By Rita F. Pierson, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Rita F. Pierson, has been an educator for more than 40 years, serving as a teacher in elementary school, junior high and special education and has been a counselor and administrator. She has led development workshops for thousands of teachers. She spoke in May in New York at a TED Talks Education event that will be the basis for a show premiering Tuesday, May 7, on PBS stations. TED is a nonprofit dedicated to "Ideas worth spreading" which it makes available through talks published on its website.
(CNN) - I have been a professional educator for 40 years. I have worked at every level of the public school spectrum—elementary through high school. Having been in education for such a long time, I have witnessed many changes, all aimed at school improvement. Needless to say, not all the suggestions have been sensible.
What may appear to be a good idea on paper, or when sitting around a table in discussion of it, does not always make for good reality, especially at the schoolhouse.
It is important to note that most of the dictates for schools are proposed by people who have never taught. Regardless of the studies and research aimed at school improvement, I believe good educators have always known what makes schools work more efficiently. However, we get bogged down in rhetoric and what is "hot" at the moment. I believe that sustained school improvement will take guts (good old fashioned courage), focus and stamina. Here are a few tenets that make sense to me:
If a child is not present at school, he or she cannot possibly learn. Schools that consistently report high student achievement consistently have students with great attendance. Yet one of our greatest school problems is student attendance. Why do we have to beg parents to get their children to school, to convince them that we need their children present and as stress free as possible? A parent asked me once why her child needed to come to school every day. She was actually upset that the school district had a policy that addressed absent and tardy children. She said it was not the school's business to tell her how to raise her children.
Read Pierson's full column
By Wendy Kopp, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Wendy Kopp is CEO of Teach for All, a global network of independent organizations dedicated to expanding educational opportunity, and founder and board chairwoman of Teach for America, a national corps of recent college graduates who commit two years to teach in high-needs schools.
(CNN) - Tech visionary Steve Jobs understood better than anyone the impulse to believe that technology can solve our most complex societal problems. "Unfortunately it just ain't so," he said. "We need to attack these things at the root, which is people and how much freedom we give people. ... I wish it was as simple as giving it over to the computer."
That's certainly true when it comes to education, particularly in impoverished communities.
As a founder of two organizations that recruit top college graduates to expand educational opportunity, I've spent a lot of time examining what's at work in successful classrooms and schools over the past two decades. In every classroom where students are excelling against the odds, there's a teacher who's empowered her students to work hard to realize their potential. Whenever I ask the leaders of successful schools their secret, the answer is almost always the same: people, people, people. They are obsessed with recruiting and developing the best teams.
Research confirms that great teachers change lives. Students with one highly effective elementary school teacher are more likely to go to college, less likely to become pregnant as teens and earn tens of thousands more over their lifetimes. Faced with the choice between giving every child in a school his or her own laptop or putting 30 of them in a classroom with one exceptional teacher, there's no question which is the better investment.
So it's disappointing to see more and more people herald technology as an educational panacea while dismissing the indispensable role of people.
Read Kopp's full column
(CNN) - Three struggling elementary schools in Yonkers, New York, are dramatically reducing the length of summer vacation in an attempt to turn the institutions around.
The schools days will be longer, and summer vacation will last only one month, starting August 1.
Some parents are upset, saying it cuts down on valuable family time, and kids' opportunities to participate in summer sports and activities. A researcher argues that kids aren't robots, and can benefit from a break.
But Bernard Pierorazio, superintendent of Yonkers Public Schools, say the decision is made.
"We have to do something different," he said.
What do you think? Would shorter summers would help your children learn, or improve their schools? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter @CNNschools.
By Richard Galant, CNN
(CNN) - What if everything you thought you knew about education was wrong?What if students learn more quickly on their own, working in teams, than in a classroom with a teacher?
What if tests and discipline get in the way of the learning process rather than accelerate it?
Those are the questions Sugata Mitra has been asking since the late 1990s, and for which he was awarded the $1 million TED Prize in February at the TED2013 conference.
Mitra, professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, won the prize for his concept of "self organized learning environments," an alternative to traditional schooling that relies on empowering students to work together on computers with broadband access to solve their own problems, with adults intervening to provide encouragement and admiration, rather than top-down instruction.
Watch Sugata Mitra's TED Prize talk
Mitra's work with students in India has gained wide attention and was the focus of a 2010 TED Talk on his "hole in the wall" experiment, showing the potential of computers to jump-start learning without any adult intervention.
