JCL Blog

See the Ice - While You Still Can

I was lucky enough to see the big glaciers in action in 2008 when we did the inside passage trip including Glacier Bay.  If you have not been to SE Alaska - I highly recommend it.

This is a picture I took of the Marjorie glacier in Glacier Bay.

The movie Chasing Ice, opening this weekend in Seattle at the Egyptian Theater, is an incredible film that gets you right up close to many of the big glaciers in the northern hemisphere.  It is a good reminder of the absolute majesty of our earth, and an inspiration to go and see for yourself.

If you are not a documentary person, check out this review by Roger Ebert.  He will help you get past any preconceived notions of this film genre.

Earlier this week I attended an advanced screening of the movie in San Francisco and met James Balog and learned more about the project and Extreme Ice Survey, his foundation that is continuing the work chronicled in the film.  Mr. Balog and his dedicated crew are modern day heroes and people we can all look up to as they work to do something for us and for our planet.  

You just may find yourself feeling like you would like to do something for the cause after watching the film.  If so, there is a donate button on the Extreme Ice Survey website -- making it super easy to take action.  


Interesting Trends

We have arrived at that season where the list of predictions for 2013 will start to pile up.  I find them interesting reading, but I have not felt that I have much to add to the pile, so mostly I just read instead of making a list of my own.  

This year however, I will be taking note of a handful of trends that seem to capture my interest.  I see tend to read articles about these things and I just might have some thoughts congealing into a theory that brings them together.  

For now though, just the trends:


  1. Education:  One of our greatest exports to the rest of the world is educated people from our university system.  Why do we get that right and K-12 is seeming to fall farther and farther behind?
  2. Big Data:  Technically big data is just a lot of data.  Specifically, it is the ability for systems to capture and save everything.  Before big data we used to keep track of the closing price of a stock, then we stored the closing price and the high and low price for the day, big data is storing every single trade, who made the trades, their sequence…
  3. Internet of Things:  There are between one and two billion people connected to the Internet.  Devices and sensors are being added to the network by the billions and probably already outnumber the people.  Soon the number of connected machines will dwarf people and the Internet will change significantly.
  4. Vendor Relationship Management:  The relationship between the makers of things and their customers has been mostly one way and managed by the manufacturer, with CRM systems.  This relationship dynamic has been evolving through 1:1 marketing to an inversion of CRM where the customer is in charge and the vendor is managed.  The Berkman Center at Harvard is defining a new industry called Vendor Relationship Management (VRM).
  5. Digital Divide:  The people at the top of the economic ladder will advance ahead of the rest in earning capacity, lifespan, leisure time, and as a result will desire many new services. Those not at the top will have to serve the others or live off of charity or government assistance.  The gulf between the haves and the have nots is getting bigger in our country and around the world.  Right now the unemployment rate for white college graduates in the US is 4%.  Other social classes or ethnicities are much worse -- some over 25%.  It is hard to think about things getting even worse.

Of course the current year always feels like the one that is moving faster than ever before and 2013 will certainly feel the speediest ever.  In this context, and considering this list, it will be an interesting exercise to do the Gretsky thing and skate to where the puck is going to be.  It will be even more interesting to take a shot -- because the other famous Gretsky quote is: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."



Won't Back Down is a Heartbreaker

Yesterday I had the pleasure of watching Won't Back Down, the heartbreaking story of one mother's seemingly impossible quest to get a good education for her daughter.  It is a good movie no matter where you stand on education reform.  The story and the characters are great and even though you kinda know through the whole thing that they are going to win in the end -- it is still riveting.

I say it is a heartbreaker because it exposes how messed up educaiton is in our country.  Here in Seattle, 25% of the students in the Seattle School District attend private schools.  I am guessing everyone knows which end of the economic scale that is.

