we've had those majors.
Probably this has to do with the effects we've had about how we're reforming education. This
is a new book that has come out: So Much Reform, So Little Change. We've been working to reform
education officially since at least 1983 when we published a big report for Congress about
how bad our education system was. It was called A Nation At Risk, and sure enough, we're still
at risk. We have thrown money at it. We've spent 40 per cent more money, adjusted for
inflation, in the last 30 years on education. We have the lowest class sizes in history,
about half the size class sizes were in the '50s. We have more technology than ever in
Think about this. Do any of you have kids? OK. Oh, lots of kids. Any of you were kids?
OK, everybody was a kid. So you went to school, right? I'm kind of going to date myself. I'm
48 years old, OK, so I graduated in 1981, I graduated high school. So I went to high
school from 1977 -- birth of the Apple 2 -- to 1981. Did I have an Apple 2? No. So how many
times a day did I get to touch a piece of computer technology? Roughly zero. How many
times do today's high school students get to touch a piece of computer technology? Like
the cell phone is probably in their hands the whole time.
So even though we've had this amazing amount of technology, that hasn't really helped our
education system very much either, and no one knows why. It's absolutely fascinating.
There was a big article in the New York Times recently: a school district in Arizona spent
like 50 million dollars on a technology bond levy to bring in new technology to their schools.
3 years later, no improvement. Guess what they're doing about it? Running another 50
million dollar technology bond levy. They just believe so much that technology will
make a difference, but as yet, technology really hasn't made a difference. Nobody really
knows why. Maybe we'll figure it out today.
We've been working very hard. School seems poised for dramatic improvement. All the conditions
are right: we have political support, we have financial support. Everybody's interested
in education today. But improvement has been slow and slight relative to our expectations
and societal needs; we're not getting the product that we want.
So let's all take a test. Kids get to take a lot of bubble tests today, and if you have
kids who are at about third grade and up, they've taken a lot of tests. One of the big
questions that we've been asking is how do we fix these schools? How do we turn around
these unsuccessful schools? Let's take a test right now. What is the percentage of successful
school turnarounds? Let me define a turnaround here. A turnaround in this case is defined
as a school in the lowest decile -- that's a school in the lowest 10 per cent -- reaching
average state performance in 5 years. This is not a school becoming a great school, it's
a low school becoming an average school in 5 years. What do you think: A, B, C or D?
Take a guess.
>> STEVE PEHA: D. 10 per cent, 1 out of 10 school turnarounds. Anybody want to go higher
than that? This feels like The Price is Right. Anybody want to go 11? We'll auction. Do I
hear 25? Do I hear 50?
OK, well it turns out, if Doug will flip the next slide for us, that it's less than 2 per
cent. Yeah, wow. We did think about 10 years ago that it was about a third, and then about
5 years ago we thought it was about 10 per cent. But this is the most recent study I
know of, a study of over 2,000 schools, and the conclusion was that bona fide turnarounds
were rare. Just 1.4 per cent of district schools -- that'd be normal, traditional public schools
-- and less than 1 per cent of charter schools earned the accolade of a turnaround school.
I love the title of the study: Are Bad Schools Immortal? It turns out it's very hard to close
a school even when it isn't working very well. The community is upset, parents like the school
even though it may not be serving their children very well. It's very hard to close a school.
So turning around schools or improving schools is really, really important, yet we only improve
about 1 out of 50.
An interesting thing: the charter schools... We have charter schools in California, right?
I think we have a very robust charter sector here. Charter schools were designed to have
more flexibility than public schools, so the assumption in this study was that charter
schools should show a much higher percentage of turning themselves around because they
have more flexibility to do so. But in fact it was slightly lower.
Our Secretary of Education is Arne Duncan. I know that just like me you have a big poster
of him in your cubicle, because he's going to save us. He boldly proposed when he took
office in this last administration that he was going to focus on our nation's 5,000 lowest
schools, 5,000 worst schools. Because, as often happens, one small group -- 5,000 schools,
there are about 105,000 schools in the United States, so this is about 4 per cent of the
schools -- these 5,000 schools account for about 50 per cent of our high school drop
outs, for example. A lot of the lack of success we have in education is concentrated in a
very small number of schools, relative to the whole.
