Oregon’s K-12 tech education sucks: A geek call to action

When I began the conversation about making Silicon Florist a self-sustaining entity, it was because I had—and continue to have—a number of ideas for trying to help startups in our area. And for helping Portland reach its potential.

And I’d like to spend more time doing that sort of thing. Because it’s important to me.

But there was another area I was thinking about helping, as well.

It’s a startup, of sorts. Full of creative entrepreneurial types. People who generally have more passion than you and I. People who really want to make a difference. People who, like many of the startups around here, don’t get nearly the recognition or support they deserve.

Students. The people who are going to inherit all of this crazy stuff we’re trying to accomplish. And people who are likely experimenting with technology and building some equally cool Web products in their free time.

We have a great deal in common, actually.

And so I’d been toying with some ideas. And thinking about some things. That might be able to help those people. Where I might be able to share some expertise or some time.

Because, quite honestly, not a day goes by writing this blog that I don’t draw on something I learned in my high-school journalism class. Not one day.

And so, I was plodding along slowly. Thinking about what we might be able to do.

Then, today, some news hit me right between the eyes: Oregon schools get a D for technology.

The 11th annual report of “Technology Counts,” produced by the specialty newspaper Education Week and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, gives Oregon schools an overall D grade on technology. Only Rhode Island, Nevada and Washington, D.C., scored fewer points than Oregon’s 66 out of 100.

A D? Are you kidding me?

And just like that, it dawned on me: this is the opportunity.

This is one of those special times when an idea meets an action. When the time to act is coupled with the ability to act intelligently. This is the tipping point. Or spark. Or whatever you want to call it. This is the call to arms. The call to action. For all of us geeks and geek-o-philes.

This is an opportunity for you, me, and every other startup. It’s an opportunity to help. It’s an opportunity to give something back to this community. And an opportunity to improve the technology base in Portland for the future.

How? There are literally tons of ways we could do it. Tons!

From interships to class visits to scholarships to events to competitions to apprenticeships to… well, as I said, “Tons.”

I don’t think this is a question of “if?” I think this is a question of “how?”

And I think this news only highlights how much these things need to happen. And how quickly.

Maybe I’m the only one. Or part of a small group. But I think this is our chance to really do something valuable for Portland. And for Oregon. As a group.

Who’s with me?

  1. […] to assessing the strength of our community as a tech hub, both now and in the future. And yes, I’ve ranted on the topic of K-12 education […]

  2. […] few weeks back, I wrote a rant about the abysmal state of Oregon’s tech education in which I encouraged anyone in tech—but especially those folks at startups—to consider […]

  3. What if we were to team up with an organization that is all ready working to enhance education?

    I just came across Junior Achievement: http://portland.ja.org/

    We could go to them, or someone like them, and say “we want to start a technology advancement program through your organization and we all ready have x number of volumnteers lined up and I am sure x number of those would also donate money”

    If I were a non-prof and you came to me with a plan and the people, I’d jump on the chance to include it in my organization.

  4. Not that you need any more inspiration, but if you haven’t seen this TED video yet, it’s *amazing* and is a cool vision for education and mentoring:


    I’ve helped out with community technology centers in Boston and in Southern California, I’d love to join the Google group when you get it set up.



  5. […] week ago, I went off on a little rant about the sorry state of Oregon’s technology and education mix. And how I hoped that all of us startup types could use our creativity to figure out how to fix the […]

