The challenges – and the opportunities – ahead for education are the subject of the Education Innovation Summit this week in Arizona. Along with President Michael Crow of Arizona State University, the conference began with comments from Michael Feinberg, co-founder of KIPP (knowledge is Power Program). This Summit is the same one about which I have written in the past (see Penley on Education and Innovation).
Mr. Feinberg amused the crowd with his comments about the letter, Yuzz, from the Dr. Seuss book, On Beyond Zebra. This less well-known Dr. Seuss book is about the letters of the alphabet beyond Z that most of us ignore. The message of the book is straightforward; it is those things that most people ignore that excite us and lead to innovation. And that was the message of Mr. Feinberg about education; the potential for innovation in education is considerable and exciting. We have only to open ourselves to the excitement and potential of what is out there. We have only to permit innovation rather than restrict ourselves to traditional models of education from which we learned.
The message is one that encourages us to welcome innovation in education. It is one that asks that we be open ourselves to possibility and that we not constrain ourselves by what has been done in the past. Education has been a very stable industry. Much more is demanded of it today in building students’ problem-solving and critical thinking capabilities, in making our society more competitive, and in raising economic prosperity for all. If we accept and welcome innovation, education offers us much that we yet don’t recognize, like those letters beyond Z. But it requires that we are willing to change.
That willingness to change is essential if we are to take advantage of the way people learn – not at a time and place defined by schools – but based on actively and individualized defined needs. That willingness to change offers opportunity if we encourage new forms of education: new charter schools in K-12, competency-based assessment in higher education, new structures and models for schools and colleges, and the integration of eLearning into a maturing understanding of the role of teachers with integrated digital learning resources.
The Education Innovation Summit is a great learning experience but also a celebration of the possible. The question that all of us must confront is whether we are willing to change and whether we are willing to open ourselves to policies that encourage change. Indeed, it is a question about whether we are capable of looking beyond Z.