If we can only rehabilitate 1 out of 50 schools, and we want to rehabilitate 5,000 of them,
how many years will it take, assuming that a turnaround takes 5 years? I can't do that
math, but you guys can. Well it's a lot, right? If it's 2 per cent, it's going to take like
50 shots, basically.
We have a federal program that does this. It's called the SIG program, or the School
Improvement Grant. Schools get maybe 2-3 million dollars a year for 2, 3 or 4 years to improve.
You could say spending 10 million dollars on a turnaround. We want to do 5,000 of them,
and we only get 1 in 50 of them right, so you can see that it'll never happen the way
it's working now. It'll never happen in a million years. Well, probably not a million
years, more like 500 years.
Whatever we're doing, even in the schools that should be the easiest to improve -- these
are the lowest schools, these are the ones when I go to do my work, I love to go to work
in these schools because when I come out of the schools, they pick up points and I'm the
one who looks good along with the school. These are the easiest schools, in a way, to
improve because they have so far to go. But for whatever reason it's not happening, and
the question is why? Why isn't anything we're doing working?
We're doing testing and accountability. We have curriculum standards now so that everybody's
supposedly on the same page. Third grade knows what second grade is doing, and fifth grade
knows what fourth grade is doing. We have charter schools. Why aren't charter schools
changing everything? They should. We have merit pay. There have been many studies now
about big merit pays for teachers so we can pay really good teachers lots of money and
probably not take money away from other teachers, but essentially give big bonuses to really
good teachers. Everybody thought that was going to really work. It turns out not to
be very successful.
In fact, in the most recent study by an economist, Roland Fryer -- he just won an MacArthur Award
so he's obviously a very smart guy, an economist from Harvard -- he did a 3 year study on merit
pay for teachers. Now, do we have anything like bonuses here at Yahoo!? We've got bonuses,
right? The idea is pretty simple: work a little harder, get a little bonus. And it does work,
doesn't it? It sort of does. It generally works. It's a general free market principle.
This guy, Roland Fryer, did this study in New York and he found out that most of the
teachers didn't get any better at all, regardless of what bonus they were working for or what
bonus they received. Actually, a significant portion got worse. So there is something about
the culture of education that is averse to free market incentives; it just doesn't work
very well.
What's another reason why schools might not be working as well as they should?
>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: Parenting?
>> STEVE PEHA: Parenting. It's the parents. We can put it on the parents. Parents do have
probably the biggest influence, but it's very hard to reform them from the school, very
hard to get into the home to do that. What's another good reason why schools might not
be making progress? We're spending a lot of money, we're working hard.
>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: Not able to attract good talent.
>> STEVE PEHA: They might not be able to attract good teaching talent. Certainly that's going
to... The two things you've mentioned are the two things most effective, or the two
most important factors in educational success: the home life and the teacher. For whatever
reason, we have difficulties in many of our homes, usually related to poverty, and we
have a lot of difficulties in attracting talent into education. Some people think it has to
do with money, other people think it has to do with working conditions.
Let's move along to our next one, thank you. Here's what I think the issue is. I think
that we can change a lot of things at home, we can change a lot of things about talent,
we can change a lot of things about our system, and we still won't make the kind of progress
we need to make for one really simple reason: after 30 years of reform, we still don't have
a single method or proven collection of methods for running schools in ways that improve student
achievement. Think about that. Think about what it would be like to make software with
the 15 people in this room with no method whatsoever. How would it work? Everybody huddle
around, you do this, you do that. No I don't want to do this, no you do that, no you did
this yesterday, no you did that last week, no that already exists. It would be a mess,
And software development kind of went through this period in a way, though not as chaotically.
Through the '70s and early '80s, I was living in Boston at the time, and this was the height
of the high tech highway, route 128, and big companies like Prime Computer and Wang and
DEC. All of these companies are gone, and they went really quickly. The software industry
itself was going through a big crisis. Lots of projects weren't coming in on time. Lots
of problems, mostly having to do with waterfall methodologies. Out of that came this new set
of lightweight methodologies that we know now.
Doug, have you met any of those original guys?
>> DOUGLAS CROCKFORD: The original guys?
>> STEVE PEHA: Yeah, some of the original Agile and Scrum people?
>> STEVE PEHA: Yeah. They're pretty smart guys. They had to figure out some pretty hard
things, they had to do things very differently.
