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Ten Conversations With Edupreneurs

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It was one of those conferences where it's hard to leave the lobby. The NewSchools Summit (#NSVFsummit), co-hosted with the Aspen Institute, was held in an SFO airport hotel this week.

Ten years ago, the summit was an annual gathering of charter management organizations (CMOs), human capital builders, and the foundations that supported them. These days the blend is on -- strategies for using technology to leverage teacher talent and boost student engagement and achievement where front and center.

There were ten lobby conversations that stood out. Far from a scientific survey, these are emblematic of the leading edge of efforts to improve American schools:

1. College. How to dramatically boost college completion? The dynamic duo from Parthenon, Margot Rogers and Tammy Battaglino, said that institutions must identify and meet developmental needs fast, provide intrusive advising, and get students into the right degree program early.

2. Talent. How to place 10,000 smart professionals into school districts? Education Pioneers and the Broad Residency program have done a lot to inject young talent from America's top business and law schools into school district bureaucracies. Earned income could make these programs ten times as large and impactful.

3. Writing. How to get kids to write more? GlobalWrites brings integrating performance arts and tech into schools -- I love the idea! Of course, I told everyone that would listen about how essay-scoring engines support more writing on state tests and in classrooms.

4. Adaptive. How to individualize instruction? Engaging and adaptive content is a big part of the answer. Rob Waldron's team at Curriculum Associates built an amazing new adaptive K-8 math and English sequence called i-Ready. Neeru Khosla's CK12 team will be releasing a slick update to Flexmath. Jessie and the Dreambox team just keep adding more school partners. Jiji, the penguin from ST Math, was all the buzz.

5. Social. What if we took full advantage of everything that will be on Edmodo next year and started a network of schools that are fully mobile, social, personalized and localized? I think someone will answer that question in the near future.

6. Badges. Yes, I am just going to keep saying this until it happens -- badges (and other achievement recognition and data visualization strategies) will be the UX to Big Data + matriculation management. You heard it hear first: badges are how most schools will work in 2020.

7. Boards. How to create strong charter school boards that create great schools? Charter Board Partners is a cool D.C. startup attacking this challenge. We discussed the potential of a recognition system for good boards and networks that support good boards.

8. International. How to leverage the philanthropic lessons learned? Past summits have not had much of an international flavor, but Tom Haslett and Ashish Dhawan from Center Square Foundation came seeking lessons, strategies and tools from the US charter networks to deploy in urban India.

9. Faith. How to engage faith congregations to help all of God's children get a good education? Nicole Fulgham, The Expectations Project, is hard at work building support for public education with urban churches. I tried this as a superintendent and found it very challenging. Go Nicole -- we need you make some progress here!

10. Media. How to market student-centered reforms? Kelly Amis, producer of TEACHED, has a plan. Like many teachers exploring the benefits of engaging media, Kelly is using compelling video to make the case for better schools.

Related conversations asked, "How to market blended learning?" I've been reading grant apps that propose device purchases accompanied by some PD labeled as 'blended.' Field trips are the real answer, but short of trips to Yuma and San Jose, we'll need more video that illustrate how life is different and better for teachers and kids in blended environments.

Summit attendees start with equity as the North Star. Kids are the focus. Entrepreneurship is their path. If you want a dose of optimism about the future, attend NewSchools Summit 2013.