Future Vision 2025 Teachers: No more “just” a Teacher

One needs to have a vision of a future one is aiming for. And some way to tell if progress has been made. The series of 7 short posts, Future Vision 2025, describes some of my mission milestones, not predictions. They are aspirational, and framed as observations or inferences one could be making by 10 years from now. What’s noticeably different in 2025 when one examines students, parents, teachers; learning, assessment, media & society, and the globe? How and just when the milestones are reached are not addressed. Some milestones are indicated by the emergence of something ‘new’ (at least at robust scale), but many are well-marked simply by the fading away of something familiar and comfortable.

Teachers 2025

Drumbeats

In 2025, teaching as a profession is gaining respect.

It is gaining respect because the drumbeat from frustration with test scores failure has been stilled. The drumbeat has been stilled by clearly improved performance, both on domestic measures and in international comparisons. Key have been NAEP scores are improving markedly, as well as rising U.S. rankings in the international comparisons of PISA and TIMSS.

The drumbeat has also been stilled by an overall sense of progress and improvement: the educational playing field has been made more level through a smarter policy of enlightened self-interest. For example, government goals to provide quality early childhood education experiences, regardless of any parent’s economic ability to provide them, are by now as prevalent as health and nutritional programs were in 2015.

The beat has been stilled by data showing that the floor of the “achievement gap” is rising dramatically, at scale, across the U.S. Moreover, for the upper edge of the “gap”, all is not flat. Proficient or advanced students are also gaining through deep learning which plumbs far beyond just good scores. All students are growing their talents more than ever before.

Teachers encourage their student’s thirst for deeper learning via dramatically more engaging digital learning environments. The last ten years have, finally, empirically confirmed teachers’ belief that all students can learn challenging material. The experience of teaching practice  itself, with the latest digital tools, organically fills gaps in teachers’ own understanding in real time. And the goals of school itself are more tangibly clear and relevant. In the area of mathematics, for example, teachers understand that the meta-purpose of math education is to provide children with flexible, powerful raw thinking machinery for future general learning and problem-solving.

Teachers as a group are more autonomous than ever, skillfully wielding powerful digital tools to productively engage every learner. Publisher integrated content and tools suites have very obviously matured far beyond what any individual teacher would ever dream of putting together themselves via Google. Teacher job satisfaction is markedly up – because teachers are achieving their own goals for more of their own students: positively influencing lives.

Teacher pre-service training and professional development programs of course assume that teachers will be provided with requisite, powerful digital tools. So this training gives them the expectations and distinctions to recognize which tools are appropriate and effective for which purposes. Freshly-minted teachers are more quickly effective in the classroom. Experienced, creative teachers have more opportunities than ever before to focus on their highest level of value-add, via customization, enrichment, and knowing their individual students, having trading in all their prior low level management of classroom, content, and data.

Teacher-practitioners have earned this newfound level of respect from their students, from parents, from administrators, from the community, and, importantly, feel it deeply within. No more, “I’m just a teacher.”

If you tried to take digital content and tools away from teachers, they would go on strike.

Tagged , , , , ,

Hold Content Accountable Too: a scalable Method

This post originally was published on Tom VanderArk’s “VanderArk on Innovation” blog on Edweek. It was also published on GettingSmart. The following is an edited version.

Specific programs and content, not just teachers and ‘teacher quality’, must be held accountable for student outcomes. A recent study published by WestEd shows how, given certain program conditions, cost-effective and rigorous student test score evaluations of a digitally-facilitated program can now be pursued, annually, at any time in any state.

Historically, the glare of the student results spotlight has been so intensely focused on teachers alone, that the programs and content ‘provided’ to teachers have often not even been recorded. Making the case for the vital importance of paying attention is this scathing white paperChoosing Blindly, Instructional Materials, Teacher Effectiveness, and the Common Core, from the Brown Center on Educational Policy’s Matthew Chingos and Grover Whitehurst.  The good news is: digital programs operated by education publishers for schools organically generate a record of where and when they were used.

Today’s diversity of choices in digital content – choices about scope, vehicles, approaches & instructional design – is far greater than the past’s teacher-selection-committee picking among “Big 3” publishers’ textbook series. This wide variety means content can no longer be viewed as a commodity; as if it were merely a choice among brands of gasoline. Some of this new content may run smoothly in your educational system, yet some may sputter and stall, while others may achieve substantially more than normal mileage or power.

