NBC Education Nation–Reflections Day One

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My first day at NBC’s second annual Education Nation Summit 2011 began early.  The Sunday morning streets of midtown New York City were quiet at 7:00 AM. Meanwhile, you could sense the buzz building over at Rockefeller Plaza, better known as 30ROCK, for a fresh conversation on the state of US Education.

NBC NEWS Education Nation 2011

On Meet the Press with David Gregory, a panel was convene of some of America’s brightest minds to discuss the government’s role in education among many other topics. Former Secretary of Education William Bennett, president of the University of Miami, Donna Shalala, Tavis Smiley, and Tim Shriver discussed the matters of children of color, whether or not we need a US Department of Education, and the readiness of college freshmen.  The area of complete agreement amongst our panelists is that America’s Global Competitiveness is threaten by the quality of our schools. Checkout the clip below for more of the conversation.

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Later today, the always charming and at times quite comical, Brian Williams took the helm to host the second annual Teacher Town Hall.  The conversation on the stage from various educators across the country was vivid and timely.  However, what struck me the most was the sentiment in social media during the town hall. Most commentators online felt that the featured teachers were exceptional and not the norm for schools across the country. Therein lies the rub.

Educator's Share Their Views on Education

Each child deserves a great teacher no matter where they live. What steps must be collectively taken to make that common versus remarkable?

We closed the day with the premiere of the American Teacher—a documentary film on the life and challenges of educators across the nation.  The documentary focused on the sacrifices that educators make everyday – both financial and deeply personal. I was touched by the story of one of the educators featured in the documentary—Mr. Erik Benner, my North Texas neighbor from nearby Keller, TX.

American Teacher - Panel

Benner’s beginnings were humble. He was the first of his family to go and graduate from college. He aspired to be a teacher and became one.  Pursuing his passion to educate students in history and athletics came with some hard sacrifices that were clearly not in the job description of Keller Independent School District. You will have to watch to movie to find out if Benner or his peers remained in the classroom or graduated from the school of hard knocks.

Where “Waiting for Superman” focused on the plight of kids in urban America’s schools; American Teacher focuses on the realities of teaching the same kids that are not often seen or heard in the national discourse. This pair of movies are two episodes in ongoing saga about our education system.  If you have not seen either, I recommend you set aside some time this year to see them both.

Growing up as a teacher’s son and later becoming an education leader, my perspective is always multi-colored and layered with my own experiences. I connect and empathize deeply with so many of the stories I hear from the classroom. Yet, there are others that leave me wondering – “why we have not fixed this yet?”  In many ways, that is what the Summit is about. How do we fix what is broken in our schools?

I commend NBC for continuing their commitment to this conversation and keeping education—more importantly our teachers and our students—the number one story of our nation and our economy. I am committed to keeping you in the loop as the story continues to unfold this week.