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Education conferences are missing out on important voices

5 min read


Education conferences are missing out on some very important voices these days. They’re voices that come with unknown names because we have not heard of them. I know that sounds odd but there are educators who should be presenting at state and national conferences but they can’t … for a variety of reasons. However, these amazing teachers and principals are presenting at Edcamps.

At this point, we have all heard and read blogs about Edcamps. They are a growing trend that are referred to as an “unconference.” Edcamps provide the opportunity for any educator to attend or present at no cost. Free just isn’t something you hear about very often! And free is something that most state and national conferences aren’t … even for presenters.

Over the years, I’ve presented at many state and national conferences but I have noticed the attendance level has gone down. In conversations, I’ve heard conference directors complain that attendance is way down … sometimes almost in half. The excuse is that schools don’t have the budgets anymore to send teachers and administrators to conferences, which is true. They also say that educators just don’t have the time to attend conferences.

Unfortunately, the reason why education conference attendance is low is not just due to budget deficiencies. The attendance to education conferences has gone down because the cost of education conferences is ridiculous and has almost gotten to the point that they are now reserved for only the elite who can afford them.

Some national conferences cost as much as a Disney vacation by the time educators are finished paying for airfare or gas when they drive their car, hotel room, meals and the conference fee. And pre- and post-conference events  are another cost. Who can afford that? However, instead of changing their practices, a majority of conference directors keep pushing forward.

College loans to pay for presenting

Presenting at national conferences is a big honor, or at least it should be, because getting in is more like a game of Survivor than anything else. Those interested in presenting have to fill out the proposal about 9 months to a year in advance. They have to wait about 6 months before they hear that they have been accepted.

And then they’re off…

It’s time to book a flight which is not cheap. Presenters have to book a room and plan how many days they want to stay at the hotel and whether they can afford to stay a few nights to catch some other speakers. But when they think they are done paying for room, board and travel … they get hit with the conference fee. Don’t worry though, because since you’re the presenter you will get a discounted rate, which still isn’t cheap!

Just when presenters think that they are finished using their credit card … the cost of the materials needed for the presentation get e-mailed to them. Fortunately, they can bring their own laptop and many conferences offer an LCD projector and screen but there are state conferences that still only offer an overhead. Don’t worry though … for a fee, presenters can get an LCD projector!

One of the other additional costs that is rather mindboggling these days is the cost of Internet access. Even though most hotels have wireless for guests somehow presenters have to pay an extra fee for Internet. At a recent conference, the extra fee was almost $1000.00! Who would pay that to present for 90 minutes? It’s difficult to present on technology when presenters can’t afford Internet access.

All in all, presenters who want the professional experience of presenting at a state or national conference may walk out of the event with a cost of a small college loan. At this point in our lives, the cost of presenting should just not be that expensive anymore.

Presenters, and not just the ones with big names, should get a break.

In the end

The major problem with education conferences these days is that the expensive rates means that many educators may not get the experience of presenting or attending, and they will opt for Edcamps. However, Edcamps aren’t happening everywhere yet, so there are attendees who are missing out on the voices of some really valuable presenters because those presenters cannot afford the cost.

These are the voices of really creative presenters who don’t just stand at the front of the room and regurgitate philosophy. These are the voices of creative individuals who flawlessly use technology in their classroom and don’t even know how special they are. Truth be told, I attended a conference lately and the only thing I could think of is the fact that one of my teachers could blow these people out of the water.

The point of an education conference is to not just see the Rolling Stones of education like Michael Fullan or Todd Whitaker. The point of education conferences is to catch a glimpse of educators who have a voice worth listening to and learning from. Unfortunately, as the costs of conferences go up, the chance of seeing these worthwhile presenters will be few and far between.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D is principal of Poestenkill Elementary School in Averill Park, N.Y. He blogs at Finding Common Ground for Education Week and wrote “Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students” (Corwin Press). Peter is the School Administrators Association of New York State (SAANYS) 2013 NY State Outstanding Educator. He can be found at Connect with DeWitt on Twitter @PeterMDeWitt.