Thursday, April 06, 2006

Lessons Henderson Advertising has for public education

Why did Henderson Advertising close abruptly? I don't know.

Here's an interesting analysis of how a company gets into that situation. I've seen similiar things happen to other companies before. And here's a reaction from a current college student majoring in marketing.

Imagine the reaction if Henderson management suggested that the government ought to put more money into the company to help them build better buildings and hire better professionals. It's silly even to suggest, isn't it.

Imagine all the soul searching that is going on in advertising agencies that are still in business, trying to make sure they don't meet the same fate.

Imagine if public schools that failed had to close, and the motivating effect this would have on all those that didn't. Why is it that rather than allowing failing schools to close so many people insist that the solution is investing more money in them?


Peter Lucash said...

Your logic here is what fails.

An ad agency can work in a variety of settings - yet great companies do spend time and money on design and facilities. Alcoa's headquarters is an example that quickly comes to mind. Blackbaud's building was built with meeting spaces. "Cubicle farms" are another - that's the theory, anyway. Knowledge based firms spend a great deal of time and attention to facility design.

Classroom's with enough space to jam in 30 kids, computers, clean air, mold free - hey, these aren't bad things to have. Nor are gyms, auditoriums and libraries. I'm sure you don't work in mold infested building where you can barely be heard over old air conditioning equipment.

You'll try to draw any kind of line to "prove" that spending on public education is a waste. So SC continues down the road where a small, white "elite" (in their minds) will go to private schools.

You've presented the kernal of one excellent idea - encouraging innovation and experimentation in public education. To do that, however, people such as you have to accept that sometimes these experiments will be crashing failures, no matter how well planned nor thought out.

I grew up in a suburban New York town, the child of children of the Great Depression and veterans of WWII. My father went to a "magnet" public high school in NYC, and started at the free public City Univerity of NY. After four years overseas, the GI bill enabled him to go to school at night - along with so many thousands of fellow vets. The chair of our local school board was the dean of the business school at New York University. My parents sacrificed so we could live where we did - nothing fancy, but there were no vacations in the Caribbean, no dinners out, cars were kept for 5-8 years, and so on.

School buildings are only part of the solution here. This state actively neglected public school for so long, and continues to do so to this day, that the needs festered for over a century. People want instant results, but just like losing weight: it took a long time to get this far down, it will take time to build back up.

Swamp Fox said...


You make some excellent points. Buildings do matter, but only if everything thing else is working well, like at Blackbaud. Putting a pretty package around a rotten core won't fix the problem.

It's not just "elites" that go to private schools that are the problem. Public schools are designed for educated, middle income families, and children of those families tend to be satisfied with their public schools. There are other families though, like those in New Orleans that would not or could not get out of the way of a hurricane, that the current public education system fails miserably. These families aren’t helping their kids with algebra homework at night, no matter how much those in public education demand that parents get involved. So if we are going to achieve substantially better results for kids in poverty, we’re going to have to allow entrepreneurial educators to develop innovative ways to deliver education to them.

I agree with you that with innovation comes some failure. We have an unacceptable level of failure now though, so the choice is not between failure and success.

The GI Bill is an excellent model of successful, publicly funded education. The government gave the students the educational resources, and the students chose the best educational alternative that met their individual needs. Let’s follow that model to improve public education.

I’m not opposed to investing more money in universal, publicly funded education. I am opposed to investing more money in the current public education system, because I believe it is throwing good money after bad.

If I were presented with a package to invest more money in public education, while at the same time allocating the resources to students so they and their parents could choose the best educational alternatives that met their individual needs, I’d accept that in a heartbeat. We’re going to pay for kids that fail one way of the other, and I’d much rather pay to educate them that pay for them in prison.

Anonymous said...

So, should we close our defense department too since it's failed so many times?

Perhaps...I’ll get back to this one.

While I think you bring up an important topic, the inadequacy of our education system, I think the Henderson closure is a clumsy way to elicit a response...

Our school system is failing so badly at all levels, not just in South Carolina but across the nation, (see new Time article “Dropout Nation”)…it’s time we finally made some serious changes before it’s too late…

what we need are better incentives to attract high quality teachers…while I’m a classical economist at heart, believing in choice, I don’t like the message we’re sending to the majority of students/parents out there that gets left behind…"if your school is failing, take a voucher and run from the problem"…not everyone can up-and-leave a bad school system…to me, we’re running from a problem that can easily be fixed...the solution is a fundamental tenant of economics, affect a situation through incentives…simply put, put more money into schools!