In our country, 40.2% of students from top quartile income families achieved a Bachelor's Degree by age 24 in 1970.  By 2009 it had improved to 82.4%.  At the same time the bottom income quartile students went from 6.2% to 8.3%.  See www.postsecondary.org for details.

With these numbers staring us in the face, we should get going and do something.  There is no question that there is plenty of blame to go around.  It is a shame that all of the press about the movie tries to expand the Teacher's Union vitriol.  Anyone who has seen the film realizes that the school administration and the principals and many parents are also standing in the path of progress.

I think the main message in the movie is:  our kids are going to jail instead of college while we fight about who is at fault.  Everyone has an opinion about who is at fault, I bet that we could agree however, that it is not the kids fault.

So let's do something.

I happen to think voting for I 1240 in WA State is one of those things.


Knowledge IS Power, Vote Yes on I 1240

Here in Washington State we have the unique opportunity to vote for charter schools (I-1240) on November 6th.  Those of us that think education reform is needed, see this as a once in a decade opportunity to improve the education options available to the students that need it the most -- the ones on the less advantaged side of the education divide.

Here are the main data points:


  1. Charter schools are public schools open to everyone -- if more people apply than can be accommodated, students are picked by lottery.  In the 41 states that already have charter schools there are 600,000 students on waiting lists and 2 million students enrolled.
  2. Charter schools are funded just like public schools (by the student enrolled) -- so this initiative will not increase the cost of education in Washington State.
  3. Charter schools have the same academic requirements as public schools -- but have the ability to have longer school days, different curriculum, and make other decisions associated with the operations of their schools.  The teachers also must be certified -- just like in public schools.
  4. Charter schools in other states deliver very good results -- opponents often state that charter schools fail too.  Any time there are thousands of organizations -- some will perform poorly.  But since charter schools have to attract students (customers) and cannot compel them to attend (like regular public schools) --so failing charter schools do close down -- and that is a good thing.  Also, it is important to note that most charter schools serve low income students.  If even if charter schools only deliver results equal to all public schools, but are serving the disadvantaged students, it is a dramatic improvement.  If you divide all students by economic background into four groups, the lowest group graduates 6% from high school, and the top group graduates 89%. (see correction below)
  5. Charter schools are not run for profit or by religeous organizations -- only qualified not for profit, non religeous organizations can run charter schools.  In some cases, existing public schools can become charter schools


So, please join me in voting for Initiative 1240 on November 6.

If you want to read more, here is a great site:  YesOn1240

Also, here is a site that covers the charter school movement nationally: Charter School Resource Center

And here is the site of KIPP schools, an amazing example of what we could have.

Here is my review of Work Hard, Be Nice, the book about the founding of KIPP.  If you are tired of being depressed about the quality of education in Washington State -- you should really read this book.


LATER:  Correction.  I did a bit more research on these numbers.  Turns out they are about Bachelor's Degree attainment by age 24.  Either way, the education divide is getting worse -- much worse.  Here is a link to the study.

Speaker Summary: David Engle

Today at Emerald City Rotary, David Engle, the new Superintendent of the Port Townsend School District spoke about the lessons he has learned during his long and distinguished career as an innovator in education.  We all know that schools are even more resistant to change that most people and organizations, but David showed that with the will to make a difference and a bit of disregard for the rules -- all kinds of amazing things can be accomplished.  

He cleverly tied the whole thing together with five words that end in "ity".

Necessity:  He was given the job of changing a middle school in Nebraska from its last place ranking or else it would be taken over by the state.  He leapfrogged the other schools by jumping to a model of 1:1 computing -- where every student got a laptop.  Within three years, kids from more affluent neighborhoods were trying to get into this school from the wrong side of the tracks.  Last place to first place.

Opportunity:  As principal of Ballard High School, he turned the good fortune of a brand new building into a brand new Maritime Academy.  Out with the auto shop and in with a curriculum that took advantage of local expertise and that has since become established as a cornerstone of the community.

