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Friday Guest Column: Consider the Northwest Education Cluster

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Jim Snyder is the Director of the NW Education Cluster

In August 2003 about 25 people gathered at a local university to share ideas about forming an Education Cluster in the Pacific Northwest to discuss issues surrounding education. In the room were CEO’s of over 10 education companies that created products and services for the education industry from pre-kindergarten to adult learners. Fast forward to 2008 and the NW Education Cluster is now over 260 people strong and represents over 40 education companies. The cluster is still a fledging organization but it is attempting to coalesce around a few key priorities.

With help from the Oregon Business Council, key representatives from the cluster met in September 2007 to set a road map on the direction of the cluster. hat meeting served as a dry run for the Oregon Leadership Summit tin early December 2007. At the meeting the cluster held a roundtable where the Oregon State Superintendent of Schools (Susan Castillo), the Oregon Senate Majority Leader (Senator Richard Devlin) and others from the teacher’s union and Governors’ Office all sat together to talk about working towards building 21st Century schools. The businesses themselves could not have had these people at the same table except for the leverage of the cluster. Over 70 attended the meeting and a few ideas percolated.

The cluster started by providing a key statistic that over 80% of the cluster member companies derive less than 10% of their business revenue from within Oregon. How can business and government work together to increase this (this is hardly unique to the Northwest!)?

The two ideas shared by the cluster to these government officials were:

1) An Oregon X-Prize for education in the area of technology. Education Week just this month came out with report ranking Oregon low in technology and staff development. How can we all work together to focus the energy in Oregon to support specific goals using local companies’ expertise?

2) A summer Education Summit where educational companies could share their ideas and technology with state education leaders.

After this meeting there was a question of, where can the cluster go from here? The cluster is a volunteer organization with no outside funding. It is, however, unique – there are no other clusters in education anywhere else in the US to my knowledge. How can the cluster work with the local government to raise money for a prize or a summit? How can they be taken seriously? These are the questions to which we seek answers.
The cluster is working with others in the educational market.

As a follow up to the roundtable summit, the cluster last week had its quarterly meeting where the Portland Schools Foundation and the Chalkboard Project presented that they were up to and how we could all work together. The turnout was 50% higher than normal – the word is getting out!

In the next month the cluster will be sending out a survey to gage interest among members around the summit or X-Prize. We are even getting some pro-bono work from a local PR firm that is interested in what the cluster is doing. Some of the details for a prize or summit that we are exploring are:

1. How can companies help in implementing the mission of the new HS diploma requirements?

2. How can the cluster work to develop virtual school curriculum and ancillary education materials?

3. How can the cluster support the Governor’s workforce strategy? One idea is to connect with very established manufacturing cluster here in Oregon to push for an educational/ workforce reform agenda?

This is still a work in progress but you can see that we are well started on the journey. I would welcome any ideas others had.

1 Comment

Glad to see the NW Educ Cluster gaining national profile. Way to go, Jim! I've highlighted the cluster and your column in my blog, http://consciousmanager.blogspot.com/2008/01/cluster-bucks.html . All the best, Fred

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