My argument is simple, you pay low wages for employees you get low quality…if we don’t put our money where our mouth is, then we’re just complaining…so, we need to make teaching a competitive and lucrative career and get out of the mindset that likens it to volunteerism…make it hard to be a teacher, but pay them well...and we can do, you ask?

back to the department of defense (or offense depending on your political leanings)…I suggest a way to fund the incentives is by appropriating more money away from our defense budget.…I’m not suggesting we severely cutback on military spending, but it doesn’t take much (from the defense budget) to make a meaningful impact on our education system…it’s ironic that every man, woman, and child is roughly paying more than $1,000 for the war on Iraq…all the while, increasing our dependence/addiction on a commodity that can be eliminated if we put it to more long-term value generating assets like education, research and development.

Swamp Fox said...

Failure isn't tolerated in the Department of Defense. It does happen, but then heads roll and things change.

Think about the level of innovation at the Department of Defense, and then compare that to the level of innovation in public education. We still pretty much teach kids the same way we did a century ago, right down to taking the summer off so kids can work in the fields. We haven't even begun to leverage the power of the internet to create fundamentally new ways of delivering education.

I agree with you that "what we need are better incentives to attract high quality teachers." One of the major incentives we can give the best is allowing the most entrepreneurial educators to develop creative alternatives for students not well served today. That would bring a level of innovation to public education that is unprecedented.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree, John...we're just now starting to see the benefits of the investments that North Carolina and South Carolina made over 20 years ago with the Governor's schools, where innovative educators were given the chance to teach in new and more compelling ways...

I also think our entire education system needs to be re-modeled...thinking back, I wonder if I really needed 4 years at college and would I have been a better student if I had to volunteer or work a year before going, to mature and make better use of my education...

I think an immediate signal and solution is for the president (and governors) to put real leaders in charge of DOEs and with a real budget (currently $65B versus $505B at the DOD).

Steve Stevenson said...

I find all this discussion very interesting. How many of you folks are involved in post-secondary education? Secondary education?

Let me make a quote from H. L. Mencken that I used at InnoVenture CIO session. "There is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible and wrong" (H. L. Mencken, Prejudices: Second Series, 1920)

Tell you what. I'll make an open invitation. I teach computer science at Clemson. I will invite any and all of you to come up and see our classes. They're full of these kids from the white elitest schools and the poorest public schools. 1/3 of the incoming freshman & freshwomen are on probation. Over 40% can't pass calculus. It's not just K-12 that's stuggling!

All of you folks who think that more testing is the answer need to come see the current products: unmotivated and without the skills to solve problems in high-technology. Problem-solving isn't taught by testing; it's taught by solving problems.

What y'all need to do is start a true evaluation of what is wrong with the whole system of education and work. Waving a wand won't cut it.

Jay Wynn said...

Steve, you make a great point.

I was struck a few months back by a speech that Bill Gates gave at a national education summit. Anyone interested in this topic should read it -- here's an except and link:

the more we looked at the data, the more we came to see that there is more than one barrier to college. There’s the barrier of being able to pay for college; and there’s the barrier of being prepared for it.

When we looked at the millions of students that our high schools are not preparing for higher education – and we looked at the damaging impact that has on their lives – we came to a painful conclusion:

America’s high schools are obsolete.

By obsolete, I don’t just mean that our high schools are broken, flawed, and under-funded – though a case could be made for every one of those points.

By obsolete, I mean that our high schools – even when they’re working exactly as designed – cannot teach our kids what they need to know today.

Training the workforce of tomorrow with the high schools of today is like trying to teach kids about today’s computers on a 50-year-old mainframe. It’s the wrong tool for the times.

Our high schools were designed fifty years ago to meet the needs of another age. Until we design them to meet the needs of the 21st century, we will keep limiting – even ruining – the lives of millions of Americans every year.

Today, only one-third of our students graduate from high school ready for college, work, and citizenship.

The other two-thirds, most of them low-income and minority students, are tracked into courses that won’t ever get them ready for college or prepare them for a family-wage job – no matter how well the students learn or the teachers teach.

This isn’t an accident or a flaw in the system; it is the system.