Impunity:  At Squalicum High School he turned an underused library into a library that took advantage of new tools and technology.  Changing the attitude of the entire school.

Futurity:  Possibly a new word that captures his vision for the Port Townsend school district.  A community that will benefit from his energy and experience.  Even if it shakes things up a bit!

Capacity:  While principal of Interlake High School he partnered with Microsoft to create a world class IT curriculum with cast of computers from a local business.  All while building an IB program.

He concluded by pointing out that we know how to create great schools, but we don't know how to make change sustainable, and then he challenged everyone to do something for our local schools.  Take risks -- break rules.


Here is David Engle's Biography.

Making Victims As Opportunity Slips Away

Imagine a father and son talking about a poor report card.  The son says the teacher doesn't like him.  The father says that is just not fair.  So the son doesn't learn and improve from the report card experience and the next report card is worse.  The teacher or the system is blamed again and soon the son drops out.  

This scenario is repeated many times in our education system.  In our state about 1 in 4 students that start high school never finish.  I propose that a meaningful number don't finish because of this negative reinforcement loop.  Clearly, even if the father is right and the teacher has treated the student unfairly, the victim is the student.  We cannot blame this failure on the student.  By the time we get done with that he has already dropped out and is well on his way to a low income future.

Michael Lewis wrote a book a few years back about how this can happen at the other end of the economic spectrum.  He went back to his privileged New Orleans high school to interview the baseball coach, because, like many coaches, this one was tough on the kids.  In the 70's, when Michael Lewis was there, that was how it worked, these days, the parents were trying to have the coach removed.

If they could not get the coach removed, these lawyers and doctors wanted to intimidate the coach into telling their sons that they were better athletes than they were.  They wanted the coach to give more playing time, not run the guys so hard, you know the drill.

Those student athletes are the victims just like the high school drop outs.  Sure those rich kids are probably going to be just fine, but think of the missed opportunity for life shaping lessons.

Lawyers are particularly good at making victims like this.  In the now famous McDonald's vs Liebeck case, where Liebeck was awarded over $3 million to compensate for burns she suffered when she spilled her coffee in her lap.  I think it is a shame that she was burned by her coffee spill.  However, the real damage came later when she was persuaded to sue McDonalds.  The case went on for two and a half years, and then was negotiated down after the award to something less than $600,000.  Sure that is a lot of money, but Leibeck was 79 years old at the time of the incident.  She came to believe that she was a victim and she turned two or three years of her life over to that way of thinking.  

Imagine all of the people that choose to enter into the aggravation of such a fight and lose years of their lives and in the end, many don't even win any money!

Next lawyers will be telling their sons not to worry about their schoolwork because they can just sue the school instead.  

Here is the book Coach by Michael Lewis should you be interested in reading it.

Packing Brains instead of UHauls

Anyone who has tried to hire a software engineer lately will tell you that the unemployment rate in that part of our economy is just as low as it always was.  It would fit my experience to say that the unemployment rate in the tech industry is around 5% - which is half the national average of 10% and a third of the often cited number of over 15% which counts the people who are underemployed or who have quit looking for work.

So people with the right skills do not have any problem finding a job right now.  And since averages are pretty straightforward, we know that for everyone who is experiencing 5% unemployment, there must be another person experiencing 25% unemployment, to make the average 15%.

When comparing the US to the Euro-zone, economists often cite worker mobility as the reason the US consistently outperforms.  The mobility the economists are talking about here is physical.  An American will move from Detroit to Dallas for a job before a European will move from Greece to Germany.  In China people are moving to the cities before they even have jobs - but that is another story. 

In a knowledge economy, the willingness or ability to relocate does not solve the problem.  Our workers need to repack their brains instead of UHauls in order to move from the 25% group to the 5% group.  In fact, the way the work follows the smart people around now, there is no need for the UHaul at all.  Just pack your brain with the right knowledge and the work will come to you.

