The author of What Schools Could Be showcases what is right with public schools.
Ted Dintersmith had a mission. He travelled to 50 states in a single school year visiting hundreds of schools. He wanted to write a book about what he thought was the need to redefine education. Instead, what he found on his road trip was hardworking, dedicated educators in ordinary settings creating extraordinary lesson plans and school environments.
“We have experts in our schools,” said Dintersmith, a former venture capitalist who received the NEA Friend of Education Award Tuesday during the 2018 NEA Representative Assembly. “They are just not at the top of our education pyramid.”
At the school level, Dintersmith observed students who enjoyed learning as they gained academic knowledge as well as essential life skills and a sense of purpose. The resulting book, What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America, chronicles what educators and students can accomplish when given the freedom to teach beyond standardized tests.
“Ted is committed to positive change for our students, educators and public schools,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “He sees that good public schools are the foundation of our society.”
Dintersmith addressed the audience as he does in one of his TED Talk presentations, out front at the top of the stage minus a podium.
“I’m blown away by the dedication, expertise, and passion of our teachers,” said Dintersmith, known as one of the nation’s leading advocates of student-centered, teacher-led practices and policies. “You guys just lift people up.”
The passions and convictions of educators may not be enough to overcome what Dintersmith called the “growing divide between opportunity and income.”
“I’m worried we’re becoming a country of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich,” he said. “I’ve never been more worried.”
Yet, he remains optimistic, he said, because of recent marches by students to enact stricter gun control laws, walkouts by educators in several states to improve school funding, and the Red for Ed movement.
“My optimism has jumped because of the people in this room,” said Dintersmith, whose contributions to education include film, books, and philanthropy. “We (nation) saw how you fight for your kids.”
Dintersmith, a father of two, has devoted most of his time as well as millions of dollars from his personal fortune to education-related initiatives geared toward remaking what and how students
learn. He is a partner emeritus with Charles River Ventures, a leading early-stage venture capital firm. He has served on the board of the National Venture Capital Association, chairing its public policy committee. Independent industry analysts ranked Dintersmith as the top-performing venture capitalist in the United States from 1995 to 1999. He was an executive at Analog Devices and worked on Capitol Hill on science and technology policy. He earned a doctorate in engineering from Stanford University.
He financed and produced “Most Likely To Succeed,” a documentary feature film that reveals the growing shortcomings of conventional education methods.”
In his presentation, Dintersmith noted the “hypocrisy” of those who support the Let’s Make America Great Again movement.
“They give tax breaks to the rich instead of funding education in our country,” he said.
The NEA Friend of Education Award, presented each year during NEA’s Representative Assembly, recognizes a person or organization whose leadership, acts or support have significantly contributed to the improvement of American public education.
Dintersmith joins previous award recipients: Nobel-prize winners Malala Yousafzai and economist Paul Krugman; education policy writer and researcher Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond; leaders of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB); U.S. Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and William Jefferson Clinton; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); U. S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley; Sen. Edward Ted” Kennedy.