California is at a tipping point: More than 10,000 California schools will deploy and implement Common Core (CC) curriculum this year. At the same time, these schools will also have a bit more funding than is typical-- and more control over that funding than ever before, thanks to the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula.
That confluence of trends was the impetus this week for a gathering of some 80 players in policy, education and technology in Mountain View, Calif. at an event called EDU-Connect. What they asked: Will California seize this opportunity to do things differently and transform education or continue with business as usual?
Organized by Digital Promise, Education Pioneers, Full Circle Fund, NewSchools Venture Fund, the Clayton Christensen Institute, and the Education Trust-West, the day-long event was a call to action to leaders across diverse sectors of education.
But first things first. As Aman Ramanathan, executive director of the Education Trust-West observed: “The first thing you have to do is build recognition of the opportunity. The second thing is to bring people together. Today is about introducing people.” Among those gathered were folks from the California Department of Education, Summit Public Schools, San Mateo County Office of Education, the Rogers Family Foundation, Google, Cisco, Rocketship, Wikispaces, Clever, Gobstopper, Coursera and the list goes on and on.
The day was spent acknowledging that a "perfect storm" is brewing--one that could motivate educators to reach out for technology tools to move education closer to the laudable goal of closing the achievement gap and educating every child.
The State of California has committed $1.25 billion to promote and prepare schools to implement the Common Core. This translates to an extra $200 per student in one-time funding. The funding can be used by schools for professional development, instructional materials, and technology needed to support the Common Core. Mike Krist, president of the California Board of Education reassured the crowd that the state is fully committed to the initiative. There’s “no chickening out now,” he declared.
At the same time California is shifting its funding formula to give schools more money and more control over that money. Previously, the state would earmark funds for technology or for implementing new initiatives. However, under the Local Control Funding Formula, districts now have the power to decide exactly where at least most of money gets spent.
While funding is being made available, California still faces a daunting task. The state has over 10,000 schools, 300,000 teachers, and six million students. That means they have to roll out an entirely new curriculum and assessments on a massive scale. Krist explained that “We can’t do things like they’ve been done before," Krist says. "We can’t be personnel heavy. Resources have to look different.”
EDU-Connect spent the rest of the day looking at instructional shifts, the marketplace of instructional materials, and the infrastructure needed to support this cosmic shift.
Michael Horn of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation moderated a panel that explored how traditional districts and charter management organization leaders are changing their instructional models and using technology to do it. Small working groups then moved to focus on the marketplace of instructional materials. An iZone team led a group through discussing innovative tools that other schools are using. ESpark facilitated conversations around customization of products, and BrightBytes addressed the woes and worries around procurement.
The discussion on infrastructure stole the show, and surprised the audience with the stark reality that most school districts across the country are not ready even to carry out Common Core assessments. Evan Marwell, CEO and Founder of Education Superhighway shared this startling statistic: due to infrastructure restrictions around bandwidth, 42 percent of schools are not ready for the CC assessments. He continued to shock and awe the audience as he revealed that schools currently pay anywhere from $200 to 28 cents per megabit, illustrating a huge discrepancy in bandwidth cost.
Following those discussions, the audience divided into teams to prototype a "New Digital Ecosystem." With profiles of real school districts in their hands, teams came up with a vision for that school district and what that district could do to address the challenges in infrastructure, marketplace, and instructional shifts. Teams struggled to put together comprehensive strategies--in a mere hour. Among the ideas that tumbled out: implementing BYOD policies for some school districts, focusing on competency, building principal symposiums through Google hangouts, and developing collaborative curriculum mapping tools with a consortium of other districts.
While the strategies weren’t complete, they started to get these leaders to focus their brain power around solving very real problems faced every day by school districts.
The end of the day was just the beginning. “This is an opening for us collectively in education, technology, businesses, and school districts to rethink what we’ve been doing and to do something different,” declared NewSchools Venture Fund Chief Operating Officer Gloria Lee.
As to doing the real work behind this cosmic shift, the organizers hope to reconvene the group soon to begin the real work. Ramanathan explained, “We want to have ongoing groups working in specific areas connected to what’s happening at the state level.” Gee Kin Chou, former CTO of Oakland Unified District enjoyed making connections to people in different sectors. Even so, he noted: "It’s the second meeting that will matter more than the first.”