Don Knezek, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) CEO, opened this morning’s annual conference in San Diego for over 18,000 education leaders, administrators, educators and more. Knezek said to a room full of education leaders, “You are the living embodiment of ISTE’s mission.”

Serving his last year at ISTE, he shared his top five lessons from his years of experience with the organization:

  • World class teachers and school principals are the most important critical upstream of education
  • Education policy is important, but policy backed by leadership and incentive funding is a game changer
  • Accountability based on needs of previous generations does not result in an education system that prepares learners for their futures
  • The most important lessons are not only inside the four walls of our classrooms; and
  • When organizations collaborate – kids win.

Dr. Yong Zhao, keynote at ISTE and Presidential Chair and Associate Dean at University of Oregon, spoke on the importance of globalization, global competence and technology in education at the conference. Zhao, an international scholar, author and speaker, has designed schools to promote global competence and citizenship and founded research in education innovation. He is known for his works Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization and World Class Learners: Creative and Entrepreneurial Students.

The importance of technology is indisputable in the ways that it has better connected us to knowledge, others and more around the world. Yet, Zhao emphasized that in education reform, we must be intentional about our use of technology in the classroom.

“GPS is a great metaphor for education,” said Zhao. “It’s a great technology, but you have to know where you’re going. We’re lost. What’s the purpose of education?”

Zhao said that in the U.S. and across the globe, we’re working hard to implement new technology, discover education innovation and define new reforms, yet we haven’t achieved our goals.  Zhao–an anti-standards, anti-testing, anti-accountability advocate–poked fun of Race to the Top, Common Core State Standards and more.

Zhao humorously emphasized the importance of global competency to understand global resources, specialities, cultures and more to evaluate the pertinent knowledge and skills necessary for each country’s students. Zhao said, countries admire China’s education system, yet China has yet to celebrate its test score success. The country’s leaders look to the U.S. and wonder how to foster talent, entrepreneurism and more. In 2008, the U.S. has filed nearly twice the number of patents than China.

Research shows that longitudinally Asian minorities do very well academically compared to other ethnic groups, said Zhao. “They are the model minority academically,” he added. “Yet, they don’t carry the same ethic in their workspace.”

Comparatively, American education is not in decline, argued Zhao, it’s always been bad. Yet, in the height of globalization and global innovation he asked, why is the U.S. still leading in entrepreneurship, patents and more in the globe? We have an interesting paradox between the best education in China and a terrible education system in U.S. with a high level of economic output, said Zhao.

Zhao explained, “Good test scores don’t necessarily translate to good entrepreneurial skills.” Test scores don’t really lead to real education of what we need, said Zhao. He referred to Albert Einstein’s metaphor that “if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live its entire life thinking it’s stupid.”  Apparently Zhoa doesn’t think kids should be able to write or think algebraically.

American students score higher in confidence and creativity than Chinese students who score better in mathematics performance. He said, while American students are confident and happy the U.S. standards of educational performance are too low. “Reading should be the floor, not the ceiling,” added Zhao.

Creativity and confidence foster great entrepreneurs in the economy. “Creativity can’t but taught, but it can be killed,” he said. Yet, the American education doesn’t teach creativity better than China, said Zhao. It kills it less successfully than the rigorous academic challenge and test scores of China. In the U.S., the educational system failed to serve students like Steve Jobs and Lady Gaga. They were on the fringe and succeeded outside of the system.

“You have to believe every talent is useful,” said Zhao. “If Lady Gaga is useful, everyone is useful.”

Business and social entrepreneurs go out into the market to create positions for themselves in the market, said Zhao. He argued that education today should reduce people’s talents into employable skills in order to shift a one-size-fits-all education to an entrepreneurial education. He concludes that we must do this in the context of globalization and global competency and citizenship. He added, “Other countries are not our competitors, they’re our collaborators, clients and customers.”

Zhao said we can better foster students talents. “Education is not about fixing someone’s deficits. It’s about enhancing their strengths. A real good education is one that helps every individual child maximize their potential,” said Zhao. “And you can do that.”  That line proved to be a twitter favorite but we’d love to know if Zhoa can live with two thirds of American students being unable to earn college credit or access idea economy employment.

As Tom has noted on Getting Smart, Zhao’s anti-measurement stance is “irresponsible in the sense that he doesn’t grapple with accountability.”  Tom notes that, “We have NCLB because states were not fulfilling the good school promise—they ignored generations of chronic failure,” and adds “The challenge is how to promote creativity and accountability—to ensure that every American student has access to at least one good school and a rich engaging series of learning experiences that focuses on big questions not little test bubbles.”

For more visit isteconference.org/2012.

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