National Education Summit - Connecting for Change

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Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets National Education Summit
attendees after his speech.

HOW CAN TECHNOLOGY in education affect the workforce and economic development? What kind of leadership will it take to align learning and technology in the 21st century? Can we bridge the gap between education reform, technology, and No Child Left Behind requirements simultaneously?

The answers to these and many other related questions were examined at the National Education Summit on Leadership, Learning, and Technology for the 21st Century, held in Brewster, MA, on Cape Cod, from Oct. 6-8. The purpose of this second annual summit was to bring together a diverse mix of the best and brightest education and technology leaders to discuss the challenges facing US educators and academic institutions. In a collaborative partnership, the summit was hosted by CELT Corp. (www.celtcorp.com), the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the Education Commission of the States, and was facilitated by EduStrategies (edustrategies.net).

Some of this year’s major host organizations included: T.H.E. Journal; Apple Computer (www.apple.com); Harcourt (www.harcourt.com); TetraData (www.tetradata.com); K12 Inc. (www.k12.com); SAS (www.sas.com); Class-Link (www.classlink2000.com); ENA (www.ena.com); Texas Instruments (education.ti.com); IBM (www.ibm.com); Microsoft (www.microsoft.com); Pearson Education (www.pearsoned.com); Nova Southeastern University (FL); and Holt, Rinehart, and Winston (www.hrw.com).

The summit’s participants included leadership teams from state education agencies and school districts from nearly 30 states across the nation. Team membership included state legislators, state commissioners, school superintendents, district- and schoollevel administrators, school board and community members, along with sponsors, guest speakers, and various education association representatives. Adding to the rich mixture of participants and perspectives were attendees representing professional organizations such as CoSN, ISTE, SIIA, West- Ed, Lesley University (MA), and the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future(see “Roll Call” box below for a complete list of state and district participants).

ROLL CALL

The complete list of state and district participants at the 2005 National Education Summit

Alabama DoE
Montgomery PS
Arkansas DoE
Little Rock SD
California DoE
Clovis USD
Sacramento City SD
Colorado DoE
Colorado Springs SD 11
Connecticut Association
of Boards of Education
District of Columbia PS
Florida
Broward County PS
Miami-Dade County PS
Palm Beach County SD
Orange County SD
Muscogee County SD
Illinois BoE
School District U-46

Indiana DoE
Indianapolis PS
Iowa DoE
Cedar Rapids PS
Kansas DoE
Topeka USD
Kentucky DoE
Jefferson County SD
Massachusetts DoE
Boston PS
Nebraska DoE
Lincoln PS
Omaha PS
Nevada DoE
Clark County SD
New Hampshire
DoE
Manchester SD
New Mexico DoE
Albuquerque PS

New York DoE
Region 4
Region 9
Ohio DoE
Columbus PS
South Carolina DoE
Lexington SD 1
Rock Hill SD 3
Tennessee DoE
Texas Education Agency
Houston ISD
Utah DoE
Davis SD
Virginia DoE
Henrico County PS
Wisconsin Department
of Public Instruction
CESA 6
CESA 4

Setting the Tone
Participation was crucial to the summit’s success. Prior to the summit, attendees completed online surveys that asked them to rank their interests on various themes and topics. Their input allowed the National Education Summit Committee to create the content of the event’s breakout sessions. During the summit, each participant assumed the roles of engaged learner, active listener, and vocal contributor. Having the opportunity to interact with stakeholders from every part of the education system—policymakers, superintendents, teachers, and vendors— was a highlight for all attendees.

A few experts set the tone for the summit in plenary sessions by acknowledging today’s education successes, while also addressing areas where our students are falling behind, and, perhaps more importantly, the educational areas that are simply being ignored. Many of the issues that were identified as “being ignored” are the focus of Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005). Several speakers recommended the book as essential reading for educators and administrators because of Friedman’s insights, gleaned from his travels to India, China, Japan, Korea, and other countries. In his work, Friedman claims that the US is rapidly losing its lead in innovation, math, science, and technology to other parts of the world; the one solution to the problem is improving our education system.

Renowned educational technology leader Alan November’s session on “Using Technology to Create a New Culture of Teaching and Learning” began with the explanation that many 21st century students believe that they have to “power down” when they go to school in order to meet the expectations of school leadership. Students feel they are far more productive, independent, and challenged learners when they’re pursuing knowledge of their own interests, on their own time, using at-home resources. Some of these students are researching the physics behind building competitive robots, engaged in running their own consulting businesses, or profiting from the creation of “online gaming characters” that they are able to sell online. According to November, if we do not pay attention to the nature of the learners in the education system, we will continue on the downward path that Friedman describes.

Another session highlighted portable, affordable technology solutions that enable on-demand access for all learners. Terry Crane, senior education advisor for Infotech Strategies (www.itstrategies.com); Elliot Soloway, CEO and co-founder of GoKnow (goknow.com); and Cathleen Norris, a professor from the University of North Texas, each talked about and demonstrated handheld devices that can be used in classrooms and at home today to provide access and power to students at highly affordable and scalable prices. Norris and Soloway cited research they had conducted showing significant gains in achievement as a result of students using simple, handheld applications. Crane demonstrated LeapFrog’s Fly (www.flypentop.com) pentop computer for the audience. This $99 device uses character-recognition technology, special paper, and other built-in capabilities to engage students in learning activities.

In his keynote speech, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shared his vision for the continued changes that he is proposing for schools in his state. Echoing the goals of the prior session on affordable technology solutions, Romney’s vision includes providing all students access to a forthcoming portable computing device from MIT’s Media Lab that is priced around $100, as well as the requirement that each student complete at least one online course in order to graduate.

