Dyson: From standardization to inspiration
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February 21st, 2012
10:30 AM ET

Dyson: From standardization to inspiration

Editor's Note: Sir James Dyson is a British industrial designer and founder ofDyson Company. Fareed Zakaria recently interviewed 

By James Dyson - Special to CNN

Last week, President Obama granted 10 states freedom from the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The decade-old act holds states to a 2014 deadline to have all students deemed proficient in reading and math.

Even as the standards were enacted, its authors weren’t optimistic. They’d hoped the U.S. Congress would have stepped in to develop a more robust educational measure. The aim of the act was noble: To ensure American students were educated to a level at which they could compete with their global peers. But the method is flawed. Standardization does not inspire.

Two years shy of the deadline, the Obama Administration has given states an out, but not before setting its own benchmarks. To be exempted, states must agree to college- and career-ready standards, set new achievement standards and create new teacher evaluation systems.

The waivers signal a shift in the right direction. But do the new terms simply trade one yardstick for another?

Out of 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. ranked 17th in science and 25th in math. New ideas are needed. Simply establishing new standardized tests won’t solve the problem. In order to learn and love a subject, students must be engaged. The problem isn’t in the test, it’s in the teaching. The system of read-and-repeat doesn’t work. The Obama Administration has given schools the opportunity to break free from box-ticking. The challenge for schools is to adopt new ways of teaching that rates application over repetition.

In Chicago - where Dyson’s U.S. headquarters is based - education has been the focus of much debate. The school system recently agreed to lengthen what was the shortest school day in the country. The challenge now is how students should spend their newly found minutes. Some suggested adding ten minutes of instruction time to core subjects. Others proposed lengthening recess.

Undeniably, play time is an important part of childhood. But teachers must take the opportunity to bring this play and excitement into the classroom. Teach core subjects like science and math through applied learning and experimentation.

I’ve yet to meet a child who is stimulated by a test. But get them to build a balloon rocket or hoop glider? That's a sure way to teach students about thrust, drag and other physics principles.

In the UK, we’ve seen improvement in the level of science and engineering education, both through a dedicated Design & Technology curriculum and supplemental engineering activities like those run by my foundation. Over 600,000 students in the UK have used the foundation’s resources to work on science and math in practical, engaging ways. And now in Chicago, we are hoping to do the same.

Through practical experiments and creative problem solving, students get excited about science and engineering - subjects that have gained a reputation for being too difficult, or worse, uncool.

That same stigma discourages many students from pursuing science and engineering as a career. Reading about torque and velocity from a book doesn’t necessarily compel students to pick up a protractor. But it’s these principles that are applied in automobile and aerospace engineering - fast-paced, fun and still uncharted fields.

Job-readiness programs are ways to equip students with the skills they need for the jobs of tomorrow. Some states have proposed creative solutions to funding these programs. In Minnesota, the governor has urged businesses to “adopt a school.” It’s a mutually beneficial plan. Students receive the resources and practical skills they need to prepare them for university or the work force, and businesses help develop future talent.

Free from the shackles of standardization, schools can explore new and better ways of teaching. But do teachers have the training to navigate this new educational terrain?

As with the way students learn, the Obama Administration has proposed an overhaul to how teachers teach. It has pledged $5 billion in competitive grants to encourage states to rethink and rebuild the teaching profession - positive changes like the end of teacher tenure, better pay and better recruitment for bright new teaching talent.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said about teaching, “No other profession carries a greater burden for securing our economic future.”  I would argue engineers carry a greater burden, but without the best teachers, we won’t have those either.

The shift away from the confines No Child Left Behind is the right one - but this is an opportunity for U.S. education not to just to catch-up but to lead. The challenge will be to avoid judging success on statistics instead of on the bright people education produces. We must move from learning by rote to learning by doing; we must encourage businesses to support job training programs and incentivize states to have the best teachers - not necessarily the longest tenure.

These aren’t radical ideas. But they are essential to changing the face of education.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of James Dyson.

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Topics: Education • Innovation • Technology • United States

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    James Dyson' foundation seems only keen on promoting students who want to excel in maths and science. Fair enough! Many industries do the same, and their aim? Growth and progress. It explains why less and less students are interested in humanities and social sciences.

