Who will Transform Education?

Diane Ravitch, education historian and professor at NYU, recently posted a question to her twitter followers that lead to a pretty heated back and forth with Justin Hamilton, spokesperson for the Dept of Education, and several other followers.

While I am a believer that healthy debate can be very constructive, pushing the thinking and assumptions of both sides, I find this question really perpetuates this gap between educators and education startups. Ravitch’s view over simplifies the classification of an entrepreneur as someone working outside the school system in a for-profit organization with an emphasis on making money.  I think that narrowly defining entrepreneurship in this way not only undermines all the entrepreneurial work happening within the school system, at the classroom and district level, but also disregards non-profit startups that are fully focused on improving education outcomes for all students. And what about creative efforts from parents and students themselves, who often go above and beyond to stretch limited resources and make something out of nothing. Isn’t that form of alchemy the essence of entrepreneurship?

Being a Stanford Ed School Alum, I am familiar with much of Ravitch’s work and often agree with her thinking around focusing on educators and improving the system from within. However, as someone working on finding ways to bridge these two communities and shine a spotlight on teacherpreneurs, I was really disappointed to see this type of divisive conversation. Broad education reform requires a collective effort and I think we should include as many people in this movement as possible. It takes a village, right?

So, who will transform education? All of us.

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Is there Really A Movement?

Howard Fuller was absolutely amazing as the keynote speaker at the New Schools Venture Fund Summit this past Wed, appropriately kicking off the event asking everyone to think about why they are here, doing this work, and what role they can and will play. He passionately expressed the sense of urgency we need to have in solving the challenges of our current education system and echoed a similar message from Don Shalvey, that I wrote in a previous post, that there is room for everyone to play a meaningful role in improving education outcomes for all students.

Many of his comments were twitter-worthy (and the audience did an impressive job keeping the tweet stream (#nsvfsummit) flowing all day) but this was by far my favorite.

“We think we are all awesome. We are not all awesome. Most of us are regular people. We have to create systems where regular people can have awesome results.”

For me, this captured the essence of the entire event. NSVF has been supporting some of the top edupreneurs since 1998, who span from school builders to tool builders and everything in between, who are working to create ways in which regular citizens can make a real impact on teaching and learning.

The title of this post borrows from that of the opening session itself, questioning whether the current education reform movement is moving fast enough. I wonder if outside our bubble of edtech trends and the charter reform, is there enough community engagement and energy to even classify this as a movement? I would love to see what happened to the environmental movement take shape in the education world, where regular citizens not only have awareness of the problem but have actionable ways in which they can make a difference. Everyone recycles and that’s awesome. Can we get everyone to volunteer at their local school or contribute to educating all our children in other every-day ways?

Fuller simply states that in order to build a movement, we must engage people on a grassroots level. I whole-heartedly agree, which is why I’ve been organizing a growing community of educators who are interested in helping build the edtech movement through my Teacher Tech Talk events. (The next one is coming up on Wed, May 30th.)

The rest of the day was equally amazing, full of great speakers and opportunities to connect with fellow edupreneurs, old and new. It would be impossible to capture everything here, so keeping with their efforts to foster this community, NSVF will post all the sessions online. (A few of the sessions are already live on NBC News Education Nation.)

If you only have time to watch one session, skip straight to the closing conversation between Rahm Emanuel and Laurene Powell Jobs. Clearly a seasoned politician, he had an established message to convey, however, his passion for fixing the broken education system in Chicago was pouring off the stage.

“We’re not for reform, we’re for results. As reformers, we’re for education excellence, not educational reform. I think we confuse the means with the ends.”

It was such a powerful way to close the day and bring the conversation back to the focus of all our efforts, and events like the summit. The focus should not be reforming “the system,” or unions, or teaching training programs, etc… But rather engaging regular citizens in building a grassroots movement that optimizes for educational excellence for all students. If we could do that, then maybe we are all awesome.

Imagine that!

Imagine K12 hosted their Demo Day for batch #2  today and I was impressed not only with the progress of the teams but with the IK12 program itself. In true lean startup form, ImagineK12 has rapidly incorporated feedback from their first cohort, iterated on their processes and prepared 9  startups to contribute to the edtech movement.

Alan Louie kicked off the event with some statistics about the edu startup space that appropriately engaged this audience, made up largely of edtech investors. Most compelling for me is the reality that the US represents only 3% of the global edu market, which means the real opportunity is in designing and distributing tools to learners on a global scale. As the movement continues to build momentum, it is projected that US spending on education will grow to $789Billion by 2015 (just 3 short years from now.)

