Shift Happens

Education in Colorado is a well known “issue” for anyone that lives here.  While our current (and soon to be previous) political leadership (e.g. the governor’s office) hasn’t done much, a number of incredibly hard working and dedicated people – such as my good friend Jared Polis – have thrown themselves deeply into the challenge of trying to improve the education system in Colorado.

Lisa Reeves of SAP – who happens to live in Boulder – send me two great things last week.  The first is a remarkable blog called The Fischbowl which is spearheaded by Karl Fisch – the Director of Technology at Arapahoe High School.  It’s an awesome example of how blogging can be used to in a high school.  In addition to Karl’s blog, Lisa send me a superb presentation that everyone should click through and ponder.  My favorite slide segment is “Name this Country:

  • Richest in the World
  • Largest Military
  • Center of world business and finance
  • Strongest education system
  • World center of innovation and invention
  • Currency the world standard of value
  • Highest standard of living

The answer is – England – in 1900.  Sound familiar all you American’s out there?  The presentation ends delightfully with “shift happens” which – of course – is where we started.

  • Brad,

    Fascinating stuff particularly because of the source. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used the analogy of England and other historical hegemonies to my friends and colleagues as evidence that we can presume the U.S. will remain the dominant world power for generations to come, and yet most scoff at me like I’m an alarmist.

    Thanks for sending this along.


  • Thanks for the kind words. I’m curious, do you know how Lisa came across The Fischbowl and the presentation? I know how education folks picked up on it, but this is the first time someone else has mentioned it (that I know of). Venture capitalists are not exactly my usual audience!

    I don’t think the presentation you linked to includes the music, so you might want to visit the original post to read the background on the presentation, and to download the music and the sources if you’re interested. The presentation has taken on a life of it’s own – it’s fun to hear how folks have come across it.

  • Dave Jilk

    The presentation is thought provoking – however, at least one statistic is wrong: there is a claim that Nintendo spends more on R&D than the Federal Government, and that’s totally wrong – DARPA’s budget alone is in the $2 billion range, and the SBIR program, which is pegged at 2.5% of total research in the applicable agency, is a $2 billion a year program, so the total research is probably $100 *B*illion. Either the author mistook a B for an M or is only counting research the government does *internally*, as opposed to funding externally – if the latter it would be a rather disingenuous use of statistics.

  • Great comments – It seems all dominating nations and societies come and go throughout history, and it would appear the U.S. setting itself up to be the next one to go. I read somewhere recently that the “world-police” mentality and an fear/greed driven foreign policy was a tell-tale sign of an empire about to slide into a period of “managed decline”. While I thought this was a terribly convenient observation given the current state of world affairs and our administrations’ foreign policy, it certainly strikes a chord and supports some of the comments above.

  • Dave,

    I think it was referring to Research and Innovation spending on education specifically, although I did not go read the reports myself. The slide should probably have that part added to make it clear.

  • My thanks to you for blogging it, Lisa for sending it, and Karl for writing the presentation in the first place. Of course, speaking as a Brit who laments the passing of The Empire (which we finally realised had gone only around the time of the Suez crisis, in the year of my birth), it’s all the more poignant. Great material, and you’ve pointed me to a new blog to watch to help my wife’s education business.

  • Sean

    The video is on YouTube now, and I just posted it on I’ll remove it if you’d like. Great set of stats and facts–I’ll show it to my high school students. Thanks.

  • freedomofproperty

    That video/powerpoint, while thought-provoking, has a lot of very meaningless statistics.
    Since I’m short on time, I’ll highlight two:

    1. US is 20th in the world in broadband penetration.
    Wow! Gee, with 300M people, you’d think we’d have a higher percentage of our (much more geographically spread-out) population with broadband, than say, the Netherlands, which is geographically compact? More important, which economy is doing better? Which has laws that don’t impede innovation, plus education and lifestyle that draw the best and brightest from around the world? How important is the % broadband penetration on a national scale, really? What kind of useful conclusions can we draw from this statistic? I posit – almost none.

    2. In 2002 Nintendo invested more in R&D than the US govt. did in education.

    While I think this statistic does point out a flaw in the US education system (in that it is run by the government, possibly the worst entity to entrust with a monopoly on education), it does not in any way give guidance on how much the US should be spending, in aggregate, on education R&D. Maybe the US should be spending way less on R&D? What is the connection between education R&D spending and anything that is useful to society, much less improved education? It’s pretty clear to a lot of people in the US that the problem with education is not that Americans haven’t yet learned how to educate (and thus need more R&D), nor is it that we’re spending too little on education generally (we spend almost the most of any OECD country), but that the quality of education (k-12) is piss-poor – given that we already know how to educate well. See, for example, KIPP:
    Houston Chronicle: Two school set the standard in excellence.
    nytimes: What it takes to make a student.

    The problem with the above two statistics from the Fisch “Shift” presentation (and much of the presentation, if not Friedman et al) is that they are unnecessarily alarmist, distracting, and pointless/meaningless.

    As an example of the meaninglessness of the population comparisons, two points: just because China brings on line more labor does not mean that the US will lose jobs, on net. After all, we have moved from an economy of 2/3rds manufacturing to one that is 2/3rds service – where did all those jobs go?! Oh no! Oh, wait! We’re better off!
    The second meaninglessness example: Just because China might have 100 times more honors students, until China has some basics, such as a) rule of law and property rights, b) free flows of capital, and c) freedom of speech/press/association/thought, well, all that brainpower is going to mostly go to waste. Or, it will be directed by Intel and Microsoft to work on projects that are actually valued and paid for by the rest of the world.

    Much less relevantly, the presentation seems to have a lot of overlap with a previous presentation (not to take any credit away from Fisch), that in turn takes much from Friedman’s The World is Flat material. I just wanted to figure out where this interesting material came from.
    (file created on March 4, 2006)
    (Fisch presentation file created on August 9, 2006)

  • Liz

    For what it’s worth, I just looked into the Nintendo stat for anohter reason and found that for 2006, the actual numbers were $261M Nintendo R&D spend and $338M US DoEd Research spend, which means Nintendo spent about 4/5 as much as the Federal Government.

    Nintendo report
    US Department of Education Budget