Somewhere I heard a good portrayal of our US Education System — if a student from 1910 was able to time travel to today’s classroom. It would be one of the few places they would recognize and feel at home. Pens, pencils, chalk, textbooks, backpacks and a teacher at the front of the classroom transferring information and building basic skills to a large group of students. This was a good model 100 years ago when mass communication, transportation, computers and the internet didn’t exist. Back then, content was centralized in a few places and it had to travel via people and textbooks. Today, our schools are pretty much designed the same way and for the most part we are not taking advantage of the technology that is available. Let me be clear, I am not blaming teachers, it is the system that needs to be re-visited.
Last week, I had the privilege of representing Intel at The Innovation in Education Series at the Aspen Institute hosted in Washington, DC. The main speakers were Joel Rose, CEO of the School of One in NYC, Michael Horn, co-author of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change How the World Learns and Blair Levin, previously the White House lead author of the National Broadband Plan.
There were three clear messages that the panelist and the audience of experts discussed:
1) We need a Moore’s lawfor Education – Education expenditures scale linearly, there are no efficiencies built into the system. We have spent more money in the last 20 years and yet student achievement is flat to down. We used to lead the world in the number of 25 to 34-year-olds with college degrees. Now we rank 12th among 36 developed nations. At the same time, we are in the middle of financial crisis. We have no choice, we need to get much better outcomes with less funding. Some good news is that States have taken the initiative (forty of them) to develop common k-12 standards that will prepare students for college or career.
2) Mass customization and standardization – Imagine yourself as a 4th grade teacher. On the first day of school, you get 25 students and you have to cover some number of topics and all of the students have to get to grade level by end of the year. Let’s take math and fractions for example, some of those kids will already understand the concept, some students need a bit more practice and others are still struggling with adding numbers and are way behind. Every one of those kids is at a skill different level. As a teacher, do you prepare 25 different lessons or do you just aim for the middle? And you have the same problem with reading, writing, science and social studies not to mention the social and emotional development of the students. You can imagine the complexity and the need for some tools that can help. Here is where customization comes in.
What if you had a system that can assess and track student progress against the learning standards during the day and the teachers, parents and students can see that information. The teacher can then use that information to develop individualized learning plans. Here is where standardization comes in.
In the course of education history, some teacher somewhere has developed a good lesson plan that will help a struggling student understand fractions. The problem is that it rarely leaves that classroom or that school and forget about crossing state boundaries. Using technology we can collect, analyze and asses different teaching resources (videos, software, peer learning, tutoring) that address the specific needs of the students. We can then marry the customized student plan with a standardized learning solution. Note, I am NOT taking the teacher out of the equation, you still need their expertise to assess the solution, what we are really doing is giving teachers more tools and freeing up time to be spent where they can add the most value. This solution is already happening in the math center at School of One in NYC.
3) Value outcomes and not time – The concept is very simple, if you know the material, go on to the next level. Our funding formulas are not based on outcomes. They are based on seat time. Schools get money if the student is the classroom occupying a seat. If the student knows the material, he/she should be able to go the next level and the funding formula should be flexible enough to allow for that.
All of the pieces for a system redesign are there, but they are scattered and are not embraced. We need to move beyond the divisive rhetoric of charters vs. public or union vs. non-union, because we are missing the bigger picture and the system will continue to produce unacceptable results. To quote Einstein, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”