Connecting Smart Cities

By Joe Ableidinger and Bryan C. Hassel
For several months now, Tom Vander Ark has been issuing rich installments in his Smart Cities series, building a detailed map of where innovations in learning are happening. Here, we profile an organization connecting Smart Cities—the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust)—and its work helping city-based organizations support the emergence of high-quality blended learning.
CEE-Trust describes itself as “a network of city-based foundations, non-profits, and mayor’s offices that work together to support education innovation and reform.” Already at 28 members from coast to coast, CEE-Trust launched from Indianapolis-based education reform organization The Mind Trust in 2010, with support from Carnegie Corporation of New York and The Joyce Foundation. The network was created “to ensure that cities around the country have local institutional champions that drive the education reform agenda forward,” Executive Director Ethan Gray said in a 2011 interview. “We believe that city-based organizations are an under-tapped resource, and can be better leveraged to align key constituents to support education innovation and reform.”
The network facilitates multicity collaboration by hosting convenings and working with members to document effective practices and lessons learned in member cities, and to analyze cutting-edge issues in policy and practice. CEE-Trust also works closely with its policy partners, the Center on Reinventing Public Education and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The network and its leaders have developed a deep understanding of what it takes to catalyze education reform at the city level, as evidenced in the 2012 report Kick-Starting Reform—co-authored by CEE-Trust and Public Impact—which drew on profiles of three high-impact CEE-Trust members to identify lessons for reformers in other cities.
Subsets of CEE-Trust members belong to topic-specific working groups that meet several times a year to explore partnerships and seed collaborations. CEE-Trust’s current working groups focus on school governance reform, charter incubation, funding for education reform, and blended learning.
Blended Learning Working Group: This working group aims to expand members’ understanding of and engagement with high-quality blended learning. Working group members visit top national blended schools to learn from their leaders, teachers, families, and community supports. Grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have enabled CEE-Trust to develop members’ capacity to attract and support blended models, and to create opportunities for entrepreneurs to incubate, launch, or grow new blended programs.
Recently, CEE-Trust has provided members with advising tailored to their specific blended-learning goals and city context, which will lead to a set of white papers to aid other city-based organizations. To catalog blended-learning activity, CEE-Trust also launched BlendedLearningNow, an aggregator of blogs, news, research, case studies, and videos. In January 2013, CEE-Trust hired Carrie Douglass, formerly of the Rogers Family Foundation in Oakland and a key player in the pilot of four personalized blended models in Oakland Unified Schools in 2012–13. Douglass is spearheading CEE-Trust’s blended-learning work.
Blended-Learning Workshops and Summer Institute: In spring 2013, CEE-Trust and its partners Evergreen Education Group, Innosight Institute, and Public Impact will conduct six blended-learning workshops to introduce participants from member cities to key elements of high-quality blended models. CEE-Trust members will host workshops in Oakland (Rogers Family Foundation), Chicago (Chicago Public Education Fund), Denver (Donnell-Kay Foundation and Gates Family Foundation), Nashville (Tennessee Charter School Incubator), Detroit (The Skillman Foundation), and the Twin Cities (Charter School Partners and The Minneapolis Foundation). These workshops will create a cohort of promising leaders across the six cities, and help CEE-Trust members seed and support promising new schools and programs that use blended instruction to enable mastery-based, personalized learning. In the summer of 2013, a small group of exceptionally talented educators who attended the spring workshops will be invited to attend a summer institute to develop plans for implementing blended models with the local support of CEE-Trust members.
Through its blended-learning and other reform-focused activities, CEE-Trust connects some of today’s smartest cities—including existing blended-learning leaders and education technology hubs, and others poised to join them in creating, implementing, and supporting the next wave of high-quality blended schools and programs.
About the Authors
Joe Ableidinger is a senior consultant with Public Impact, a national education policy and management consulting organization based in Chapel Hill, N.C. Bryan C. Hassel is co-director of Public Impact.
Disclaimer: Public Impact has worked closely with CEE-Trust since its 2010 launch and continues to be actively engaged with the network and several of its members.

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