The first two paragraphs of the following are from comments I made on Larry Cuban’s reposting of a blog post made by Gary Rubenstein titled “Evil Geniuses or Good Simpletons?” The rest of this post flowed from those first two paragraphs.
Thanks for posting this Larry, and writing it, Gary. I completely agree with the “emergent behavior” characterization, whether the outcome is for good or bad. Public education continues to be the recipient of a multitude of unintended consequences mostly based on the well-intentioned, but misguided efforts of reformers. At the same time, as mentioned, there are those who conspire to influence the efforts of reformers for selfish, greedy reasons.
Notwithstanding the presumed righteousness of their efforts, I disagree with much of the education reformers’ plank(s), especially the obsessive use of standardized tests to classify and label students, teachers, administrators, schools, districts, states, and yes, our country. Yet, as a new entrant to education, recently transitioning from a quarter century in corporate America to teaching high school mathematics, I continue to be stunned at how arcane our public education system is today. While there have been a variety of disparate architectures, processes, and roles employed over time, none have coalesced to serve as an effective best practice to emulate, in part or in whole. I do not know why that continues to be the case. Is it due to inadequate funding? Outdated assumptions? Intransigent unions? Increasing poverty? Confounding variables? Mixing all the above?
Similar to Ron Edmonds’ admonition from 1982, I firmly believe that we have the knowledge of what it takes to help each student learn to his / her fullest potential. Doing so requires a passionate, dedicated, and aligned set of teachers, administrators, and district staff empowered to fulfill fully funded local, state, and federal mandates and willing to adapt their efforts, as mutually determined, to be most effective. For now, let’s call it the supply side. Matched to the supply side, a student’s direct participation and active interest, with a willingness to make recommended, realistic adjustments, must be supported by their family / guardian(s) and community for maximal learning to occur. Call this the demand side. Any misalignment in these two sides will degrade learning. However, matching them is not that difficult if all parties are willing and able. What is difficult, and the likely roadblock for adoption, is a sustainable vision, framework, and source of funds for after-school support by persons from the extended community for students who lack those services at home. The majority of students living in poverty, or homes of limited financial means, do not have parents adequately prepared to guide them in their journey through public education.
Over the past century, tens of millions of very successful students have moved through private- and public education when the sides were well matched. Unfortunately, in public schools this progression has broken down often for hundreds of millions of students for a variety of reasons on both sides, to include the challenges poverty places on students, their parents / guardians, and communities. These challenges conspire to prevent disadvantaged students from attaining higher levels of education. Unless, and until, poverty is eradicated, or supplemental funds are available to give sustained, effective after-school support for students, tens of millions, and more, of children will not reach their fullest potential in public schools. The cumulative effect on our nation will be devastating as few will be able to afford to survive on their own without governmental help. We will become an impoverished nation, on the whole, with a miniscule minority of super wealthy living in a separate world. Even the minority should worry since the outsize differential in lifestyle and quality of life is not sustainable without a consumer class generating profits for the wealthy.
We do not have to let this scenario play out. I believe we are on the brink of a massive technological disruption in education, where teachers may finally be able to offer true differentiated learning environments tuned to an individual student’s needs. What I describe should be possible within a short amount of time, given the advent of blended learning models, as long as the financial will exists. Online resources, coupled with intelligent, adaptive, and pedagogically sound educational software purposely designed to integrate into a variety of in-classroom teaching methods will enable highly effective, blended learning models. The specific blend for maximum knowledge transfer will be determined on a student-by-student basis, which is realistic once investment, development, testing, trialing, and full-scale deployment of teacher-blessed systems occur.
In essence, these systems are added pedagogical tools for a teacher to use. Lest I am not clear, a teacher must be in the loop in this envisioned system or all will fail, or run amok. Hardware, software, and any technology are simply tools with which teachers may improve their effectiveness, and students’ theirs. Any attempt to lower the educational qualifications of teachers in this model is misguided, too. Intelligent, passionate, and reflective teachers must drive this system; otherwise, students will not reach their full potential. Lastly, equitable access is essential to serve all students.
Significant investments in information technology infrastructure must precede full-scale deployment of these systems. Before one piece of equipment or software is purchased, or defined, system architects, working alongside teachers, must define the blended learning system needed to deliver individualized online instructional and assessment support from which teachers guide student learning. In class, whole class lecture, discussions, and other interactions will continue to be critical for pedagogical and social reasons, as well as to make sure proper formative assessments, accommodations, supplementary instruction, and other interventions are made by certificated teachers.
The real question facing public educators today is whether our local, state, and federal governments, as well as parents, teachers, and administrators, recognize the fallacy of continuing with a public school system initially optimized for a nineteenth-century agrarian lifestyle, then modified to reap the “benefits” of early twentieth-century industrial processes? Once these groups recognize the necessity to match supply with demand for all students in public education, as happens naturally for a select class of students today, then our nation may once again offer hope to the downtrodden that through hard work, determination, and a helping hand, they may realize the wonder of the American Dream, and thus continue our forefather’s great American experiment.