President Obama’s visit to Manor New Technology (STEM) High School this week near Austin, Texas afforded me the opportunity to reconnect with an old friend and Austin sage, who shared this observation:
It is remarkable what a little money and encouragement can do. Before Samsung, that school district was broker than a third-tier country singer with laryngitis. Its achievement measures were in the dumper. This project has paid off big time.
After grinning hard at my friend’s clever turn of a phrase, the thing that immediately struck me the most was the impact of his “little money and encouragement” reference.
Manor New Tech is a member of the 120-school New Tech Network, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks, a social enterprise which is working to create sustainable improvement in student readiness for college and careers. Because someone (in this case, Samsung, Educate Texas, and other key partners) believed that kids from an economically depressed area could learn with the right support, and because of New Tech’s innovative approach to learning, six years later a sitting president came to town touting great results.
It’s not that simple, of course, because change is never easy – especially in education. And learning in New Tech Network schools is about as untraditional as it comes. Visitors can peer through glass walls into classrooms. It’s noisy. Teachers and students are milling about, with teachers acting more as coaches and mentors, and students working in teams on laptops or tablets. Students remain engaged and remember why they learn what they learn because lessons are based on real-world knowledge and outcomes.
This kind of change takes human will, great leadership, and the collaborative efforts of many. It takes the merger of pedagogy, public policy and free enterprise to finally see success. New Tech Network schools have been able to bridge constituencies and implement innovation in education on the ground. As New Tech President Lydia Dobyns wrote in a Huffington Post column about the visit and the impact New Tech is making in education: “At New Tech schools, we have found a way to close the achievement gap regardless of whether students reside in urban, suburban, rural or underserved areas. Our 2013 Student Outcomes Report offers compelling evidence that the vision we have to transform schools within public school districts is being realized.”
President Obama has called for a $300 million high school redesign initiative in his FY14 budget to ensure that America’s high schools prepare students for success in college and our work force. On the ground, that looks like Manor New Tech and any of a number of other schools, including successful KnowledgeWorks Early College High Schools – one of which, Brooklyn’s Pathways in Technology early college high school – was mentioned in the president’s State of the Union Address.
Our job is to continue to show lawmakers and others evidence that innovative education initiatives can succeed in all environments, and also to show them a pathway to make it happen.