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Top-Down and Bottom-Up: The Squeeze That Can Revolutionize (and Save) American Education

In Education on April 12, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Source: seantoyer on flickr

Last week I attended the Education Innovation Summit at Arizona State University SkySong, which was organized for the second year by Michael Moe and Deborah Quazzo. The conference was unusual for its intimate size and the access to “top-down” influencers and “bottom-up” innovators – technologists, educators, authors, CEOs, and politicos — that Moe and Quazzo brought together for this two-and-a-half day meeting.

For growth companies and funders, the meeting was a mechanism for speeding the capital process and gaining traction for new ideas. Those committed to system reform heard from speakers, including F. Philip Handy, member of The Aspen Institute’s Commission on No Child Left Behind, who addressed the very significant political and infrastructure challenges that continue to obstruct more progressive technology adoption in mainstream education. Everyone grappled with what needs to happen next, the common refrain being that incrementalism will not be enough to get our students and system from here to where it needs to be, and quickly.

In a candid and entertaining closing session, Marguerite Kondracke interviewed Joel Klein about his departure from the New York City Department of Education, where he was Chancellor until 2010, and his plans and priorities as Executive Vice President of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

Of particular interest to the publishing sector, Klein zeroed in on five key drivers transforming learning media, which Tom Vander Ark summarizes in EdReformer:

  1. The shift print to digital: dynamic and interactive instructional content is coming fast.
  2. Data driven system: with digital learning and more instant feedback, we can try a dozen lessons and see what works best, test empirically whether fractions should come before decimals or whether it matters whether physics comes before biology.  Klein thought Wireless Generation (a News Corp company) was well positioned in this regard.
  3. The shift from classroom-centric to device-centric learning unbound by time and place.
  4. Customization by level and approach.
  5. Human capital: the ability to focus on the value-added and really inspirational part of learning, and not asking every one to do the same stuff (like build lesson plans).

In a keynote a day earlier, Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, described the dramatic changes he is making to reinvent the state’s higher education system. ”Tradition is the enemy,” said Crow — it threatens our educational outcomes, knowledge base, and global competitiveness. The system as it exists today centers on faculty, not students, and this needs to change dramatically, not incrementally. Why hold on to constructs and systems that are no longer practical or relevant, which gate progress, performance, and success?

Crow’s vision calls for a scalable, student-at-the-center system with top-level researchers investing more time in the classroom as master teachers. His goal is not only to overturn the status quo but to transform Scottsdale and the region as a hub for business and research innovation in the model of Silicon Valley.

Continue reading on The Scholarly Kitchen.

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