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Arne Duncan Strokes Techie Egos at SXSWedu

Ohanian Comment: Note the reporter's observation, reading from a script... Arne is always following a script. I observed on Twitter that "If take it to scale were eliminated from language, Arne Duncan would be left with a vocabulary of 11 words. Look at the transcript from his SXSWedu speech [below], and you'll see the other 11 words.

Teacher respect, of course, is a new phrase that we're going to hear over and over and over. Reporter Patric Michels rightly calls Arne's use of it "ham-fisted."

Arne made a few outrageous claims:

  • technology even's the playing field;
  • technology provides needed lesson plans for teachers of difficult children.
  • technology gives teachers the kind fo professional development they've been asking for;
  • technology gives teachers the information they need to figure out what kids need.

  • And so on and so on. The man has no shame.

    Arne was the final keynote speaker. Preceding him were what SXSWedu called "a Spotlight Series of Distinguished Speakers for 2012":

  • S. Craig Watkins
    Associate Professor, Department of Radio-Television-Film, University of Texas at Austin
    Education in a World of Social and Technological Change

  • Steven Farr
    Chief Knowledge Officer, Teach for America
    Teaching As Leadership: Closing the Achievement Gap in Low-Income Communities

  • Catherine Casserly
    Chief Executive Officer, Creative Commons
    The Power of Open: Creative Commons Licensing and its Global Impact

  • Mark Milliron
    Chancellor, Western Governors University of Texas
    Using Technology to Make Learning Personal

  • Ken Kay
    Founder & Chief Executive Officer, EdLeader 21
    The 7 Steps for Becoming a 21st Century School or District

  • Anita Givens
    Associate Commissioner for Standards and Programs, Texas Education Agency
    Project Share: New Horizons

  • Karen Cator
    Director of the Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education
    Learning Powered By Technology: Investments, Incentives and the View from the Nations Capital

  • Geoff Fletcher
    Deputy Executive Director, State Educational Technology Directors Association
    Does Assessment Have to Be a Four Letter Word

  • Mike Feinberg
    Co-Founder and Superintendent, KIPP Houston

  • Dr. Russell Quaglia
    President, Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations
    Letting Students Tell You How to Make Your School Better with My Voice

  • Jane McGonigal
    Chief Creative Officer, SuperBetter
    Learning is an Epic Win

  • Conference goers had to pay a registration fee of $300 to hear this.

    Arne's lengthy bio at the SXSWedu site contains these claims about his Chicago leadership:

    Duncan served as the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, a position to which he was appointed by Mayor Richard M. Daley, from June 2001 through December 2008, becoming the longest-serving big-city education superintendent in the country. As CEO, Duncan's mandate was to raise education standards and performance, improve teacher and principal quality, and increase learning options. In seven and a half years, he united education reformers, teachers, principals and business stakeholders behind an aggressive education reform agenda that included opening over 100 new schools, expanding after-school and summer learning programs, closing down underperforming schools, increasing early childhood and college access, dramatically boosting the caliber of teachers, and building public-private partnerships around a variety of education initiatives. Among his most significant accomplishments during his tenure as CEO, an all-time high of 66.7 percent of the district's elementary school students met or exceeded state reading standards, and their math scores also reached a record high, with 70.6 percent meeting or exceeding the state's standards. At high schools, Chicago Public School students posted gains on the ACT at three times the rate of national gains and nearly twice that of the state's. Also, the number of CPS high school students taking Advanced Placement courses tripled and the number of students passing AP classes more than doubled. Duncan has increased graduation rates and boosted the total number of college scholarships secured by CPS students to $157 million. A study released in June 2008 by the Illinois Education Research Council lauded the Chicago Public Schools for its efforts to bring top teaching talent into the city's classrooms, where the number of teachers applying for positions almost tripled since 2003, from about 8,600 to more than 21,000, or about 10 applicants per teaching position. The number of teachers achieving National Board Certification--the highest education credential available to teachers--increased from 11 in 1999 to 1,191 in 2008, making Chicago the fastest-growing urban district in this area of achievement.

    If you believe any of that, you haven't been reading Substance.

    Patrick Michaels observes that the audience wasn't nearly so friendly at Duncan's earlier appearance at Austin Community College.See Valerie Straus coverage of MIC CHECK at this event. And the Occupy site offers more films and a transcript.

    Be sure to read this article clear through to the end. There's a stunner from Arne.

    Thank you, Patrick Michels, for a savvy report on Arne, a rarity in journalism.

    by Patrick Michels

    South by Southwest's second annual education conference closed out this afternoon with a cheerleading session led by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. He told a roomful of ed-tech entrepreneurs that they represent our school system's best hope.

