Ready, Set, Go

Ready, Set, Go

Yesterday, I attended the Many Voices, One Goal conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, where public and private stakeholders came together to discuss ways in which North Carolina can continue to work together to achieve the ambitious goal of preparing ALL children for college or career. North Carolina was one of the states awarded federal Race to the Top funds in the second round of competition. Governor Beverly Perdue, who holds a Ph.D. in Education Administration, announced in January 2010 her education agenda: Ready, Set, Go, which has a goal of making sure every child in North Carolina is college or career ready. Gov. Perdue, plans to achieve this through four pathways: great teachers and principals, quality standards and assessments, new data systems that track students from their first day, and a turnaround of lowest-achieving schools.

During her address, Gov. Perdue stated what we at Market Street believe: “You’ve got to have a skilled workforce, purely and simply… Jobs and education are inextricably tied together for a common goal.” After giving more details about each component of reaching the goal of preparing ALL students in North Carolina, she left us with this: “The history of North Carolina is still being written. This chapter belongs to us. It’s our opportunity to transform a child’s life…” This is what took me from saying that her goal was lofty to ambitious. She gets it. She KNOWS that she has to reach those kids on the margin to improve the lives of everyone. We can’t continue to ignore those “doomed to fail” if we really are looking at our long-term future. As Whitney Houston said, the children ARE our future so we have to prepare them all, not just some.

Dr. Uri Treisman, a professor of mathematics and public affairs (MY kinda guy!!) at UT-Austin and considered an expert in education innovation, gave a keynote that highlighted America’s strengths in education. He said that although we have a ways to go to improve, that we should give ourselves credit for the progress we’ve made. Dr. Treisman stated that when it comes to the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) educational metric, the US performs better than all European countries. Minnesota and Massachusetts, who have chosen to be ranked along with the nations, both outperformed Japan, and Massachusetts did just as well as Singapore. However, the United States ranks 25th of 30th in the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment). The difference, according to Dr. Treisman, is the TIMSS focuses on procedural knowledge, or how to follow rules, while PISA focuses on the ability to use knowledge in unfamiliar situations. He asserted that in order for our students to have the ability to solve creative problems, they need an education that balances both of these. *Lightbulb* The second part is critical thinking–something we’re constantly complaining about, esp with the Millennial generation. Education reform can’t just be about passing tests and getting through school. It HAS to be about preparing students for LIFE. This discussion of policy from a mathematical and statistical perspective, just my cup of tea, was really interesting, and I think the folks in the audience got some great ideas about how to approach reform issues.

I then attended a workshop entitled Innovative Models for School Transformation: Learning from the Many Voices of School Innovation across North Carolina during which I tweeted about how misty I was getting. In this workshop, the presenters were the students of three innovative school models across the state and an administrator for a fourth:

  • EE Miller Elementary in Cumberland County, which is a part of the Global Schools Network – the third graders presented a powerpoint presentation about insects entirely in Spanish, which they’ve been learning since Kindergarten. The group was multi-cultural, and about 4 of them were black. It was something else to see these little people grabbing for the mic, not shy in the least, to show off their science and Spanish skills.
  • For my teacher friends who will appreciate this: the principal of a school in a small, rural, county told us about The Collaborative Project, which is sponsored by the NC Public School Forum and the NC Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center to provide quality staff development. The program has greatly increased the success of teacher recruitment and retention in these areas by providing teacher financial incentives and hands-on learning opportunities throughout the year.
  • A student from KIPP Institute in Gaston told us about how the school has turned a peanut field into an innovative school that expects and prepares each student to attend college by engaging families and the surrounding community. Their students have been accepted to schools all over the country and have seen very positive results. This student has already been accepted to several of the schools, including Morehouse, to which he applied and is waiting on a few more responses. He was a great public speaker–you could tell he was nervous, but he held his own, with great volume and clarity and not reading from his slides.
  • A group of students from Anson New Tech High School split up and spoke with each table in the room about their school’s programs and opportunities. The school, which promotes “trust, respect, and responsibility,” focuses on project-based learning and a wide array of technologies. The students work on oral presentations, team work, and individual learning, while weaving in technology in all facets of school. An afro-wearing kid came to my table and chatted enthusiastically about the projects he’s worked on and how in team situations, they could fire someone not pulling their weight. Armed with his Macbook that each student has but has to earn the right to take home, he let us listen to a song he created, beats and all, for a math project.

There was a panel about public ed in NC featuring Bill McNeal, Leslie Winner, and Dale Whitworth, and one important idea came up for me–education is a public good–not a private good. Ding ding ding. Public education shouldn’t be a free enterprise system that doesn’t support all children. Education is not just about individual benefit–it’s about collective benefit–bringing up our entire community, not just one child. It’s about preparing kids to meet the challenges of ALL of our futures. Leslie Winner made the point that there have been four reasons for public education that still apply today:

  1. “If we’re going to have a successful democratic society, we have to have a well educated and healthy citizenry.” — Thomas Jefferson. Now y’all know I think some people are a-ok with uneducated folks because then they don’t question anything. If we want kids who will be engaged in what’s going on in our communities and nation, we need them to be able to think critically and ask questions–not just go along to get along.
  2. In the early 1800s, education was a means to ensure social order. That still applies. When you’re prepared for a good job, you’re less likely to get into mischief. When Jackson was off the chain crime-wise, I was telling folks that crime fighting wasn’t the sole answer–economic development is important too. You have to give folks something to do. Idle minds are a devil’s workshop, right?
  3. In the late 1800s, as the country was moving away from farming and such to manufacturing, workers and leaders needed training to make that transition. The same applies today as we move into the “New Economy” that is so intertwined with technology and innovation.
  4. Finally, education was necessary to enable to the South to face the future as a part of the country. Well… many southern states at at the bottom of so many of the rankings lists. Again, we need to pull up the margins to pull up competitiveness.

The final keynote of the day was from Dr. Linda Rosen, CEO of Change the Equation, which was launched in 2010 after President Obama reached out to the leaders of Xerox, Kodak, Time Warner Cable, Intel, and Sally Ride Science. Change the Equation is a nonprofit, non-partisan initiative to solve America’s innovation problem. Their goal is to improve STEM education for every child, with a particular focus on girls and students of color, who have been underrepresented in STEM fields. Dr. Rosen told us that although corporations give a half billion dollars in philanthropy in STEM learning, it hasn’t been as effective in return on investment and her organization plans to reroute those funds to ensure efficiency and effectiveness. They are currently developing design principles for philanthropy—ensuring that organizations who receive the money fit within criteria that are most likely to see results. They also plan to release this spring STEM Vital Signs, which will start with a compilation of existing state STEM data and evolve to include new data not currently available.

North Carolina is positioning itself to become a model for other states, and I applaud their efforts. They’re reaching into rural areas and low-income areas to try to figure out how to bring everyone along. I hope that other places (ahem, Georgia, ahem, Mississippi, ahem, keep naming states until I start forgetting them) get the idea asap and follow suit.