USA: Jack Taub

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Jack Taub -The Power of Us

Jack Taub, entrepreneur and Chairman of Emaginos discusses his mission to transform K-12 education for all children in the USA

Jack Taub pioneered a new marketing system to the US Postal Service as Chairman and CEO of Scott Publishing Company, a pioneering effort that led to all post offices becoming the retailing operation they currently are. The USPS has earned over $10B on expansion of Taub-originated strategies. In 1978, Taub pioneered and personally funded The Source, which became the world's first interactive consumer on-line company. The Source begat America On-Line, and is widely credited with laying the foundations of the consumerization of the Internet. Some of the industry's 'firsts' influenced by Taub include Email, Chat, advertising, education, commerce and training.

In 1980, Taub sold The Source to Reader's Digest for a significant profit. Following the sale of The Source, Taub funded the predecessor to, as well as the current Emaginos organization, with over $25M to create a pioneering effort to transform K12 public education through a new kind of utility based on a global subscription model. This model is now being referred to as cloudcomputing.

Complexity and the need to transform

Jack Taub is a successful businessman of 78 who is on a mission to transform K-12 public education. He begins our interview with bold statements about the state of education systems around the world and the urgent need to rethink what education means for everyone:

"Look, the system is broken. It was OK when the job markets were simpler, when you didn't have all this international competition... We have a big problem. The school system in America, England in any place else is going to have to change dramatically... we're going to have to determine once and for all what education is..."

And for Jack, our apparent preoccupation with testing does not help answer this most fundamental of questions:

"It's certainly not testing as it happens in schools... Testing is a part of assessment but the question is how do you get them (students) to the point where they can be problem solvers and creative thinkers?"

He believes the preoccupation with scores has been driven, to some extent, by employers, and argues that this represents a misunderstanding of what test scores actually mean:

"...basically the business community said we want higher test scores, and they got test scores confused with knowledge and success... Assessments are going to be important, but not the assessment or memorization of data."

For Jack Taub, the time for education reform has passed, and he advocates a new paradigm for education, with the emphasis placed firmly on the development of 'high performance skills' through project based working and the use of technology to teach and assess. He believes that the "endless tinkering" of previous decades has failed to deliver on its promises, and states that a re-imagined system is now needed:

"It's a systemic problem... in America now they're talking about reform, but you can't reform this problem - you need to transform. We need a new system utilizing current facilities and retraining existing teachers with the support of the teacher's unions."

The problem, as he describes it, is delivering this whilst the system continues to operate:

"Now, how do you start a new system with 54 million kids showing up every day... you've got to do this while the system is going. It's analogous to rebuilding an airplane while it's in flight and full of passengers. And during the flight you also have to retrain the pilots (teachers)"

But he is in no doubt that anything less is unacceptable:

"In America, based on the reading skills of a child in 4th grade we determine how many prison cells we're going to need. It's very bleak - think of the child when they first showed up there. It's particularly tragic when you consider that every child shows up for kindergarten with unlimited curiosity and a genetic need to learn. It's tragic, but that's what kept me going..."

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Teachers – key to delivering transformation in the current K-12 system

The transformation strategy Jack Taub and his colleagues have devised demands, and now has, the support of both teacher's unions, because the plan calls for the first 500,000 teachers (out of the 4,000,000) to be volunteer early-adopters. They will be retrained to work with children on standards-based, multidisciplinary projects in small groups. Taub is convinced that in this environment, true learning and the development of high-performance skills takes place and - crucially - students excel in all state and federal assessments. The teachers are empowered and in control of their curriculum and work under a new union contract (the average retrained teacher at one of Taub's discovery and innovation schools earns about $80,000 per annum, which includes compensation for the longer school day/year and additional responsibilities for managing their school).

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‘High performance’ skills for the 21st century

Jack's devotion to education is absolute, and he makes a strong argument when addressing the issue of what he calls 'high performance' skills:

"Well, you know communication, problem solving, creativity, working as teams, ... these are the high performance skills that a child needs to be successful in this world", and he argues that with millions of school leavers coming into the job market in the US without the requisite skills to contribute and realize their ambitions, the skills debate should be seen in the context of the global skills race:

"It is not just America, I mean eventually all these children will be competing against each other around the world and so all the school systems are going to have to go this way."

