2010 Excellence in Action Summit on Education Reform
November 30 – December 1, 2010
Washington D.C.

A Report by Ira J.Paul, President, Independent Voices for Better Education, Inc.

I attended the Foundation for Excellence in Education summit as president of Independent Voices for Better Education, Inc. (IVBE, Inc.) The event was awesome. 

The summit began on Thursday morning with a breakfast general session and a discussion on the State of the Movement with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and state education leaders which focused on an update on the efforts to transform the education for all students state by state.  Visionary state leaders Eric Smith from Florida, Tony Bennett from Indiana, Paul Pastorek from Louisiana, Deborah Gist from Rhode Island, and Gerald Robinson from Virginia discussed the education reform movements taking place in their states.  Michelle Bernard, President and CEO of the Independent Women’s Forum was the moderator.

Strategy Session 1: Download the Data on Teacher Effectiveness: Identifying Quality Teachers

Strategy Session 2: Mythbusters: Shattering Common Myths about Education Policy

I chose Session 2.  Dr. Jay P. Green, department head and 21st Century Chair in Education Reform, University of Arkansas was the moderator.  The panelists included: Dr. Matt Chingos, Postdoctoral Fellow, Program on Education Policy and Governance, Harvard University; Dr. Michael Podgursky, Professor of Economics, University of Missouri; and Dr. Marguerite Roza, Senior Data and Economic Advisor, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The myths discussed concerning the education profession focused on the effectiveness of class size, whether a degree in education really determines the effectiveness of a teacher, the effectiveness of social promotion, and whether more money equals a better quality education.

Each topic was addressed using research, and the data presented put these myths to rest.  Class size for the most part had little to no impact on improving the quality of education.  Minor benefits were shown in kindergarten and first grade only.  Teachers entering the teaching profession from a non-traditional education background were found to be just as effective as those entering through a traditional background.  Social promotion was proven to be a social experiment whose time has passed.  More money does not equal a better quality education.  Some of the states that spend the most on education have the most disastrous results.

Strategy Session 3: Building the Base: Gaining Ground with Moms and Dads

The general session followed after a brief break and a power lunch with the nation’s top CEOs took place.  The moderator was Jamie Gangel, national correspondent for NBC news.  The panelists included:  Cesar Conde, President, Univision Networks; William Oberndorf, Managing Director, SPO Partners; Edward Rust, Chairman and CEO, State Farm Insurance Companies; Kathleen Shanahan, Chair and CEO, WRScompass; William Simon, President and CEO, Walmart US; and Mortimer Zuckerman, Chairman of Board of Directors, Boston Properties and Chairman and Editor–in-Chief, US News & World Report.  The nation’s top CEOs spoke on the importance of education on America’s competitiveness in the 21st century knowledge economy.

Strategy Session 4: Exit to Excellence: Florida’s Formula for Student Success

Strategy Session 5: Unlocking the Potential of Technology to Customize Education: Transforming the Educational Delivery System

Strategy Session 6: Teaching to the Top: Ensuring a Great Teacher in Every Classroom

I chose Session 6.  The moderator was Mike Petrilli, Executive Vice President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute.  The Panelists included: Ann Duplessis, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, City of New Orleans; Mike Johnson, Colorado Senate, Dr. Jeanette Taylor, Florida State University; and John Thrasher, Florida Senate.

Senator Thrasher discussed the education reforms advanced in the Florida Legislature. A brief discussion on SB6 in which he alluded to some of the scare tactics advanced by the teacher unions convincing them they would lose their jobs and have their pay cut in half should this legislation advance, all flagrant lies on the part of the unions. 

Florida Governor Charlie Crist told the state House and Senate leadership that he liked the bill and would sign it when it reached his desk.  Governor Crist later changed his mind after realizing he would lose the US Senate primary to former state house speaker Marco Rubio. It is believed that he made a deal with the Florida Educational Association (FEA), the state’s teachers’ union, to support him as an independent in the US Senate race.  Governor Crist vetoed SB6 and the FES gave him their endorsement.  Governor Crist was defeated in the US Senate election and every legislator who voted in favor of SB6 and ran for re-election won.  Senator Thrasher assured us that all the important elements of SB6 will be signed into law this legislative session.

Senator Mike Johnson told us of the education reforms advanced in the Colorado Legislature.  They passed a law similar to the McKay scholarships in Florida with a Democratic governor and legislature.  The governor reviewed the legislation and, having a special needs child, embraced it.  This led to more Democrats supporting the bill.  Senator Johnson contacted former Governor Jeb Bush who personally called the Republican legislators urging them to support the legislation.  Also passed was a law eliminating tenure for all teachers.  Educational reform has become a non-partisan issue and is being embraced by both Democrats and Republicans. 

