Why cities must make learning part of their job (or risk the consequences)

Wed, 2014-11-12 06:00 -- SCC Staff

A book released this fall by education advocate Tom Vander Ark spells out why learning is essential to the health of cities. Smart Cities That Work for Everyone: 7 Keys to Education & Employment discusses the importance learning has on the health of cities and provides a framework for action and tools for implementation.

The book follows a two-year investigation into the civic formula required to dramatically boost learning outcomes on employability. It determined:

  • The ability for an economy to grow over time -- and its ability to innovate -- is strongly tied to quality education provided for everyone -- early learning to adult training
  • Skills and intellectual capital are becoming increasingly important in a modern economy
  • Schools play a key role in the development of these valuable skills

But Vander Ark believes it’s not enough to leave the job of learning to the education community alone.

"Learning is no longer just the job of education. Learning is everyone’s job; families, neighborhoods, schools and cities," he says. Vander Ark was a public school superintendent in Washington State and served as the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He is currently CEO of Getting Smart, an education advocacy firm, and a partner at Learn Capital, an education venture fund.

The civil rights issue of our time
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson agrees that cities can't overlook the importance of learning. “It is critical to understand the importance of good schools to the health of cities,” he said, "If you want to reduce crime and poverty, you need a good education system—it’s the great equalizer, it’s the passport, it’s the civil rights issue of our time.”

Adrian Fenty, former mayor of Washington, D.C. recalls that when he took office in 2007, test scores were among the lowest in the country.  “On my first day in office, we introduced legislation to take control of our public schools. It was a bold idea and part of a hands-on approach to city government and while they caused controversy they quickly boosted academic results."

A smart city priority
Vander Ark's book in many ways reflects the guidance in the Council's Smart Cities Readiness Guide launched in November 2013 and updated in July of this year. "Education and skill development are a priority in a smart city," the Guide asserts. "They provide opportunities for all ages and all levels, ranging from toddler story hours at the public library to computer classes at the senior center. K-12 education, workforce training programs and higher education are all essential. But today education is mostly stuck in the physical world. With the right deployment of ICT, cities can revolutionize the connection between student and teacher, school and learning."

If you haven't downloaded the latest version of the Readiness Guide, you can do so here if you are a Council member. Not a member? Join for free by filling out a brief, one-time registration form. As a member you have access to premium content and other special benefits.