Guest Post: The New Normal Summit

May 10, 2011
Tom Vander Ark (Photo from

This Summit will be different.  It’s the first Summit held under “new normal” conditions.  We went over the cliff.  We are getting ready to live with less and many have more cuts to come.  The hangover of the Great Recession took its toll on education, but for some leaders it forced a new round of learning as a result of asking difficult questions.

Did you see Duncan’s November 2010 new normal speech at a small AEI event? He made the case for doing more with less.  It was the most radical language a Secretary of Education has every used calling for “transformational change,” rethinking “structure and delivery” and “explore productive alternatives”  This was the first time a U.S. Education Secretary recognized the potential for “transformational productivity,” the first time a secretary attacked the basic system architecture as “a century old factory model—the wrong model for 21st century.” Duncan railed against seat time requirements, antiquated compensation systems, and inequitable school finance.  He called for the smart use of technology—a potential “force multiplier”—online tools and virtual schools.  Duncan suggested that good teachers with good tools could support larger class sizes.

Race to the Top was great—a big boost for the 2008 consensus reform agenda.  But we’re still fighting old battles framed around obsolete schools.  It’s time to forge a “new normal” vision around the power of personal digital learning and reframe old problems around new opportunities.  It’s time to invent new ways to boost learning productivity and operating sustainability.   State and districts policy makers should focus on reducing barriers to online learning and should use the 10 Elements of the High Quality Digital Learning to create a 3C framework:

Customized learning. Personal digital learning allows each student to vary learning by level, time, location, pace, and increasingly by mode.

Continuous feedback. Personal digital learning provides students and teachers continuous feedback.  A typical fifth grade’s 5,000 keystroke day will provide lots of feedback and building a smart learner profile that helps to customize learning.

Competency-based learning. Personal digital learning allows students to advance based on demonstrated performance.  A competency-based system requires frequent and on-demand assessments.

The 3Cs break the classroom construct for staffing and scheduling and force institutions to deal with individual students.  It enables tiered team staffing with the right people doing the right job, regardless of where they are located.  It will demonstrate that without seat time barriers and with engaging learning experiences most students can learn faster (and cheaper).

Here’s my new normal plan.  I converted the school management organization I run to Open Education Solutions, a blended learning service provider.  Our fund, Learn Capital, is long on internet business models Edmodo, Schooltube, Mangahigh, and Formative Teaching.

What’s your “new normal” plan?  For many of you it will require retrofitting a reform agenda and growth strategy.  Consultants may have helped you form a Theory of Action, but the world changed and you may need to take action and see if it turns into a new theory.  The new world order requires a little more fire, aim, ready.

There are new group of edupreneurs “hacking” education in ways oblique to the No Excuses and TFA roots of the Summit.  It will get more confusing before a “new normal” vision emerges.  This Summit is the place to start that conversation.