 A General Session: Necessity is the Mother of Innovation followed after a brief break.  The session was moderated by Fredrick M. Hess, Resident Scholar and Director of Education Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute.  The panelists included: Tony Alpert, Director, Office of Assessment and Accountability, Oregon Department of Education; William E. Eggers, Global Director, Public Sector Industry, Deloitte Research, Dr. Kil Hue, Director of Research, Pew Center on the States; and Bob Wise, Governor of West Virginia 2001-2005, Online Learning Imperative.  The topics included virtual learning, pension reform, and outsourcing.  With stagnant growth and tightening budgets, states need to find innovative ways to fund quality education.  The panelists discussed innovative ways for cutting budgets without cutting quality.

After a recess, a reception was held, followed by dinner.  The keynote speaker was Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey who shared with us his vision for the future of education.  Governor Christie was awesome.  He spoke from the heart and came across as very sincere in his beliefs. He does not believe in appeasement and is not the least bit concerned about compromising his principles in order to get along with the opposition.  He is passionate about education and is doing everything he can to reform it.  New Jersey spends $25,000 per student in the underperforming schools.  This is probably more than any other state and there is little to no return for the amount being spent.  Teachers in New Jersey receive free health care for themselves and their families from the first day they are hired for the rest of their lives.  Governor Christie views the unions as the bully on the block.  They have threatened that he will be a one term governor should he refuse not to play ball with them.  Governor Christie is his own man and made it clear that if they punch him, he will punch them.  As far as I’m concerned, that is the best way to handle the situation.  Bullies are not used to having people stand up to them.  Governor Christie will be victorious and reform education in his state.

Wednesday morning our breakfast keynote speaker was Sir Michael Barber.  His topic was Lessons of Reform from the United Kingdom.  He shared the secrets of the world’s most successful education systems and lessons of reform from his service as Education Advisor to United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair.  Chester Finn Jr., President, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation moderated this session.

Following a short break, a General Session: Roadmap to Education Everywhere took place with Jeb Bush and Bob Wise. The focus was on release principles, policies, and recommendations of the Digital Learning Council, a diverse group consisting of over 50 leaders in education, government, philanthropy, business, technology and policy outlining the roadmap for reform for local, state and federal officials to advance digital learning.

Strategy Session 7: Reinventing High School: Preparing Students for Success in the 21st Century

Strategy Session 8: Zoned for Excellence: Providing the Best Education for Every Student in America

I chose Session 8 moderated by Andrew Coulson, Director Center for Educational Freedom, Cato Institute.  The panelists included: Jim Horne, Former Florida State Senator and Florida Commissioner of Education; Patrick Anderson, Oklahoma Senate; Angel Fuentes, New Jersey General Assembly; and Joe Negron, Florida Senate.  Author and political analyst Dick Morris was also scheduled to be on the panel but his flight was delayed.  The session focused on providing parents with a voice in providing the best education for their children through more choice options by showcasing how states are expanding access to a quality education through tax credit scholarships, charter schools, virtual learning and vouchers.

The Lunch Keynote: A National Perspective on Education Reform with Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education was the final presentation. Secretary Duncan believes education is the most pressing issue facing America, and preparing young people for success in life is more than a moral obligation of society, it is an economic imperative. Education is the civil rights issue of our generation, the only sure path out of poverty and the only way to achieve a moral and just society.  The session focused on providing a national prospective on education.

Education reform has become bi-partisan with both Democrats and Republicans finding common ground to improve educational options for all. 44 states have signed on to education choice options and reform.  It is time to bring our education system into the 21st Century by embracing technology, innovation and best practices from those states and countries leading the way.  Public opinion is changing and the obstructionists of the teachers’ unions need to get the message.  Tenure and preserving the status quo are over.  Merit pay tied to student performance is the future.  Not all teachers should be paid the same.  Good teachers should be paid more and those found to be ineffective should be cleansed from the system.  Documentaries such as “Waiting for Superman” and “The Cartel” have exposed the education obstructionism of the unions and have made both the populace and politicians aware of what is needed to fix our schools.

The educational summit was outstanding.  The wealth of knowledge and information put out was amazing.  I had the opportunity to meet and discuss education reform efforts with policy makers and activists from other states as well as mine, and made new contacts that I can network with. 

We have come a long way since the early days when IVBE was the pioneer grassroots education reform organization founded in 1990, and was arguably the first one to reach out to the public and point out the abuses and corruption in school districts. Our efforts are bearing fruit.  The mainstream media are beginning to listen, while journalists such as Bob Norman, who blogs for New Times, picked up on what we were saying early on and still does a magnificent job. Log onto his blog, The Daily Pulp, www.newtimesbpb.com.

We still have a long way to go and need to stay focused.  Our enemies are out there; even though they have been exposed and weakened, they are still well organized.  They will do whatever they can to protect their turf, but we are having an impact and we shall prevail.