He is convinced that the innovative deployment of technology in schools is central to delivering this new vision of education, and believes that the benefits of this new digital infrastructure will be felt beyond the school gates:

"This technology has tremendous impact not just on the school and the children but also for the community in the sense of economic development. It's just a new kind of infrastructure - start at the grass roots with the child."

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America Part II

Jack Taub is convinced that the US education system needs transforming, and describes his work with Emaginos as moving towards building 'America Part II'. Whilst he acknowledges the enormity of the challenge and the temptation to merely criticize the existing system, he is also focused on a simple end goal:

"It's easy to curse others. I was like that at the beginning but what are we going to do about it? The fact of the matter is, it's one of the most complex issues in history but what we're aiming for is basically simple - we want to make school a place that kids are excited to go to each day."

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Tackling drop outs – a moral duty

Perhaps Jack's major preoccupation is with the alarmingly high drop out rates in the US, and he has been so incensed by the figures that at one point in his career he considered launching a class action lawsuit for child abuse:

"Using reading comprehension as the measure, 10,000 children a day, seven days a week are coming out of our system as graduates or dropouts, and they do not have the ability to earn a living... what's amazing is they all show up in kindergarten with a genetic need to learn. That is what I call child abuse."

For Jack, the provision of a high quality education that engages children and equips them for the future is not a luxury but an absolute obligation. He is passionate about the potential of all children, arguing vociferously that current educational provision squanders individuals' talents and an in-built desire to learn:

"We bring our kids into kindergarten with automatic curiosity...and the next thing you know we're budgeting for prisons... There is nothing wrong with our children - God did the hard part when it comes to a child's curiosity and genetic need to learn."

So the question is then how to build a system that nurtures all children and makes the most of their capacity to learn, all the way through the system?:

"We're going to do 'New America' - what I call 'America Part II'. In Part I, a lot of people did terrific but far, far too many people got left behind. Part II is based on a school system that nurtures every child to their fullest; we're not going to leave any of them behind".

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Impact and scale

Jack Taub is damning of the current education system, but recognizes that change is not easy, particularly given the numbers of schools and children involved. He believes there are some innovative and effective ideas being put in place, but that they are largely irrelevant if the issue of scalability cannot be addressed:

"What's the purpose of schools? Question is, what's the solution and how do you scale up? You can make anything you want happen in one school or three schools ... the issue is how do you replicate it in 10,000 classrooms? Even transforming 10,000 classrooms a year, it would take 400 years to complete the task once"

He continues, arguing that the solution is to think of education in business terms, in order to institute the rigour and process required to deliver substantial change:

"It has to be a viable business, you can't do the things I am talking about doing as a charity - you have to make a viable business, otherwise it won't be sustainable."

Jack cites the problem of dealing with School Boards, and argues that their autonomy and decision making power often inhibits widespread change. He does not believe that, in spite of overwhelming evidence, transformation of the education system is inevitable:

"I don't count on America to do anything just because it's right. It is very complicated... everybody's got an agenda", but states that by putting children at the heart of education design and delivery, transformation along the lines he describes is achievable.

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Impact and scale

Jack Taub is damning of the current education system, but recognizes that change is not easy, particularly given the numbers of schools and children involved. He believes there are some innovative and effective ideas being put in place, but that they are largely irrelevant if the issue of scalability cannot be addressed:

"What's the purpose of schools? Question is, what's the solution and how do you scale up? You can make anything you want happen in one school or three schools ... the issue is how do you replicate it in 10,000 classrooms? Even transforming 10,000 classrooms a year, it would take 400 years to complete the task once"

He continues, arguing that the solution is to think of education in business terms, in order to institute the rigour and process required to deliver substantial change:

"It has to be a viable business, you can't do the things I am talking about doing as a charity - you have to make a viable business, otherwise it won't be sustainable."

Jack cites the problem of dealing with School Boards, and argues that their autonomy and decision making power often inhibits widespread change. He does not believe that, in spite of overwhelming evidence, transformation of the education system is inevitable:

"I don't count on America to do anything just because it's right. It is very complicated... everybody's got an agenda", but states that by putting children at the heart of education design and delivery, transformation along the lines he describes is achievable.