>> DOUGLAS CROCKFORD: No smarter than these people.
>> STEVE PEHA: Well no smarter, of course. No smarter of course than these guys. But
the point was that they had to do something very, very different.
I'm proposing that we start to do something very, very different in schools, something
that doesn't even really make sense in our current system. But I'm going to suggest that
it could and it should and that with your help, and the help of some educators that
I'm trying to evangelize, that we can get enough people together to apply some of these
principles that we know from software development to running schools and improving education
for kids, so that we can have a method.
If you want to open up a McDonalds restaurant, you want to be a franchisee, what do you get
from McDonalds when you start your restaurant? A big manual, right, you get a big book of
how to run a McDonalds. It covers everything about how to hire people, how to clean the
bathrooms, how to make the French fries. It covers everything. You've got a method right
there. If you want to open a UPS store, you've got a method. If you're a principal and you
get a school, you know what you get? A set of keys. You get a big set of keys and that's
Now there may be books you can read and things you can know, and something you can pick from
over here, and something you heard about there, but none of those things seem to form a method.
They never work together. If it works over at your school, it doesn't necessarily work
at my school for whatever reason. We just haven't put that together yet.
But you can see we've got all this good stuff. We've got testing. That hasn't really worked
yet. We have performance based pay for teachers; that hasn't really worked yet. We have curriculum
standards; that hasn't worked yet. Charter schools. A small number work really well.
And voucher programs so kids can go to private schools with public money have never really
been very popular politically. So this is it. I call these 5 things the palsied fist
of education reform, because basically we've tried them, we keep trying them and pushing
them harder and harder and harder, and they don't seem to be giving us the result we want.
My way of proving we're not getting the result we want is to quote somebody who's really
famous. There's a fellow named Chester Finn, and he's probably one of America's greatest
educational historians. He was also a former Assistant Secretary of Education under Ronald
Reagan I believe. I got to know Chester because I got the opportunity to write alongside him
and another bunch of education experts on the National Journal Education Experts blog.
Since we're all responding to the same policy issue each week, we get to talk to each other
on the back channel about things we've written and things we've said.
He said this in an article about a year ago: "the education reform debate as we have known
it for a generation is creaking to a halt. No new way of thinking has emerged to displace
those that have preoccupied reformers for a quarter-century, but the defining ideas
of our current wave of reform, and the conceptual framework built around them, are clearly outliving
their usefulness." So education reform as we've known it is coming to an end. Now, it's
still going to play out. We've got another set of laws coming through Congress; it's
probably going to play out through about 2020. But then I think people are going to start
looking for something new, and I hope what they're going to find is that.
I hope that we're going to start asking ourselves this question: why don't we have methods to
run our schools? There are methods for teaching certain things. If any of you have sent your
kids to a Montessori school, that's like a method, right? It's not a method that's really
very scalable or extensible. It's also not a method that's applied very consistently;
you can go to many Montessori schools and see very different things. We have things
like... Has anybody ever sent their kid to a Waldorf school? That fascinates me. Very
unusual kind of teaching, but very, very small number of schools. It's not something we can
push out into the world. And there's no research basis on having a large number of those schools.
But the research on Agile is pretty good. Huge gains in productivity. Also, a more humanistic
work environment; everybody's happier, everybody gets more work done, and we get higher quality
work as well. That's a big set of three things that we need for schools. I'm defining Agile
for the moment as a collection of methodologies underneath it: Scrum, XP, Kanban, Lean.
I was just talking to this fellow about how useful Scrum could be in the classroom. I've
used a lot of things in working with kids, and I think this is where the big advantage
is in getting kids to know this stuff: if you want kids who can come out of high school
and college knowing how to work with technology and produce software, work on software teams,
it would be great if they walked out of their senior year of high school knowing how to
work in Scrum, how to use Scrum on a project. Even if they didn't use it on a software project,
just knowing how to use it would make them better suited to working in the world. Who
knows, they might not even have to go to college. It's getting so expensive.
XP. There are some neat things that we can borrow from XP. One of the things I liked
about XP so much in the beginning was the idea of paired programming. One of the big
problems we have in education is the isolation of individual teachers, but paired teaching
would solve a big issue there. We used to have something called team teaching; nobody
likes it anymore and I don't know why, but I think it had something to do with the fact
there was no method around using it. In XP we also have something called collective code
ownership. The reason we have collective code ownership with XP -- well, one of the reasons
-- is so when we hit bottlenecks, different people can work on different chunks of the
code, so we tend to be more efficient.
