Getting More Out of Education Nation

NBC's Education Nation summit should be used to accomplish meaningful goals.

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In this photo taken Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, Joel McCain, left, reacts to winning a letter bingo game with a "W" as Christopher Larry, Jr., looks on in their kindergarten classroom at Campbell Hill Elementary in Renton, Wash. Washington’s new WaKIDS program, which stands for Washington kindergarten inventory of developing skills, is designed to help kindergarten teachers better understand the strengths and weaknesses of their incoming students. Every school that offers free all-day kindergarten to its students now holds individual parent-teacher meetings before school starts, as well as taking a more formal assessment of each child’s abilities during the first six weeks of school.

This week, NBC holds its fourth annual "Education Nation" summit in New York City. The event was launched shortly after the release of the education documentary "Waiting for Superman," and every year it attracts the nation’s most prominent education experts to engage in dialogue about education policy and how we can improve our schools.

Each summit is organized around a theme and this year it will explore "What it takes for us as a nation to ensure students are successfully prepared for college, career and beyond." To answer that question, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has profiled six charter schools where 100 percent of the graduating seniors are accepted to a four-year college or university. These six are just the tip of the iceberg – there are thousands more getting the job done.

The summit, coupled with local events throughout the year, more in-depth education reporting and an online community and blog, is designed to bring greater attention to our schools and some of the reforms under discussion now (such as Common Core standards). Since the news tends to only cover controversy and scandal, it is refreshing for a major news network to devote this much time to a topic that is a bit more nuanced and often full of good news.

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I attended the first summit and the question for me then, as it is now, is what is the collective call to action for those who want to help reform our schools? Education Nation offers a menu of links to other organizations for parents, teachers, students, business leaders, and others who want to get involved. But while it is always good to volunteer at your child’s school, and ask more questions about its curriculum and quality of the teachers, and to be more engaged in school board elections, this is not enough to impact lasting change. Education Nation could use the marketing power of the event and its significant platform to rally people who are concerned about our schools around one collective effort.

While this would be hard to do because of the highly local and political nature of education policy, if it were done, it would change the event from yet another nice gathering to a powerful engine for change. If it were up to me, these would be my three calls to action: 1. Call on Congress to get back to work and move the myriad education spending and policy reauthorization bills under consideration; 2. Ask Governors to overhaul their teacher training schools so that we are producing more high-quality teachers; and 3. Urge the next mayor of New York City to treat the city’s excellent charter schools as partners not pariahs. What would yours be?

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