Pioneering Education Reform Ideas From Aspen Ideas Festival

[ 0 ] July 1, 2011 |

At the 2011 Aspen Ideas Festival, genConnect interviewed pioneers in the field of education on initiatives underway to help students learn the most effectively, particularly in the digital age.

Education reform – improving the nation’s schools and making sure today’s children have the skills and knowledge they need to go off to college and/or the workforce – is a hot topic these days.

At the 2011 Aspen Ideas Festival, genConnect spoke with several pioneers in the field of education on initiatives they are heading up to make inroads in reforming education and making sure no child is left behind.

Here’s just a glimpse of some of the creative approaches being taken in education today:

Salman Khan @khanacademy - Khan is the founder and sole faculty member of the Khan Academy, a non-profit organization with the mission of improving education by providing a free world-class education to anyone, anywhere. Khan Academy now consists of self-paced software, and with over 1 million unique students per month, it is the most-used educational video repository on the Internet. Since Khan first began posting math tutorials in 2004, Khan Academy has delivered over 45 million lessons. Watch genConnect’s interview with Khan here.

Khan envisions his academy as eventually providing a whole software platform where anyone can access any subject and lessons  – from basic arithmetic, to biology, to advanced calculus – for free, and in multiple languages. People can get assessed through the program and get credentialed to go on in education or the job market. This can help both students and teachers. Plus, with the increasing costs of college these days, not everyone can afford to – nor do they necessarily want to – go to college. And just because someone goes to an Ivy League school doesn’t mean he should automatically get a leg up in the job market, Khan said.

“If you go to Harvard and kind of drift your way through and the next kid goes to their regional university and really learns the material deeply, odds are your [Harvard] resume will still get to the next round of interviews as opposed to that kid. It’s not even a fair signal to the job market,” he said.

“The big idea was, let’s have an independent set of credentials that are not just kid of a GED for college but as good as the best college credential,” so that top employers like Google or Microsoft or Goldman Sachs can say: “That person really knows their stuff. They’re as good as the best Ivy League or MIT grad.”

He added: “Regardless of what they choose to do, they can prove they’re as good as anybody using this credentialing system.”

Vincent Dotoli @harlemacademyFounder and Head of School for Harlem Academy, an independent day school in Harlem that  focuses on providing education for underprivileged children. Harlem Academy won the gold medal at the 2011 New York Times Company Nonprofit Excellence Awards last week. Watch genConnect’s interview with Vincent Dotoli here.

Dotoli started out teaching at a private school for 10 years, and realized that many students were not prepared for the structure and academic rigor of higher grade levels; he also saw that many stereotypes were perpetuated, not changed, in the current education system.

“We wanted to build a school that could break that,” he said. “Ultimately we saw that there aren’t enough paths to top secondary schools and we wanted to put a school in an underserved community that would provide that path.”

The New York Times recently recognized Harlem Academy’s excellent. management style, giving the school a $25,000 award.

Khan said the recognition is more important, however, because of “the idea of thinking about why a small school currently serving 120 students on its way to 350 has relevance in the larger, not-for-profit space and I think the Times recognized that the things we’re doing are replicable.”

Lynda Resnick @lyndaresnick Resnick is co-owner of POM Wonderful, FIJI Water and Teleflora, some of the most notable marketing success brands facilitated by her holding company, Roll Global. These inspiring successes have placed Resnick on Working Woman’s “Top 50 U.S. Women Business Owners” for six years. Watch genConnect’s interview with Lynda here.

Resnick is looking into the development of technical charter schools that can serve as an alternative high school for those who don’t want, or need, to go to college, but who need advanced skills and training for certain career fields – such as farming, the solar power industry, and oil drilling. She is developing an idea that for certain parts of the country that have higher populations of students opting for the job force rather than college, to work with leaders in the aforementioned industries to set up programs for those kids to get the skills they need to be placed in quality jobs in the future.

“Our education system is … really, really broken,” Resnick said. “Maybe high schools have to be – in certain areas of the country – more of a tech school and maybe include college courses, or tech college courses, as well as college courses.”

Susan CrownFounder and Chairman of The Susan Crown Exchange, a “hub for ideas, people, services, and innovation in the service of public good.” Crown is also a Vice-Chair of Rush University Medical Center, Trustee of the Natural Resource Defense Council, Director of CARE USA and Trustee of The Chicago Public Education Fund. Watch genConnect’s interview with Susan Crown here.

The Crown Exchange is focused on education and the digital marketplace, and how today’s students can most effectively use technology to learn. The Exchange is working with Common Sense Media to determine what parents, kids, and teachers want from digital products and what the learning capacity is of those technologies.

“We’re very interested in 21st century skills and in using the tools we have available for preparing kids for the future,” she said. “Right now, no one really knows how to get traction in this field and how to get assessment.”

Click here to watch more genConnect interviews with the leading thinkers in the areas of business, media, digital media, giving back and education at the 2011 Aspen Ideas Festival.

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