It is important to take advantage of this diversity, important to search for more powerful content. The status quo has not been able to deliver results improvements in a timely manner at scale. And spearheaded by goals embodied in the Common Core, we are targeting  much deeper student understanding, while retaining last decade’s goals of demonstrably reaching all students. In this pursuit, year after year, the teachers and students stay the same. What can change are the content and programs they use; ‘programs’ including the formal training programs we provide to our teachers.

But how do you tell what works? This has been extremely challenging in the education field, due in equal measures to a likely lack of programs that do work significantly better, to the immense and hard-to-replicate variations in program use and school cultures, and to the high cost, complexity, and delay inherent in conventional rigorous, experimental evaluations.

But. There is a cost-effective, universally applicable way for a large swath of content or programs to be rigorously evaluated: do they add value vs. business-as-usual. The method is straightforward, requires no pre-planning, can be applied in arrears, and is replicable across years, states, and program-types. It can cover every school in a state, thus taking into account all real-world variability, and it’s seamless across districts, aggregating up to hundreds of schools.

To be evaluated via this method, the program must be:

  1. able to generate digital records of where/when/how-much it was used at a grade
  2. in a grade-level and subject (e.g. 3-8 math) that posts public grade-average test scores
  3. a full curriculum program (so that summative assessments are valid)
  4. in use at 100% of the classrooms/teachers in each grade (so that grade-average assessment numbers are valid)
  5. new to the grade (i.e. evaluating the first one or two years of use)
  6. adopted at sufficient “n” within a state (e.g. a cohort of ~25 or more school sites)

Every program, in every state, every year, that meets the above criteria can be studied, whether for the first time or to validate continuing effectiveness. The data is waiting in state and NCES research files to be used, in conjunction with publisher records of school/grade program usage. This example illustrates a quasi-experimental study to high standards of rigor.

It may be too early for this level of accountability to be palatable for many programs just yet. Showing robust, positive results requires the program itself be actually capable of generating differential program efficacy. And of course some program outcomes are not measured via standardized test scores. There will be many findings of small effect sizes, many implementations which fail, and much failure to show statistical significance. External factors may confound the findings. Program publishers would need to report out failures as well as successes. But the alternative is to continue in ignorance, rely only on peer word-of-mouth recommendations, or make do with a handful of small ‘gold-standard’ studies on limited contexts.

The potential to start applying this method now for many programs exists. Annual content evaluations can become a market norm, giving content an annual seat at the accountability table alongside teachers, and stimulating competition to improve content and its implementation.

 

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Future Vision 2025 Parents: the “Same” is no longer good enough

One needs to have a vision of a future one is aiming for. And some way to tell if progress has been made. The series of 8 short posts, Future Vision 2025, describes some of my mission milestones, not predictions. They are aspirational, and framed as observations or inferences one could be making by 10 years from now. What’s noticeably different in 2025 when one examines students, parents, teachers; learning, assessment, media & society, and the globe? How and just when the milestones are reached are not addressed. Some milestones are indicated by the emergence of something ‘new’ (at least at robust scale), but many are well-marked simply by the fading away of something familiar and comfortable.

Parents 2025

Parents see that 2025’s learning environments for their children are different, and superior, to what they went through as students themselves – just as they expect to see that 2025’s medical options are different and superior to what was available 30 or more years previously.

Parents are noticing positive results for their children, including a background of more general satisfaction with school and learning, and higher confidence in their ability to learn challenging content – presented by teachers with new tools and in new ways.

They are even beginning to expect improvements in schooling. Rather than dig in their heels resisting classroom changes, insisting on schooling “the way I know it worked just fine for me,” parents are starting to believe in progress – because they finally see it working in their own family. They can see and hear their children apply more of their school day “book-learning” to their every day “real world”. Parents notice that for their children, school learning is making more sense, in ways it never did for the parent.

Some parents would even be upset if they found out that their child was receiving ‘only’ the good old familiar and comfortable lecture & practice that the parent remembers from their own schooling. Because they know it can and should be better for their child. Nevertheless, the inertia and familiarity of the same-old same-old keeps it the safe, default choice for education decision-makers.

So, grass roots movements have formed among highly-involved parents of school children to encourage and support teachers through the adoption and quality implementation of proven, though unfamiliar, techniques and tools – in stark contrast to the last many decades of those same highly-involved parents’ rigid adherence to the status quo, based on their conviction that whatever is new could only be degrading learning for their children.

