Don­ald Trump and Bill Gates find com­mon ground

With in­ter­est in ed­u­ca­tion in­no­va­tion aligned, the na­tion’s schools get a boost

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Jeanne Allen Jeanne Allen is the founder and CEO of the Cen­ter for Ed­u­ca­tion Re­form and a di­rec­tor of NY Ed Tech Week, on­go­ing at New York Univer­sity this week.

It turns out that Don­ald Trump and Bill Gates have an im­por­tant shared in­ter­est. And it bodes very well for the prospects for suc­cess in the new ad­min­is­tra­tion. Af­ter their hour-long meet­ing at Trump Tower last week, Mr. Gates told re­porters gath­ered in the lobby that the two “had a good con­ver­sa­tion about in­no­va­tion, how it can help in health, ed­u­ca­tion. . .”

Me­dia sto­ries have fo­cused mostly on the at­mo­spher­ics: a cou­ple of bil­lion­aires who’d never met be­fore, get­ting to know each other for the first time just a few short blocks from 30 Rock in Man­hat­tan. Well, that may be the story line of in­ter­est on En­ter­tain­ment Tonight or in Peo­ple mag­a­zine. But it’s not the most sig­nif­i­cant story line, not by a coun­try mile.

It’s that the most im­por­tant in­ter­est they have in com­mon isn’t money, it’s in­no­va­tion and all that it pro­duces.

Im­prov­ing ed­u­ca­tion in Amer­ica has been my pas­sion and my av­o­ca­tion for the bet­ter part of three decades, and with each pass­ing year it has be­come more and more ob­vi­ous to me that what Bill Gates de­scribed as the “wide rang­ing con­ver­sa­tion about the power of in­no­va­tion” that he’d shared with the pres­i­dent-elect is the most im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tion we must all have about our na­tion’s schools.

Let’s be clear: in­no­va­tion is not the same thing as the lat­est fad to hit the class­room. “In­ven­tive spell­ing” was one such fad some 20 years ago, and it pro­duced a co­hort of chil­dren whose ba­sic lit­er­acy was in cer­tain im­por­tant re­spects worse than for chil­dren of the 19th cen­tury. It was a fad born of the no­tion that mem­o­riz­ing spell­ing and gram­mar were old-fash­ioned and in­hib­ited cre­ativ­ity, rather than the process of mas­ter­ing the build­ing blocks of in­tel­li­gent dis­course and the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively.

No, in­no­va­tion in ed­u­ca­tion is some­thing very dif­fer­ent. Of­ten, it builds on things we’ve only re­cently dis­cov­ered about how chil­dren learn. It also fre­quently makes use of tech­nolo­gies that didn’t ex­ist when to­day’s eight year-olds were born (the first iPad took the world by storm only seven years ago). Ed­u­ca­tional in­no­va­tion is at its very best when it com­bines new knowl­edge about how we learn (and how dif­fer­ent in­di­vid­u­als learn) with new tech­nol­ogy that takes ad­van­tage of that new un­der­stand­ing.

Ex­am­ples abound: aug­mented re­al­ity (AR) ap­proaches to learn­ing are be­ing pur­sued by a num­ber of firms, mar­ry­ing so­phis­ti­cated dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy with in­no­va­tive meth­ods of en­gag­ing a child’s in­ter­est and ex­cite­ment. Such ap­proaches are prov­ing es­pe­cially ef­fec­tive in tar­get­ing chil­dren who would oth­er­wise fall through the cracks in a tra­di­tional learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

An amaz­ing va­ri­ety of other in­no­va­tions were on dis­play just this week at the an­nual New York EdTech con­fer­ence.

Such in­no­va­tive work is more likely to find a warm wel­come in char­ter schools and pri­vate schools, where fresh ap­proaches to ed­u­ca­tion are al­ready an in­te­gral fea­ture of the en­vi­ron­ment. But re­cep­tive­ness to in­no­va­tion is es­sen­tial in ev­ery school if they’re go­ing to pro­vide chil­dren with the best pos­si­ble ed­u­ca­tion, tai­lored as much as pos­si­ble to the in­di­vid­ual stu­dent’s tal­ents and unique abil­i­ties.

Nat­u­rally enough, non-tra­di­tional schools are lead­ing the way. Their en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit is meld­ing with that of scores of pri­vate sec­tor com­pa­nies work­ing to trans­form new knowl­edge and new tech­nol­ogy into a new par­a­digm for ed­u­ca­tion.

As they pre­pare to dis­rupt con­ven­tional meth­ods of gov­ern­ing in all sec­tors, Pres­i­den­t­elect Trump and his team will give new and vi­tal im­pe­tus to the move­ment for ed­u­ca­tional choice. But what’s im­por­tant to re­al­ize is that choice is less an end in it­self, but a pow­er­ful means to the most im­por­tant end: a vi­brant and in­no­va­tive sys­tem of school­ing that max­i­mizes ev­ery child’s op­por­tu­nity to learn and suc­ceed. The fact that Don­ald Trump and Bill Gates un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate that fact means that Betsy DeVos will have the sup­port she needs to trans­form Amer­i­can ed­u­ca­tion.


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