As the president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, Bob Wise has been leading the charge to make schools “future ready.” The Alliance, along with U.S. Department of Education, is sponsoring a series of Future Ready Summits for district leaders and school superintendents across the country. Wise is also the former governor of West Virginia and an advocate for deeper learning, digital learning, and adolescent literacy.Bob Wise (USE THIS FOR JPEG) #28 - smaller

We spoke with with Wise in preparation for Pittsburgh’s Future Ready Summit, which is being held on June 22 and 23.

Remake Learning: So what does being “future ready” mean to you?

Bob Wise: To me, being future ready means preparing a student with core content knowledge but also with the ability to think critically, solve problems, and manage their future learning. In other words, they’ve learned how to learn. That’s the end game. But what’s important is, How do we get there?

To me, one of the ways we get there is to personalize learning so every teacher has the ability to meet every student where they are—rather than having to teach one size fits all.

The only way we can do that on a wide scale is through the effective use of educational technology. The Future Ready Summits are about working with superintendents and school leaders to develop a plan for how they’re going to reach these higher learning goals and how they’re going to use technology to assist them in reaching them.

What does getting to that endgame look like in a classroom?

You can’t just slap a tablet on top of a textbook. You won’t have any change in outcomes. It’s not only about the devices, it’s also about the culture and process you’ve created. Ultimately, technology is about enabling human beings to be more effective—not about replacing human beings. That’s what the summits are about—building a plan that creates a culture so teachers, the most important element, know how to use technology to reach those desired ends.

You’ve said before that the decisions superintendents make in the next two or three years will shape education for the next 20. Why is right now a critical moment?

I think this is the most epic moment in American education in at least a century. There are four factors for that. First of all, every state has adopted much higher standards for their students. Number two is constrained state budgets. So there’s a demand for higher quality with less money to deliver it.

Three? The changing role of teaching. We’re asking our teachers now to use very sophisticated techniques to identify each student’s learning needs and then adapt to them.

The fourth piece is the rapidly changing education technology that can help the teacher meet these challenges.

Every school superintendent in the country has to make decisions in the next two to three years about how to address those factors—and they have to address them all at once. That’s what makes this an unprecedented time.

In Pittsburgh, the Remake Learning Network is building a web of hands-on, informal learning opportunities for students across the city and region. Why are these out-of-school learning opportunities as important as the learning that’s happening in school?

Learning is a 24/7 experience. What I have observed in my own life but also through data is that we learn through doing. A maker lab, a HIVE program, and any other learning environments that attract students are critical because that gives them the engagement to be successful in school as well. 

Technology is about enabling human beings to be more effective—not about replacing human beings.

In a perfect world, these opportunities [in and out of school] mesh. The school system is in tune and aware of other learning opportunities and is supporting them and, whenever possible, coordinating them. 

Superintendents have been sharing all kinds of takeaways from the summits on Twitter. What have you taken away from the summits you’ve attended?

I’ve been impressed by the commitment. First a district signs a pledge, then the superintendent commits to attending personally and selects a team of up to three other people. They’re willing to spend a day-and-a-half interacting and sharing with their peers and to put themselves out there, even say, “Maybe I’m not as far along as I thought I was.” That struck me.

The second thing was the wide differences, in a positive way, between where districts are. We’re seeing some of the most sophisticated districts in the country in terms of technology implementation and digital learning. And we’re also seeing districts who are saying: “I don’t know how to get there. Let’s get started.” They’re able to work together, there’s a synergy that’s developing. We’re going to work on developing that further with the Future Ready Leadership Network, which is what we’ll be talking about in Pittsburgh.