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Education Opinion

An Equal Opportunity to Participate in the Future

By Tom Vander Ark — October 29, 2014 4 min read

“This country will never redistribute wealth,” said Chris Romer, “But we will redistribute opportunity.” Romer, a former Colorado State Senator and
President of HigherEd startup American Honors, was addressing the growing gap between top quartile and bottom

Romer and 100 other education CEOs gathered at the invitation of GSV‘s Michael Moe (@GSVcap) and Deborah Quazzo (@GSVedu, @Quazzo). The goal of the summit was to discuss how we could “Ensure that every person in the country (and
eventually the planet) has an equal opportunity to participate in the future.”

The small group shared big dreams of impact. Typical of the CEOs, Romer encourages American Honors scholars to embrace, “A dream big enough to scare you.”
Romer’s dream is to serve 30,000 low-income students in affordable degree pathways.

Moe-mentum. Describing the automation of work, Moe said, “One job after another is getting Siri-ed.” Factories are being automated and apps like Uber are
empowering users.

Moe described the old model: Play from age 0 to 4, learn from 5 to 19, work from 20 to 65, and retire. The new model is learn--birth to grave. “The old
ticket was a diploma, said Moe, “The new ticket is competency.”

Despite rapid growth of investment in the last few years, Moe noted that the top 10 public companies serving education are only worth $50 billion--Disney is
worth three times as much by itself, Google is worth six times as much. We’re early in a learning revolution and “equal opportunity” will require billions
more in investment and dozens of scaled impact-focused organizations.

Modern civilization is characterized by hyperconnectivity--computing costs approaching zero, the app economy, and declining privacy-- and the drive for
progress--producing a global middle class of 5 billion by 2030. Moe suggests the equation for this connected world is true ideas + good values.

Of the three options to drive change--coercion, incentives, and inspiration--the best option in the connected world, according to Moe, is inspiration. As Michael Fullan said, “Change really isn’t
as hard as we thought if we capture people’s interest and give them enjoyable, worthwhile experiences.”

Remarkable. Team GSV created a useful framework for dialog connecting innovation and equity, execution and excellence, scale and access.There were ten
remarkable conversation threads:

  • Competency. Personalized and competency-based learning--elementary to job training--were frequently discussed. In a breakout session, Elijah
    Mayfield, TurnItIn, summarized four breakthrough categories: competency (i.e., high agency show what you know
    tools), tools that enable network effects, adequate and portable resources, and a reduction of incumbency effects (i.e., trapped in status quo

  • Equity. Despite all the return-seeking companies represented, educators like Shawn Jackson, Chicago Public Schools,
    and local Eagle County superintendent, Jason Glass were pleased to see the focus on equity and impact in
    every segment.

  • Ecosystem. The Chicago EdTech ecosystem is hot--and it was well represented. In
    addition to Deb Quazzo, there was Heather Anichini, Chicago Fund; Phyllis Lockett, LEAP innovation; Eileen Murphy, ThinkCerca, and Daniel Hamburger, DeVry.

  • Collaboration. Former high school principal and Colorado Senator Mike Johnston urged collaboration when it comes to innovations in learning and,
    “Less score keeping and more progress tracking.” The moral of Mike’s stories is every student matters.

  • Exceptionality. The potential of meeting exceptional needs was expressed by Clay Whitehead, PresenceLearning, and Jessie Woolley-Wilson, Dreambox Learning.

  • Cool schools. Corey Scholes, Kauffman Foundation, introduced Senator Johnston because she was his Expeditionary Learning coach. She described the Ewing Marion Kauffman School, a mashup of Uncommon and EL (it sounds like a Joy & Rigor blend).

  • Books. Despite a drop in adult print book sales, digital advocate Alex Hernandez, Charter Growth Fund,
    found the growth of print books for young readers a promising development in saying, “It’s a good UI for little kids.” David Roland, Ingram, said, “It will always be mixed mode, kids love books.”

  • HigherEd. Ben Nelson and Miriam Rivera, Minerva; Burck Smith, Straighterline; David Blake, Degreed; and George Straschnov, Bisk, and Chip Paucek, 2U were among the leaders discussing the potential for
    excellent and affordable higher learning.

  • Investing. Both venture and philanthropic, in addition to the GSV team there were great investors sharing tips including Brian Greenberg, SiliconSchools; Rick Segal, Rethink, and Jason Stoffer, Maveron.

  • March to Impact. Jim Collins led a thought provoking half day discussion (but more on that later).

The remarkable thing about the gathering was spending two days with more than 100 people that believe as strongly as I do that innovations in learning can
improve life on planet earth for the 7 billion people we share it with.

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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