“So Dr. Edwards, can you explain to the audience what’s behind the success you’ve had at Mooresville, in implementing technology that has so changed students lives?” The question was posed by Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy in the Office of Science and Technology. Kalil was moderating a panel of distinguished educators and technologists – and the venue? A White House conference called on creating more access for technology in US K-12 schools.
I was not at all surprised to see Dr. Edwards on the White House stage on this beautiful fall day. In fact I saw all this coming when I first visited the tiny hamlet of Mooresville, North Carolina, back in April of this year. The more classrooms I was pulled into, the more kids I saw “leaning in”, the more the “buzz” reflected off the cinder hallway walls…the more I figured there was to the Mooresville story.
So the White House appearance? No surprise. After all, President Obama himself back in January announced to the nation:
“…we know what’s possible for our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate…but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities.”
So with this distinguished panel in mid-September, the White House rolled out “Digital Promise” – a new public/private partnership aimed at accelerating the inclusion and access to new education technologies for schools. It’s backed by the White House Office of Science and Technology, and the Department of Education. It has a newly appointed board – including John Morgridge, Chairman Emeritus of Cisco, and Irwin Jacobs, co-founder of Qualcomm. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan himself noted that this new NGO will unite companies, entrepreneurs, foundations, schools and technology providers around the common goal of helping drive much-needed innovation in our schools.
As a corollary to Digital Promise, the White House also announced the newly formed “League of Innovative Schools.” This League will represent best practices, with some of the leading proof point school districts in the nation, like Mooresville, expected to join.
At this meeting in Washington D.C., it was impressive to see the people assembled through the executive branch’s “power to convene.” Much discussion was aired on how this League and new NGO could guide and steer the proposed $25B in Federal spending contained as a plank within President Obama’s new $447B Jobs Bill. And the many school district superintendents in attendance were pleased to see this step being taken by both the Obama Administration and the Department of Education.
David Weiner, Deputy Chancellor for Education for the New York City Department of Education, commented on how companies like Cisco are making a difference in their own New York City “iZone” work – especially in the areas of bringing new video, collaboration, and networking technologies to the students, teachers and schools. John Morgridge was also recognized by Duncan as having had a “major impact” on teaching and learning through his well-known philanthropy work in US education. Between Morgridge, Mooresville, and New York City Schools – Cisco was fairly well represented.
And Mooresville? They just continue to chug on like the school district that can. They recently confirmed 2011 year-ending data: test scores pushed up to an 88% composite, now #3 in the state of North Carolina. But the stunner – the 5-year graduation rate has soared from 64% in 2006 to 91% in 2011. Like a controlled experiment – the only variables to these amazing graduation results have been technology, and district-wide leadership and commitment. That has now pushed the graduation rate at Mooresville to #2 in the state, out of 115 districts.
Can’t do that here? You may be right. But think about this. There are 14,000 school districts in the U.S., and 75% of them are the size of Mooresville, or smaller. In fact 70% of our districts have similar demographic and economic realities. MGSD is 40% free and reduced lunch, and has earned great marks over the last 5 years in the face of increasing local county poverty. Maybe we can’t do it everywhere – but we can start, and right down your street. Initiatives like Digital Promise and the League of Innovative Schools may help in fact ignite these much-needed conversations.