March 10, 2016

Five Big Ideas From the KnowledgeWorks Experience Conference 2016 #EducationIsACivilRight

As I reflect on the two-day KnowledgeWorks Experience Conference 2016: Education Is A Civil Right, Early College Delivering on the Promise, five big ideas keep surfacing.


I was inspired and humbled by the experience. Even before the conference opened, participants were greeted with posters reminding us of the greats who have gone before us … Pioneers, Advocates, Defenders, Reformers, Champions. It picked up speed with the opening of the conference with a clip of Malala Yousafzai addressing the United Nations.

Even after a vicious, very personal Taliban attack that almost took her life at age 15, Malala declares, “My dreams and my hopes are still the same, and I’m hopeful that I will be able to continue my journey and to be what I always wanted to be, to help people, to put every child into school.”  And it continued later that evening with the “field trip” to the Center for Civil and Human Rights.  How could one not be inspired – and humbled – by the stories from around the chronicled within the Center? Or on day two, when a lead character from The Great Debaters declares, “the time for justice is always right now!”


Dr. Jim Johnson had us all engaged about 15 minutes into the conference with his unprecedented analysis of the effects of demographic trends on economics, families, the workforce and the American Society. Breakout presenters extended learning. We learned how to design powerful Capstone experiences and structure the curriculum for deep, Common Core learning. There were lessons from Summer Bridge recruitment and schools that have sustained K-12/higher education partnerships for more than a decade. We experienced powerful tech tools that extend learning and we gained tips for using social media to engage and expand our early college communities. We had very real discussions about school culture, race, microaggressions and leveling the college playing field. One of the most inspiring conversations emerged in the last set of breakout sessions where we learned what happens when a group of focused, determined leaders from K-12, higher education and business decide the time is now to turn the tide of education and the workforce in their low income, rural community. And so much more.

Attendees of the 2016 EDWorks Experience Conference visited the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Attendees of the 2016 KnowledgeWorks Experience Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, visited The National Center for Civil and Human Rights.


A buzz permeated the general sessions, the breakout rooms, the hallways.At almost every turn I heard people talking about how long it had been since they had seen each other and how good it felt to be together. I watched people meeting for the first time over shared discussions about strategies and tools that proved effective in their communities. And fellowship and collaboration didn’t end with conference dismissal. Hours after Harold Brown’s closing remarks, small groups of participants lingered in the hotel lobby laughing, talking, sharing contact information, inviting each other to their schools and communities.


Somewhere on day two of the conference as I was threading my way through throngs of people in the ballroom, I was suddenly reminded of a term from my high school physics, “energy.”  In scientific terms, “energy” is the ability to do work. If you look at a traditional hard bound volume of Merriam-Webster or the online “,” the definition of energy is extended to include terms like, “the capacity for vigorous activity” or “abundant power” or  “ability to lead,” or “forcefulness.” The KnowledgeWorks Experience 2016 created an energy you could touch and feel, a force that promises to take participants back into their communities with a renewed spirit and resolve.  Inspiration + Learning + Fellowship = Energy.


There were nearly 200 of us at the KnowledgeWorks Experience 2016 Conference. We represent literally thousands of young people, educators, parents and involved community members. The schools represented at the conference are part of a 300-school-strong national early college family. When you think about the more than 10,000 public schools across the nation, even 300 Early colleges are but a small ripple in the system. But as the towering water sculpture at the entrance to the Center for Civil and Human Rights reminds us, “Never Doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”  We are ready. We are changing the world, one student, one school, one community at a time. We are the early college movement.

The Conversation Online

Find out more about the 2016 KnowledgeWorks Experience Conference by taking a look at the conversation that was happening online throughout the event.


Written by: Guest Post

Our guest posts are provided by teachers, coaches, administrators, students, community partners and more. Keep up with more of what's happening at KnowledgeWorks by checking us out on social media.

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