“There are a number of challenges and opportunities facing American students,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “And Washington, D.C. does not have all the answers. But government can be good at bringing people together to highlight their creative thinking and new approaches.”
Secretary DeVos welcomed nearly 20 education leaders and entrepreneurs from Maine to California to the Education Innovation Summit on K-12 learning, held recently at the U.S. Department of Education’s headquarters in Washington.
During the next three-and-a-half hours, the secretary of education listened as extraordinary educators – representing school districts, a university system, a private academy, a state department of education, a non-profit organization, a faith-based school and home schooling – spoke of creativity and innovation inside and outside of the classroom focused on helping each child to realize his or her potential. The common ground was that these educators saw a deficiency; they found the cause; and they found a solution to the problem.
Tom Rooney, superintendent of Lindsay Unified School District in a rural part of Central California, described the experience of a new Lindsay High School principal on the principal’s first day on the job, when he was visited by a father and son. The father said that his son was holding a Lindsay High diploma in his hand.
The father handed a newspaper to his son and said, “Go ahead, son. Read this newspaper out loud for the new principal of Lindsay High School.” After a moment of silence, the son put his head down and started to cry. “Dad, you know I don’t know how to read.”
Rooney said that his district took a good look at where its system had faltered. Looking outside of academia, Rooney noted that at Apple, “Steve Jobs was creating the ideal listening experience. He was not saying, ‘How do I sell more CDs.’ He was saying, ‘What is the ideal listening experience that listeners need?’ That’s innovation.”
At Amazon, Rooney said, “Jeff Bezos was thinking, ‘What are the ideal reading and shopping experiences?’”
Rooney then asked, “What is the ideal learning experience?” With this question, Rooney and his team created a new system based upon engaging their community to take ownership for the learners in the community. In the spirit of Jobs and Bezos, Lindsay Unified School District says it’s all about the learner.
Stephen Mauney, superintendent of Mooresville Graded School District in rural North Carolina, spoke about his district’s digital conversion. The program provides iPads in kindergarten and first grade, while making available laptops in second grade through 12th grade. “We wanted to close that digital divide between our students with means and those that did not have economic means to have access to technology,” Mauney said.
But technology is a means and not the end. “Many systems will put devices in the hands of their kids and their teachers, and they see no real change in academic achievement.” Mauney said that Mooresville Graded staff believe that tying academic achievement to a major technology initiative is not just good pedagogy. It’s a moral imperative.
Secretary DeVos thanked the participants for their contributions and summarized the day’s major theme. “We’ve heard from leaders,” she said, “who are asking, ‘What’s the ideal learning experience?’ And we’re trying collectively and individually to answer that question.”
Joe Barison is a public affairs specialist in the Office of Communications and Outreach.