    "Products like the ones you are showcasing here hold the potential to transform classrooms," he said.

    Reading from a script, the former Chicago Public Schools chief spoke in broad terms about the power of networked and mobile devices in the classroom, and about a few favorite programs he's seen in the country's public schools. A few times, he pointed out that he was preaching to the choir. (At Austin Community College later in the afternoon, the greeting wasn't nearly so friendly.)

    Duncan began his SXSWedu address with a conversion story of sorts--from his analog upbringing to the tech-boostery life on the edge he leads today. "I've changed," he said, "because we all know what happens to dinosaurs." Now, Duncan said, the "new platform in learning" is technology itself.

    "It's a critical tool to help children learn. It's a tool to help parents stay abreast of what their children are learning," Duncan said. "It's a tool to hold ourselves and each other accountable."

    He name-dropped public school programs across the country that have bet big on tech, from a virtual explosion of virtual schools in Florida, to Mooresville, N.C., where a school district has seen big gains three years after handing out laptops to its high school students.

    "The future of American education absolutely includes a laptop on every desk and universal internet access at home," he said. "But a great teacher in the classroom absolutely makes the difference."

    Duncan's charter-friendly, test-heavy Race to the Top program has made him a controversial figure, especially among teachers' unions and the "Save Our Schools" movement who charge he's putting big ideas (and business opportunities) ahead of teachers' concerns.

    This afternoon, though, Duncan sidestepped a few questions from audience members meant to put him on the spot.

    Asked why U.S. schools continue trudging along with test-heavy accountability systems, when new technology is opening doors to teach real-world lessons in classrooms, Duncan pretty much blamed George W. Bush: "I think No Child Left Behind is fundamentally broken," he said. His office has already issued 11 NCLB waivers to states that have developed their own school reform plans, and Duncan said he'd be meeting with Gov. Rick Perry later this afternoon to encourage him to apply for a waiver too.

    What Duncan didn't mention is that the Obama administration has doubled down on the testing requirements ushered in by NCLB. Duncan suggested that, even today, there's not nearly enough good testing going on in schools. "Assessment in education is behind almost every major field," he said.

    Asked what he felt about teachers' sagging job satisfaction, he said it's no wonder they're so unhappy, when so many are being laid off and so many are underpaid. "We've demonized teachers. We haven't given them the respect they need," he said--a convenient, if ham-fisted plug for his Project RESPECT, which is laced with some of the very measures teachers are revolting against, like tenure limits and performance pay linked to student test results. [emphasis added]

    "Technology is a piece of the answer to making teachers more efficient, more effective. We as a society have to embrace our teachers, have to lift them up," Duncan said.

    Part of the opportunity lies in making teachers feel less solitary, networking them, opening their jobs to the social possibilities new online platforms provide. In a room powered by private-sector muscle, he had a funny way of describing what he'd like to see, a joke that sailed past quickly as he read his speech:

    "We have to continue to de-privatize public education." [emphasis added]

    The Speech, by Arne Duncan

    The New Platform for Learning

    My wife and two children are pretty amused that I have been invited to talk about technology at a cutting-edge conference for innovators and entrepreneurs.

    I admit that I grew up in a technologically-challenged household. We didn̢۪t even have a television when I was a kid. We were not what you would call early-adopters.

    But I've changed—and the reason I've changed is that I've seen the tremendous transformational potential of technology in education. I really believe that technology is a game-changer in the field of education in so many ways.

    It is making us so much more efficient. It allows teachers to personalize education for more and more students. They can track student progress more closely.

    Technology offers children the opportunity to work at their own pace and provides access to more information through a cell phone than I had through an entire library.

    Technology enables working adults to learn on their own schedule. It erases geographical barriers to knowledge.

    Technology is replacing the paper and pencil, the textbook, the chalk board and the globe in the corner of the room. It will soon replace the bubble test on which our accountability system is based.

    It's no exaggeration to say that technology is the new platform for learning. Technology isn't an option that schools may or may not choose for their kids. Technological competency is a requirement for entry into the global economy -- and the faster we embrace it -- the more we maintain and secure our economic leadership in the 21st century.

    Fortunately, there are progressive educators in school systems all across America who are finding bold and creative new ways to use technology in the classroom.

    Just this week, Mark Edwards, the superintendent from Mooresville, North Carolina came to the department to meet with our senior staff. Three years ago, he gave every student in 4th through 12th grade a laptop. Almost overnight they saw gains in school attendance -- new forms of collaboration between teachers and students -- and ultimately gains in reading, math and graduation rates.

    Rather than the kind of whole school instruction that has been common in public education for more than a century -- his students now work in small groups and independently pursue areas of interest.

