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My Letter Grade for Vision 2020

Vision 2020 is coming to a close, and having been at most of it, I think the SDE can call it a success. In reality, even if it didn’t measure up to anyone else’s standards, they can call it that. Politicians (and these people are still more politicians than educators) know that you always declare your efforts successful.

I’d like to give the conference a rating – if only there were a scale for doing so. You know what? I think I’ll make one up. Since everybody knows what A-F grades mean, I’ll just use that as a way to measure the conference. In case you missed it, I was going to have a hearing to explain the criteria for this, but then I decided that I didn’t care if anybody attended and that I wasn’t going to show up myself.

I have to consider that this is part new conference and part old Leadership conference. The Thursday and Friday sessions had the feel of SDE staff giving administrators information they need to know about state initiatives. The only thing really missing – besides the lavish parties thrown by vendors – was information for district officers about their actual funding. Believe it or not, that was always a big draw for districts.

The professional development part of the conference was decent. There were quite a few big name presenters: Bill Daggett, Cathy Seeley, Ray McNulty, Larry Tihen, and Ron Clark among them. I do question how much money was spent on the keynote speakers (which were not a big part of previous SDE conferences) and the impact that will really have. Anybody who has worked in education any amount of time knows that big name speakers are great, if a staff hears them together and uses the keynote address as a springboard to instructional improvement. Having a swarm of big names at the beginning of the summer heard by a lot of people from around the state – but a critical mass from few places – will have a limited impact. It had the feel of a huge tent revival; as such, the amount of backsliding will be interesting to watch.

In the end, the SDE pulled off the conference after initial hiccups in getting people interested. Thousands attended. Complications with hotels were not the agency’s fault (much like the conditions that are outside the control of school districts). I just didn’t get the feeling talking to attendees, SDE staff, and vendors, that the time and expense of the conference (not to mention the man-hours by agency employees for the last several months at taxpayer expense) were entirely worth the effort.

I’ll give it a C. And I won’t even publish protected student information if anyone wants to appeal that.

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