Coming to education trained as a physicist, Mitra said he was encouraged by his boss to start teaching people how to write computer programs. When he bought his first personal computer, he was surprised to find that his 6-year-old son was able to tell him how to fix problems he had operating the machine. He thought his son was a genius, but then heard his friends saying the same thing about their children.
Long Beach, California (CNN) - What if everything you thought you knew about education was wrong?
What if students learn more quickly on their own, working in teams, than in a classroom with a teacher?
Those are the questions Sugata Mitra has been asking since the late 1990s, and for which he was awarded the $1 million TED Prize on Tuesday, the first day of the TED2013 conference.
Newcastle University professor Sugata Mitra won the 2013 TED Prize for his experiments in self-organized learning.
Mitra, professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, won the prize for his concept of "self organizing learning environments," an alternative to traditional schooling that relies on empowering students to work together on computers with broadband access to solve their own problems, with adults intervening to provide encouragement and admiration, rather than top-down instruction.
Thinking about children living in slums in New Delhi, he said, "It can't be possible that our sons are geniuses and they are not." Mitra set up a publicly accessible computer along the lines of a bank ATM, behind a glass barrier, and told children they could use it, with no further guidance.
They soon learned to browse the Web in English, even though they lacked facility in the language. To prove the experiment would work in an isolated environment, he set up another "hole in the wall" computer in a village 300 miles away. After a while, "one of the kids was saying we need a faster processor and a better mouse."
When the head of the World Bank came to see the experiment, Mitra said he encouraged him to go to the New Delhi slum and see for himself.
Read the full story
Editor’s note: Antonio Villaraigosa is the 41st mayor of the city of Los Angeles.
By Antonio R. Villaraigosa, Special to CNN
(CNN) - My story began like far too many people across this country. My father left when I was 5 years old. My mother, sometimes working two jobs, raised four children on her own in East Los Angeles. She was always my touchstone, the person who taught me my core values. It was her quiet grace, strength in the face of adversity and unflinching will that served me so well in life.
However, despite everything she poured into our family, we kids didn’t always make it easy for her. By age 16, I was kicked out of the Catholic school she had worked so hard to send me to.
I found myself at the local public high school, Roosevelt. It was a “drop-out factory.” I was put into remedial classes, which I found boring and unchallenging after my previous education. But even worse than that, I felt like the school had given up on me. So, I gave up on myself and dropped out.
My story could have ended there.
I could have become one of my many peers who didn’t graduate. But my mother would not accept that fate for me, and a Roosevelt teacher named Herman Katz took an interest in me. They saw my potential and fought for me. They pushed me back into school. They pushed me to finish what I started - and I did, graduating in 1971.
From there, I went to East Los Angeles Community College and transferred to UCLA, one of the finest institutions in the world. At UCLA, I was the beneficiary of affirmative action. Some would say I walked in through the back door. But one thing’s for sure, I went out the front. I had a diploma in hand, a future ahead of me and my head held high.
For me, public education really was the great equalizer.
That’s why I believe education is the civil rights issue of our time. As a high school dropout, I see a part of myself in every kid who wants to give up because they think the system has failed them. Sadly, the United States now enjoys less economic mobility than Canada and most of Western Europe. Those born into poverty in America lack genuine opportunities to change their fate because they lack access to great public schools.
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - To guess the education plans in Barack Obama's State of the Union speech Tuesday night, look no further than the guests in first lady Michelle Obama's box.
Obama's action points often reflected their stories: an undocumented college student who took part in Obama's "deferred action" plan; a 16-year-old winner of the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair; a recent community college graduate who now works on wind turbines; a young machinist who laid the foundation for his manufacturing career at his Kentucky high school; a first-grade teacher from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut; an early childhood educator from Norman, Oklahoma, and a NASA Mars Curiosity rover team member who volunteers to mentor students in FIRST robotics.
Here are the education ideas that rippled through Obama's State of the Union speech - and afterward, in Republican Sen. Marco Rubio's response:
Yes, another rating system: the "College Scorecard"
There was talk of money-crunching "scorecard" last year, but Obama announced during his speech that it would be released Wednesday - it's up now at whitehouse.gov/scorecard. The "College Scorecard" will show which schools offer the best value, "where you can get the most bang for your educational buck," he said. That wasn't all: Obama also asked Congress to change the Higher Education Act to attach schools' federal aid to their "affordability and value."
Preschool for all kids
Obama said investing in high-quality early childhood education saves money later, boosts graduation rates and reduces teen pregnancy and violent crime. “I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America," he said.
