Back for Day 2 of NBC News’ Education Nation Summit 2012, the final day of this gathering of thought leaders seeking ways to solve the complex and varied issues of American education. More highlights from today’s speakers and panelists:

  • Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis talked about the importance of making sure students are coming out of school well prepared for the jobs that are available. She emphasized the importance of students being skilled in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) courses, as this is where the jobs are. If students are weak in any of these areas, they should not give up, but get tutoring. (A recurring theme of the entire summit is that we have to remind students that difficult work can and should be conquered with assistance and persistence.)  Solis believes that students should be encouraged by their teachers to focus on the creative and fun aspects of the STEM curriculum. For example, they use smart phones and remotes, but through STEM courses they can understand how and why these devices work. They play complex video games, but don’t they want to know how to create them? For older students (and parents as well) who want to know what career options they may have with their current skills, the Department of Labor offers the website
  • A panel discussion on teaching bilingual children highlighted the science behind early childhood learning. Research reveals that children who listen to two languages from infancy have better brain development than those who just hear one language. As the brain toggles back and forth between two languages, the brain fiber tracks developed result in better executive functioning (the ability to find alternative solutions when the first one won’t work). The discussion then broadened into a more general discussion of the importance of very early childhood education, another theme of this summit. In discussing the importance of focusing on a child’s brain development and education from birth, Patricia Kuhl, Co-Director of The University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, cautioned that we “should not waste the first 1000 days of a child’s life”, as this is the time for critical brain growth and development.   All the panelists agreed that parental involvement in very early childhood education was key. Richard J. Noriega, President and CEO of Avance, a highly respected parenting/early childhood education program which provides innovative education and family support services to predominantly Hispanic families in low-income, at-risk communities, put it simply and clearly: “The parent is the child’s first teacher; the house is the first classroom.” The panelists also agreed that it takes consistent and hard work to follow the best practices to ensure early strong brain development. Noriega asked, “The science is there..Are we going to have the grit to do what it takes for our children?”
  • A panel about the turnaround success of Worcester Technical High School in Worcester, Mass., showed how a community and its business leaders rallied around a failing school and turned it into a high performing school with a 96 percent graduation rate. The school, which provides students with valuable vocational training as well as rigorous coursework, now resides in a 90 million dollar building with state of the art training facilities. This panel highlighted the importance of vocational training in providing workers ready for today’s marketplace. Principal Sheila Harrity noted that the “3 R”s of education, Reading, “Riting, and “Rithmatic were no longer the guideposts; her school follows the “4 R’s of education: Rigor, Relevance, Relationships, and Responsibility”.  (After two days around these thought leaders, one thing is clear: they all love buzz phrases. But I think this one is a keeper.)
  • President Obama and Governor Romney both visited Education Nation Summit today; President Obama in a pre-taped video interview, and Governor Romney in person. Check out their interviews hereon the Education Nation website.

GCP Takeaway:  After a day and a half of exhaustive examination of the state of American education, I can make the following observations:

Focus on Very Early Education is Key. Parents of infants and very young children need to be doing everything they can to help strengthen and develop their babies and toddlers’ brains. As one panelist said, the science is there. And there is a window of opportunity to improve babies’ brain development, which parents can miss if they are not paying attention. Parents, this doesn’t mean you have to spend every waking hour trying to make your baby smarter. It does mean you’ve got to check out the latest research and incorporate some of these tips and exercises into your routine. It also means that you should incorporate some kind of educational component into your toddler’s daily activities. If he is with a sitter or in day care during the day make sure the people taking care of your child are incorporating educational play into his daily routine. More details and tips on how to do all of this in an upcoming post.

Get Smart on Common Core: 45 states have adopted the Common Core standards to ensure that all students, no matter where they live, are prepared for success in postsecondary education and the workforce. The Common Core State Standards are designed to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. Throughout this summit, teachers talked about their excitement about having these standards to follow and emphasized the importance of teacher training to ensure that they are taught well. Check out the Common Core standards here, at

Education is local; Education Reform Leadership is Local: In an early GCP post I lamented the fact that when national educational reform leaders took the stage, there were rarely any African American faces in the group. This summit has helped me to realize that while this still may be true, it is not quite as relevant as I initially thought. This is because actual educational reform is happening in a “bottom up” versus “top down” manner. People of all hues are resolving formerly intractable educational issues locally and trying to figure out how to scale up these successes, rather than looking to national leaders to define and solve big picture problems. This summit demonstrates that it is not so much the new big ideas that will bring about a better educated America, but the growth and implementation of small but important ideas and programs being tested out in communities across the nation.