February 19, 2013

A Conversation with Todd Bloom, Hobsons CAO: Education in the Big Picture

Feb. 19, 2013 at 07:59 AM | By Peter Cookson | Comment Count

This entry is part two of three examining trends in education. This series features a conversation between Peter Cookson of Whiteboard Advisors and Todd Bloom, chief academic officer at Hobsons. View part one of the series titled "The Power of Student Engagement" on the Whiteboard Advisors Blog.Todd Bloom, Hobsons CAO

In my last blog about my conversation with Todd Bloom, the chief academic officer of Hobsons, we discussed the power of student engagement. He is a strong advocate for policies “that promote personalized learning and individualized learning plans” (view Hobsons’ ILP report Improving Student Performance).

Todd, as you may remember, is a passionate educator whose commitment to educational excellence and equity comes through clearly whatever the topic. Being able to put educational practices and policies in a large social context is an efficient and effective way of framing and reframing how we think about education. I was delighted we had the opportunity to talk about education in the “Big Picture.”

During our discussion, Todd identified three big frames shaping higher education as it is today and as it will become in the future: finance, poverty, and institutional accountability.

“The biggest challenge”, Todd suggests, “is the financial picture.  Does our society have the will to fund schools and colleges so that all kids have an opportunity to pursue higher education?  This question is being posed to a tax payer base that is seeing rapid changes in student demographics and needs.” With the fluctuation of state funding, (state funding dropped 7.6% in 2011 – 2012 according to the annual Grapevine study) and the rise of Students as informed Consumers, higher education will have to adapt to a vastly different marketplace, one best described as dynamic and populated with an increasingly discriminating shopper.

This challenge is compounded by another challenge -- poverty. “Poverty is not a disability,” Todd continues. He points out, however, that all too often poverty is treated like a disability and policy makers tend to ignore the deep effects of poverty on students and their families, teachers, and schools.

Todd’s observations lead us to think differently about how schools and colleges should respond to providing greater access and ensuring that students are able to succeed. “We need to stop treating symptoms instead of causes,” Todd explains.

As we talked, it became clear that many of our educational practices are inadvertently causing some of the enduring dilemmas evident in our current post-secondary model. In some ways, we are trying to fit the round peg of 21st century learning into the square hole of a 19th century educational system.  We need to think differently about our educational institutions and their impact on student achievement and institutional effectiveness.

Todd has thought deeply about institutional quality and a value added approach to assessing institutional effectiveness, including greater P-20 coordination and meaningful dissemination and use of information.  For instance, there are organizations that currently provide information to students about the return on investment they can reasonably expect from attending different colleges and universities. Or, at the high school level, there are meaningful data should be available to students about what high school courses are needed for college success.  Too many educational decisions are made without meaningful information.

Thinking about Todd’s ‘”Big Picture” observations helps to bridge the issues of finance, poverty, and institutional accountability. He helps us to see a way forward --- in an age of declining resources and generational poverty we should rethink the way we use information and the way we link students to this information. This would save time and money but even more importantly help all students realize their potential and actualize their goals for the future.

As we finish the interview, Todd reflects on how Big Data could be a transformative agent in driving accountability and transparency. Making data-based decisions might, just might, lead to greater educational equity and help build a road out of poverty for more students. This is the topic we will explore in the next blog.

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