Tagged , , ,

Future Vision 2025 Students: Adios Highlighting

One needs to have a vision of a future one is aiming for. And some way to tell if progress has been made. The series of 8 short posts, Future Vision 2025, describes some of my mission milestones, not predictions. They are aspirational, and framed as observations or inferences one could be making by 10 years from now. What’s noticeably different in 2025 when one examines students, parents, teachers; learning, assessment, media & society, and the globe? How and just when the milestones are reached are not addressed. Some milestones are indicated by the emergence of something ‘new’ (at least at robust scale), but many are well-marked simply by the fading away of something familiar and comfortable.

Studenhighlighted textbookts 2025

Afternoons and nights of laptop in lecturehunching over textbooks with highlighters, cramming facts and formulae, are no longer the dominant study mode – something new has finally supplanted it.

Lecture ‘absorption’ is no longer dominantly a note-taking exercise (by 2015, having gone ‘digital’ courtesy of Moore’s law and wi-fi to distraction-filled laptops).

Students believe in their capacity to achieve mastery over complex subject matter – whatever they set out to learn. Students believe their investment of time will be both efficient and productive. Students have the autonomy to choose the pace and depth of learning as appropriate to their purposes. They see learning as worthwhile and often exciting.

Student expectations of the learning process have expanded beyond the downloading of knowledge and acquisition of skills, to the opportunity to upload high quality “solutions” to real leading-edge problems, including creative works.

Tagged , , , ,

Common Core meme provocation and response – 9 ways to Go Faster!

The “Angry Mother Destroys Common Core” internet meme got my goat when I browsed the comments section. I grant that the actual meme problem was overbearing (it’s the “write a letter to Jack”  about subtraction error using the number line). But in the comments I saw a lot of complaints about how the number line approach was not the fastest way to the answer, and thus a confusing waste. Not those commenters’ faults in a way; they are just sticking with the one-right-way paradigm about math they were taught back in the day.

So I yielded to temptation and uploaded a response comment on the meme’s thread, sharing here for (I hope) your amusement:

Apparently to many folks, the Fastest way to get to The Answer is the Point of math. Here are 9 ways to go faster:

1) Memorize lots of formulas – as many as you can.
2) Once it seems to you like one of your formulas can be applied, run it.
3) Even for addition, use a calculator (We all have one in our phones, sweet!)
4) Download a powerful calculator that has lots of formulas pre-coded for you to just punch in a few #’s. Less memorizing!
5) Have your mom do the problem for you (that’s faster, right?)
6) Have your mom just give you the answer (now we’re getting fast!)
7) Have your smartphone solve it (it knows more than Mom!) http://www.nydailynews.com/…/new-photomath-app…
8) Don’t answer the question – heck what difference does it make if you answer someone else’s canned math question anyway?
9) Don’t even bother taking a math class and save yourself years of grief – other people know how to do the math that you can’t do with a calculator or app anyhow, right? And aren’t there lots of people to tell you they never broke out a binomial or even an ‘x’ in their worklife, ever, so what a waste?

Oh, and now that speed has been served, please enjoy your trip into the real world after school, where people get good pay if they can solve real problems via pattern recognition, efficient problem abstractions, and a myriad of hierarchical solution methods, using logical thinking. Within a few months of hiring on, managers know who can solve problems and who is weak. Calculators don’t cut it.

Oh yeah one more thing: in the real world there is no 1 right answer in the back of the book.

My kids will see your kids out in the world competing for jobs. Good luck to them all!

Tagged , ,

A Cynical Comment on the Future of College Prices

This is a comment on the Swail Letter on Education’s post: The Continuing Nightmare: Tuition and Fees will Double in Less Than 20 Years. The Swail Letter is a hard-hitting commentary on fundamental and unsustainable issues in higher education by my acquaintance Watson Scott Swail of the Educational Policy Institute.

I’m no economist, but am a parent with a “top 10″ graduating high school senior next Wednesday (insane California school year end date). To me it is obvious that (with respect to a traditional bachelor’s degree at a non-state-supported college) the market is simply in a logical process of increasing prices up to what the market will “bear”. Which means, up to a level ultimately where it becomes a coin-flip as to whether it’s better economically to attend college, at that price, or to go straight into the workforce. So, no more “good deals” on a college education. There used to be for sure, which is part of the frustration for my generation: I got two Physics degrees from UCLA for <$1,000 per year tuition+fees.

