ExcelinEd Summit Focused on Students

The sessions at this year’s National Summit on Education Reform, hosted by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, reflected growing recognition of the potential of personalized, digital learning to improve student access to high-quality educational options across the board.  We were excited to hear words like “customized learning,” “student-centered” and “personalization” on the lips of so many panelists this year. Below is a recap of a few of our favorite sessions.

Time to customize. The “Customized Education” panel featured heavy-hitters in Digital Learning Policy – Michael Horn (@MichaelBHorn), Susan Patrick (@SusanDPatrick), Sen. Howard Stephenson (@SenHoward) and Ken Bradford (@LACourseChoice). The session focused on the opportunity that digital learning creates to transform the education system into one that is fundamentally student-centered. A key part of this transformation, the panel agreed, is the shift from school inputs to student outcomes as a measurement of quality. It is time to move away from one size fits all classrooms and rethink education designed around every student. The highlight of the session was hearing from Florida Virtual School student Lauren Lee. She appreciates the flexibility of her online courses and the ability to move through courses at her own pace.

“We’re looking at adopting quality online learning metrics in many states and working to push for transparency,” said Patrick. She also highlighted the importance of shifting to competency- based learning (as DLN wrote about last spring in the From Cohorts to Competency). The quotable, Senator Stephenson explained how Utah has expanded options for it’s students. “I’m not a brain researcher, but I play one in the legislature,” said Stephenson. As Stephenson noted, Utah was the first in the nation to turn Digital Learning Now! (@DigLearningNow) 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning into comprehensive state policy. Through HB65, students in Utah are customizing their learning through blended learning said Senator Stephenson. Blended learning is more than supplementing learning, said Stephenson, it’s about customizing education.

Sharing successes. In a great communication strategy sessions, conversation leaders, communication specialists- Michael Bassik (@MBassik) from Burson-Marsteller, Peter Cunningham (@PCunningham57) served as Asst. Secretary for Communications for the US Dept of ED and now Whiteboard Advisor and Mike Murphy (@MurphyMike) of Revolution Agency helped define what EdReform communication can and should look like. The message is that we need to stop defining the problems and start talking about the foreseen hope of the future, and especially what the future means for students, teachers and our country. It’s important to highlight the many positive stories of students and teachers experiencing the potential of a personalized system of education.

Democratizing education. This panel brought together top thinkers to discuss the ways in which technology can democratize education by providing students with options to personalize their learning across K-12 and higher education. Digital Learning Now!’s John Bailey kicked off the panel asking, “What happens when students start bringing their own learning?” MOOC-master Dr. Anant Agarwal (@agarwaledu) of edX explained how online learning can give learners access to the top teachers in the world and eliminate the barriers of traditional classroom walls. Mozilla’s Erin Knight (@EKnight) provided information to show how all of this personalized learning can be captured and reported. She explained that micro-credentials like Mozilla’s OpenBadges project can help learners “capture more granular skills and personalized pathways” and also “innovate around the types of skills we want to recognize in teaching.” Hadi Partovi (@HadiP) of Code.org spoke to policy barriers blocking important advances in education that thwart American progress and advocated for elevating computer science courses from fufilling elective requirements to important graduation requirements in Science and Math.

High expectations. The general session featuring top leaders in business and industry spoke to the business case for Common Core State Standards. Led by the witty moderator Amanda Ripley (@AmandaRipley), an investigative journalist and author, the panel featured Joe Tucci, Chairman and CEO of EMC Corporation, Jorge Benitez, Chief Executive United States and Managing Director of North America at Accenture, Fred Humphries (@FredHum), Vice President of U.S. Government Affairs for Microsoft Corporation and Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil. High standards and common college and career ready standards in every state are essential to prepare American graduates for jobs in the global economy, especially in high-need areas like STEM fields. Like much of what we heard at the Summit, the issue needs reframed – “It’s not about haves vs. have-nots anymore, said Tucci, “It’s about prepared vs. unprepared.”

