Originally published in May 2011
In December of 2009 a landmark national summit on redefining education for the digital age was held at The University of Texas at Austin, convened by Dr. Paul Resta and the College of Education’s Learning Technology Center. One hundred leaders from state legislatures, state certification boards, education professional associations, teacher unions, teacher education institutions, public schools, the business community and federal government attended the event.
During the three days of the invitational summit, education stakeholders held intensive discussions on the transformative policies and actions necessary to bring public education into the digital age. The aim was to address large issues and try to:
- Identify the characteristics of a true 21st century educator
- Define the critical elements of an educator preparation program that will produce this digital age educator
- Identify the institutional, state, and national policy structures that support the creation of these programs
- Develop a national coalition to reinvent teacher education for digital age learners to identify and resolve challenges to this transformation, and seize opportunities resulting from these challenges
The summit resulted in a major report that was delivered to Congress by Resta and National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future president Dr. Tom Carroll in the summer of 2010. It contained detailed recommendations for the transformation of teacher education programs.
New Hampshire Takes the Lead
To make revolutionary, far-reaching changes in public education, there has to be buy-in from most, if not all, major stakeholders – from teachers, school administrators, communities and parents to policy makers, educators’ professional organizations, and corporate supporters and partners. And from Washington, D.C., down to the local level.
Fewer than six months after the national summit hosted by The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education, New Hampshire held a state summit modeled on the national event, replicating the brainstorming, discussion and recommendations process.
Fred Bramante, a member of the New Hampshire State Board of Education and former Board chair, attended the Austin summit and is a passionate advocate for the recommendations in the summit report – he’s one of the visionaries who’s kick-started the progress in his state.
“There are specific changes that need to be made and then there’s a general transformation of the whole concept of what education is, or should be,” said Bramante, who at one time was a middle school science teacher. “We’re addressing both. It’s 2011, but most schools around the nation are still using a 20th century model – considering educators to be ‘content deliverers,’ assuming that learning can only occur within the four walls of a particular classroom and using school calendars that have remained unchanged for roughly a century.”
Bramante has led a major effort to review and revise state K-12 education policies in New Hampshire, with the focus being on the documented academic, physical and social progress of each student. One of the results of Bramante’s hard work has been New Hampshire’s Minimum Standards for Public School Approval, which call for:
- the personalization of learning environments and strategies
- harnessing of untapped local resources that can yield partnerships which, ultimately, increase students’ learning and career opportunities
- more flexibility in developing a school calendar
- extended learning opportunities for credit toward graduation
- distance learning and technology to access new learning opportunities and support the learning process
- moving from a Carnegie Units-based system to a competency-based one
The standards were distributed to and accepted by the major education organizations that must review and implement such regulations.
“We’ve scheduled another state summit, which is being held this month, and in which we’ll discuss additional reforms, like those needed in teacher education programs” said Bramante. “The language we use now to talk about education and learning reflects the direction in which we’re headed. In our draft of higher education teacher training regulations, we’ve replaced every instance of ‘classrooms’ with ‘learning environments,’ replaced ‘teacher’ with ‘educator’ and ‘instruction’ with ‘learning’ or ‘learning strategy.’ Little by little there is progress and we don’t want to stop until we’ve fulfilled our vision.”
Additional states have begun to implement recommendations from the University of Texas at Austin summit as well, with California working on a transformation of their teacher education programs and Wisconsin instituting reforms in one part of the state with plans to scale the changes to the rest of the state in time.
Success at the National Level
Of the numerous national education leaders to attend the Austin digital age learners summit, Dr. Tom Carroll has been one of the most enthusiastic and vocal advocates for radical change. As well as being president of the NCTAF, he co-chaired the University of Texas at Austin summit along with Resta.
“Post-summit recommendations are really gaining traction at the state level,” said Carroll, “and that’s excellent because both Congress and the U.S. Department of Education are putting leadership back at the state policy level. As far as our national recommendations, the most important thing is to establish national competency standards. I see that as the area on which we should focus most of our energy and resources right now. Ideally, there eventually will be shared international standards – we need to keep the international context in mind as we establish ours.
“As Congress reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we need to get them to directly address the need for education that creates a 21st century, digital age workforce. To teach students who know how to work with new media and social network tools, we obviously must have teachers who have the necessary technology skills and knowledge. It’s imperative that we help Congress understand that this must be part of the investment in education.”
Key national education leader Susan Patrick, who also participated in the Austin summit, concurs with Carroll regarding the urgent need for updated teacher training programs and teachers who are highly skilled in technology use. Patrick is president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, which promotes access to a world-class education for all students by promoting online learning opportunities.
“Currently, there are few teacher education programs in the U.S. that offer training and pre-service practice in online and blended learning,” said Patrick. “One of the most significant outcomes of the summit was to highlight the need for this kind of teacher training. We’re starting to see programs include instruction in online learning as part of their curricula.
“The summit recommendations also are having an impact Congress’s reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Obama’s plan includes standards on teacher preparation and professional development for 21st century skills and online instruction, so we’re beginning to see some very significant effects on state and national policy.”
In March of this year, Resta, who has been shepherding much of the progress and information dissemination following the Austin summit, was invited to Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative think tank to speak about redefining teacher education. The think tank drew education stakeholders like IBM Foundation president Stanley S. Litow, who is a former deputy chancellor for New York City schools, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller.
“This Harvard event included an international group – since it was a webinar, 1000’s of individuals worldwide were able to participate. Other countries are watching with great interest to see what we are going to do about issues such as the revamping of teacher education programs.
“During the three days of the summit, the clear and recurring theme was that we must change the ways that we’re preparing teachers so that they can prepare today’s students appropriately,” said Resta. “Most agreed that we need to build a ‘collaborative atmosphere’ around issues of reform so that there will be largescale buy-in at all levels and so that schools that are islands of excellence won’t be such a rarity and remain un-replicated.”
In April, Resta was in Washington, D.C., again, this time to update invited U.S. Department of Education leaders and Capitol staff on the impact that the Austin summit has had in the past year and a half and the reforms that are being adopted across the nation.
“It was very gratifying to be able to report that a great deal of progress has been made,” said Resta, “and share the message that the recommendations are gaining traction. Places like New Hampshire, Wisconsin and California are setting the stage for sweeping nationwide change.”