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ExpandED TALKS: Innovation in Education

Saskia Traill



Saskia Traill is Senior Vice President of Policy & Research at ExpandED Schools.

“There is no silver bullet.” This was a disclaimer offered by John B. King during ExpandED Schools’ “ExpandED Talks” series, a discussion with former U.S. education secretary King, and equity and education advocate and professor, Pedro A. Noguera. 

Noguera, who also serves on ExpandED Schools Leadership Council, highlighed the rise in young people facing the challenges of poverty and homelessness, and asked King whether there were any innovations he was aware of that could Improve the odds for these students.

“Since Brown vs. the Board of Education our schools are more segregated than ever,” King said. Citing that over half of U.S. students in public schools qualify for free or reduced lunch, he warned that a society not investing in education is a society putting its own future at risk. “If we fail to educate people of color and kids from poor communities, then we fail as a nation. We fail at improving our democracy.”

King shared that innovation in education is happening, but the challenge is finding what works and learning how to incorporate it more widely. “We throw the term innovation on every promising strategy,” he said, “but what is truly innovative?” Hands-on experiences like robotics, mentoring, engineering and design classes, and the ability for adults in schools to build strong relationships are examples King gave of how schools can learn from those working in afterschool.


Students from Frederick Douglass Academy II gather after the panel discussion to speak with former U.S. education secretary John B. King.




In the audience was a diverse mix of educators, corporate executives, leaders from the Department of Education, youth serving organizations and philanthropic organizations. Also in attendance were young people from Frederick Douglass Academy II, Thurgood Marshall Academy and The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology. Some of the hardest questions to answer came from these students.

ExpandED Talks also welcomed a student group from the Laboratory School of Finance & Technology (MS/HS 223).


One girl shared a concern that her friends, who are smart, but not getting good grades, may not succeed. “How would you motivate them?” she asked. King responded by saying that all students need help finding something they are passionate about, especially if they are not focused academically. He told the story of a former student who wasn’t inspired until he began researching Marcus Garvey, completing multiple drafts of a report until he was satisfied. “Once he discovered that he had something important to say, it changed who he was.” 

Noguera made an important distinction between struggling students who have resources and those who do not. “Rich kids use drugs and they are sent to rehab, not jail. A rich kid with a “C” is still better off than a poor kid with an “A.” His suggestion was to focus on solutions that will change the odds for students that don’t have access to safety nets, such as tutoring, counseling, or adult mentors that can guide them through challenging times.

Another student asked whether the lack of arts education was an issue of funding or school administrators that don’t see it as valuable. King replied that the lack of arts education, civics, STEM and social studies was related to the focus on English and Math, courses tied to state assessments. “In higher income families, arts and social studies are assumed to be important but, in high-needs schools they can be considered an “extra,” which is a pedagogical mistake,” said King.



One takeaway I had from the event was the thoughtfulness of the student remarks and how they underscored what research clearly demonstrates, that a high quality education for all students is critically important to our collective success, as a country and as a society. But, the question remains, how do we get to a place where this kind of equity in education exists? 

According to King, the only way to accomplish this is to make a complete cultural shift as a nation. “One thing that would bring about real change, I think, would be if people would begin viewing all children with the same lens they use to view their own children.” Some of the things that make a difference: Making sure all children have access to good Pre-K experiences, a well-rounded education, school counselors, and access to advanced courses. But, he warns that in this country, we have a lot of work to do before this cultural shift can take place. “We continue to talk about public schools over charter schools, testing issues. Look, these conversations have been going on for a long time. We need to stop fighting and start problem solving.”

To learn more about innovation in education consider attending our 2018 Spring Benefit, "Fueled By Experiences.Innovating For A Lifetime," which will feature innovative student showcases.

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