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Bush, Wise Take to CNN; Protesters Take to Street

[UPDATED: Friday, Oct. 14, 10:30 a.m.]

Former Governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise used an appearance on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight Wednesday to announce the creation of a national "Digital Learning Day" and gain some publicity for a "Roadmap to Reform" document published by their joint effort, Digital Learning Now.

The interview was the latest in a string of media endeavors for Bush and Wise, who've attempted to use their bipartisan partnership as an impetus for consensus-building in the area of school reform, but have faced opposition from teacher advocates and from those who feel the partnership is too friendly to businesses looking to make a profit in the education space.

About 50-75 protesters picketed a conference hosted by Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education Thursday in San Francisco. Those protests came in part because of its inclusion of News Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch, who last year launched an education division within the global media conglomerate that also includes the conservative leaning—and some say teacher unfriendly—Fox News Network, as well as a British newspaper recently indicted in a phone-hacking scandal.

Bush, a former Republican Gov. of Florida and current chairman of the Tallahassee, Fla.-based Foundation for Excellence in Education, touched on the need for modernization in American education during his interview with Morgan, while also weighing in on the Republican presidential debates and why he himself was not seeking the presidency.

On technology in education, Bush told Morgan: "I think our country has rested on its laurels. The things we've relied on culturally, and politically, and economically, we've not adjusted them to the new realities. The new realities are technology has changed our lives forever, the world's moving faster, we're in a globalized economy, we have new challenges economically that never in our wildest dreams we could've ever imagined a generation ago, and yet the institutions, mostly public, that we've asked to be able to equip us have been mired in the past."

Wise, a former Democratic Governor of West Virginia and current president of the Washington-based Alliance for Excellent Education, then joined Bush to announce the launch of "Digital Learning Day," set for Feb. 1, 2012, with support from a host of regular players in the ed-tech commercial field, including Google, Intel, SMART Technologies, Epsilen, GlobalScholar, and the Pearson Foundation. Specific initiatives related to the day are unclear so far.

"We're encouraging teachers and educators across the nation to either showcase what they're already doing in digital learning, online learning, software application, whatever it is that's working," Wise said of the day, "as well as those schools and teachers and educators that aren't using digital learning, [asking] what can you do that day to promote it."

Bush and Wise have been quite effective in gaining publicity for their message, with Wednesday's appearance on CNN the latest in a string of television, print, and online media appearances. It's unclear, however, whether and how all the exposure will lead to significant change, and whether Bush and Wise can be the right leaders to mobilize districts to change.

Organizations like the State Educational Technology Directors' Association, the Consortium for School Networking, and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning all signed on to the Digital Learning Now effort, launched with a report release last November. The report centered around 10 key state-level policy changes it said are necessary to give students adequate access to quality digital content and prepare them for the contemporary workplace.

But notably absent from the report's endorsers were either the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's two largest teachers' unions, with then-NEA executive director John I. Wilson calling the suggestions "corporate" and lacking legitimate teacher input.

Protesters at the National Summit on Education Reform echoed those complaints, waving hand-made signs depicting caricatures of Bush and Murdoch. One depicted the pair with devil horns, while another read "MONEY 4 SCHOOLS, NOT 4 WAR." At least one protester wore a t-shirt representing the AFT.

Since its launch, Digital Learning Now has issued state-by-state report cards addressing progress made in each of its 10 listed categories, and today has followed that with its roadmap document it claims can help guide states to making those 10 changes effectively.

Matthew J. Cibellis of Education Week contributed to this report from San Francisco.

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