Compared to other Demo Days that attract an audience of hundreds of people generally interested in getting in on the startup action, Imagine K12 clearly focused on the quality and caliber of the attendees. This not only creates a more targeted pitching experience for the startups but also deepens ties in broader edtech community. I wanted to stop and meet (or re-connect) with almost every person in the room, as I know they are sincerely committed to funding entrepreneurs striving to solve real problems in the K12 space.

The leap from cohort 1 to cohort 2 was tremendous and seems like it just keeps getting better. The next batch embarks on their journey in July and  IK12 is still accepting applications through through this Sunday, May 6th.

Outrageous to Ambitious

I’m always so impressed by the quality of the fully student organized Stanford GSB Education Symposium and last night’s event was no exception. I was honored to co-lead a roundtable discussion on how to apply design thinking principles to help empower global learners, specifically around re-thinking distribution models for digital content.  This is directly related to the course I am contributing to through the Stanford Ed School this spring, Ed333B: Envisioning the Future of Learning, and it was so beneficial for me to practice some of my instructional approaches with this attentive and energetic audience.

The roundtables were followed by some additional networking and a lovely dinner. The highlight of the evening was the charming and inspiring keynote address from Don Shalvey, Founder of Aspire Public Schools who is currently Director of US Ed Programs for the Gates Foundation. As the godfather of the charter school movement, he shared some entertaining stories about his first time teaching kindergarten and how his teaching craft has evolved over time, with a focus on ‘doing the common thing uncommonly well.’ While I’m not particularly bullish on charter schools as the silver bullet for ed reform, what was most fascinating is his perspective on the ~20 year old charter school movement itself and his key message that what used to be seen as outrageous is now viewed as ambitious. What was previously dismissed as impossible is actually now attainable, once you apply enough energy and investment. While charters are still such a small percentage of schools (~5-7%) they play the important role as a testing ground for piloting programs and iterating before integrating broadly into traditional schools. The innovative and fast-paced culture of some charter schools allow them to experiment with tools and programs that larger, and often more bureaucratic districts, struggle with. The most inspiring part of his address was his call to action for everyone in the room to remember that ‘education is a broad field and there is room and need for talent from all types of backgrounds.’

In a space that is often dominated by negative rhetoric about how the system is failing and in crisis mode, Dean Steele’s opening remarks and Dr. Shalvey’s keynote were refreshingly optimistic and I hope everyone else left with the same reinvigorating feeling that I did!

Teachers as Innovators

I occasionally have moments on my morning drive where I’m so captivated by the conversation on NPR that I spend a few extra minutes just sitting and listening. This happened to me on Tuesday while listening to the Forum segment with The Economist’s Vijay Vaitheeswaran talking about his latest book, “Need, Speed, and Greed.” His broader message is that risk-taking innovation is the only way for companies and entrepreneurs to survive in a disruptive era of globalization and I was particularly drawn into his points on how education plays such a vital role in innovation. Vijay defines innovation as ‘fresh thinking that adds/creates value’ and I really appreciate his emphasis on how innovation is not always related to or dependent on technology.  In applying this to education, this immediately made me think about a recent EdWeek article highlighting a study that shows ‘Teachers Can Influence Colleagues, Change Schools.’ If more teachers see themselves as the innovators, tasked with the challenge of determining how/when to utilize various edtech tools (which is far more difficult than just creating them), that will drive significant improvements in teaching and learning. My favorite message from that piece is that  “Educators must consider each other the most valuable resource in a system, to be developed and supported with leadership, structures, tools, and processes for promoting continual professional learning.” I believe that the value created from focusing on teachers as innovators and constant learners themselves is the true revolution that schools need in order to improve student outcomes.

He went on to stress the importance of investing in education, which is one of the main drivers of innovation and that recent cuts to higher ed, especially to the UC system, are fundamentally wrong as we are cutting future productivity gains. Vijay’s views on purpose really resonated with me and were the main reason I came back and listened to the rest of the segment. He shares that in an ideas based economy, what truly motivates people is “purpose,  a sense of community, autonomy, mastery, independence, being good at what you do and connecting with something bigger than yourself.” If you know me or have read previous posts, you’ll know how much I whole-heartedly agree with this sentiment.

I find his optimistic perspective extremely refreshing in a conversation around poverty alleviation and education that is often portrayed as in crisis-mode. He asserts that change is possible and disruptive change is coming (with a nice shout-out to Khan Academy and Acumen Fund.) I agree and am enthusiastically hopeful to see what we as a society can create when we focus on greed for good.

What is the purpose of school?

Great visualization of how we need to shift our thinking on what is the purpose of school and education from the great Sir Ken Robinson.