Moving the Mountain: Global Collaboration for Education Reform
November 13, 2013 | 3503 views
Skoll World Forum has partnered with Landmark Ventures to produce an online series of op-eds to spotlight innovative solutions to a wide range of societal challenges. Tied to this year's Social Innovation Summit, which takes place on November 19th and 20th at Stanford Business School, contributors to the series include key speakers and delegates such as Shannon Schuyler of PwC US, Somaly Mam of the Somaly Mam Foundation, Dave Evans of Cisco, Sarah Elizabeth Ippel of the Academy for Global Citizenship, and more. The Summit is a twice annual event that represents a global convening of black swans and wayward thinkers. Those who are playing at the nexus of technology, investment, philanthropy, international development, and business come together to investigate solutions and catalyze inspired partnerships that are disrupting history.
We can fundamentally shift the future of public education in the U.S. for all children. Yet, we all know that the toughest part of any social innovation is scaling it. I am calling for collaborators to share their innovations and help develop a technology-based platform that enables teachers to share their innovations in an open and transparent manner while also track their results along the way.
I believe we can fundamentally shift the future of public education in the U.S. I believe we can create an educational system that the world will seek to emulate. I believe we can scale the innovations that have been incubated in select classrooms to create vastly better outcomes across multiple measures…for all children.
Now you must be thinking I am completely out of my mind, but allow me to explain. After growing up in the Midwest, I decided to go to graduate school in England, which ignited my curiosity to travel around the world to more than 80 countries to understand different approaches to education.
I will never forget the moment when I stepped onto the dirt floor of a small, sparse room in a rural Guinea Bissauan village. It was during this time that my global expedition came into focus: the community creatively used what resources they had, overcoming the scarcity of trained teachers and traditional learning tools by recruiting members of the community and fostering learning opportunities inside and outside of the classroom. They developed methods and materials organically, based on qualities important to their community at the time, rather than any higher authority. Teachers collaborated with young students as peers, incorporating their ideas and interests and sharing important responsibilities with older children. Students were truly engaged and respected by the learning environment. It wasn’t because it was trendy – it was because it worked.
Catalyzing Change In My Community
With this perspective, I returned to the U.S. to study the barriers to education and quickly realized that tens of thousands of students in my own backyard lacked access to a high quality public education. How could Chicago—my new hometown—with all its first world resources, with the Willis tower and the Magnificent Mile, not replicate the love for learning happening in that Guinea Bissauan hut? Why did so few schools feel like magical and sacred spaces for children?
I packed up my idealism, jumped on my bicycle and rode down to the Chicago Board of Education where I exclaimed, “It’s time to reimagine public education!” Despite the challenges, I held onto my fervent belief in a better tomorrow, and after two denials for approval the Academy for Global Citizenship was finally established as a Chicago Public Charter school. It opened in a former dental tool factory on the city’s underserved and overcrowded southwest side in 2008.
Today, Academy for Global Citizenship students are outperforming our nearest neighborhood public school by over 33 percentage points and we have accomplished this on a budget of 10% less per child than the average Chicago Public School. What’s more, this learning happens in context of real world challenges –molding the future of renewable energy in the shade of our solar installation or understanding our role in supporting sustainability at a local and global level.
Using Technology to Track and Scale Innovation
Despite these remarkable successes, we all know that the toughest part of any social innovation is scaling it. How do we capture and track the results of these unique innovations? What if we had a tool for synthesizing this data to enable other teachers to learn from others’ successes and failures? What if teachers locally and from around the world could ‘tap into’ those innovations and results in their classrooms? How could we use data to inform policy and move our district forward?
This is where the power of technology can make a difference. No simple and effective mechanism currently exists for schools to evaluate the outcomes tied to these innovations, nor are there mechanisms for sharing the innovations efficiently with other teachers. I am calling for collaborators to share their innovations and help develop a technology-based platform that enables teachers to share their innovations in an open and transparent manner while also track their results along the way.
We can create systemic change. Just like the village in Guinea Bissau, education is more than a high score on a standardized test. It is a series of organic and intuitive local innovations by individuals who know the needs of their time and place better than an administrator a thousand miles away.
Moving this mountain will require our collective strength and creative solutions, but I know we can do it if we work together. Please join me in reimagining public education.