He gave a shout-out to Georgia and Oklahoma, states he said make early childhood education a priority. Obama will be visiting a pre-Kindergarten school in Georgia this week, and Susan Bumgarner, an early childhood educator from Oklahoma City, watched the speech with Michelle Obama.
Higher rewards for high-tech education
Some states and schools have discussed charging students less to pursue majors in science, technology, engineering and math fields, and more for majors like English or anthropology. Obama wasn't so specific, but he said he wants to "resdesign America's high schools" to gear-up grads for a high-tech economy.
“We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs," Obama said.
By Christopher Brown and Vincent DiCaro, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Christopher Brown is executive vice president of the National Fatherhood Initiative. Vincent DiCaro is vice president of development and communication of the National Fatherhood Initiative.
(CNN) - There is no shortage of answers about how to improve our nation’s schools, including more charter schools, school vouchers, standardized testing, lower teacher-student ratios and performance-based hiring, pay and promotion of teachers.
However, what we find lacking in almost every debate about education reform is the role of families - especially fathers - and the support they can and should provide to ensure children’s educational success.
If parents, educators and reformers are to make a difference in improving children’s educational success, we must expand our definition of education reform. We must move beyond the myopic focus on education systems and implement tactics that include a more prominent place for parent involvement in schools.
The omission of “the father factor” is especially troubling in light of research released last month that examined family trends in 45 countries and how children’s educational success is affected by their parents. The “World Family Map” report by Child Trends, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, found that even when controlling for income, children in middle- and high-income countries who live with two parents have better educational outcomes than children living with one or no parents.
Specifically, children in two-parent homes were more likely to stay on track in school and have higher literacy, both of which are critical to overall educational success.
Editor’s note: Jeb Bush was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007 and is chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.
By Jeb Bush, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Kaleigh Fair had to make it work.
The Las Vegas teenager suffers from two different illnesses – one an excruciating immunodeficiency, the other a rare brain condition called Chiari malformation where portions of the brain protrude into the spinal cord.
When spending five hours a day hooked up to an IV prevented her from continuing classes at her traditional high school, Kaleigh didn’t give up on her education. She transferred to the Nevada Virtual Academy, a tuition-free online public high school that individualizes curriculums for students of all learning abilities.
Inspired by Kaleigh’s strength, her twin sister Danielle switched from her traditional high school to Nevada Virtual, as well, allowing her to receive a quality education while spending more time helping her sister overcome two life-threatening illnesses.
The Fair sisters graduated from Nevada Virtual Academy last spring and enrolled at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. After all the time she spent at the doctor’s office, Kaleigh is pursuing a degree in nursing – through online courses, of course.
Parents, students and community members will gather at more than 3,000 events across the country this week in order to celebrate thousands of outstanding students like Kaleigh and Danielle, and the educational options that they’ve utilized in order to thrive when presented with situations that just a few years ago would have kept them on the educational sidelines.
The nationwide celebration is called National School Choice Week 2013. Led by a bipartisan, grassroots coalition, National School Choice Week celebrates the rights of parents and children to choose high-performing traditional public schools, public charter schools, private schools, magnet schools, home schools or virtual schools.
The right to a quality primary and secondary education is something that can and should be one of our most fundamental, uniting American issues – and digital education is no exception.
Editor's note: Bill Gates is co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Watch an interview with him Sunday on "Fareed Zakaria GPS" at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.
By Bill Gates, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Today I released my annual letter. Each year, I reflect on what I learned in the last year through our travels and work with the foundation and how that will shape my thinking over the coming months. This year, my letter focuses on how important it is to set clear goals and measure progress in order to accomplish the foundation's priorities, both here at home and around the world.
Setting a clear goal lets you know what you're driving at: Picking the right interventions that will have the most impact on that final goal, using that information to understand what's working and what's not, and adapting your strategy as necessary. One of the clearest examples of the power of measurement was the work of our partners to support great teachers.
In the past few years, the quest to understand great teaching has been at the center of the public discussion about how to improve education in America. But for the country's 3 million teachers and 50 million schoolchildren, great teaching isn't an abstract policy issue. For teachers, understanding great teaching means the opportunity to receive feedback on the skills and techniques that can help them excel in their careers. For students, it means a better chance of graduating from high school ready for success in life.
But what do we mean when we talk about great teaching? In my experience, the vast majority of teachers get zero feedback on how to improve.
Read Gates' full column
CNN’s Schools of Thought blog is a place for parents, educators and students to learn about and discuss what's happening in education. We're curious about what's happening before kindergarten, through college and beyond. Have a story to tell? Contact us at email@example.com