Whether you have kids in school, work for a school or simply watch the news, you know schools are dealing with a lot. They are going through a very difficult time, trying to modernize and keep up with the technological world around them. Schools are dealing with the software complexity of it all as they transition to the digital world, yet they lack a general understanding of how to accomplish a tech-driven comprehensive redesign.
As a result, school personnel are experiencing a kind of future shock, trying to juxtapose the outside world of Amazon and Uber with their retro work-world of Reading, Writing and Rithmatic.
Add to that, the fact that today’s learners were born into a different world and are often bored to tears with the whole traditional public-school experience, and you have a recipe for a radical change in the way school is done.
In a sweeping nationwide and soon to be published survey conducted by the Learning Counsel, schools cited the social-emotional needs of students as their number one concern – more than any other challenge they were facing. Other pressing concerns included increasing technology complexity and a growing sense of educational disequilibrium. The number one barrier cited was having an inadequate budget. But in the last thirty years, our nation’s population has grown 71 percent, while education spending has grown 434 percent.
Is it possible that more money isn’t the only, or even the best, solution?
I’ve spent a large chunk of my career covering and writing about education. I have many friends who are educators, principals and superintendents. Most of my heroes are teachers. That said, we treat education in this country as if it were untouchable. Almost sacred. It may be time to examine our priorities and to decide what education should look like in the mid-21st century. Below are some ideas that can help guide the transformation we need in our schools.
Idea #1: School is not a stepping-stone
I hear it all the time, “The purpose of school is to prepare students for what comes next,” whether that’s college, a career or success in later life. Children spend 13 or more years in public schooling. That’s about one fifth of their entire lives. The idea that such a substantial portion of someone’s life should be meaningless except to prepare him or her for what comes next is ludicrous.
We need to see school as an amazing experience that on its face has value. Why not make this time rewarding, fulfilling and fun? Maybe you enjoyed school. I hated it and couldn’t wait to get out. Sadly, school isn’t that different today, but it could be.
Idea #2: Give kids the reins
School has traditionally been about telling a kid what he will learn. Teachers were the experts, and if a teacher didn’t know it, neither should you. Today, the world’s knowledge is available at your fingertips. Why not make school a place of exploration? Let the student’s interests determine what he learns. Let teachers be the helpers, showing students how to find what they need, showing them the relevance and helping connect what they find to their own lives.
Idea #3: More tech equals less tech interference
The problem in schools isn’t too much technology, it’s that there isn’t nearly enough. Schools are overwhelmed with technology because they are trying to use disparate parts of technology, badly, to manually do the things that technology should be doing overall. Look at Amazon. Netflix. Uber. Any kid can navigate those systems and get exactly what he wants. Education should be just that easy.
Idea #4: Quit with all the rules already
Who says school has to start at 8:00? Why can’t you eat in class? Why are we all sitting in rows watching the teacher talk? Is it necessary to come to school every day? What’s with all the tests? Why do I have to follow this curriculum? Why do we have 12 grade levels? Why do we have letter grades? Why can’t I learn what I want? And seriously, what’s with all the suspensions and disciplinary actions?
Idea #5: The student is the customer
The purpose of a school is not to employ teachers. It is not to employ principals. It is not to bend students to the will of a teacher or principal or school board. It is to serve students. Without students, teachers, principals and school boards would be out of a job. They all work for the student. Not for the county. Not for the state. The student is the customer. It is the job of school employees to educate each child to the best of that child’s abilities, whether or not that child has the same abilities or interests as others. It’s not the job of school employees to educate some of the children or even a majority. If one child fails, every employee at the school fails.
Idea #6: Global Internet connectivity is a right
The idea that some children can’t afford Internet connectivity at home is absurd. Currently, Elon Musk is deploying a series of 6,000 satellites to give the world equal access to the Internet. Until that time, if we can pay $13,000 or more per student for public school, we can darn-sure pay for home Internet access for any kid that doesn’t have it. Without it, kids in poverty have no chance at having an equitable education.
Idea #7: School choice is already here. Quit arguing about it.
Well over a quarter of our children (27 percent) have already opted-out of traditional public school for private school, home school, charter school or some type of blended program that includes online classes and some school participation. We can argue over whether school choice is good or bad or will destroy public education, but it is a moot point because school choice is already here. Embrace the reality and allow parents to choose what is best for their children. In many cases, traditional public education is the best choice. In many cases, it is not. The days when every kid got on the bus and went to PS Number 73 are long gone.
For public education, technology is both the villain and the hero
Public education can be a place of exploration, where student directed learning and full personalization for every child is not only possible, it is within reach. According to LeiLani Cauthen, CEO of the Learning Counsel: “Something is going on, and the defining of it has been arduously pursued by a number of people inside education. What hasn’t been done is to draw together all the competing elements outside education to look at where education must inevitably go to “fix” it.
“The surge shorting out the education system is technology, not only by inadequate use inside education but its rate of impact on all other aspects of human industry. Technology in its present and burgeoning state actually can do a full disintermediation with fully individualized digital pathways, and people are aware that it can, yet schools don’t use it that way.
One machine can keep track of, and calculate statistics of, millions of students at once to provide recommendations for each specifically. One program can inexhaustibly redirect lessons with slight alterations to lines of questioning and examples and exercises, with infinite patience, until a student gets the right answer. Teachers cannot do these things but are not being reengineered to do what is vitally necessary – be human and meet the top line need of social and emotional development of students.”
Looking for more from Charles Sosnik at Grit Daily? Check out his full column, here.