2011 Excellence in Action National Summit on Education Reform

I’ve just returned from Jeb Bush's education summit in San Francisco. There were approximately 750 people in attendance comprised of legislators and governors from various states and their representatives, leaders in the education reform movement and other organizations. The first education summit I attended a few years ago had approximately 250 people in attendance. This movement is really growing, and last year Florida along with many other states has had its best legislative session ever.

I attended a reception Wednesday evening held at a nearby museum. I spoke with Jeb Bush briefly on the education reform movement and some of the obstacles we need to overcome. We have come a long way since the last decade and we are winning, but we still have our work cut out for us.

Thursday morning Jeb Bush kicked off the education summit and talked about turning education reform into reality. He discussed many of our accomplishments and reminded us that we still have a long way to go. The theme for this year’s summit is “Education Everywhere” and the intent is to inspire those in attendance to bring excellence through innovation and invention, sparking economic growth and creating a higher standard of living, thereby allowing more people to share in the prosperity of our nation.

I spoke briefly with Representative Erik Fresen Thursday morning and presented him with one of the packets I put together containing the Professional Educators Network of Florida Teacher Bill of Rights, the Third DCA decision in the Shawn Beightol case, the National Right to Work Foundation summary on the Tennessee Teacher who won a settlement refunding union dues used for controversial political activities along with a copy of PEN Board member and lobbyist Bob Boyd’s email. Representative Fresen will be in Miami the week of October 24 and I will be meeting with him to discuss these items.

I later spoke with Senator Don Gaetz and gave him the other packet. I told him that I serve on the board of directors for the Professional Educators Network of Florida and that Bob Boyd had asked me to speak to him and give him this packet. The Senator told me that he was a good friend of Dr. Stan Marshall and I told him that I was also. I mentioned some of the things PEN was hoping to accomplish legislatively. I will follow up with him in Tallahassee and ask Bob Boyd to do the same.

I attended Session #1 -The Teaching Profession 2.0 which dealt with reforms that are sweeping the nation, such as meaningful evaluations that reflect student learning gains, the end of tenure and last in first out policies, performance pay rather than salaries that reflect seniority, and replacing a 19th century model of education with a 21st century model.

I then attended Session #6 -Fed up with Failure and learned how bold leaders are altering the course of history through community organizing by shifting power to parents in the debate over education policy reform. This was the first time I learned about the Parent Trigger Law that is being successfully used to turn around historically poor performing schools. They certainly got the attention of the teachers union. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) addressed the Parent Trigger Law on their website and is working on strategies to defeat it.

The lunch keynote session featured Sal Khan, founder and executive director of the Khan Academy. Sal was a former hedge fund analyst with degrees from MIT and Harvard. In 2004 he helped a young cousin by phone using an interactive notepad. As others expressed interest, he began posting videos on You Tube and eventually quit his day job as demand took off.

Today, the Khan Academy website provides self-pacing software and unlimited access to over 2,500 instructional videos on its You Tube channel, covering everything from basic math to college level science and economics. Homeschoolers as well as a growing number of classrooms around the world are using Khan Academy to help build student mastery of topics and free up classroom time for dynamic project based learning.

The General Session, on Digital Learning featuring former governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise followed. Digital learning facilitated by technology can give students more control to learn anytime, anywhere through the internet and a proliferation of Internet access devices. Technology has the power to transform education.

A decade ago creating a customized education for all of our country’s children was only a dream. Today, technology can turn that dream into reality. Interactive and adaptive software allows students to learn at their own pace. Digital Learning provides governors, education chiefs, lawmakers and policymakers with tangible steps to transform education so that every student can graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge to succeed in college and careers.

I then attended Session #7 –Building your Education Playlist. I learned about blended learning, featuring schools of the future that are in operation today. Some of the schools introduced included: Carpe Diem Collegiate High School, Rocketship Education, Connections Academy, Florida Virtual School, and Blended Schools.

San Francisco has a blended charter school and Wendy Howard of the Florida National Coalition for Public School Options, whom I met at last year’s education summit in Washington D.C. was invited to visit the San Francisco charter school. She told me that the school was exactly the way it was presented in session #7 and when she talked with the students she was amazed.

I attended a reception that was a great networking opportunity and I met and exchanged information with people from different organizations. The reception was followed with a dinner. The keynote speaker was Melinda Gates, Co-Chair, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the goal of which is to improve equity in the United States and around the world.

Friday morning began with a breakfast featuring Rupert Murdoch. Joel Klein, former Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, also participated in the segment. Mr. Murdoch believes that the same digital technologies that transformed every other aspect of modern life can transform education. His presentation was briefly disrupted as a few teacher union members infiltrated the event. They were quickly escorted off the premises and the presentation continued as scheduled. Those individuals from the teachers union only accomplished embarrassment on their profession and made it crystal clear to everyone why real education reform is needed.

The next event was a roundtable discussion with Chiefs for Change, a coalition of state school chiefs and visionary leaders committed to education reform discussing the reform movements in their states.

I attended Session #10 – Got Choice? Get Choice! This session focused on what’s worked in recent years to overcome the obstacles to vouchers and expand options for students, and the many ways states are empowering parents with the financial freedom to choose the schools that are right for their children.

The final session was a lunch featuring a roundtable with mayors on Closing America’s Achievement Gap moderated by Michelle Bernard. It included a discussion with former Mayor Adrian Fenty, former Governor Jeb Bush and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Politicians need to keep their promises and do what is right. Unfortunately, many politicians are more concerned with their next election and their constituents pay the price. Rather than sticking out a finger to see which way the wind is blowing politicians need to make a bold stand. Although it cost him his re-election, former Mayor Fenty accomplished that in the nation’s capital by transforming the public school system in Washington D.C.

Former Governor Jeb Bush transformed Education in the State of Florida by making bold choices. Today many of the other states are trying to replicate what Florida is doing. Mayor Villaraigosa believes that his city will never succeed as a great global city unless every child is given a world class education, and is doing what he can to make it happen.

The educational summit was outstanding. Those who attended left motivated and excited to advance education reform in their states. I know I have.