How could there be good deals in the future? Only if there is competition on price, which for major college brands there definitely is none of. And even then only if customers decide the lower-priced brands are worth paying less for. In the auto market, Hyundai cleverly built an offer and a brand to take market share at the low end of price. It took 25 years.

I must say “more power” to the following degree programs, but as parent in the market for an employee-boost for my child, and as a hiring manager, the brand of WGU or Straighter-Line or even ASU-online currently says: as a student I didn’t have what it takes to make it into a brand name, rigorous selection, high quality program.

Like driving a Kia to a first date might say to a potential future spouse: I don’t have much in the way of financial wherewithal.

School brands say a lot about us to others and especially to ourselves for our entire lives, we drape ourselves in our alma mater’s brand. The only doors out of this trap I see currently are for the “smartest money” to be perceived as following Peter Thiel’s lead and discounting the value of a traditional degree; focusing instead on acquiring and taking work-valued competencies to the market as fast as possible. Such that the future entrepreneurs, the smartest kids from high school and their parents, consciously choose and follow that de Facto Gates/Zuckerberg/Jobs path. And the next smartest money grits its teeth and discounts brand, working the system: get 1 year of credit while in high school. Get the sophomore year in at a community college. And then transfer into the closest cheapest nearby state-school for the last 2 years as a commuter student to get the sheepskin “badge” that’s required for any job. 5 years in if you play your cards right, the brand will fade in comparison to experience and accomplishments.

A 1988 Hyundai Excel did get you from A to B safely and on time. Cheaply.

However, I would bet then that based on demand, state school tuition goes up even faster than your doubling prediction of 17 years…it has a long way to rise before becomes an obviously bad financial deal!

And the $400k on-site private residential bachelors degree keeps its price point but is a luxury for the upper class, the 1%, and also for those who are deemed worthy of full-ride financial aid.

Under what scenario can anyone imagine multiple accessible and equivalently valued college brands start seriously competing on price like Toyota and Honda and Ford? I’d like to seriously know.

At least athletics are valued in America with plenty of scholarships, right?

The Digital Learning Revolution is not Glossy. (Or LTE.)

The Digital Learning Revolution Will Not Be Glossy. Or LTE.

First posted on Sums&Solutions blog.
Part one of a multi-part series

The true Digital Learning Revolution has not yet arrived. If you go into a classroom and see every student with an iPad on wifi, full 1:1, you are not necessarily seeing a Digital Learning Revolution. Counting what type and how glossy and how many are the digital devices is not how you tell.

Because the Digital Learning Revolution is not about digitizing conventional learning. Nor even about increasing access.

It’s not about digitized problem sets – even if they are gamified. Not even if the problems are scored instantly; nor even if the problem sequence can be varied based on responses (aka “adaptive learning”). Textbook-like problems presented digitally, no matter how entertainingly wrapped in back-story, music, interesting side-bar links, procedural hints and immersive 3-D exploration, are still just this: use previously memorized patterns and procedures to get THE right answer.

It’s not about digitized asynchronous lectures. By their nature they are not interactive. They are passive. Yes, even if talking heads and filmed overhead grease pen scrawls have moved from VHS-access in the 70’s to YouTube-access 40 years later, lectures are not the Digital Learning Revolution.

And it’s especially not about the advent of the latest digital hardware vehicles. Tsunamis of digital hardware have washed into many classrooms, many times. From Apple IIe’s in the 1980’s to Apple iPad II’s in the teens. With interactive whiteboards somewhere in between. First off, the change in how most subjects were taught day to day was minimal. Worse, it did not become the “new normal” for students or teachers to even just use them day to day. There was no killer app. No deep penetration. No Digital Learning Revolution – yet.

Of course, revolutionizing the learning itself depends on the content IN the digital vehicles, a point powerfully made in this excellent white paperChoosing Blindly, Instructional Materials, Teacher Effectiveness, and the Common Core, from the Brown Center on Educational Policy’s Chingos and Whitehurst.  And if that content is just a digitization of the conventional, then no matter how glossy and retina-resolution the screen, no matter how anywhere or anytime or speedy the access, the learning will still be “conventional” learning. By the way, how well has a focus on conventional learning, a focus where the content is considered a commodity, done over the last four decades?