We have a similar problem in education, and this is where education is built up like a
waterfall system. All of the kindergarten teachers are on this level, and they dump
their kids over the waterfall to the first grade teachers. This is kind a reverse waterfall;
it goes up. The first grade teachers dump them off to the second grade teachers. What's
really tragic about it is, and nobody means for it to be this way, but if I'm a kindergarten
teacher and I've worked very hard, and you four have been very successful, I'm very happy
with you. But you I never figured out. I don't know how you did; you and I didn't get along
very well. But you know what? That last day of school, I send you all up to first grade
and I never see you again. So it really doesn't matter. This kid may have problems that I
should have told somebody about. Maybe this kid needs a certain kind of teacher so that
he'll have a better year, but when everything's set up horizontally, there's no collective
kid ownership.
One of the things it would be very easy to do, to combine something Scrum-like with this
notion of collective ownership of our product here, would be instead of organizing a school
as a waterfall system with horizontal organization, is to organize it vertically in cohorts. We
might take two kindergarten teachers and two first grade teachers, and say two second grade
teachers, and that makes a team of six. Maybe we throw a seventh person on there who's the
Scrum master or a lead person. Then they take six classes of kids, so about 120-150 kids,
and they work only with that group of kids all the way up until they send them off to
third grade.
There's still a send off, there's still a little bit of a waterfall dependency -- we're
never going to get away from that -- but I now know this kid for 3 years in a row. By
the middle of the second year we've finally found out what the secret is. At the beginning
of the second year we've figured out you're completely different than we thought you were.
You guys are still doing well, except you're having a hard time now in first grade. That's
what it's like for kids, if you remember having a good year and then having a bad year. A
lot of kids just have bad years when they go through family issues. A divorce can just
knock out a kid's academic performance for an entire school year.
If that kid only has one teacher, and that one teacher just sends that kid along and
never worries about them again, we don't have that collective ownership that we really should
have. Kids go up through the system vertically; we should have a structure in education that
parallels that, that mirrors that.
With Kanban, I'm really excited about that because I've seen some really neat things
about how people are using Kanban, like in their house. There was a wonderful video that
I saw on InfoQ about a guy who does it for his kids' chores. He has little sticky notes
of all the chores over here, and then he has a middle line which is like I'm working on
this one, and then they take the sticky note and show it to him. If he approves it they
put it in the done side. They do all their chores that way, and they all know when their
chores are done because all their sticky notes are on the far side. A lot of people are doing
interesting things with that.
It occurred to me that even before I knew much about Kanban, I had set one up inadvertently
when I used to do classroom newspapers with kids. I love doing production work, staged
production work with kids. Even with kids as little as first or second or third grade,
I think it's really great for them to be on big production teams. To organize these teams,
I would put up what I know now is a big Kanban. It would basically be a pocket chart of something
that would lay out this way and have little pockets in it for each stage.
For a newspaper, we'd have story assignment being a stage, and then we'd have researching,
drafting, then we'd have a revising stage, then it would be an editing stage, and then
it would be a layout and design stage. Each stage requires different amounts of energy
from me and from the kids, so I would put numbers above each stage to limit the amount
of work in progress that could take place. In the story assignment stage I could almost
make that limit infinite, because I can help a kid assign a story in like one minute. I
can have a large number of kids at that stage.
Into writing, I can have a lot of kids writing their own stories there, but some will still
need help, so I'll have to limit slightly the amount of work that I can take care of
and help them with. When we get to revision, that limit goes down further; I can only work
with 5 or 6 kids in a day on revising a story. When we get down to editing, the limit is
always 1 piece per editor that we have. We might only have 3 kids who are smart enough
in a class of young kids to edit a story effectively, so I might limit the number of stories that
can be in editing to that number, to 3. A kid would get a post-it note, or get a picture
of the kid who has the story, or go get the story, edit it up, send it on to layout, and
clear one off the list. We can use Kanban really easily, I think, in schools.