    February 22, 2012 at 6:03 am | Reply
  2. IRAN AND SHIIAZIM ARE EVIL

    Here's my take on the Iranian Nuclear

    Q: FIRSTLY, are we willing to trust Iran with Nuclear weapons?
    A: No way! Else risk having a volatile ME brimming with nukes in tha hands of unstable Islamic radical regimes!
    and they will send the nuc to syrian thugs and killers and we saw what the shiia killers can do as they kill there own people

    Q: Can we let diplomacy go on right until the point Iran gets nukes?
    A: No way, we need to stop them right at their tracks! we must attack iran and syria now and keep israel and middleast safe and keep the world safe from the evil shiia and iranian thugs

    Q: Is a war in the ME now more disastrous than after Iran has developed nukes?
    A: Clearly NOT!

    Q: Will a war with Iran now cause major upheaval, increase terror against Americans all over the world incl. terror right here in America from homegrown Islamic radicals?
    A: No . But it may just be necessary to prevent potential major catastrophe or even a WW3 later on. iran is a paper tiger they do have more than 45 opposition groups we can use them to attack iran from the inside among them the arabestan province , the sunni in iran, the kurdish in iran, the lures and turks, the assyrians, the stuudents and women movments, the bahaii and persians egtc.....we must help the iraqi sunni to destroy the iran interests behind the lione.

    Q: Is war the only answer to stop them?
    A:yes! as diplomacy will never work with iran and syria or any shiia , they are an evil liers, they call lies taqeya, there god called ali and hussain!!!
    dont allow iranians to come to usa canada or any where for any reason that include the iraqi shiia and syrian shiia thuygs.

    Q: Is it time to strike Iran?
    A:yes 100% as the arab spring rising and the sunni arabs will help to attack the shiia interests, saudi arabia and gulf states will pump more oil 3 time more to offset iran oil problem so no worry about oil flow and price.

    Q:What do we mean by Iranian compliance?
    A: STOP enrichment beyond 3.5% and surrender in a verifiable manner all stocks of enriched Uranium above 3.5%
    Dismantle their underground enrichment plants in Qom and other places. Allow IAEA inspectors unfettered access to all facilities. THEY WILL NEVER DO THAT MARK MY WORDS DONT BE FOOL ATTACK NOW....OBAMA WILL NOT ATTACK THE REASON BECAUSE HE HAS A NOBEL PRIZE FOR PEACE AND HE WILL KEEP THAT IMAGE OF PEACE , BUT THAT WILL DESTROY THE WORLD....WAKE UP OBAMA

    DONT TRUST IRAN AND THE SHIIA

    Until we do all these the world can never be safe from ISLAMIC NUCLEAR BLACKMAIL !!!!!

    March 6, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Reply
  3. IRAN AND syria shiia are EVIL

    The world waited while Germany rearmed itself...all in the name of self-defense and national self-esteem following the Armistice in 1918. The result of waiting was more than six million innocent jews murdered by a fanatic who wrote his plan years earlier. Iran has made it clear through words and its ongoing sponsorship of Hamas and Hezbollah (not to mention the murderous Assad regime) that they are without honor, cannot be trusted, and will kill as many Jews (and Americans) they can. I can never forgive them for the Iran Hostage crisis. There support of terrorist acts through the 80's and 90's including the killing of an American in a wheelchair is a testament to the evil of the Iranian government.

    March 7, 2012 at 4:46 am | Reply
  4. iraq=iran-syria= russia=hizboallah=terrorists=evil

    THE SHIIA Debuty embassador killed his boss by poison as his boss is sunni and UK now try to find what happened , they think poison is involved,,,those shiia thugs from iraq are trying to take over and control iraq with the help of iran weapons and money so they dont lose ellection and they are trying to protect the syrian killers as they are shii 8% controling 92% of syrian sunni...
    الملحقية الثقافية العراقية في لندن

    الحكومة البريطانية تغلق الملحقية الثقافية العراقية في لندن بعد وفاة السيد الملحق الثقافي في ظروف غير معروفة

    وقد تم استدعاء السيد معاون الملحق الثقافي للتحقيق …

    علمأ ان السيد الملحق الثقافي الاستاذ باقر الهاشمي كان قد تلقي تهديد قبل يوم من وفاتة بعد عراك داخل الملحقية الثقافية مع السيد معاون الملحق الاستاذ احمد عبد الرسول البغدادي بعد ان كشف الاستاذ باقر الملحق الثقافي ان السيد المعاون اي السيد البغدادي قد زور اكثر من 45 شهادة لوزراء واشخاص في حكومة المالكي الشرطة البريطانية تعتقد ان هنالك مادة غريبة قد دست في طعام السيد الملحق الثقافي الاستاذ باقر الهاشمي

    March 8, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Reply
  5. Louis Vuitton Taschen

    I lost my class ring one week after getting it. Louis Vuitton Taschen http://www.erstifete.de/

    July 29, 2013 at 7:03 am | Reply

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