The closing plenary at NewSchools Summit 2016 was an authentic, engaging end to a day that both began and ended with student voices. Following brief remarks, NewSchools CEO Stacey Childress led an intimate talk with Priscilla Chan, and then transitioned to a memorable conversation between former U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan and Jim Shelton, who served as one of his senior leaders.
A recurring theme throughout the session was a sense of urgency. Each speaker admitted being very impatient about serving children, but acknowledged the need to temper the impatience with an eye toward long-term bets.
Reflecting on the other sessions she attended, Pricilla Chan said she really related to the student speakers. “Those kids are the people with whom I felt the deepest connection. They’re me. I’m a child of two refugees. I applied to Harvard because it was the name of a school that I knew about…not because I thought I was super qualified.” She continued, “I come from a similar place. The fact that they want to create change in education is amazing.”
Ms. Chan talked about the priorities of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, noting that they hope to make long-term investments in education and science in a way that gives everyone equitable access. “We are not only lucky enough to have capital to invest things we believe in…we can bring our tools into this work. We want to bring tools to improve life.”
Acknowledging the complexity of the work, Ms. Chan said she and her husband, Mark Zuckerberg are really in a place to make change rapidly, but change can be hard. She added, “It’s not always as fast as we thought. We want to make the long-term bets…to get the best leaders in the space working with us, and we want to empower leaders to make big, long-term bets. To us that means really lifting the ceiling on what we are capable of.”
Giving a nod to a surprise visit by Mr. Zuckerberg, Ms. Chan said, “He’s so embarrassing. I can’t believe he’s here!”
Jim Shelton, who recently announced his new role leading education investments for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, led a deeply personal conversation with Arne Duncan.
Speaking on his transition from the Obama Administration, Duncan said, “When you’re doing the work in DC, you can’t even think about anything else. I knew I wanted to go back to Chicago, but it’s bittersweet. This is a very difficult time in Chicago; but to have an opportunity to make a change means a lot. I couldn’t look away, I had to go where the fire is.”
Duncan’s biggest wins as Secretary of Education:
- Being able to invest in early childhood education.
- High School graduation rates hit all-time highs across all subgroups.
- Seeing states establish College and Career-Ready Standards, despite pushback.
- 1.1 million additional students enrolled in college.
His biggest disappointments:
- Not securing the billions more dollars needed to have every 4-year-old in Pre-K.
- Failed to get immigration reform and get scholarship funds to undocumented students.
- Not getting more done with gun control, citing Sandy Hook shooting.
Thank you all for joining us and for following along. We were so fortunate to have such amazing, inspiring speakers, students and educators share their stories and experiences with us. Together, we can reimagine public education to give all students a better opportunity to succeed.