    He describes his teachers as "roaming conductors" -- circulating around the room reviewing work, challenging students, and answering questions – one-on-one.

    The parents can track student progress every night from home -- and that’s one reason that the community strongly supported an increase in local taxes to keep the program going. And the cost was not prohibitive – about $225 dollars per student per year.

    For a decade now, the State of Maine has also given every middle school student a laptop. The Open High School in Utah has completely switched to digital content and they are in the process of providing every student in grades 6-12 with a laptop.

    In Florida, close to 100,000 students attend virtual schools. Idaho is the first state in the country to require students to get at least two high school credits through on-line courses and they are phasing in laptops for all high school students and teachers.

    And at the School of One in New York, there are 80 students sitting in a math class working in small groups, large groups or as individuals. Several teachers roam the classroom offering individualized support to the kids. We gave them a grant so they can continue this work and expand it.

    We're doing much more to encourage technology in the classroom. In 2010, we issued a comprehensive Education Technology Plan to support the broader trends in education today:

  • Aligning learning materials with the college and career-ready standards that states have developed and adopted.
  • Engaging students by tailoring learning to their needs and interests and providing real-time information to teachers about student learning.
  • Connecting teachers with their peers so they can share learning materials and classroom strategies.
  • Building the infrastructure to support this learning environment and using technology to become more productive.

  • Karen Cator led the development of this plan and she spoke here yesterday. She served in public education for many years and then spent time at Apple. I hope you have an opportunity to talk with her or meet with her because she is eager to bring your ideas to the larger education community.

    The list of panels at this conference is evidence of the ambition and creativity of the movement to bring technology into the classroom. It focused on assessment and digital ethics. You are talking about supporting teenage entrepreneurs and using interactive art to enhance math education. Some of you are using game design to improve STEM education.

    And here's a panel that is bound to raise a few eyebrows: "Supersizing the Classroom -- 3000 Students and Beyond." Now, I must say that I was relieved to see that this was not about pre-school but is in fact about how to improve those dreaded survey courses in college.

    Clearly, there is a lot of creative thinking happening here and I just want to say that the education community is hungry for your ideas. Educators want the best for their kids.

    K-12 education is a $650 billion dollar industry in America. Higher education puts the education sector well over a trillion dollars. Unlike in many other nations, however, America education is decentralized.

    We have 15,000 school districts and 95,000 public schools independently deciding how to teach and in many cases what to teach.

    That's one of the strengths of our system and a source of innovation. But decentralization can also complicate the spread of technology. I know that some of you have encountered bureaucratic obstacles in your efforts to work with school systems. Please don't be discouraged.

    School leaders are under a lot of pressure today to cope with diminishing resources and rising expectations. They don't always see how investments in technology can save money down the road.

    Thankfully, we have partnership like one with former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush who are pushing states to have more tech-friendly policies.

    So -- just keep doing what you're doing -- and we will do all we can at the federal level to support the use of technology in education. Let me tell you some of the things we are doing already. First of all, the President is deeply committed to STEM education. His goal is to create an education system that produces more people like you -- with the creativity and technical skills -- not only to invent new educational programs and software -- but to help us lead in every other field.

    We've created a learning registry to help teachers and parents discover resources on-line and learn from each other. We have made technology a priority in competitive programs like Race to the Top.

    And as a nation we have invested heavily over the last 20 years. The E-Rate program generated billions of dollars to upgrade technology infrastructure and today -- virtually every school in America has some form of internet access.

    Through the Recovery Act -- the Commerce Department, Department of Agriculture and the Federal Communications Commission expanded broadband services to thousands of additional communities with the plan to connect them all by 2015. Now the FCC is working with providers to support access to low-income children in their homes to help close the digital divide.

    Insuring educational equity is at the heart of the federal role in education. That is why Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Act in 1965. Today, our two biggest pots of money target low-income students and students with disabilities -- and both of them allow for investments in technology.

    In higher education, our biggest pot of money is for Pell grants so low-income students can go to college. We've gone from about 6 million Pell grants to 9 million Pell grants in the last three years and our community colleges are bursting at the seams. The only way to serve more students is by leveraging technology in innovative ways.

    In so many ways, technology is a powerful force for educational equity. It can even the playing field instead of tilting it against low-income, minority and rural students -- who may not have laptops and i-phones at home. It gives a boost to students with disabilities and students learning to speak English. It opens doors for all students as long as we make sure that the students most in need have access.

    And it helps teachers working in our toughest schools with our most disadvantaged students by providing them with effective lesson plans and teaching strategies that match their needs.

    It gives teachers the kind of professional development they have been asking for -- individualized to their unique needs. Today, DC and Tennessee are both using technology to create customized teacher training programs.

