Unlocking Human Potential Part I: The Cost of Conflating Potential and Performance

Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Jim Shelton speaks at TEDx MidAtlantic on Saturday, October 27, 2012.

Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Jim Shelton speaks at TEDx MidAtlantic on Saturday, October 27, 2012.

I recently gave a TEDx MidAtlantic talk entitled Unlocking Human Potential: Why We Need a New Infrastructure for Learning about Learning. My premise was that we have the opportunity to tap into vast amounts of latent human potential; but, to do so quickly, we need to build a new national research agenda and apparatus focused on breakthrough learning outcomes.

The theme of this TEDx event was Be Fearless: Take Risks. Be Bold. Fail Forward — IMHO a perfect theme for all of education today. I have come to believe that “being fearless” requires one to ask oneself two foundational questions: (1) What do you believe (is possible), and (2) what are you willing to do? Therefore, I began my talk by addressing a common misconception that limits our ability to believe unprecedented learning outcomes can be produced at scale. Consciously and subconsciously, we often allow the conflation of potential (capacity) and performance to limit what learning outcomes we believe can be achieved by all learners. However, without entering the long and embattled debate about the existence and shape of the bell curve describing individual intellectual potential, we can turn this misconception on its head.

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Department Announces Highest-rated Applications for Investing in Innovation 2012 Competition

(November 8, 2012) The U.S. Department of Education today announced results for the third round of the Investing in Innovation (i3) competition, which will award the 20 highest-rated applications more than $140 million to expand innovative practices designed to improve student achievement. These 20 potential grantees, selected from 727 applications, must secure matching funds by Dec. 7, 2012, in order to receive federal funding.

“These potential grantees have innovative ideas to accelerate student achievement and address some of our biggest challenges in education,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Identifying these applicants and having them foster partnerships with private donors will support promising approaches to tackle these issues, such as engaging parents as essential partners in their children’s learning and improving student academic growth in math and science.”

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i3 Program is a Public Sector Bright Idea

OII’s Investing in Innovation program—better known as i3—is among 111 Bright Ideas recognized by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Now in its third year, Bright Ideas recognizes efforts from all government levels, including school districts, county, city, state, and federal agencies as well as public-private partnerships, that demonstrate “a creative range of solutions to issues such as urban and rural degradation, environmental problems, and the academic achievement of students.”

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Panel Shows What’s Possible in Education Technology

Last Monday, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and committee member Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado co-sponsored a briefing on innovation in public education through the use of learning technologies. More than 50 Senate staff members came to hear from a panel I moderated that featured leaders in the ed tech field.

The panelists, Dr. Stephen Elliott (founding director of the Learning Sciences Institute at Arizona State University), Jennie Niles (founder of the DC-based E.L. Haynes Public Charter School), and Jeremy Roberts (director of technology for PBS Kids Interactive), all concurred that the promise of technology to transform education has fallen short of expectations for the past two to three decades. However, they also all agree that we are finally at a time where many factors are converging to overcome historic barriers: increasingly ubiquitous broadband, cheaper devices, digital content, cloud computing, big data, and generally higher levels of comfort with technology among the general population.   

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The Innovation Agenda

To deliver an excellent education to every child and to ensure U.S. global competitiveness, President Obama has set the goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.  Though ambitious, this goal is attainable through bold reform and innovation spanning the education pipeline from early learning to college.

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