NewSchools-Aspen Institute Summit

NewSchools-Aspen Institute Summit

NEWSCHOOLS-ASPEN INSTITUTE SUMMIT: We liked a lot of the NSVF conference: thoughtful conversations, energetic moderators, plenty of time for informal talking. The formal program was also well-constructed: Howard Fuller kicked it off with a "storm-the-Bastille" rally cry heard 'round Twitter. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel wrapped up the day with tales of his battles in the Chicago school wards--and of trying to win the attention of his parents. (They apparently never went to his ballet recitals.) Chicago columnist Alexander Russo sums up his thoughts on Rahm here. NewSchools director, Ted Mitchell eloquently called for reformers to join with those who should be their natural allies--teachers--to build better education opportunities for all students. That said, some teachers were uneasy about the screening of a new movie slated for the autumn: "Won't Back Down." The teachers' union does not come out smelling of roses in that one.

Entrepreneurs were in full force in most sessions and found reasons for optimism. Many swooned at the idea of companies like Education Elements and Junyo taking some of the marketing and distribution load off of their shoulders. Cheers, too, for Common Core adoption helping to shape a more unified market--though visionaries John Danner and Gwen Baker say there's more work to be done to tackle meaningful micro-objectives. And on this note, here's the next challenge: how about creating a "Common Core" for tech infrastructure?

Entrepreneurs were disappointingly scarce, however, in sessions devoted to truly hard problems: helping special needs and English language learners. Also, this year's panel on rural innovation (with attendance sparse as one might imagine) dived into an oft-ignored, yet critical question: technology offers greater learning opportunities for isolated communities, but how can it be leveraged to retain teaching talent and get kids to return and reverse the "brain drain?" And on other school fronts, progress is barely crawling: Last year at this meeting, Netflix's Reed Hastings promised to do "whatever it takes" to bring Rocketship Education to Washington, DC. That effort is still a work in progress.

Nevertheless, there were ample reasons to cheer. A toast to the winners of NewSchools' awards for entrepreneurial excellence: Anthony Kim, Match Education, Sajan George of Matchbook Learning, Jennifer Green and Christina Hall of the Urban Teacher Center (for "tenacity and grit," no less), Ben Austin, and David Coleman. More details about their fine work.

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