    It gives teachers the information they need to figure out what kids need. Unfortunately, assessment in education is behind every other field from medicine to consumer behavior to sports, politics and entertainment. Everyone is getting data in real time and using it to make decisions. Education needs to step up.

    Ultimately, technology should make a teacher̢۪s jobs easier -- and that will make them more effective.

    We talked to some teachers in a school system that just brought in new technology two months ago and they were already raving about how much time it saves.

    They said their students are much more engaged. Young people see adults working in front of computers. They know that's the future. The more that our classrooms mimic the real world, the more likely that our kids will take school seriously.

    A new Canadian study confirms what we already know intuitively: when technology actively engages students it has a dramatic and positive impact on student performance.

    Superintendent Mark Edwards from Mooresville, North Carolina also talked about the sense of discovery that his students feel --that they go on-line and talk to someone in another state or another country.

    With just one click, they go way beyond the walls of their classroom and the pages of their textbooks.

    Technology-driven learning empowers students and gives them control of the content. It challenges them to think critically and make decisions -- the same kinds of challenges you and I face in our work every day.

    And college students who are struggling with the rising costs of college can get more and more of their material through open education resources saving thousands of dollars over the course of their college career.

    Along with the Department of Labor, we have a new partnership between community colleges and business to fund the creation of new curriculum for growing fields like health care and green energy -- and all of the curriculum that is created will be open-source and publicly available.

    I recognize that I'm preaching to the choir. Entrepreneurs like you are way ahead of the curve. People like Sal Kahn has made over 2700 learning videos available for free. Products like the ones you all are showcasing here hold the potential to transform classrooms. University partners like MIT, Yale, Tufts and the University of California are doing the same.

    Learning technology can be a major export industry for America. But don't think that other countries aren't thinking about it. Places like China, India, Brazil and Israel are all pushing hard to bring technology into the classroom and create the products that will shape the future of education.

    American entrepreneurs like you -- in partnerships with the kind of teachers we have in this room today -- need to own and lead the field -- just as we have in so many other fields.

    So I̢۪m here today -- not just to encourage you -- but to plead with you -- to invest in education and in the technologies that support learning -- to push us and push the field to move in this direction -- and to be our full partner in the broader effort to rebuild the American economy with education as the foundation.

    Now -- I also want to leave you with one final thought because this issue too often gets sidetracked into a silly debate over whether we need computers or teachers -- when everyone knows we need both.

    Next week, thousands of America's finest musicians -- guitar players, drummers, horn players and singers -- will flood the City of Austin in an annual celebration of cutting-edge music and creativity. Young people from colleges and communities across America will come to watch, talk, dance, and have fun.

    They'll have cell phones, i-pads, laptops, and other tools to communicate, socialize, and gather. They'll see it live and watch on-line. The performers will chronicle their every move on social media.

    Musicians today use technology in countless ways to get their shot at stardom here at South by Southwest. They download music and create band profiles on the web. They record, share and sell their music without ever leaving their bedrooms. Technology corrects their mistakes in the studio.

    In fact, the music industry and other art forms like film and photography are so completely infused with technology today -- and dependent on it -- that it is hard to imagine them without it. Today, technology pretty much does everything for the musician except for one fundamental thing:

    It can't write a song. We have yet to invent a technology that will produce "Born to Run" or "Let it Be."

    Even if Beethoven had a computer, the Fifth Symphony would still have come from that mysterious gray matter between his ears -- and it's important to remember that as we think about the role technology plays in education.

    It's a tool to help children learn and help teachers teach. It's a tool to help parents stay abreast of what their children are learning. It's a tool to hold ourselves and each other accountable -- so that we can get better and smarter.

    At the end of the day --education and technology are about people and ideas. Why is Facebook so popular? Because it brings people together.

    Why is technology so exciting? Because it tells us so much about ourselves and about others.

    Why are we here in Austin? (Aside from Texas BBQ!)

    You could have found a lot of this information without coming to South by Southwest. But you're here because there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Nothing can replace the conversation that leads to inspiration or the handshake that leads to a partnership.

    The future of American education undoubtedly includes a laptop on every desk and universal internet access in every home. It definitely includes more on-line learning.

    But a great teacher at the front of the classroom will still make the biggest difference in the lives of our students. All of us can point to a great teacher who inspired us and shaped our lives.

    So I urge you today to make teachers your partners and your advocates. Their voice carries a long way. They are the ones who will take your product from the drawing board to the classroom. They are the only ones who can make this work.

    Working together, entrepreneurs and educators like all of you here today can create a world that we can't even imagine.

    Our kids are begging for it. They can't wait. America can̢۪t wait.

    Thank you.

    — Patrick Michels, with background info by Ohanian
    Texas Observer





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