NBC Education Nation—Reflections Day Two

Mondays in Manhattan are frenetic.  You could use the energy on the streets to power most cities. Instead, we took the collective energies of smart people from across the nation to continue the conversation of NBC’s Education Nation 2011 Summit – day two.


Today, we moved the conversation into the high gear and kicked off the morning with one of the greatest storytellers of any generation—Tom Brokaw. Brokaw, in his statesman-like manner, set the stage and our agenda of the day.  He reminded the audience online and under the tent about the fourth graders that are in our nation’s classrooms now. Those very fourth graders are the graduating class of 2020. Yet, the most often used statistic of the fourth grade is that reading scores are predictive of graduation rates. Today, NBC Education Nation introduced new evidence that highlights that the first hour to 2000 days of life are equally, if not more predictive.

My Baby Can Read!
Researchers from across the country presented their findings on how our brains are wired for learning from birth. In fact, within the first moments of life—less than hour after birth; a baby’s brain is ready to connect socially and develop their communication ability.

Read the story on Baby Brains and Early Learning educationnation.com.

Baby Brains

The researchers went on to share that the first 2000 days of a child’s life are the most critical to developing the synaptic pathways in their brains for learning and cognitive development.  Well—I know what you are thinking…2000 days—what is that?  Essentially, if a parent waits until their child is five years old or in kindergarten to begin their cognitive development, they would have the lost the equivalent of two years of growth.

Translating Science into Action

These findings have serious consequences for parenting, family planning, and early childhood education.  Long before students take high stakes tests in the third and fourth grade, the cognitive development from birth to school is critical.  For students in poverty, research indicates that additional stress is toxic to cognitive development for these children. Early childhood education budgets have been cut across the country, so the conversation moved to state leaders to talk about the future of our youngest citizens.


Ten Education Governors
Americans may be unaware of how often state governors get together to talk about education. Outside of the National Governor’s Association annual meetings, it almost never happens.  So to have ten governors from both sides of the aisle here to talk about education reform was a civic treat.

My most significant takeaway from listening to our governor’s is simple—each state is doing their own thing for education.  Education, like politics, is a local game. The needs of Alaskan students are different from Maine students. The needs of Oklahoma students are different from Maryland students. The resources and industries in each state are different. Notwithstanding, there has to be more opportunity to take solutions to national scale. As we work our way through this slow economy, states need to leverage the research, development, decisions, and lessons learned of their peers.

An audience member asked if the governors could collaborate more. None of the governors could speak to how or where they were actually collaborating now. That is a tremendous opportunity.

American Museum of Natural History

A Night at the Museum
We concluded our day with a night at the American Museum of Natural History to discuss jobs and the workforce. First, the museum is incredible and I encourage you to take your students or family.  It was my first visit to the museum, so I split my time between learning and mingling.  Besides, my daughter loves stories and I had better have some good ones to share for the time I spend away from her. That is part of my job…but let us get back to the jobs conversation.

We had a panel of chief executives of industry meet with Tom Brokaw to talk about the state of affairs on the jobs front and education’s role.  The most provocative comment was that only 1 in 4 Americans are eligible for military service without a waiver.  And that number is shrinking. Who are these Americans? They are citizens ages 17-24. Our nation’s military pulls from the same pool as our nation’s corporations to recruit and hire talent.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan expressed that education is the civil rights issue of our time. He went further to say that since Brown v Board of Education, we have not made the progress we should have made in our schools for our students.  Our education challenges are contributing to the 3 million plus jobs that remain unfilled. And now our education challenges—among others—are contributing to the future integrity of our national security. Do you sense the urgency for change yet?

The purpose of the jobs panel was not to recap how bad things are out there.  In fact, the true goal was to acknowledge that these challenges run deep and have been eroding our citizenry for a decades. Solving these problems will take a significant amount of collaboration.  Families, teachers, policymakers, governors, unions, and the private-sector all need to participate and collaborate to address our number one national issue.

From the moment a child is born, we have an obligation to prepare them to learn and to become a productive citizen.  Our children simply do not have a minute to waste on continuing with the status quo.

Share your thoughts and comments of what you heard and saw on EDUCATION NATION below.

3 Responses to "NBC Education Nation—Reflections Day Two"
    • Thanks for the note Lee. I would have loved to see you debate the philanthropists that attended. Following your tweets during the sessions were both entertaining and provocative. I’m glad the world has you fighting for kids. Thanks for the retweets too.