Note moreover, that a narrow view of digital content + student, without taking into account the teacher’s interaction with new content and a new learning process, is also not the Digital Learning Revolution. Because as Chingos and Whitehurst point out, the Digital Learning Revolution occurs at the intersection of the student, and the content, and the teacher. So new digital vehicles, even conveying radically different content (such as interactive videogames), or, rather, especially when carrying radically different content, will not achieve the Digital Learning Revolution … without a comprehensive re-tooling of teacher understandings, processes, and goals.

Beyond Hardware

What about the other major digital game-changer of the 21st Century, you say – what about digitized access? Searchable access to the world’s libraries of content? Anywhere anytime access to the cloud through cheap personal hand-held devices?

You are a participant in that access revolution. So, look around you, what is your experience? Have you experienced, or seen a Digital Learning Revolution? A communication revolution to be sure – connectivity is off the charts. And it’s certainly a revolution in “find something, cut, and paste”. A plethora of small, disconnected written nuggets delivering instant gratification for quick trivia questions. Consumption from the cloud is off the charts. But, when you are looking for depth, you have not yet seen a revolution of learning. As I blogged here re speed v. depth, and here re googling.

The digital access revolution did not bring the Digital Learning Revolution along for the ride.

Again, the key is content. And that a Learning Revolution must involve three interacting components: student, content, and teacher. As I blogged here re blended learning. A Learning Revolution requires the teacher for social, evaluative, motivational, and yes, human communication. The Digital Learning Revolution will require humans. The best sort of humans: teachers who help others grow and improve

In the next installment: well anyhow, we should expect digital content for free, right?

Tagged , , , , , ,

Is “Doogie Howser” acceleration through formal school our ideal?

An iconic TV series in the early 90’s features a teenager, Doogie Howser, who “earned a perfect score on the SAT at the age of six, completed high school in nine weeks at the age of nine, graduated from Princeton University in 1983 at age 10.” Then, he slowed down and took four looong years to get through medical school – I guess he had to slow down because scripting a tween as the M.D. lead of a hospital sitcom didn’t hit the target advertiser demographic.

“Completed high school in nine weeks.” Let that sink in deep for, like, a millisecond. Did that just slip by? Did it strain credulity? Did it sound great? Are you excited that self-paced digital learning can make this accelerated ‘learning’ happen for more and more Doogies in the near future? If only we can break out of that 19th century assembly-line seat-time mentality..

Hey, earlier is just better, right? I clearly remember attending a LAAMP-sponsored community meeting at an auditorium in Occidental College in 2000, where attending teachers were excitedly being informed from the stage that new state standards meant their students would be “tested on high level content they currently only get to in college.” I was stunned by this earlier-is-better strategy, thinking that we hadn’t really nailed most student’s learning of the good old high school stuff quite yet. By 2006 some unintended but damaging consequences of this value judgement that earlier is better were described by Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institute’s Center for Educational Policy.

[In 2013 California dropped its earliest-in-the-nation requirement that all eighth graders take algebra. Here is the LAAMP final report on disappointing results from its 6 year $53M project in Los Angeles.]

Here is my rant: Stop this faster is better one dimensional talk. No more, “…so with self-paced online schooling Suzie could get her competency based GED at age 12!” Just like Doogie, our hero and model for success.

Having started UCLA at age 15 myself, I feel quite the laggard compared to this ideal. But then I also keenly experienced the social downside risk to acceleration – no sports, no girlfriends, no prom. Too young + too academically successful = stick to your geek math club friends. Seriously folks, scrambling the social institution that is high school for 14-18 year olds needs to be a consideration when you hear “…well when they finish the 3rd grade software, just advance ‘em right to 4th and then if they can to 5th.” And one does hear it. What’s that you say? What about the non-digital aspects of learning? “Nah, it doesn’t matter where the teacher or the rest of their peers are! Speed is a goal! Get with it!”

Yes it’s exciting that some types of digital content enable quicker uptake. I’m saying quicker uptake as a primary goal is dangerous.

