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Roundtable explores ‘inflection point’ in education

Over 1,000 attendees gathered Saturday morning in Maples Pavilion for the sixth annual Reunion Homecoming Roundtable at Stanford, titled this year “Education Nation 2.0: Redefining K-12 education in America before it redefines us.”

Topics explored included charter schools, finding and training good teachers, the role of teachers unions, the role of technology in the classroom and creating cultures of success in low-achieving districts.

The sixth annual Roundtable at Stanford featured a discussion on education in America between President John Hennessy, School of Education Dean Claude M. Steele, cofounder of Bellwether Education Partners and Teach for America Kim Smith M.B.A. '98, Khan Academy founder Salman Khan, mayor of Newark, N.J. Cory Booker B.A. '91 M.A. '92, and Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix and former president of the California State Board of Education. (ALISA ROYER/The Stanford Daily)

The panel included six experts in the field of education: President John Hennessy, School of Education Dean Claude M. Steele, cofounder of Bellwether Education Partners and Teach for America Kim Smith M.B.A. ’98, Khan Academy founder Salman Khan, mayor of Newark, N.J. Cory Booker B.A. ’91 M.A. ’92, and Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix and former president of the California State Board of Education. PBS talk show host Charlie Rose moderated the discussion.

When asked about the current state of K-12 education in the United States, panelists agreed that it is out of date and that the system needs to change. However, they all also expressed optimism about increased attention to the plights of the educational system.

“We have been doing things the same way for 100 years,” Smith said. “This is a real inflection point for American education.”

“All our assumptions [about education] will be rethought in a positive way,” Khan said.

Several models for rethinking the education system were brought up during the discussion. Hastings suggested that the biggest problem in American schools is the system of elected school boards and predicted that, one day, all schools will be run by nonprofit charter organizations.

Booker also praised charter schools.

“Charter schools have challenged the pernicious bigotry that says that not all kids are capable of learning,” he stated.

Steele added that he sees the fact that charter schools are open to innovation and willing to explore new teaching and learning styles as their primary significance. President Hennessy, meanwhile, expressed that because charter schools compete with public schools, they push public schools to be better.

Panelists also expressed technology as another solution to the education crisis. All the speakers stressed that introducing technology into the classroom does not make teachers obsolete; in fact, it can make teachers more effective by allowing them to personalize lessons for each individual student.

Hastings cited the example of Rocketship Education, a charter school system founded by John Danner ’88 that is strongly rooted in technology-based education.

“Right now, Rocketship [schools] have test scores that are even slightly higher than Palo Alto and they are doing it at lower costs,” he said.

The conversation also focused on how to support and foster good teachers.

Hennessy stated that in order to attract more college graduates to the teaching profession, “we need to pay [teachers] and treat them as professionals.”

He cited the fact that currently the majority of teachers come from the bottom quartile of college graduates.

“Great teachers have something amazing called ‘learned optimism,’ and they pass that on to their students,” Smith said.

She also said that through her work with Teach for America, she has seen that great teachers share a few traits: knowledge of the subject area, passion for teaching and energy to share that passion with others.

Nonetheless, panelists expressed that there is no singular solution that will solve all of America’s education woes.

“Lots of people have this mistaken belief that everyone should want the same thing or that the same thing works for everyone,” Smith said.

Dennis Arch ’66, who came “for exposure to the panelists and to the problem of education reform,” said he found the discussion very informative.

Furthermore, Annie Davids ’87, a middle school math teacher at a charter school, reviewed the event positively.

“All the panelists were fantastic,” she said. “Cory Booker was amazing. He is really in the trenches, so it was interesting to hear his take on everything.”

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