We saw "Waiting For Superman" last night.  I will write more about that later.  The movie paints a big target on the teachers unions -- a fight I am very interested in following.  The teachers unions, and all of our unions, are in a perfect position to play a critical role in the packing of American brains to compete on a world stage.  In the area of education, the teachers unions have two layers because they have to decide if they want the teachers to get smarter, so the teachers can make all of the students smarter.  This is unbelievable leverage and one of the reasons so many people in the technology industry (from Bill Gates to George Lucas) are trying to figure out how to fix our education system.

If you are thinking about seeing the movie -- do.  My only complaint is that it is about half an hour too long.  If you want to think more about this subject, check out my review of Work Hard, Be Nice.

Seven Years to the Next Bubble Bursting?

I have posted several rants in the past about Wall Street and Washington, so now that the reform bill is reaching what appears to be its final form I suppose I should follow up.

As with just about anything anymore, these complex problems seem to require complex fixes.  I thought putting Glass Stegal back in and putting greater restrictions on publicly traded companies that trade for their own account would do the trick -- but hey -- I am definitely not an expert.

Here is a good article by Gretchen Morgenson from the Sunday NY Times that more or less boils it down.

Some good parts, some bad parts, but in the end there are still going to be banks that are too big to fail.  So set your alarm clock for seven years from now and hold on for the next round of the roller coaster.

Decoding Education Reform

The New York Times Magazine published a terrific piece about education reform yesterday. The Unions have so much power that we do not often see clearly articulated arguments like this in the mainstream press.  In case you are new to this fight, here is a quick list of the codes used:

Resources:  The most frequently misappropriated term in the debate is Resources.  To most this implies funding, and we do need to increase school funding.  However, to the unions this means dues.  Since union dues are by headcount the unions want more headcount regardless of the quality.  Smaller class sizes means more headcount.  Clearly there are benefits to smaller class sizes, but all of the studies now show that better teachers are much more important.

Measurement: Next on the hot list is measurement.  Standardized tests do create all kinds of warped behaviors and this needs to be addressed.  In business we know that there is no single good performance measurement, but we also know that things need to be measured -- the more the better and the more the data is shared the better.  The unions not only oppose measurement, but also oppose better data systems that would make it easier to expose performance data.  In most states this opposition has made it hard to track students even crude measurements like grades, activities, and attendance.

Charter Schools:  The NY Times article said it better than I can:  

Charter schools are not always better for children. Across the country many are performing badly. But when run well — as most in Harlem and New York’s other most-challenged communities appear to be — they can make a huge difference in a child’s life. 

The article goes on to do a side by side comparison of a NY charter school that shares a building with a public school.  The charter school spends slightly less than the public school and performs well above.   The customers (parents) have noticed and tens of thousands of students are turned away from charter schools every year because there are not enough charter schools.  

In some states (Washington included) the unions have successful blocked charter schools with targeted legislation. It is an effective way to keep the resources out of the hands of people that can make more efficient use of them.

The Obama administration's $4.3 billion "Race to the Top" contest is changing things fast.  This is a good example of creative government spending using a relatively small amount of money to make a big impact.  In order to be competitive, a state must demonstrate its ability to measure teacher performance and must have charter schools.  This does not make things look very good for Washington State, but it is absolutely the right thing for the country.

The tide is turning now and we are going to start seeing the states that figure it out get way ahead of the states that don't.  This is very good news for our country because fixing our education system is the single biggest thing we need to do to remain competitive and retain our high living standards.

If you are interested in following along, here are two organizations in Washington State that are making a big impact:

League of Education Voters.

Stand for Children.

I wrote a book review about Work Hard: Be Nice -- which follows the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and Teach for America.


Immigration Numbers

To answer those that say immigration is at an all time high, here are the numbers.  The immigration numbers are from the Migration Policy Institute and the population numbers are from the US Census.  I am sure there are immigration numbers in the census, but I could not find them.  If anyone wants to point me to them I will remake the charts.

