Everyone knows the smart kids ultimately rule the world … except, ironically, in education.
What would happen if successful innovators had as much say in education as bureaucrats?
If David Jones, Jr. gets his way, the future of education will include a lot more technology.
The venture capitalist, chairman of Louisville-based Chrysalis Ventures and former Humana chairman was at Adam Fish’s Forge event Thursday night, speaking as an investor and a connoisseur of technology, not as a candidate.
(Jones is running for the Jefferson County Board of Education seat representing District 2, which includes the Highlands and Crescent Hill. But he emphasized he would not address specific Jefferson County Public Schools issues.)
In a brief talk to about 60 people including many from Louisville’s start-up/investment community, Jones said quickly evolving advances from integrating innovative technology and education reform can revolutionize an American education.
We have, he said, a system that doesn’t produce the results the nation needs, and spends a lot of money doing it – about $1.3 trillion annually in the United States.
His point of departure was how the geographical limitations of learning have been erased by the Internet and distance learning.
Which, Jones said, means students anywhere now have at least the theoretical technical capability of learning from nearly everyone on earth.
“Over the next two decades, and maybe sooner, we’re going to see some very big changes in the way we teach, and the way we learn ….” he said.
Jones’s speech was based partly on what he describes as his personal passion for education, but also on research as a venture capitalist investing mostly in technology and health care firms.
“Education is a minor key in what we have done.”
Of the 70 firms in which his Louisville-based Chrysalis Ventures has invested so far, eight have been education-focused.
He discussed in some detail several startups that are focused on injecting new technology and new methods into teaching include:
• Advanced Academics, a Chrysalis exit, has a virtual high school curriculum. Advanced Academics was acquired by DeVry University, a for-profit. The Advanced Academics curriculum helped athletes who were spending time outside of class, students who needed to makeup work after illnesses and those with behavior problems. “Some kids who were behaviorally in the back of the class … did much better online,” Jones said. The model involved putting about 15 teachers in a work space, collaborating while talking or texting with students all over the world. The model also created a professional culture where unresponsive, impatient or rude teachers were forced out quickly in favor of engaged, patient cadre, Jones said.
• Coursera: Coursera was started by two Standford University professors who put their artificial intelligence course online. The course attracted 200,000 course takers. “You could take the course and tests … essentially everything except the Standford credit,” Jones said. “Coursera’s notion is to bring the world’s best courses to people everywhere (using the Internet.) That’s a pretty interesting idea and big a challenge to brick and mortar schools. But interestingly, some of the biggest names in higher ed are jumping on board.”
• Khan Academy: Khan Academy is a non-profit created by now-famous MIT/Harvard Business School graduate Salman Khan, and backed by the Gates Foundation. The academy has gotten favorable media attention by breaking down curriculum into 6-minute online tutorials. The tutorials have attracted about 200 million downloads so far. A teacher dashboard identifies those struggling, and those who are excelling, Jones said. “One of the big challenges is not only the kids who are failing not getting enough attention, it’s the kids doing well not getting pushed hard enough,” he said.
•Straighterline is another Chrysalis portfolio company. Straigherline offers two years of general education courses such as English 101 and Econ 101 “for $99 per month, all you can eat,” Jones said. Straighterline just introduced proctoring with facial recognition technology and other technology that stops cheating, one of the big weaknesses of online education, he said.
HealthTeacher: Another Chrysalis portfolio company, HealthTeacher just signed a deal with JCPS, a deal Jones conceded has attracted media scrutiny to his campaign. Jones called the health curriculum “a platform for bringing gamification into the education process. One of the big challenges is, kids are used to interacting with content much more interesting than my writing on the whiteboard. They’re coming (to school) used to games that are immersive … used to getting quick feedback. If they fail, (they) try again.”
“All of this innovation and technology, I find exciting. But … it’s not going to change education by itself. The core problem in education … is not that costs are going up. It’s not that we don’t have cool technology.”
It’s the lack of receptiveness of ossified systems to innovation, Jones said.
The challenge is how to take all this potential – not just of this technology but the potential of all those teachers “who are trapped and frustrated” in a system that’s not what it needs to be to unleash their energies.
He went on to acknowledge other contributing complications from poverty to rigid teachers unions, but added he believes American education can be salvaged.
Jones began his talk with slides comparing escalating education costs to other sectors such as health care.
Since 1980, he noted, the cost of health care has risen twice as fast as the consumer price index. “Everyone knows the price of health care is out of control,” Jones said. “Education is worse.”
That said, the education market is huge, which at least holds out the offer of enticing innovative ideas, he added.
In addition to his venture capitalist’s fondness for/obsession with data and trends, Jones also revealed an altruistic side – his early days as one of the first American teachers in a newly opened post-Cultural Revolution China.
“A lot of people don’t know I started out my career as a teacher … teaching English in China after the Cultural Revolution in a classroom with no glass in the windows,” he said.
He described himself as “a teeny, tiny bit player” in China’s post-Mao transformation from 1 percent of its population having a college education to about 22 percent now “and rising.
“That’s a big global deal!”
About Forge: Forge is a community aimed to bring together thinkers, doers, and financiers of the startup world to foster new innovations.