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Live from #EIE17 with Mike Thomas

• Mike Thomas

The National Summit on Education Reform celebrates its 10th anniversary this year in Nashville, drawing a record crowd of more than 1,100 attendees from more than 40 states. The leading minds in innovation and reform are here, and will be laying out a new and bold direction for education in the 21st century. Stay tuned as I share highlights during the next two days.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addresses National Summit on Education Reform

Speaking to an appreciative audience, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos demonstrated compassion for vulnerable children and disdain for “sycophants’’ of an education system that denies them hope and opportunity.

DeVos’ address was both emotionally moving and resolutely defiant as she gave one example after another of children failed by the education system, and then warned “teacher unions bosses” and other defenders of the status quo that she was ready for battle.

She began her speech with a broad view, going back to a landmark 1983 presidential report on the state of American education called “A Nation at Risk.”

The report noted that the quality of American education had eroded so badly that “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

Noting the poor performance of American students on international assessments, DeVos noted little has changed.

From there she pivoted to individual stories, bringing the data down to personal terms.

She referenced a boy named Orlando, who when young yearned to be a pilot. But his mother became incapacitated by a stroke and his father went to prison, causing him to struggle in school and fall in with a bad crowd.

His dream seemed over until he was able to transfer to a private school in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarships program. There, a teacher took an interest in him and pushed him to succeed. He graduated last May and was accepted to Emory Riddle University.

DeVos gave other examples, including a student with cerebral palsy who wasn’t given enough accommodation at his public school, and another student who struggled because of Tourette Syndrome.

Their parents took advantage of choice programs to find learning models that worked for them, including virtual school and a charter school offering a blended learning program.

Such children, DeVos said, don’t have lobbyists and public relations firms, but they do have hopes and dreams.

She called them the forgotten in society.

“Adults need to quit fighting over kids and start fighting for kids,” she said.

DeVos said that despite rumors to the contrary, she wasn’t going anywhere and that her fight for kids had only begun.

Quoting Mark Twain, she said, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. I’m not going anywhere. In fact, we’re just getting started.”

She encouraged education reformers in the audience to stand firm.

“This is a fight,” she said. “You take arrows in the back and front. I stand with you and together we stand with American kids.”

Opening Keynote from ExcelinEd’s Chairman, Governor Jeb Bush 

Gov. Jeb Bush highlighted the progress that’s been made since the first national summit was held 10 years ago in Orlando.

This included an expansion of charter schools and private school choice programs, along with more effective accountability system.

“On behalf of all the children benefitting from education reform, thank you for challenging the status quo,” he said.

While impressive, reform is not progressing fast enough to keep up with the rapidly changing pace of society, he said.

“Robotics, big data analytics, artificial intelligence and automation are killing jobs once held by individuals with a high school diploma.

“Drones are replacing delivery men. 3D printers are replacing assembly-line manufacturing workers. Robots are replacing retail and restaurant workers. And pretty soon driverless cars will replace bus drivers, truck drivers and even Uber drivers.

“The economy isn’t waiting for education to keep up,’’ he said.

Bush encouraged the audience to embrace big, bold reforms that upend the current, antiquated education system.

And one key component of those reforms is expanding choice, including more charter schools and private school choice options, allowing parents to find the right learning environment for their children.

Bush called that the ultimate form of local control of education.

About the author

Mike Thomas @MikeThomasTweet

Mike Thomas serves in the communications department, writing editorials and speeches. Prior to joining the Foundation, Mike worked for more than 30 years as a journalist with Florida Today and the Orlando Sentinel. He has written investigative projects, magazine feature stories, humor pieces, editorials and local columns. He won several state and national awards, and was named a finalist in the American Society of New Editors’ Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary/Column Writing in 2010. As a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, he wrote extensively about education reform, becoming one of its chief advocates in the Florida media. Mike graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in political science and journalism. His wife is a teacher and he has two children in public schools. Contact Mike at