Sesame Street comes to Google: Improving our education system at the Breakthrough Learning forum

If you could reinvent the American education system, what would you do? It's a question we think about a lot here at Google. This week we're exploring possibilities with Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age, a forum organized in cooperation with The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and Common Sense Media, with the support of the MacArthur Foundation. This event will bring together 200 of the nation’s thought leaders in science and technology, informal and formal education, entertainment media, research, philanthropy and policy to design a strategy for scaling up effective models of teaching and learning for children, with an emphasis on technology. The forum will showcase new research, proven and promising education innovation models to challenge decision-makers to refresh and reboot American global leadership in education.

There's plenty of evidence that shows that the current educational system in the U.S. needs improvement. Twenty-five years ago, President Reagan's National Commission on Excellence in Education produced "A Nation at Risk," a report which first highlighted that our country's system wasn't meeting the national need for a competitive workforce in the day's global economy. Since then, our education system has gone through great upheaval, from the state-level standards reforms in the 1990s to 2002's No Child Left Behind, which is similarly based on the belief that setting high standards measurable goals will improve individual outcomes in education. Though the intention of these reforms was to close the global achievement gap, they left many teachers and students feeling restricted to teaching and learning "to the test." And we're still seeing disheartening results; the U.S. is currently ranked 25th of OECD countries in math scores and 24th in science scores according to the PISA 2006 Science Competencies for Tomorrow's World report. And according to McKinsey's Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America's Schools report, if the U.S. had in recent years closed the gap between its educational achievement levels and those of higher-performing nations, our GDP in 2008 could have been $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion higher. That's 9 to 16 percent of GDP!

Fortunately, there are people today who are working to change these statistics. One is tonight's keynote speaker, Geoff Canada, founder of the Harlem Children's Zone. The Harlem Children's Zone combines educational, social and medical services with the goal of reaching all of the children in Harlem. Another organization addressing the issue is the MacArthur Foundation, which has created the Digital Media and Learning Project to explore the effects of digital media on young people and its implications for the future of learning and education. And we can't forget Sesame Workshop, which this year celebrates 40 years of educating children with Muppets and media.

There's great hope for American education, as long as we can work toward innovative solutions that not only allow students distinct educational experiences tailored to their interests and abilities, but also drive toward a common goal of assessable success. Students today are technologists too, and embracing that familiarity and bringing it into the classroom will help teachers and students better engage and work together to teach and learn. Most importantly, we need to support our teachers, principals and administrators — the true agents of change who tirelessly and passionately work to connect with each and every student that passes through their classrooms. The Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age forum is one step we're taking to address some of our most pressing national education system issues.

If you're interested in joining us at the forum, we'll be broadcasting live on the web both today and tomorrow. We welcome your questions and ideas to help us shape our discussions. Go to to participate and learn more.