  6. A follow-on to my previous post.
    Rick Wahlstrom is the CIO at NWRESD. Contact page for the department is here:

  7. Some folks you might want to consider coordinating with are the Technology Coordinators in each of the school districts you are interested in working with. During my couple of years as a Technology Coordinator for Clatskanie School District we had some very innovative and useful programs run through the Northest Regional Educational Service District in Hillsboro (NWRESD). Contact the ESD for districts in your region and you’ll likely get a welcome reception and good resources for helping out in the schools.
    What would really help is to get the STRUT program resurrected. STRUT is Student Recycling Used Technology and was an innovative program sponsored by the NWRESD. They basically paid for a warehouse the size of a CostCo and staff on East Airport Way in Portland as a place that received donated computers and peripherals from corporations and individuals and sent them out to schools all over the state at no cost. Students at the schools were taught to configure the equipment and create labs and individual PC’s that could be used in each of the 140 schools/districts that were members. This was basically FreeGeek for schools on a state-wide basis. It was cancelled in 2002 during the state budget crunch (annual budget was approx $350K). This program delivered $15 in benefit for every dollar spent. I ran IT for an entire rural school district for two years on basically a zero budget because this program existed.
    Another very useful program that I took advantage of was the Cisco Academy program. One of the biggest difficulties in technology education is the lack of a standardized curriculum. I was asked in 2000 to teach technology (IT) classes to high school students. I didn’t have any curriculum to turn to but found the Cisco program where for the cost of a $1500 license fee I could bring in a complete Cisco CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) program with all materials and a completely internet-delivered series of courses leading to the Cisco CCNA certification. There was a minimum lab equipment list of routers and switches that we were able to collect (through STRUT) at no cost- normally this equipment costs $10K at a discount through Cisco to equip one school for the program.
    There is a group that works on training technology teachers in Oregon that is sponsored by Intel and the NWRESD. Contact the NWRESD for info on this. Also, Don Domes at Hillsboro High School is a good contact for getting connected to the right folks in the NWRESD. Hope this helps.

  8. This post received comment from Derek Brandow of the YB Group. I am another of the partners with that group.

    We are building the environments for learning to which some here have alluded. They are experience-based, and their primary focus is on developing the skills necessary to find success in an ever-flattening world. That’s not suggesting that core competencies aren’t important. But it’s acknowledging that there are equally important components that aren’t being developed by our current education model.

    The fact is, what we’re talking about incorporates technology, yes, but so much more. It’s not about simply getting more kids in front of more computers. It’s about empowering them to take advantage of those technologies, as well as unlimited access to data. And then inviting them to think in an innovation-centric way.

    There is much work to do and The YB Group is ready to help in any way that it can.

    Jason Gallic

  9. @Jeff I agree. Completely. This is not a single-handed kind of task. I’ll work on getting this stuff moving. And then step out of the way to let smarter minds prevail.

  10. @Rick

    Why not put together a board so you don’t have to go at this alone? You all ready single handedly take on a lot for the Silicon Forest so let’s all pitch in to take some of the burden off of you.

  11. Wow, this is an active readership group. I am commenting less than a day after the post, and feel I already missed out on the conversation!

    Anyways, I have been considering and poking around with taking on an intern for a little while now and am very interested in trying to make that happen. I was initially thinking a college intern, but high school actually makes more sense and could be more rewarding. So count me in.

  12. Thanks so much to everyone for the their responses, their passion, and their volunteering to help.

    Yet another thing to love about our community around here.

    Thanks to all of you who have contacted me personally. This has started and will continue to spawn a number of conversations.

    The Twitter community alone was overwhelming. 🙂

    Given that time is usually the most precious of all commodities for many of us, I’d like to suggest that we find a way to pursue this conversation as a group, virtually. Then we can begin to figure out how it would be best to proceed.

    I’ll post a follow up once I have that figured out, but it I’m leaning in the direction of Google Groups at the outset.

    If anyone has any advice, I’m all ears.

    Again, thank you. That really sums it up. Thank you. I’m proud to be working with you on this.

  13. Count the folks at StepChange in…

  14. Jeff – I agree, it is more than that. I was commenting on the measurement that is being used to apply the grade of D for the state. If we want to move the mark on this then we either need to change the criteria or work to meet the stated expectations. So yes, let’s all start questioning this!

  15. @Lisa- I don’t think the suggestion was to put computers in front of kids. I personally see so much more than that.

    We’ll need to get together and figure out what we want to be about before determining how we’ll accomplish our new goal.

  16. I’m in, though I think Lisa’s counsel is wise. Oregon does poorly in computers per kid but doesn’t get credit for the training it provide teachers to use them? Weird. The other thing is, there’s a presumption that the bulk of tech-education and applications should be in the classroom, should it? Seems like the power is in “placing” education in communities (rather than the narrower confines of schools) using technology (you couldn’t really do it without technology) – the web20 classroom meets the real world.

    On another front, there are all kinds of technology-based social enterprise, innovation, open source, etc. contests and events for college kids, but does that ecosystem exist for younger students? (there’s JA, but what is there on the community/social enterprise side?). That may be worth exploring…

    I’m pleased this generated such a reaction, but cognizant of the larger context (schools trying to figure out their roles in the 21st C – are schools providers of all educational content or organizers and conveners of learning experiences? – and metrics that reflect a by-gone era).

  17. count me in. Let’s get a startup meetup going and brainstorm. Anyone know someone connected to the Legislature that we can channel ideas into?