The short story is that annual immigration hit 1.285 million people in 1907 -- which at the time was 1.5% of the population, and then declined all of the way down to .02% of the population in 1933 and did not exceed the 1907 number until 1990 when we hit 1.535 million people.  By then the country had grown enough to make that only 0.62% of the population.  In 2002, the last year for which I found data, we settled in at about 1 million people per year or .37% of the population.



Importing The Desire to Win

There is one common thread that runs through the three main problems with our public education system.  The three main problems are: the administrators, the teachers, and the students.  The common thread is the desire to win. If we could just change this one thing, we could actually reform our public education system and establish some momentum on the path back to worldwide competitiveness.

The enemy of the desire to win is entitlement.  Our students feel entitled to a good life without having to work for it, our teachers feel entitled to their jobs without performance measures, and our administrators...well they are so deep in their own goo that they have not thought about actually fixing education for over a decade.

We can do this the easy way or the hard way.  The easy way is to open the immigration floodgates and import the desire to win.  Sure the contra argument is that freeloaders would come in with the tide -- just to get our awesome healthcare.  But they will be a tiny minority.  The rest will be energetic, motivated, people with the desire to improve themselves and their position.  This is not an original thought and it worked for our country for its entire history -- save the last 50 years or so.  

Thomas Friedman's column today absolutely nails this point.  In it he cleverly lists the names of the finalists for the Intel Science Talent Search - which even the most ardent anti race profiler cannot help but admit hail from points east from here.  

These amazing people all share two traits -- they came to America to change their stars, and they have an insatiable desire to win.  If we could only get more of them.

March Madness is the Perfect Story

If you asked 100 people to describe me not a single description would include "sports fan".  I do like the big events though and yesterday, while explaining how amazing the NCAA tournament is to my daughter, I found myself describing the perfect story.  By this I mean a story we are naturally drawn to.  March Madness has all of the good stuff and none of the bad stuff.  With a good conflict, clear winners and losers, dates certain, interesting characters, and rules we all know and understand - what is not to like about this story?  I imagine this is also why political races are so fun to follow. Add a dose of celebrity and you have the Oscars or American Idol.

So if we want people to pay attention to things that we care about we need to figure out how to tell better stories about them.  What is more interesting to you: the Final Four or Education Reform?  I care a lot about education in our country and even I would rather follow the Final Four.  How do we make these other stories, that are so critical for us in the long term, just as interesting? 


TED: Food for your head

I love good speakers.  It almost does not matter what they are talking about.  Good speakers are a joy to watch in action.  The best video of good speakers can be found on the TED website.  The event just happened, so there is at least a year of new material up there for you to absorb.

If you need convincing, check out this post by Robert Scoble who just attended the event.

Don't just pick the talks that are on subjects you are already interested in.  I have never been to TED, but I do attend many events and I always come away with the benefit of something I did not intend to learn.  

So carve off 30 minutes and throw a dart a the TED web site and feed your brain.  

Book Review: Work Hard. Be Nice. by Jay Mathews

This lively and easy read about two Teach for America teachers who go way beyond their two year commitment and well above the call of duty to change lives is an inspiration for anyone who has been exposed to public schools in the US. The stories about overcoming amazing resistance by students, parents, other teachers, and administrators to give kids a chance of success are a delight to read and at the same time a reminder of how daunting the job of education reform is.

Their creation, the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), is a combination of teaching methods, parent involvement, longer school hours and calendar, and incredible passion by the teachers. Some of their ideas are cool, but the passion part really impacted me. These guys really put themselves into their work -- absolutely immersed. Yes they are smart, but the 24 X 7 commitment to success and refusal to accept failure is what I think made the difference.

Now over 20,000 kids are enrolled in KIPP schools across the country.

Bill Gates posted a great review of this book on Monday.

Here is a link to the book on Amazon