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Big Ideas Fest, 2011 – Day 1

Sunday got off to an amazing start here at the Big Ideas Fest. My first conversation was with none other than Dr. Martha Kanter, the US Under Secretary of Education. Dr. Kanter is a visionary educational leader, and (thanks to many years spent in Silicon Valley) she is very familiar with RAFT. Later, she delivered her public address to all 200 conference participants. It was easy to see that the decline of education in America is as concerning to her as it is to us. Among the statistics she shared:
> 25% of US students never finish high school. The drop-out rate in some areas is as high as 50%.
> The economic impact of the high drop-out rate is equivalent to a "permanent recession."
> The US is #16 in the world in terms of college graduation rates. Just one generation ago, we were #1.
> Millions of jobs available in the US today are going unfilled because of a lack of qualified applicants.

On a positive note, Dr. Kanter described many actions that are being taken to reverse the downward spiral. One innovative approach she described was "badging" - giving learners credit for demonstrating aptitude in a subject by completing a set of requirements similar to Boy Scout or Girl Scout badges. The skills can be learned anywhere, even outside of school.

Dr. Kanter got enthusiastic applause when she mentioned the importance of looking beyond NCLB (No Child Left Behind) requirements to find teaching strategies that address the needs of individual students. She is optimistic that the common core standards will help create a more qualified workforce. She advocated "personalized" education and noted that no single style works best in all cases. On this point she mentioned the need for assessment-driven decisions about education funding.

She concluded by observing that the Big Ideas Fest has the potential to bring together "new consortia" of innovative educators who have the potential to solve the problems facing our country. She committed to listen to any big ideas we want to send her way, and she is eager to use our help to convert the Government's educational agencies from "compliance-based bureaucracies" to "engines that drive innovation."

I am now looking forward to "Action Collab" I will be facilitating starting on Monday morning. My group of 20 big thinkers will tackle the challenge of creating "meaningful assessments" of student learning. During the next three days, we will produce a well-defined, scalable solution that will go "way beyond" standardized testing.

- Greg Brown, RAFT Education Director (Dec 4,2011)

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