ASU Opening: Is America a Submerging Economy?

Investor Robert Grady moderated the opening panel at the ASU/GSV Education Innovation Conference in Scottsdale with perennial presenter Chris Whittle, CEO of the pricey global school network Avenues, and equity champion and RTTT architect Jon Schnur of America Achieves. They agreed that patterns of excellence have emerged from world class models domestically and internationally: high expectations, relentless focus on good teaching, a spirit of continuous improvement, and attention to granular details matter.  It’s clear that we have world beating schools in the U.S–we just need more of them.

Grady suggested we need to pay more attention to smart kids. Schnur said, “We need to improve the whole system–ability doesn’t stratify by income.”

Founder of EverFi Tom Davidson said, ”Tech can have a massive impact particularly in categories like coding and engineering”  He’s optimistic about the non-judgemental ability to personalize. Not surprisingly, Davidson thinks financial literacy should be a required K-12 competency.

Former Arizona chief Lisa Keegan noted the dramatic growth in the percentage of students that attend schools of choice rather than attendance area schools over the last twenty years.

Richard Sarnoff, KKR and Weld North, talked about the response of publishers. To the question of whether edtech disintermediates content, Sarnoff said, “Better content disintermediates textbooks.”  He noted that, “It is hard to be an incumbent and invest in models that attack your own revenue streams.”  While KKR is a well known acqusition firm, Weld North “writes smaller checks for attacker models” like Edgenuity (e2020) and encourages them to grow them organically and through acquisitions.

Venture and growth capital investment is growing at 57% annually. Education is now a $1.4 trillion market in the U.S. and $4.4 trillion market globally. Is there a bubble?  The panel responded, “probably not” but agreed with a GSV survey that suggested that the state and federal policy environment is the biggest impediment to investment and innovation.

Grady pointed out what may be an east coast bias for the traditional publishing mindset and a west coast enthusiasm for monetizing viral traffic. Panelists note that both may take a really long time and need to be adequately funded.

The panel resisted prompts to pick a top sitting education governor, but Keagan was quick to point out that Jeb Bush was clearly the best in recent memory. She praised governors that want to “fund the schools that get it done.”  Schnur noted that Common Core Standards represent governors working collaboratively together for higher standards.

While the panel held diverse opinions, none of them would take the bait and label the U.S. a “submerging economy.”


Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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