It's been an interesting week for education reform (or lack thereof). I'd like to offer my comments on some of the most recent articles that caught my eye over the past week, and let you, my network of interest readers, decide if you agree or not.
The first article expands upon the TED Talk that Bill Gates made at this year's TED Conference in Long Beach, California. While I applaud and fully support the efforts of the Gates Foundation to invest in education, they continue to believe that the panacea to our nation's education ailments should be about investment in more effective teachers. I have to seize on the following quote from new foundation CEO Jeff Raikes, who states, "Almost by definition, good philanthropy means we're going to have to do some risky things, some speculative things to try and see what work and what doesn't." This, I can tell you, is almost certainly doomed to fail, and let me explain why.
For anyone that read my four part series about how to reinvent education, improving the quality of teaching is only a piece of the solution, not the nucleus of the solution. And I what I mean by this is that the focus must start with agreement on a common pedagogy and set of standards, and then not only shift to a performance based compensation system for teachers (trade tenure for higher potential compensation) and also more effective training and development, so that teachers know how to incorporate digital technologies into the classroom environment. Teachers are a conduit; they are responsible for using the optimal stimuli to ensure that students learn the requisite skills. Good teachers do that well. It has been proven beyond a doubt that even the best teachers will not be successful if they rely largely on the lecture-based method of instruction. Finally, in this aformentioned article, I'd be very interested to know more about the research methodology that determined that putting a great teacher in a low-income school helped students advance a grade and a half in one year. What learning tools were used? What technology was available in the classroom? Enjoy the read and let me know your thoughts on this article.
The second article talks about a bill introduced into the Senate on May 13th by West Virginia Democrat John D. Rockefeller. States that offer students curriculum options that integrate key 21st century skills would receive matching federal funds through this incentive bill. The senators also refer to the great work of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a body whose research I am very supportive of. From what I know thus far, this bill should be wholeheartedly supported and is an exciting development. However, I'd like to see this bill aligned with whatever common set of standards gets ultimately approved by the states and Department of Education.
Finally, there was a big article that discussed Education Secretary Arne Duncan's school reform agenda. I wish I was there to hear all of the details, but if you read the article, the areas he outlines are not strategies, they are tactics. I don't think this is a roadmap, and I only wished that the honorable secretary would consider bringing on Professor Clayton Christensen (author of "Disrupting Class") as a special advisor. We can't keep throwing money out there without a clear, well-definined roadmap.
What do I make of all of this? We will continue to see a mixture of favorable and unfavorable developments, but until we get real consensus around the change strategy, it will continue to face a very, very uphill battle.