A big improvement we can make using some of the principles of Lean. Education runs pretty
lean already in terms of resources. I don't know how many times you've... Anybody been
to a school recently? OK. It doesn't look like this. It just doesn't. Schools probably
never will. I always think it would be really nice if they did, but they probably never
will. So schools run pretty lean in terms of physical plant, teacher salaries are not
huge, very small number of administrators, managers.
But where schools don't run lean is with the most precious resource. Remember that the
day is finite in the amount of time, and that the year is finite in the amount of time,
and that the United States has the least amount of instruction time of almost all industrial
nations. Anybody grow up going to school in another country? How many days a week did
you go to school?
>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: 5 and a half.
>> STEVE PEHA: 5 and a half. See, a half day extra. How many hours each day?
>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: From 9 to 3.
>> STEVE PEHA: Just 9 to 3, so it's the same as ours. A lot of homework to do?
>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: Not really.
>> STEVE PEHA: No, not too bad?
>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: Not at the school that I went to.
>> STEVE PEHA: Not at the school you went to. Where did you go to school, what country?
>> STEVE PEHA: In India, OK.
>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: It was a special high school where we had no homework.
>> STEVE PEHA: But that's not the norm, is it?
>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: No, it's not.
>> STEVE PEHA: Not at all. Yes. In a lot of countries, particularly the top countries
in the world -- Singapore, South Korea -- while we have 180-185 days, they have about 210,
215, or 220 days. We have a 6 hours day; they might have a 7 or 8 hour day. They might have
Saturday school that they go to.
So the most important thing about Lean is eliminating waste, and where we tend to waste
time is in instruction. I've been to schools where it takes so long to get the kids seated
for class -- you're nodding your head, you were in these schools, you were that guy -- I've
been in schools where it takes so long to get the kids seated in class that you lose
4 or 5 minutes at the front of class. And then at the end of class you know what happens
is the kids are looking at the clock, and 5 minutes before the bell rings start to put
on their backpacks and get ready to go. So they end class 5 minutes early. And then somebody
says I need a pencil and a piece of paper, and everybody runs around and takes 5 minutes
to get pencils and paper.
I was at a school working in South Carolina, a middle school, and I kept track on my iPhone
of how many wasted minutes there were each time I went to a class. I added it up at the
end of a couple of days and they wasted 20 per cent of their instructional time just
getting kids settled down.
There are some really good techniques we could use that are known but not practiced to get
that time back. A couple of things about Lean really are very useful in that regard, one
about getting rid of waste, the other about just-in-time. We would call it just-in-time
manufacturing, but in education we might call it just-in-time learning or just-in-time teaching.
There are some really good techniques for getting kids exactly the learning they need
right when they learn it. Admittedly, computers might be able to do this, but teachers who
are trained in this do it really, really well.
If we look at the best parts of each of these four things, and we were able to sort of operationalize
them, we would eventually be able to develop a method, I think, that you could use to run
schools more effectively. We'll look at some of the potential here.
We could have Agile districts. There's no reason that school districts at the district
level couldn't use Agile models as they exist right now. All you're doing in school districts
is a bunch of big projects anyway. Agile is great for project management; you could start
that right today. Schools at the district level would be more efficient. Obviously the
efficiencies would be higher in bigger schools, school districts like San Francisco, than
it would be in smaller districts where there are sometimes so few people that it's not
useful to have a team approach to it.
Agile schools. This is the one I'm personally the most interested in. This is taking the
adults, the teachers, and organizing them in different ways. Especially self-organizing
cross functional teams. In schools we don't do that; we say you are all the sixth grade
teachers, you all will be on a team. You hate him, he hates you, you don't talk to him,
you don't sit with him. You know, it just doesn't work out.
I talked with a principal last year who was very interested in this idea, and I said have
you ever tried letting people come together as their own teams? He said yeah, we tried
it last year. I said how'd it go? He said well, I let everybody choose between regular
grade level teams or their own self-organized teams. I said what was the result? He said
well, the self-organized teams spent much more time talking about student learning and
quality teaching, and the grade level teams talked about field trips and what's called
grade level business -- things other than kids.
So even though we haven't really tried this yet, even though this hasn't been made official
or made into a big method yet, I already know that in some schools, getting teachers to
choose to work together and breaking up this idea that we're all in one department or one
grade level can improve how teachers work to help kids.
