Overall, we've heard these broad messages about the future of education from policy leaders, businesspeople, and teachers. What was conveyed at yesterday's New York Times' Schools for Tomorrow summit was perhaps less important than the fact that the nation's most widely read and reputable newspaper (and one that published a highly skeptical article about technology in schools) hosted an entire day's event dedicated to the subject, bringing up ideas and practices that have yet to surface to most of the dialogue about education in major media.
Among other subjects, panelists addressed challenges with the school system that obstructed progress towards innovations, practical and ideological concerns about using technology in school, and the vexing questions around testing.
Among some of the points brought up, these (paraphrased) made an impression.
- LARRY SUMMERS, President Emeritus of Harvard, Charles W. Eliot University professor. We as a country stunningly under-appreciate teachers. [Answering a question about the futility of standardized testing]: Corporate executives complain that if they were freed from the tyranny of bottom line, they’d be free to do great things. Students complain about taking tests they don't care. But we need someone to pay attention to the bottom line. We have to find ways of achieving accountability that don’t torture the process. Indicators and measures are good when they’re not the point, but they become worse and worse when they become the point. We have to have accountability without distortion.
- HARRY SKOG. Finland's highly regarded Ministry of Education. It's important to allow teachers to have autonomy to decide what works best in their classroom for their students.
- SIR MICHAEL BARBER, Pearson's chief education adviser. The quality of school leadership is of massive importance. It's up to the leadership to create a climate of openness for growth and development for teachers.
- RON PACKARD, K12's founder: Curriculum needs to be built and designed with technology in mind, otherwise it becomes a distraction. When it's done well, it’s stunning to see how it engages the whole class.
- SHELLEY PASNICK, director of the Center for Children and Technology: We shouldn't talk in generalities about games or education or technology. We have to go deeper and design games that are modest in their reach but are specific and can tackle what teachers have been struggling with.
- SCOTT KINNEY, Discovery. Too often people wait for the perfect storm to take action. But we should think of this as a continuum. Some people think if kids don’t have Internet access at home, then we can’t have digital textbooks at school. But you have to turn that around. If kids don't have Internet access at home, you better make sure they have it at school.
- JONATHAN HEFTER, founder of Neverware. The best way to learn is by interacting, like on the Code Academy, not just by watching videos. There can be a way for instruction and interaction to augment learning.
All the panels are archived and be watched here.
Some of those who followed the live stream online and tweeted about it noted the lack of student representation, and the fact that only a handful of teachers were represented on the panels. One who attended wrote, "Leaving early. Appreciate being here, but feel invisible."