Wicked funny and smart. Michael Gove MP, England’s Secretary of State for Education entertained and inspired a full room with wisdom from across the pond during his evening keynote. Gove advocated for the CCSS because “children are being lied to,” pointing to both the moral imperative and the “ticking clock.” Gove called for autonomy, accountability, assessment and “ah-ha moments” from high-quality educators. During his keynote, Gove pointed to the transformative power of technology, citing the benefits of blended learning he has seen first hand. We need to make sure teachers feel empowered to use technology in the right way, said Gove. “Let’s challenge every student as if we believed they were destined for greatness,” says Gove.

Measuring what matters. Dr. Clayton Christensen (@ClayChristensen) opened the final day of the summit with a thought provoking discussion about innovation. He lamented the U.S. focus on job destroying efficiency rather than longer term market creating innovations–a function of obsession with short sighted measures. Clay’s first lesson: be careful to pick the right set of measures for education.

Christensen worries that families have outsourced so many jobs that most children don’t learn to do hard work and that may reduce their persistence and ability to absorb learning.  As a result, it’s more important than ever that, “Education needs to motivate,” said Christensen.

“Online learning, in so many ways, melds together factors that convince us with opportunities that motivate us.”  He added that, “We are motivated by the opportunity to achieve, having responsibility, feeling needed and helping others” and “Our system needs to shift from convincing students to learn, to a culture that motivates students to learn.”

Christensen encouraged a discussion of evolutionary stuff left over, like panda thumbs, that no longer serves a useful purpose. In education, he suggests, that includes academic departments, agricultural calendar, and batch processing architecture.

Moving on up. AEI’s Dr. Arthur Brooks (@arthurbrooks) spoke on education and social mobility, telling an audience of policymakers and education leaders, “You are the guarantors of America’s happiness.” Brooks’ message: We are not talking about what matters most, when we focus only on what we can measure best. We need to shift the conversation to include the moral imperative for education reform. Brooks explained happiness is 48% genetic, 40% major events and 12% things you can control. Our “Happiness Portfolio” includes; faith, family, community and earned success (where education has the strongest influence).

Brooks also mentioned, 89% of Americans are satisfied or strongly satisfied with their jobs. He explains this is due to earned success. Brooks said, “The free enterprise system is a happiness machine, if we make it work for more people.” Brooks concluded that fixing our education system is the civil rights battle of our lifetime and ed reformers are warriors for happiness for our students. “Making the education promise real for everyone is the most important fight we’re fighting,” said Brooks. Every kid should realize they are running an enterprise – their own life. Its not enough to have students learning about building a small business in school, we should include entrepreneurship in school curriculum said Brooks.

Chicago school culture taking the stage. Closing out this year’s summit was Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel who highlighted the reforms that are surfacing in his city. After 10 years of discussion, the school administration has managed to pull the city out from having the least amount of time in school by adding time to the actual days and weeks of the school year as well as implementing full-day Kindergarten for all students. There is now a teacher in every neighborhood library and with a library card every student has access to free online tutoring in English and Spanish. 200K students participated in an electronic badging program to prevent summer slide. Emmanuel is holding every adult in Chicago accountable for overall student success- from the community, to parents, to the teachers, with a particular focus on the principals to drive the change and reform needed. Principals with leadership skills, prepared to lead a healthy culture and not afraid to be held accountable with a rigorous system in place, you can see progress immediately happen. School choice is defined in Chicago, not one as charter vs neighborhood, but as private, public, military, STEM, magnet, IB and more hoping to open the doors of opportunity to as many students as possible.

For additional coverage of this year’s National Summit on Education Reform see:

Florida Virtual School, Digital Learning Now! and The Foundation for Excellence in Education are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners.

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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1 Comment

Pat Deklotz

A focus on Students! Kudos for putting the focus where it belongs. Education should not be focused on the establishment - it is about the learner. We must engage and support the learner in ways that are relevant to their goals, dreams, and ambitions. When we can fuel engagement and creativity the learner brings a heightened standard of achievement and rigor.

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