    I don’t think we can turn around this bad grade with just volunteering in classrooms. We need to find out what our collective skills are and then pool them to find the best mix of talents and channel them into the greater good.

  18. I’m in. No question.

    I’ve worked with high school age kids before through the 4-H TechWizards program, but frankly, I’m happy to work with kids or educators, no matter the age group.

    I live this stuff (tech), and I teach it. That’s what I do. So I hope I can be useful to whatever this effort becomes. Use me. I’m at your disposal.

  19. Let me know how I can help out.

  20. Putting more computers in front of kids is a wacky way to measure learning. Computers are not necessarily making our kids smarter. In fact, I might argue that computers are enabling our kids to read and analyze less.
    Those of us that read Rick’s Blog likely have more computers in our homes than TVs and I suspect that we also spend more time with our kids reading and playing.

    I hate to see Oregon get a D for anything – that hurts. But, are we asking the right question?

  21. The YottaByte Group is a team of education and business professionals committed to developing children as collaborators, innovators and contributors in a global marketplace. Public Education is now failing to do what it set out to do over 100 years ago. The labor roles it was designed to fill have been outsourced or are being managed by technology. The YB Group seeks to replace the current education model by standing at the genesis of the new learning model we desperately need. This is richly infused with technology, something kids do not get to use in schools. We we will allow our students to use this technology for getting more than a date.

    We would love the opportunity to speak with you and discuss YB Schools.

    Derek Brandow
    CEO The YB Group

  22. I know @jabancroft does some stuff, so we should talk to him, too. I’m not so good with kids 🙂 but I’m happy to help behind the scenes.

  23. I was just talking with a teacher the other day that was writing a grant to get some funds to buy a piece of technology for her classroom since the school district wouldn’t pay for it.

    What if we put on workshops to teach technology to teachers?

    What if various Legion of Tech events also raised money to buy tech for classrooms?

    I’d love to judge a competition for the best student designed class home page (and I’d even pony up to pay hosting fees).

    We could open up our offices to kids that need a place to visit on career or talk your kid to work day.

    We could also start a list where teachers could post their technology needs and we can match them up with someone that has a piece of equip to donate.

    As you can tell, I’m on board! When is the first meeting?

  24. Some companies are already doing someing. One of our client is giving new oscilloscopes to 22 Oregon high schools. This is more in the physics/electronics realm, but kids need the test gear if they are going to learn a thing or two about how electronics works first hand.

    A free scope to those who can figure out the company (ok maybe not).


  25. I am very interested in working on this. My day job is in technology marketing and public relations. We have recently been exploring the idea of taking on a pro bono client in a related field that we can all come together and work on as a team.

    So there it is, and I guess that leaves me on the hook 🙂

  26. Count me in! We have a couple of local usergroups that would love to get into the schools (including the community college) but no “hooks”.

  27. If your school is lucky enough to have one, enlist your media specialist (i.e. school librarian.) Contrary to the popular stereotype, most embrace technology-oriented projects/learning.

  28. I like this. I’ve been thinking I’d really like to see some kind of local internship/mentoring program that focuses on connecting young women with interesting projects–not the corporate ones, but all the cool indie things we have going on.

  29. Also, For the past 2 years I have been working with two local high schools to help improve the tech programs. I would love to help and discuss what I have experienced as well. Also, you need to meet Derek Brandow. They are doing a model that is a little different. Not sure what I think of it yet, but pretty cool.

    Anyway, cool to connect.

    Derricks email: derek.brandow@theybgroup.com

  30. I’m in, let me know what I can do to help. I teach classes covering a variety of tech marketing topics for the real estate industry, but they can be catered to more generic purposes easily. I’ve been assembling computers for 20 years. Intermediate-advanced power user with a lot of apps (Microsoft, Adobe/Macromedia). Know XHTML, CSS, some PHP and MySQL. Might even be able to put together some donation money if we want to help get more computers out there.

    I grew up around here and noticed a sharp decline in the quality of education right after I got out of lower education and would love to see it make a comeback.

  31. YES! Me.

    I have to admit I am on the fringes of technology, but every person has their strengths, right? I would love to help show kids that they don’t have to understand all of it to be a part of the community.

    Plus, prior to advertising, I worked in childcare 😉

  32. I’m in. I volunteer with My kids school every other week. It is pretty sad. I actually work with my son more out of school. Tell me what you want to do! How do we gets started?

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