The conference is designed "to stimulate ideas, invoke creativity and foster innovation," according to a letter obtained by the Star that Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky sent to educators on March 8 inviting them to attend.I've personally only scratched the surface of what's been happening in the U.S. public school reform movement with my attendance in 2009 at two Education Writers Association events in Washington D.C. and San Diego. There are a lot of Duncan fans in the U.S., but at the same time there are many who aren't as enthusiastic. One of the clearest things that's become apparent to me is that while its local-district-charter model allows for a huge variety of schools, schooling and outcomes that produce fantastic settings for teaching and learning-- the top 10% don't appear to consistently bring the bottom 10% any higher. There's no overwhelming drive or system in place that can take practices that work in one school and implement them appropriately in others. If I had the time, there's been plenty coming out of the U.S. lately on where the Obama administration wants to take the No Child Left Behind program as well as its own initiatives to improve the quality of public schools in the U.S. Which isn't to suggest we've got all this figured out in Ontario either.
Dombrowsky said the Ontario Education Summit, which has yet to be officially launched, is a chance to tout some of the province's initiatives and learn what's being done abroad.
"We are very excited. We have an opportunity in Ontario to showcase some of the investments that we've made and some of the results that have come of those investments," she said Wednesday in an interview from Belleville.
"There's no question it is a forum to share best practices."
Dombrowsky said discussion would focus on achievement targets and assessing student performance with measurable data.
Invitations have been sent to Ontario's board of education chairs, directors of education, and education-sector organizations, such as teachers' unions, as well as educators in the U.S., Finland, Singapore, and other countries.
A key presenter will be Duncan, an Obama friend whose aggressive work as superintendent of Chicago's public system led to the creation of 100 new schools, the closure of "underperforming schools," an increase in early childhood education programs, and benchmarks for teachers and students.
Under the "tough love" approach advocated by Duncan, a former professional basketball player who frequently shoots hoops with the president, students and educators alike are expected to perform.
This conference will no doubt produce its detractors and critics, concerned that any investment in running it is a waste that should be diverted elsewhere. I think the province has done an interesting job of cherry picking some of the elements introduced through reforms elsewhere south of the border and implementing them across the province (one of my key takeaways from San Diego). I've stated here at the time of release that it's possible Ontario's students have plateaued insofar as the numbers of them who can reach a B-level standard in literacy and numeracy skills. Perhaps this conference will provide the boost needed to implement that next series of programs that will see higher assessments and graduation rates. It's ambitious.