The governor also attempted to debunk two commonly proposed solutions to the problems in education (lowering class size and spending more money) by presenting two graphs compiled from Massachusetts assessment data (see graphs on T.H.E. Journal’s Web site at www.thejournal.com). One graph aligned class size with district assessment results, while the other graph aligned per-pupil expenditure with district assessment results. In both instances, the results were “patterns of no pattern.” Schools spending the most money were not the ones achieving the highest test scores; similarly, districts with the lowest class sizes did not score in the highest percentile on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test. Romney’s point was that spending does not dictate student achievement; the critical factor is how you choose to spend what you have. The governor also pointed out that the state’s data show that the number of students in a class is less a predictor of success than the quality of the teacher facing those students. He emphasized that there are multiple factors in each low-achieving classroom and school that need to be addressed.

Richard Fairley, former deputy assistant secretary and director of higher education for the US Department of Education (DoE), spoke of the slow strides made thus far in addressing the digital divide within our nation and our world. He drew upon his many years of experience in administration to support his presentations. In his former DoE role, Fairley administered 35 higher education programs targeted at 3,400 colleges and universities. He had previously served as associate commissioner of education, directing the agency’s $3.5 billion effort to assist disadvantaged students. In addition, as regional director of the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, he negotiated the integration of the University of Alabama football team; developed the desegregation plans that were later upheld by the Supreme Court, which eliminated de facto segregation in Mississippi; and set the timetable for desegregation in the 17 Southern states. Fairley emphasized how access to technology will help advance those who have it, and how those who do not have this access will likely fall further behind academically.

In addition to the plenary sessions, a few of the breakout sessions were unique in that they featured highly interactive conversations with nationally renowned researchers and futurists, including discussions with David Thornburg, founder and director of global operations for the Thornburg Center, Chris Dede from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (MA), and Dale Mann, managing director of Interactive Inc. (www.interactiveinc.org). Thornburg offered thoughts on upcoming technologies and their potential impact on education; Dede discussed some of his research on virtual worlds and their promise for education; Mann discussed assessment. Each session was filled with provocative questions and responses.

Then there were the summit’s “Implementation and Planning” breakout sessions. What do you get when you identify a topic of significant concern to educators, ask a select group of panelists and a moderator to share their thoughts and ideas, and then engage 30 to 50 leaders in discussion for an hour? Sounds like it might result in chaos, but that was not the case here. Throughout the summit, participants had the opportunity to select Each breakout session had a moderator to keep the discussion flowing and a facilitator to serve as a recorder. The moderator and panelists each spoke for about five minutes, with the remainder of the time devoted to group dialog, discussion, and problem solving. Best practices, pilot programs, Web sites, reading resources/references, questions, and concerns all helped to inform the group discussions. The breakout sessions were rated by attendees as one of the top two most important/valued activities of the summit, along with the opportunity to network and collaborate with such a diverse group of people.

Former Maine Educator Receives CELT’s First Learning and Technology Award
AT THE 2005 NATIONAL EDUCATION SUMMIT, CELT Corp. awarded its first Inabeth Miller Learning and Technology Award in honor of the late Inabeth Miller, a nationally known leader, advisor, and instructor in the use of technology to foster learning in children and adults. The award was given to Bette Manchester, a former teacher and principal who now serves as director of special projects for the Maine Department of Education. The nominating committee selected Manchester because of her work with the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, which seeks to provide a laptop to every public school student and teacher in grades 7-12 throughout the state.

Taking Action
A number of issues, comments, and concerns were shared by summit participants during the breakout sessions. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Computing devices are converging and shrinking; handheld technology is emerging as a cost-effective strategy and tool to help level the playing field and bridge the digital divide.
  • Changing the current paradigm of teacher-directed learning to studentdirected learning must be enabled by technology, and will require significant professional development.
  • Nationally, our schools need to learn how to collaborate rather than reinvent. They need to determine strategies to move forward together at the same time every participant progresses on its own.
  • Home access to digital content and information cannot be ignored—it is critical for both educational and economic success. Wireless networks hold tremendous potential to make this possible in a cost-effective manner.
  • Today’s generation is amazing— these kids need and expect access to current and future technology tools. Many are limited in their technology use when they go to school, yet others have their only access to technology at school.

What is vital to recognize is not that the issues and concerns from the breakout sessions and other components of the summit are groundbreaking, because they are not. What is important is that they were generated by a dynamic mix of people from all aspects of the education system; more often than not, the mix included a state team. When there is this blend of policymakers and practitioners, the opportunity for taking positive action is significantly enhanced. Policymakers tend to think from a large, statewide perspective, while practitioners bring the reality of what is really needed in the classroom and at the district level. The result is the creation of more robust and possible agendas. A concluding activity of the summit was the formation of public “commitments to action” for each team upon returning to its state and district.

  • One team planned to compose and present a summit briefing to its superintendent and executive team.
  • Another team took responsibility for creating a Web bibliography of resources (e.g.,Web sites, book titles, presentation notes, etc.) that was collected from the sessions it attended, which the team then posted for summit participants.
  • The team from Washington, DC, committed to reading The World is Flat, and planned to provide copies to its entire team for discussion about the book’s implications for District of Columbia Public Schools in the coming year.

These commitments are a vital first step for the districts and states in facilitating change in the institutions they work with and support. The next steps include everything from revised technology plans to new legislation. We look forward to reading about the reforms that these districts and states make over the next few years in T.H.E. Journal. And we can always say that it all started at the 2005 National Education Summit.

Cynthia Dunlap is an educational technology consultant and Priscilla Ramsay is marketing director for CELT Corp (www.celt.com).

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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