A Day at the White House

20160504_095532This is Roberto Rodriguez, the Deputy Assistant to the President for Education. That title means he has President Obama’s ear on all things education. He is often called the most influential person in American education.

I was honored and humbled to share key ideas from Every Student STEM during our Innovation and STEM Education spark discussion at the White House last week.

Every P-12 student in our schools today is a digital native. From the first moment they interact with any digital device, children begin developing STEM skills. It is the inherent nature of a digital world. 

20160504_102141Sitting around the table were some of the greatest educators in the country and I offered a new definition of STEM: Science-Technology-Entrepreneurship-Mastery. Everyone nodded their heads in agreement and we all felt a genuine camaraderie to dig even deeper into the work of making our schools better. The day began with briefings from key education policymakers.

Shantel Meek led the way with discussion about the research that confirms our deepest intuitions: The earlier we can get children curiously invested and motivated in learning, the better life outcomes they have.

Jo Handelsman stunned the audience with a single statistic:

75% of US schools do not offer computer science classes for students

* * We live in the digital age of technology! How can this be?!?!

AgendaAry Amerikaner shared that a prime directive of the US Department of Education is recruiting and retaining quality teachers in the highest needs districts and schools.

Roberto Rodriguez capped the briefings with the hopeful message in the Every Student Succeeds Act that we are poised on the brink of forward movement.

The breakout discussions were intimate and powerful. Every policymaker and their assistant staff members held a genuine desire to hear from teachers-in-the-trenches about the truth of everyday life in EdWorld, acknowledging that a White House job removes them several degrees of separation from the reality of the current student. The invitation to share openly about the successes and failures of governmental policies in the classroom was met with honest feedback from educators.

Everyone’s situation was unique and diverse, dependent upon the context, location and demographics of our schools, but we all shared a common goal: To make education better for students. What we have in place now is not getting the job done. Students are not graduating high school prepared for whichever college or career path they choose. We have to make progress faster and more effectively.

My greatest takeaway from this amazing day at the White House:

These Washington policymakers are deeply and sincerely invested in the education of our young people.


An ironic illustration is the childhood game Telephone… where the first person whispers something in the ear of the second and it gets passed down the line until the last person blurts out something incredibly ridiculous and inaccurate.

When Mr. Rodriguez talked about the changes needed in education, he mentioned ideas like: blended, online, competency education models; design-thinking and expeditionary learning; project-based learning and maker-education. My school district doesn’t even know these words much less how to make the concepts real in the classroom. All of this innovation in education has been lost in translation from Washington to here.

It’s easy to sit back and criticize Washington bureaucrats like a Sunday-arm-chair-quarterback, especially when the unintended consequences of new laws and mandates ruffle our feathers. The gift of our democratic system is that we all have a voice and a choice in decision-making. Too many people hold onto an anti-government attitude like a badge of honor to distinguish their own “right-ness” from “other’s wrong-ness.” We all know we need to work together. We learned this basic lesson in kindergarten.

Yet the actual task of sitting at the table and slogging through the muck of dialogue is hardly ever done… except by those truly committed to change.

I am committed to change. Jess is committed. We have both stepped out of our comfort zones to make waves in education… and in some cases, we have paid a heavy price. Read these:

Breaking down perceptions of others helps students learn

The MindWorks Experiment

Principal Shadows Student, Gets Schooled

Confessions from DarknetED

Can A School Truly Change?

Opt-out movement seeks change in system

We have a clear Why and How:

To reach the child who hungers for purpose in #PivotTheModel design school learning.

We have taken many small leaps and now a huge leap with edOS. We invite you to leap with us and be part of the change wave.

June 4 is #edOS: A New Operating System for Education. It is a day to find your tribe and figure out a new next step on the journey to the future.

For us. For you. For students. For the greater good of education.

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