Agile classrooms is really where we start to think about using some of these practices
with kids. One of the things that I like to talk to teachers about is the iterative nature
of learning. We all know why iteration is important but it's very hard for teachers
sometimes to see that an iterative approach to what they're trying to teach kids is important.
Part of the reason is because they're put on a little conveyer belt of things they're
supposed to be able to teach kids. I was just in a school where they were given out by their
district 160 lessons that they had to teach. There's only 180 days, so if they had to teach
160 lessons, they couldn't ever cycle back and pick up another iteration.
But if we change that, kids could learn a lot more naturally, in the same way that we
learn about the quality of a project, how to make better decisions with a project with
each iteration.
The big payoff is in the kids. It's what we talked about before, it's what Doug mentioned
when he started: it's the idea that we might one day be able to graduate kids from high
school who knew maybe not as much about engineering as you guys do, but who were ready with the
basic skills and the attitudes and the interest to pursue careers in this area, and to do
it pretty easily. So it wouldn't be so hard to bring a junior person onto a team, and
you'd have a lot more people to talk with.
Let's get the next one.
So here's my thesis. The conventional wisdom is that technology products and technology
context will revolutionize education. The big thesis in the United States is that someone,
one of you, will develop some great educational software, or some great educational hardware
Has anybody heard of Khan Academy? Bill Gates says Khan Academy will revolutionize education.
It might. I doubt it. I think it's pretty cool. I think it solves an interesting problem:
access to clear explanations. But I really don't see it educating most of the kids I
know. I like it, I've learned a lot from it, but I don't see it working so well for most
of the things we do for kids between kindergarten and high school. But that's what we're hoping.
Our society hopes that technology products will somehow come in and save the day where
humans can't.
Another one is technology contexts, and by that I mean online learning, or blended learning.
Has anybody taken an online course? Or a blended course, where you have a professor for a little
while and then you're online most of the time? A lot of people think this is going to save
education, that we're just going to pump out teaching online to people everywhere and that's
going to make them really smart. What's interesting about that is intellectually that should work
really well. Shouldn't that be perfect? Your kid can just learn all the time. There's no
teacher involved and you don't really have to do much because it's all laid out right
there. Except online learning hasn't really proven to work very well yet.
In terms of universities, who's the largest university in the United States? Larger by
far, larger than the UC system.
>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: University of Phoenix.
>> STEVE PEHA: University of Phoenix. Over 500,000 students. A significant amount of
the teaching that they offer at the University of Phoenix is done in an online format or
in a blended format. So they're the biggest people, they do the most formalized post-secondary
online and blended learning. What do you think their 6 year graduation rate is? I mean, the
average 6 year graduation rate is probably 50 per cent, 55 per cent. With all the technology
they have, what do you think their average 6 year graduation rate is? 9 per cent. It's
an incredibly inefficient system. It's an incredibly profitable system, but it's an
incredibly inefficient system. It may well be the least efficient large university system
in the United States.
I don't think necessarily that technology products are going to solve this problem.
I think technology products are going to make things better, but I don't think they're going
to make them better enough. And I don't think technology contexts are going to help that
many people, except possibly in rural areas where they simply don't have access to enough
teachers, so you can't take calculus, for example, because there is no calculus teacher
within 100 miles. Then Khan will be really good.
As I see it, technology processes like Agile processes, and technology culture, which is
the culture that arises out of using these processes... I don't know how you feel about
it, but I've worked in about 10 different industries, mostly, as I said, in technology
and education, but I've consulted in a number of industries, and I like tech culture the
best. I like working at places like Yahoo! Do you all love working here? You're on film.
I like it a lot, because I meet guys like Doug Crockford. He's pretty cool. I meet guys
like this. He's from Brazil. Comes up, talks to me, tells me his wife's a teacher, teaches
in Brazil. I just meet cool people all the time. Friendly; you're all friendly. You're
smiling, you're smiling. Articulate, intelligent, curious. Anybody here not curious? Don't say
it. I don't know, there's just something about tech culture that I've always loved, the sort
of oh yeah, we'll get it done kind of spirit. Every one of us has been on a project with
a completely unreasonable deadline, correct? What do you do? You just do it.
Well, there aren't too many cultures in the work world where we've somehow developed that.
