Thinking Big Ideas

What is the new normal in education?  What was the old normal?  What are the levers for improvement?  What is the role of the knowledge industry in such reforms?  Can we actually ask K-12 to do more with less?

For the past few days, these were the sorts of questions 150 or so of the nation’s leading education consulting groups, foundations, and issue organizations have been contemplating at the Knowledge Alliance’s Big Ideas Retreat 2011.  As one can suspect, particularly in the current policy environment, there were far more questions than answers.  But it was an interesting discussion of the major questions the space is facing nonetheless.

Over at Education Week, Big Ideas participant Sarah Sparks has some of her observations from the retreat.  And over at Twitter, you can check out live tweeting from the past few days, all with the #bigideas11 tag.
Rather than try to summarize the takeaways, Eduflack prefers to offer us some of my favorite ideas or quotes coming from the event’s panelists (a greatest hits list from my live tweeting over at @Eduflack).  They include:
  • How do we harness the power of technology while keeping focus on an equity agenda? (Mass. State Ed Chief Mitch Chester)
  • We are now at a point where we need to think about how we can do school differently.  And the answers come from the classroom. (DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson)
  • DCPS used to “lay down” and let charters “roll right over us.”  DCPS has now woken up (Henderson)
  • Teach for America “needs to have evidence of its efficacy.” (TFA’s Heather Harding)  
  • “Performance has now been defined in our sector.  It’s been defined by how students are doing.” (ED’s Jim Shelton)
  • With Race to the Top, “whether it will be money well spent or now, we will have to wait and see.” (Shelton)
  • We need to bring a scientific discipline to promoting local answers to education challenges. (IES Director John Easton)
  • We have to build a demand for change in education.  Supply isn’t the problem.  (Education Week’s Virginia Edwards)
  • Education research is only as good as how well we get it into the hands of educators to use it. (Edwards)
Despite how some of the comments may read, this was a group that was relatively optimistic about where public education was and could head.  While we tend to focus on the negative, plenty of folks wanted to focus on the positives.  While some may question whether real improvement can happen at scale, most acknowledged that real, lasting improvement was best left to the states and localities.  
There was also a great deal of talk about reinvesting in the notion of public engagement in public education.  How do we better involve parents?  How do we better involve practitioners?  How do we better involve students themselves?  How do we maximize social networking?  How do we change the rhetoric so it is more constructive?
What a refreshing line of thinking …

4 thoughts on “Thinking Big Ideas

  1. I followed your link to this, “Netty Legters of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for the Social Organization of Schools said she thinks education researchers need to become better grounded in daily classroom practice to keep up with changes in the field”

    Which raises the questions of how much was the total teaching experience of all 150 combined? When was the last time any of them were in the classroom?

  2. Hi Pat,What is the new normal in education? We don’t know that yet, but we know the old normal: NCLB. One problem with education is it has no memory, so we’re condemned to repeat past mistakes and forget about what worked and might still work today. Imagine this: The levers for improvement are: teaching the fundamental prerequisite skills for learning and learning how to learn; what/how to teach teachers so teachers can teach kids skills AND core subjects; technology, which has a lot to do with software programs, what to put in them and who will do it (possibly teachers and programmers collaborating together?); K-12 can do A LOT MORE WITH A LOT LESS if you have textbooks/ebooks written by writers who know more about creative writing/non-fiction and can make things interesting so kids can’t cry boredom. In regard to the KNOWLEDGE ALLIANCE’S BIG IDEAS RETREAT, that concept and visual scares me: Why? The words: consulting groups, foundations, issue organizations, and the word “contemplating.” What happened to teachers, parents, and students? The “retreaters” are smart: yes, there are ALWAYS more questions than answers, which leaves us where we currently stand: nowhere. We should harness the power of technology by putting in the best programs created by great teachers, programmers, and creative artists. We need to look at school differently, and imagine that, the “answers come from the classroom”? (maybe teachers and students?) Whatever Teach for America does, they need to turn out open-minded, sensitive teachers who are communicators and thinkers with heart and courage. School, education, and learning are not about money, they’re about the previous paragraph. It’s about the materials educators use and how they use it with their children. I don’t know about bringing a “scientific discipline to promoting local answers to education challenges” because education is not scientific, nor is like business or corporate life, it’s more artistic and creative in nature: You gotta make things up, experiment through trial-and-error (oops, there’s your scientific discipline) to find your answers–AND WE CAN DO IT. I agree: “supply isn’t the problem, we have to build a demand for change.” And we can only make changes by using our collective imaginations to create something new–or re-create something old. Education research is great, for example, they have found that intrinsic motivation is more effective than extrinsic motivation in reading, so why don’t teachers follow this path? We know that parent engagement impacts kids’ reading lives, but why do we see parents being locked out in NYC? And “what a refreshing line of thinking”: “that real, lasting improvement is best left to the states and localities.” Have they already forgotten Atlanta? Have a refreshing “think” on me: Let’s involve parents, teachers, and students in the dialogue of public education. How sweet it could be…

  3. John, you are actually emphasizing one of the points made by Janice Jackson, one of the more vocal of the practitioners in the room.  We spend too much time worried about the silos and how we define individuals.  We need more “border jumpers,” knowledgeable individuals who are comfortable talking about research, practice and policy.

    Are you suggesting that one can only be “grounded in daily classroom practice” if they are a current, veteran teacher?  

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