Countries Gather to Talk Education Innovation

Earlier this month, deep in the Canadian Rockies, delegations from 19 countries and a mixture of research institutions, foundations, and professional education organizations attended the International Conference on Innovative Learning Environments in Banff, Alberta.

For three days, participants met to discuss inspiring new forms of learning environments and strategies for scaling up those considered most successful.

As a teacher, I was excited to lend voice to a policy dialogue that intimately addresses what’s going on in my classroom. Participants highlighted exemplars of innovation in extraordinary circumstances. I also appreciated prominent policymakers noting the danger of continually showcasing the “shiny examples,” given the resource challenges many educators face.

Several significant concerns also were discussed during the conference. In a climate of cutbacks and acute testing scrutiny, policymakers are concerned that school improvement agendas are perceived safer than innovation agendas. It’s simply a tough time to take risks.

As a teacher on the ground, the conference raised for me two questions: How do we highlight, tap into, and scale up the innovations that are already going on? I have seen many very low-income schools successfully innovate to meet their needs in an economically taxing climate.

Further, how do we decrease judgment around new practices so that more school leaders are willing to take the risks necessary to support the innovative ideas?

In the end, delegates walked away understanding that innovation is not just about technology products, but could and should also be about process. It’s not about more resources. It’s about designing systems that are more efficient so that we foster stronger learning environments, period.

Claire Jellinek is a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education

There is no question that innovation is a critical focus of President Obama’s education agenda. In his State of the Union, where he said that education is “our generation’s Sputnik moment,” the President invokes the word “innovation” nine times. In his recent American Jobs Act proposal, he alludes to modernizing 35,000 schools, and installing science labs and high-speed Internet in classrooms all across the country. The Investment in Innovation Fund (i3) and Promise Neighborhoods are powerful examples of initiatives that reward innovation in learning.

I believe that this truly is our “Sputnik moment.” Education has captured a front seat in national and international dialogue. I hope we seize this opportunity to welcome ideas around meaningful change.

Claire Jellinek is a 9th-12th grade social studies teacher at South Valley Academy in Albuquerque, NM and a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow.

Leading the Charge in Digital Learning

“Our country has pioneered manned space travel and the creation of the Internet. Yet today, our country is lagging behind other countries in leveraging the power of technology in our classrooms,” said Secretary Duncan Friday at the White House launch of a new congressionally created education nonprofit, Digital Promise.

Digital Promise Launch

Launch of Digital Promise at the White House. (Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover)

When I think about the groundswell of creativity, intelligence, and talent that makes up America’s teaching corps, the very thought is overwhelming.

As teachers, many of us struggle to provide the digital technology training that will prepare our students for a globalized world. I am thrilled to see that innovation in education, including digital learning, is a clear priority for this administration. In fact, with the American Jobs Act, President Obama has proposed $25 billion to modernize at least 35,000 of our neediest schools, and will provide essential upgrades to bring many of America’s school buildings into the 21st century.

Digital Promise, which is the brainchild of a passionate group of educators, entrepreneurs, researchers, and technology companies, is committed to working on three key challenges: (1) identifying innovative technologies in education software; (2) learning faster what works and what doesn’t; and (3) generating demand that drives innovation in the private sector.

At Friday’s launch, I watched the genesis of what is one of the most stirring responses to that problem. As a teacher, I was especially excited to witness entrepreneurs and private sector companies rally behind the education cause with such enthusiasm. As a high school social studies teacher, I am especially glad to see what digital technology can do to help our students access a world-class curriculum, one of this administration’s priorities.

“Digital learning changed me forever,” said Josniel Martinez, an 11 year-old middle schooler from Global Tech High School in East Harlem, New York, who introduced Secretary Duncan at the White House event. Last year, he received a “Promotion in Doubt” letter stating that he was at risk of not passing to the next grade due to poor academic performance. His mother pushed him to use a digital learning program three times a week and in a short time, this young man had completely turned his grades around. At once, his academic growth was tangible and he is beginning to set long-term academic goals for himself.

As a Teaching Ambassador Fellow, I have had the opportunity to observe numerous exciting initiatives at ED and Digital Promise is one I am going to keep my eye on.

Claire Jellinek is a 9th-12th grade social studies teacher at South Valley Academy in Albuquerque, NM and a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow.

Making a Digital Promise to our Students

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Over the past two decades, technology has dramatically transformed the way we live and work. Yet despite this progress, technology has yet to have a transformational impact in the classroom.

I’m a big believer in the promise of learning technologies, and it isn’t just about doing things online that we used to do with pen and paper. Technology can be an extraordinarily powerful tool for helping teachers teach, and for helping students learn. It can provide teachers with powerful new ways of identifying where their students are struggling, and how to reach them before it’s too late.

Technology can personalize and accelerate instruction for students of all educational levels, and it provides the capability of reaching students around the country who otherwise would be stuck attending sub-standard schools.

Countries around the world are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with learning technologies and are far ahead of the United States in creating the classrooms of the 21st century. Education technology is not a silver bullet for improving the United States’ stagnating student achievement, but investing in significant improvements to educational technology has the potential to rapidly advance learning, and to keep Americans competitive.

I’m proud to announce that the Obama Administration is taking an historic step in putting the United States on a path to become a leader in educational technology. Today, the U.S. Department of Education launched a new unique public-private partnership entitled Digital Promise.

Digital Promise is a bipartisan initiative that is championed by a coalition of educators and business leaders. Digital Promise is an independent nonprofit that will help spur breakthrough learning technologies that transform teaching and learning in and out of the classroom, while creating a business environment that rewards innovation and entrepreneurship.

If America is going to continue to succeed in the global economy, it is vital that we transform the use of educational technology. With technology, we can more rapidly increase opportunities for excellence and equity, as well as provide a world-class education for America’s students. And that’s a promise we need to keep.

Read the fact sheet to find out more about Digital Promise.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education