The California Charter Schools Association 2011 Conference has just concluded. The 2011 conference was the biggest event yet and hosted a wide variety of speakers and events. Here are some brief notes and observations regarding the events (more posts and interviews are on the way).
Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was awarded the Hart Vision Elected Official of the Year Award. Mayor Villaraigosa has been a passionate advocate of the charter school movement. He oversees the Partnership for LA Schools, which runs ten of the lowest-performing schools in the district and is seeing improvement in test scores. Mayor Villaraigosa challenged charter schools to not only build new schools, but to take on the lowest performing schools and turn them around. In addition, he urged the charter school movement to hold itself to a higher standard of performance and shut failing charter schools down. By taking on the lowest performing schools, turning them around, and holding charter schools to the highest standards, Mayor Villaraigosa insisted that charter schools can destroy the myth that they are cherry-picking the best students.
Sal Khan of the Kahn Academy delivered a powerful keynote address that showcased the power of disruptive technology. His Kahn Academy is very reminiscent of what Clayton Christensen speaks of in his book Disrupting Class. From humble beginnings tutoring his niece, Sal has been noticed by Microsoft, Google, and Bill Gates as an educational innovator. In highlighting the future of his non-profit Kahn Academy, Sal pulled back the curtain on what has become an increasingly hot topic, inverting or flipping the traditional teaching model. By making the lecture content available for the student to access outside of class, the teacher is allowed to focus on the critical learning moments in class and once again truly teach.
Much attention has been focused on tracking student learning and providing meaningful data for both teachers and students. Despite the detractors that feel it discourages innovative learning, it is a vital step in truly personalizing a students learning. Several vendors provided a look at how schools can improve this process. Both Illuminate and Scantron show-cased platforms to help this task become easier and more efficient.
The march for schools to more fully integrate cloud resources was readily apparent. CloudConnect, sponsored by the San Diego County Office of Education, is a browser-based platform that incorporates virtual learning environments, single-log-ins, data storage, and curriculum offerings for both schools and individual teachers. It leverages the mobility of cloud resources to provide a dynamic and 24-7 learning option. EduTone is another vendor that provides software-as-a-service and bills itself as connecting all the dots. They provide a single-sign-on gateway for their customers and have leveraged the power of the Google App Marketplace. In addition, they have a marketplace of services that can be added to their customers menu of options. This provides a slick and cost-effective environment for schools looking to save on their IT budgets.
Finally, it was great to meet so many of you that are engaged in making education better. The conversations and ideas that were shared will fuel my own work for quite a while. As always, feel free to share your comments and I look forward to hearing about your experiences.