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June 11, 2013 4 min read
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| NEWS | Digital Education

Summit Focuses on Blending of Technology, the Arts

Education and philanthropic leaders joined U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at a recent summit called Reimagining Education: Empowering Learners in a Connected World—an event that focused not just on establishing technology’s place in the curriculum, but also protecting the status of other subjects.

Co-hosted by the Education Department and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the event at the Newseum in Washington drew an eclectic bunch, including NBA star Chris Paul and TV journalist Andrea Mitchell.

Duncan said that K-12 technology could play a major role in improving students’ academic achievement and giving them the skills necessary to compete for jobs with future workers from other countries.

At the same time, many students lack access to the kind of high-quality tech tools they need to take up that pursuit, the secretary said during a question-and-answer session with Mitchell.

Schools need to figure out ways to blend lessons on science, technology, engineering, and math with other subjects, such as foreign language and the arts, so students can have a “well-rounded, world-class” education, he argued.

“That’s the norm in wealthier communities, that’s the norm in wealthier private schools,” Duncan said. “That has to be the norm in Anacostia and the South Side of Chicago.”

Duncan noted that his children have benefited from cross-curricular lessons. They attend a K-5 public school in Virginia with a science focus. The music teacher has students singing songs about nutrition, food, and science, offering different way for students to learn.

Many critics of online education fear that people are relying more on technology to teach students than actual teachers. But the secretary said those fears were overstated. “Technology will never replace teachers,” Duncan said. When you put teachers together with technology, “I think really special things can happen.”

Morgan Miller

| NEWS | Inside School Research

Broader Data Analysis Could Better Inform Parents

While school and district leaders tend to focus on their own schools and others in the public system, gathering and analyzing broader data from charter and private schools, and making that easily available to the public, could lead to quicker district improvements and fairer comparisons among schools, according to a new study.

The analysis, “Harnessing Data and Analytics 2.0,” argues that district leaders should consider and use data from their education ecosystem, not just from their own schools. For example, in Miwaukee, 28 percent of students whose education is being paid for with taxpayer dollars don’t attend regular public schools—rather, they attend district-run and independent charter schools as well as private schools through the city’s voucher program.

The author of the study, Jon Fullerton, the executive director of Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research, argues that education officials should be tracking what is happening in all educational pathways in the district and ensuring that educators, policymakers—and parents—get the information they need.

“Unfortunately, because of a general lack of expertise in using data to guide strategy, sensitivity to releasing performance data publicly, and the political unpopularity of using scarce resources on analysis and [information-technology] systems, relatively few large agencies have fully tapped the power of the data they have to better manage the performance of their schools,” says Fullerton. “This is unfortunate. Districts that do not take full advantage of their data are giving up the opportunity to manage strategically and to make timely course corrections.”

Sarah D. Sparks

| NEWS | Early Years

Business Urges Obama, Congress to Bolster Pre-K

Four-year-olds are key to the future economy, and if they’re not educated, problems will arise, say 300 business leaders from 44 states who signed an open letter to President Barack Obama and Congress as members of America’s Promise Alliance, a coalition that aims to help lower high school dropout rates.

The letter, sent late last week, cites the economic benefits of early-childhood education, workforce preparedness, and standing in the global marketplace.

The letter makes specific recommendations:

• Prioritize research-based programs such as early-childhood education for children from birth to age 5, as well as home-visiting and health-care programs for such individuals;

• Focus on children from low- to moderate-income families and other children at greater risk for academic difficulties;

• Provide options, including those in the private sector, to help children while encouraging federal and state programs with some flexibility on the delivery of such services; and

• Monitor children’s progress.

“More and more business people are supporting the need for additional funding for early childhood. More states and the federal government need to do the same. Why? Because investing in early childhood achieves the best return on investment for our country,” said James M. Zimmerman, a retired CEO of Macy’s, in a statement. “Currently, more than 90 percent of our education dollars are spent after age 5, yet 85 percent of a child’s core brain structure is developed before age 5.”

Business executives who signed the letter include Delta Airlines, McKinsey & Co., and PNC Financial Services Group, as well as state and local chambers of commerce and business roundtables.

Julie Blair

A version of this article appeared in the June 12, 2013 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the week

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