Combating the U.S. decline in competitiveness will require fortitude, innovation, and a willingness to fight for education.
That was the message several speakers delivered to about 450 policymakers, entrepreneurs, and nonprofit leaders who gathered for the first day of National Education Week’s “Thought Leader Summit” Wednesday at the National Press Building. (The program is not affiliated with Education Week.)
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., told the audience that the U.S. is not #1 in the world in education because our country has devalued poor and minority children, and “lost our sense of urgency” about helping them. When these children experience abuse or neglect before starting school, it undermines their ability to succeed in school, he said.
Common sense dictates some actions that can be taken, according to the senator, such as funding quality early-childhood education programs because that investment returns multiples for every dollar spent on it.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton, who is leaving his post at the end of the year, struck a somber note. “Something we should all be disturbed about,” he said, is the fact that two-thirds of eligible voters in the country sat out the mid-term election, “at a time when decisions could not be more important.”
Shelton called the departure of John Deasy, the Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent who stepped down under pressure last month, a “travesty.” Under Deasy’s leadership, graduation rates had climbed by 12 percent in one year, and test scores had improved, but a failed $1.3 billion iPad deployment contributed to his downfall.
“What leader do we have—trying to transform a large public school system—who’s not going to fail on multiple fronts when they try to innovate?,” asked Shelton. “Who is going to stand with them when that time comes?”
Shelton said people mobilize out of hope and anger, but to have hope they have to believe things can be better. “We’ve done a terrible job of telling the story that things can be fundamentally different and better,” he said. “Who would know that graduation rates in this country are the highest they’ve been in decades? Who would know that schools are doing a good job with children living in poverty?”
Joel Klein, the former chancellor of New York City Schools and now the CEO of Amplify, a New York-based ed-tech company, said people who want to innovate and change education “aren’t going to ‘kumbaya’ our way out of the challenges we face.”
“Innovation, if it focuses on teaching and learning—not on technology—can move the system ahead for students,” he said, adding “shame on us as a nation if we don’t insist on getting results.”
Klein used the acronym “OPCs” for “other people’s children,” saying that “as long as we allow OPCs to go to schools we wouldn’t allow our children to go to, we aren’t going to succeed.”
National Education Week is part of the National Education Initiative, a year-round schedule of collaboration opportunities for those vested in U.S. education. National Education Week is listed as one of the portfolio companies of Campus Direct Inc., a Bethesda, Md.-based business that works with and invests in established and start-up enterprises in education and other sectors.
Thursday will be the second and last day of the Thought Leaders Summit, capping a week of activities highlighting education opportunities.