SXSWedu: Keynote with DonorsChoose.org’s Charles Best
Monday, March 9th was day one of the annual SXSWedu conference in Austin, Texas. At noon sharp, hundreds of educators, teacher leaders, administrators, entrepreneurs, tech folks, students and press sat in the Austin Convention Center eager to hear the opening keynote speech.
This year’s speaker was DonorsChoose.org’s founder Charles Best (@CharlesBest) who kicked off SXSWedu by injecting inspiration and sending the education community an important reminder: Change is not only happening, but also can lead to revolutionary innovation that can transform the way we think about and approach education. Best said,
what you have to do to bring a great idea to life.”
He called it a new marketplace where gatekeepers do not stand in our way. He said it can completely change education. What is “it” exactly? Crowdfunding. In 10-15 years, Best predicts that crowdfunding will make up a large percentage of our nation’s GDP.
There are common perceptions that crowdfunding is solely for good Samaritans or that it may lead to private citizens fixing the nation’s education system instead of the government. However, Best explains how crowdfunding is a welcome disruption and identifies three ways it can make a valuable difference.
- Crowdfunding can help entrepreneurs and inventors introduce new products and services directly to classroom teachers.
While several years ago, many innovators believed that the K-12 market was not the place to sell a product, Best argues that inventors can now “circumvent the educational and industrial complex” by directly reaching out to teachers via DonorsChoose.org (or any crowdfunding site).
- Data, data, data.
A quarter of a million or 63 percent of all schools in the United States have created thousands of projects on DonorsChoose.org. The organization now has significant statistical evidence that others in the education space can use to understand what schools truly need (e.g., technology, supplies). More than 100,000 book requests have been made on the crowdfunding website.
- Crowdfunding can incentivize teachers in a new way, providing a new take on the teacher performance pay debate.
Best notes this particular point is both provocative and controversial, but many have seen positive results. Through DonorsChoose.org, teachers have an opportunity to be rewarded with funder credits when their students perform well on specific assessment tests like the AP exams. For instance, high school teachers who helped students pass AP math and science received credits or points that changes cash currency to funder credits where teachers can use the credits to fund their own projects or their colleague’s projects. This resulted in 500+ low-income school teachers helping their students in AP math and science.
Best closed with a powerful remark: “Whether it’s to introduce new products to teachers or use data to make discoveries about what is important, or use the platform as a currency to incentivize and reward teachers for educational outcomes you’re focused on, simply use the site to see who you and passionate teachers can do when gatekeepers do not stand in your way.”
Indeed, with all new things come skepticism and resistance to change, but with 63% of U.S. schools participating on DonorsChoose.org, it is abundantly clear: When given a chance to speak out and help themselves (and others), educators will do so.
Kelly Fong is a writer and editor with more than eight years of experience in journalism. She is currently the editor for USC Rossier covering SXSWedu in Austin. She lives near Baltimore, MD.