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Children: the primary consumers

For Jack Taub, clarity of purpose is found by looking at schools and education through the lens of business and by seeing the whole thing through the eyes of a child:

"I look at things and I say 'Would I buy this, would I use this'... It doesn't matter where they are from, what their background is - these kids show up in kindergarten with unbelievable gifts ... Previously, the education establishment never looked at the child as the primary consumer."

He continues:

"What business is going to survive if you treat your customers like you treat your child in a school? To sit up straight and be quiet for 12 years, reading 15-year-old text books? We're going to teach you how to memorize things so that you pass a test... Trust me you would be out of a business within 30 days ..." At home, parents treat a misbehaving child by requiring the child to sit quietly for 15 minutes. It's called 'Time Out'. In school, we ask the student so sit quietly for 12 years and we call it, 'Class'!"

and argues that it is the very requirement of schooling - the fact that children are legally obliged to attend school - that has led to the distortion of the 'business model' and the resultant disengagement of so many students:

"They have built a business thinking that the child has no choice, well the child's choice is dumbing themselves down - like I did - and that's what it is, it's simple."

Jack's solution is to design education from the child upwards; to have the main aim of any system rooted in a determination to inspire and develop the individual:

"Is this gonna make a child want to come to school? It's almost like the toy business, it has to be intellectually stimulating... We have to make the desk of child an intellectual Disney Land."

and he is convinced that by shifting the emphasis in this direction, issues including catastrophic drop out rates may finally be addressed:

"See nobody, including myself, for the first 10-12 years, looked at the child as the primary consumer because the law says that the child has to go to school. They start looking at drop outs at the age of 13-14 years old, but the reality is they first dropped out mentally when they were 6, 7 or 8... The solution to the dropout problem and to teacher burnout stops at kindergarten."

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‘This is not a money issue’

Money is often mentioned when talking of education reform and especially when looking at the kind of transformation Jack Taub describes. Surprisingly, Jack does not advocate for greater investment in public education, and is convinced that his ideas and work through Emaginos and Tracy Schools can be delivered within existing budgetary constraints:

"This is not a money issue. I couldn't see my way through it, it was always more money, and I knew that wasn't it. I knew the answer had to lie in technology to some degree because I knew technology could be fun and exciting. But the answer is not just to use technology to automate the existing broken system. We need to redesign the system to create a moreeffective learning environment - taking advantage of the new capabilities made possible by technology."

He is also unconvinced that teachers' pay is an issue, arguing that it is the excessive focus on test scores that inhibits excellent teaching:

"If you think that paying teachers more money without changing the process of learning is going to solve this issue, I am telling you it will not. Today's teachers are being paid to increase test scores. The more they teach to the test, the more students are bored, and the more teachers are burned out. This results in more dropouts and diplomas to nowhere."

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Transforming education: a growth industry

Jack Taub draws our discussion to a close by re-iterating his absolute conviction that minor reforms to the current system are pointless and that the time to act on education transformation is now:

"We have got to approach this thing like a wartime effort... I don't want to find out six years from now that we screwed up and that we have wiped out another generation."

He believes that, with his colleagues, he has proved that a new model of education can be successfully implemented, and that with or without companies like his, profound change is inevitable:

"It is going to have to happen and we'll become the model. The transformation of education is going to be a growth industry and the fact of the matter is, there is no choice. If you want to have an economy and you want to compete globally you're going to have to produce children who cut the mustard."

Jack finishes by re-stating his vision: that customizing education for every child will:

"ensure that never again will our children's hopes, futures, and dreams be determined by the color of their skin, the quality of their healthcare, the poverty in their home and/or community and last but far from least, the teachers' and students' ability to withstand the frustration and boredom inherent in today's public education systems."

He then cites an example of the kind of feedback he receives from parents attending one of the Tracy schools in California - feedback that, for Jack Taub, explains why he does what he does:

"A parent, a Hispanic lady with two kids in the school. She had a complaint, 'The problem I have is that my children don't want to go on summer vacation, they want to stay at school.' Now, I couldn't write that."

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