Here’s an analogy about learning in another domain, a more physical domain I think we intuitively understand better. Suppose you were taking guitar lessons. But rather than once a week in a guitar shop with a  teacher, and near daily practice, you were watching lessons on YouTube. And say there was a 20 hour playlist of 40 half-hour video lessons. Wow! That is easily watchable in a week! What’s that you say? Sure, I passed the online ‘competency’ quizzes and final. It was easy, man! Bam! Done! I just learned guitar! High school in 9 weeks!

Really? What was the purpose of “learning” guitar? The learner’s purpose, your purpose? Were you supposed to be able to, like, really play it? Have your fingers fret clean notes with automaticity? Feel motivated to play; enjoy playing? Experience playing in a band and making music? ‘Own’ playing it as a lifelong skill? Learn to read sheet music so that you could play new songs and more easily learn some other instrument too? Learn more about music in general? Understand key guitar features and why they work how they do? Launch you on a quest to conquer more and more challenging guitar playing, way beyond your training?

Or was the purpose more just a ‘badge’ to display. “Got in in one week!” “Got through 3rd grade math online in one month!” Hey, I got a good score, a good grade, what more do you want?

What gets lost in the conversation about acceleration is GOING DEEP in learning. There is another dimension to accelerate besides calendar time: accelerate diving deep. Use digital content to dive deeper. Don’t promote 12 year old college students as an ideal. Please, the social costs are too high. If you are testing for competency, test DEEP. No badge until you successfully perform a duo gig and earn tips at the local coffee shop.

Take extra time you find to dive deeper into 3rd grade math. As MIND Research Institute co-founder Dr. Matthew Peterson said, if a 3rd grader gets quickly through 3rd grade digital content then, “let’s get them a Ph.D. in 3rd grade math! And then a Nobel Prize in 4th grade math!” The vertical dimension, depth of learning, is bottomless in every content area.  For example, fractions concepts can open up a deeper exploration of rationals and irrationals.

Are you satisfied with how ‘deep’ the current learning demanded to beat the system is? How do you feel about the current pacing through content? Is what you want from digital tools to rip through inch-deep learning much faster?

I’m here to say, personally as well as pedagogically, the future can’t be about getting American history dates and people and quadratic formulae crammed into some 9 week high school frenzy. It’s not about 14 year olds in Ph.D. programs. Let’s use digital tools in order to get more powerful learning. Aim to go deep, not fast.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Digital 1-2-3s Make Math Sense for Preschool Kids

Every parent can see that birth to 5 is a whirlwind of learning. Many parents strive to include informal learning activities like the ABC’s.  But you may be surprised to learn that no aspect of early education is more important to a child’s academic future than mathematicsResearch from Greg Duncan at the University of California, Irvine shows that early math skills in 5 year-olds are the single greatest predictor of later achievement.

So at a recent early childhood education conference in Chicago, I was excited to see policy leaders, researchers, corporations and foundations rallying around the importance of supporting our youngest learners, including in math.  Their vision for accomplishing it … well, I found that less exciting as the only presentation focused on digital content for 4 year olds was my own.

Understandably. The vast majority of digital content “out there” for kids is of low educational quality. I enjoy Sponge-Bob, if not Disney princesses, as much as anyone. But having a 4 year old gesture her way through random edutainment apps is hardly the “transformation” of learning you’ve been hoping for. And yet, digital content is ideal for rapid scale-up, and every year we “wait” for a non-digital solution to reach scale, we miss out on yet another cohort of 4 million more 4 year-olds in the U.S.

So how do you judge digital program quality? First, look for a program that is radically different. Second, look for early, consistent, rigorous results. At the K-5 level, there is a digital, neuroscience-based math program —  MIND Research Institute’s ST Math, that has shown potential for radical transformation of learning. ST Math has successfully doubled and tripled annual growth in math proficiency for Grade 2-5 students on state tests, as it presents math concepts as a full in-school curriculum of visual, language-free puzzles of virtual onscreen manipulatives.

If there exists a proven math program that teaches math visually, without requiring language proficiency or even reading skills, then what better age to apply it to than pre-readers – especially ones who don’t necessarily speak any English! ST Math is currently being piloted in select teacher-led, site-based Pre-K classrooms in Los Angeles. Imagine a teacher working with a 4-year old digital native, who is using a tablet to get literally “hands-on” with number sense.

If we want to level the education playing field before traditional schooling even starts, and lay a solid foundation across the nation for lifelong success in STEM fields, we need to start young and be bold. Digital, unconventional, deeper-learning tools like ST Math may be the transformation you’ve been looking for.