Yahoo! is a great company, but this idea of tech culture permeates every tech company
I've been in. Even when I was running a company with two full time people and three part time
people, we still had a lot of the same spirit about it. It was really a great way to live
and a great way to be and I learned a lot, and all those good things. I'm thinking wow,
those are all the things I want for kids. So I think technology processes, like Agile,
and technology culture will create the first model of high quality schooling.
And Agile specifically will be the catalyst that revitalizes reform. Reform is going to
die. We're all getting tired of it. Does anybody have a kid who's in middle school? Is anybody
old enough? How old's your child?
>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: I've got several.
>> STEVE PEHA: Several. Oldest one?
>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: The oldest has finished high school.
>> STEVE PEHA: OK, finished high school.
>> AUDIENCE MEMBER: Last year.
>> STEVE PEHA: Last year. Your child... Boy or girl?
>> STEVE PEHA: Boy. Your son would be one of the first people who has lived through
the entire history of testing and reform in our country. It started 13 years ago -- that
would have been about 1998 -- so that's when most of the testing started. Tested all the
way up through. Oh, unless you went to private school. Did your son go to public school?
>> STEVE PEHA: Great, OK. So they're all getting tested a lot, right? And they're getting prepped
for testing a lot. People in the United States in general -- I'm not speaking for this gentlemen
purposely -- but people are getting kind of tired of it, because it doesn't seem to be
We have this big push for curriculum standards which are going to come out in the next couple
of years. I don't know. I don't think it's going to work any better than the last push
for curriculum standards. We've done standards in the '80s, the '90s, the '00s, and we're
trying them again in the '10s. So we're on our fourth shot.
It doesn't appear that bonus pay for teachers is attracting new people into the field, or
even inspiring teachers to work harder or do better. School voucher programs have never
gotten big enough because they haven't been palatable politically. And charter schools.
We have a few really good examples; there are probably about 200 out of the 6,000 charter
schools that are doing some really incredible work. But 200 schools out of 6,000 after 20
years of charter schooling makes it seem like it would be a very long time before that provided
a solution.
I think we're going to need technology processes, technology culture. I think we need Agile
This is what's next. We've got to operationalize Agile concepts and practices. I've been doing
a lot of writing and a lot of thinking, and I'm working with a couple of really good Agile
practitioners to pull out which practices within Agile would be most suitable for school,
and how to organize them or define them -- or as my wife, who's an operations person likes
to say, operationalize them. The idea that we can hand them to another group of people
and that group of people could implement them.
Pilot Agile practices in a small school setting. After writing an article that I wrote for
InfoQ about 5 months ago, I got a lot of email from people who were interested in this idea.
The article was basically what I just presented to you. I just got dozens and dozens of emails.
Five people wrote to me and said: I'm doing this, I've done this, I'm trying to do this
now, so I know there are at least five other people in the United States who are trying
to do this. Nobody's succeeded though, nobody's put it together in a school. The closest guy
I know says he's about 2 years off, so that's way too long. We've got to find a way to pilot
Agile practices in a small school setting.
We've got to document the initial implementation and publish and share the results. Once we
get that far we have a model that can be given to other people and ideally replicated. It
would take a lot of help from people like you, though. It would probably take... The
biggest hurdle would be training people in education about these methods, so getting
this done I think, in any kind of big way, or any kind of regional way -- say in Silicon
Valley, which would make a lot of sense -- would take probably a certain amount of time and
effort on your part. Do you guys have 10 per cent time? No? Any per cent time? Well, maybe
it'll have to come out of your weekends.
But we're going to need two groups to come together here. On the education side, I've
talked to a lot of educators and they say wow, this looks really cool, it would be great,
but I don't know how to do this, I can't do this, my principal won't let me do that, etc,
etc. I get a lot of people on the tech side like you who are going wow, I see Agile going
out into other areas of society and being successful. Why not in schools? A lot of people
in technology want specifically to contribute to education.
What I'd like to do is bring those two groups together to see if we couldn't get enough
energy moving forward to get somebody to let us put this into a school, train people, build
a model, document the model, disseminate the model, and probably even develop some software
that would help schools run the model. We already have great tools for Agile development,
right? Why couldn't we have tools for Agile schools?
Thank you very much; it's been a pleasure to be here. I really appreciate your time
today. Once again, my name is Steve Peha. I've got some business cards up at the front;
grab one if you want to write to me. I'd love to hear from you. If you've got any ideas
or thoughts, let me know. Thanks a lot.