Given the urgent recognition nationally that we are, in many areas, failing our children and falling behind other countries in educational performance, and in equipping our children with the skills essential to compete in the 21st century economy, it was an easy decision to feature education in our 2011 Aspen Ideas Festival. There are few areas that will have a greater longterm effect on employment, productivity and innovation than improved education — and importantly, to reverse the widening gap of inequality that is so destructive not only to America's poor but to American ideals, values and international respect.
For more than 35 years, Aspen Institute programs have been at the cutting edge of thinking and acting about how best to improve the K-12 performance of American schoolchildren. Aspen's education programs are diverse in methods and broad in focus, from K-12 generally to urban high schools to community colleges to reforming entrepreneurs. Each strives to bring people together who can make a difference — from government, universities, business, unions, civil rights and community organizations, and philanthropy — for high-level, non-ideological learning and discussion committed to helping our educational system meet the demands of the 21st century.
Our Education and Society Program was founded in 1974 and is at the heart of the Institute's education work. It brings together local, state and national leaders to examine programs and ideas that work and to disseminate them widely.
The Institute is the home for the Commission on No Child Left Behind. Recently it has sponsored a major national convening on Education Innovation, in Washington, D.C., and one in Silicon Valley, along with the New Schools Venture Fund.
We also sponsor the Aspen Institute-New Schools Fellows Program. Modeled on the Institute's Henry Crown Fellowship, this program selects approximately 20 fellows a year from the ranks of the most compelling young leaders across the education landscape and gives them the opportunity to learn from and inspire each other.
Finally, the Institute entered higher education in a major way. Announced at the White House by the President, we will sponsor and award the Aspen Institute Prize for Community College Excellence. Our work in this critical and understudied sector will define excellence around learning, completion and labor outcomes. We will spotlight those that deliver exceptional results and stimulate their replication across the country.
And later this year we will launch a roundtable on Higher Education Excellence to be led by Drew Faust of Harvard and Freeman Hrabowski, III of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Our work in education continues to the graduate and professional level as well. Our Business and Society Program has a keen focus on what is wrong in business education, especially possible links between how ethics and finance are taught and some of the failures of our business leadership. Its Beyond Grey Pinstripes program is making important differences in business school curriculum and pedagogy.
So, you can see why it is natural for Aspen to assemble such a remarkable group of education thinkers and doers for our Ideas Festival. We are perhaps the leading institution in the country that convenes experts to focus on tough problems and to develop real solutions. It is thus easy for us to do the same for our important guests and the national media at the Ideas Festival.
Elliot Gerson is executive vice president for policy and public programs, and international partnerships, at the Aspen Institute.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.