A version of this blog was published in the September issue of District Administration.

Tagged , , , , ,

Transforming the Education Market: Look to Non-Profits

This piece was originally published on the Huffington Post on May 3.

The convergence in the last 20 years of advancements in computer, cognitive & neuro-sciences has made game-changing educational programs a possibility. In the area of mathematics education, inventors can now see a path to give teachers powerful yet easy to use, radically different digital tools to get all students to be proficient in math and even algebra. The breakthroughs go beyond math for math’s sake, beyond proficiency on tests, to the fundamental purpose of math education for all students: every person possessing the powerful thinking, analytic and problem-solving skills that mathematical literacy promises. To put a number it, a 2011 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study estimated that even modestly increased student math skills would add over $40 trillion to the U.S. economy over current students’ lifetimes.

But the K-12 education market is a poster child for unhealthy markets. Products are developed to politicized market specifications, which are far below their potential. Digital solutions from the past 30 years have not worked, so expectations are low. Curriculum is treated as a commodity, and not even evaluated. Not only do most educators not seriously expect teacher tools or content to make a game-changing difference, but K-12 purchasers are looking for approaches familiar to what they experienced in school. The market even lacks understanding of the indicators of program quality and effectiveness necessary to meet the market spec of standardized test success, so simple or secondary features hold sway instead.

In this market, I believe the leaders achieving radically higher educational goals are mission-driven, not-for-profit organizations. Non-profits, almost by definition, need support beyond current market forces. Visionary and savvy business social investments, though relatively small change to $1B businesses, can be and should be vital support for continuous invention and prove-out.

Many business leaders are looking to “help education” through their corporate social responsibility strategies. Unfortunately, based on my experience inside a non-profit education researcher and publisher, what most businesspeople will be looking for is just marginal improvement. There is an unconscious acceptance of the familiar, of “inch deep” learning rather than breakthrough deeper learning. There is a focus on increasing speed and reducing cost. There is a lack of appreciation for the vital role of the teacher.

So, for those visionary businesses and foundations interested in accelerating a quantum leap forward for all teachers and students in K-12 education outcomes (their future workforce/customers), I’d like to suggest that the following considerations are crucial:

1)  Look for non-profits pursuing radically different approaches. Digitizing existing content and approaches is just more of the same, even if ported onto a glossy-screened touch-tablet. People are actually inventing new learning tools, content and processes — like inventing powered flight. Real transformation is going to use teaching and learning models that seem and look and feel radically different from how you learned. Search for that.

2) Look for truly scalable approaches. These three questions will help you evaluate a program’s scalability:

i) Are they applicable to all teachers and students, from gifted to struggling to English learners?

ii) Are they aimed at the heart of the problem right now: at all schools and teachers and training processes as-is? Think Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Houston and D.C. public schools?

Don’t just focus on and invest in the fringes of the school market, which will take years if ever to reach the majority of students in the community, and the nation. Each year, 4 million more children are passing through an untransformed pipeline.

iii) Can they scale up fast and without limit, driven ultimately by non-philanthropic funds? That is, do the economics of the solution enable eventual demand and resources from the main market, i.e. government public schools, to adopt, scale and sustain?

While some non-profits aimed at breakthrough transformation will be in the early stages of research and invention, you can also look for others with solid evidence that their program delivers results, and that there will be market demand and that it is economically scalable.

There are examples of businesses following all of these principles in their social investment in education. Corporate foundations, CEOs and chairs of Cisco, Broadcom, Emulex, Microsemi, PwC, Bank of America, Chevron and others  have come together to support a breakthrough math program using instructional software to tap students’ visual reasoning. You would not recognize math taught this way, it is that different.

The lowest performing elementary schools in Orange County were provided grants to launch this math program. Over 80% of those schools are now participating. A 45,000-student district serving predominantly economically disadvantaged English learners, Santa Ana Unified, went district-wide and closed its “achievement gap” with the California state average. And the targeted schools at a county-wide level are greatly outpacing similar schools in Academic Performance Index growth. The proven results have attracted district funding at over 1,000 additional sites. Over 500,000 students are being served, and scale-up is economical.

For any company interested in helping education, keep an eye out for the pioneering non-profits that fit this profile. Your social investment will then be poised to go beyond “help,” to transform and scale to millions.

Tagged , , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 191 other followers