Monday, April 25, 2011

The Future - Education Reform Version

It seems to me that the goals of Education Reform are primarily to bring the increases in productivity (and cost reductions) seen in other industries to the education industry. The greatest obstacle to the effort to cut the cost of education is teacher salaries. The cost of education cannot be cut until the cost of teaching is cut. The Education Reform movement seeks paths to cutting the cost of teaching.

While technology has allowed for amazing radical increases in productivity in nearly every other industry, teaching is still, for the most part, done exactly as it was done in pre-industrial times: face-to-face with a personal relationship between a professional teacher and a limited number of students. For there to be any improvement in productivity (and reduction in cost), this model must be broken.

Education Reform is pursuing four paths to increase productivity (and thereby reduce costs).

1. The de-professionalization of teaching. Teachers are professionals. They are expected to work with minimal supervision and direction. They are expected to use their expertise, judgement, and talent to respond improvisationally to student needs. In the Education Reform model, however, teachers are expected to deliver standardized lessons prepared centrally. They can make some small prescribed variations within a prescribed range. The best model for this is how professional bankers have been replaced by non-professionals, sitting in cube farms, wearing headsets, and completing loan application forms by working through a script on a computer screen. The script includes what to say if the customer says this or if the customer says that. Based on this model it isn't hard to imagine non-professionals in front of a classroom delivering a scripted lesson with scripted responses to expected student questions.

A trained and experienced professional teacher wouldn't be needed for this task. I bet it could be done by any college graduate with a five-week crash course and plenty of mentoring and support. Of course, all of that mentoring and support would really make for a long work day, so this would be a job for a young person and they would burn out after just a couple years. Education Reform's support for Teach for America has some very clear purpose. It's a pilot program for how they want to see all teacher training done.

This doesn't actually increase productivity, but it does reduce costs. A novice teacher is paid significantly less than an experienced one. Moreover, there would be no need to offer higher salaries for experienced teachers. All of the teachers - regardless of experience - would be paid the new teacher salaries. Without the promise of a career with a growing salary, no one would enter teaching as a career. It would just be a job that people took for a year or two between college and their real career. Or is could be a temp job for older workers between jobs.

2. Online Education. It is a short hop from non-professionals delivering scripted lessons to lessons on video-on-demand. I suspect they will sell the clear benefit: individualized instruction. Students get exactly the lessons they need exactly when they need them. The students take a pre-test, then the appropriate curriculum is provided with a quiz at the end of each section. Fail the quiz and the curriculum is queued up again. Pass the quiz and move on to the next section. There could even be greater depth and challenge available (click here to learn more about the causes of the War of 1812).

This would represent a HUGE step forward in productivity. With video-on-demand or other forms of recorded instruction, the ratio of students to teachers can explode from 150:1 to nearly infinite. Think of it. Every single student in the state of Washington could have the same Algebra teacher. With Common Core Standards, every single student in the whole country could have the same Algebra teacher. Every other Algebra teacher could be fired. Even the one giving the lesson could be fired after that first year. That's a strong argument for Common Core Standards, isn't it?

Students could, of course, get additional support through a call center or through online chat. The "teachers" they connect with that way aren't professionals either. They will just work through a script just like any other call center worker. There will need to be a professional teacher or two somewhere in the building for those calls that cannot be resolved by the call center staff working off the script, but no more than a handful to take care of thousands and thousands of students.

3. Investment. It's going to cost a lot of money to make these steps forward in productivity in education. There are hardware costs. There will have to be work station computers that allow each student to access the online instruction. There will have to servers to store and deliver the instruction. There will have to be phone lines and call centers. Even more investment will be needed in content and software. All of the lessons will have to be written and performed. All of the variations too - every content path that could result from the student clicking on the "I don't get it" button or the "Tell me more" button. Don't worry. There are lots of corporations who are ready to provide the hardware, the software, and the content - for a slice of that sweet, sweet government pie.

4. Centralization. All of the lessons are stored on a central server. All of the variations, too. All of the support questions go to call center. All of the results from the pre-tests, quizes, and final assessments go to the central server also. Everything is controlled from the center and all of the data is collected by the center. The center has all of the authority and all of the expertise. There is no one to question the central authority - temp workers do not challenge the corporation.

The End of Education
Imagine the future of teaching if we follow the Education Reform path. Students enter the school building and sit at their desks. There can be dozens of desks in a single room. The students don headphones and start their lessons. There is a proctor in the room, mostly to keep order but also to provide minor tech support. The students access their individualized instruction modules and grind away for 90 minutes at their video-on-demand lessons. Then they all work on some project together for an hour or so (we still need those "21st Century skills"). The proctors facilitate and organize the group project exercises, but the students are expected to work things out for themselves and not rely on the proctor for support. The results of the projects are all virtual and are transmitted to the central site. Then it is back to video instruction for 90 minutes, then lunch, then a final 90-minute video instruction period and that's the end of the day. A half-hour of P.E. could be stuck in there somewhere. At any moment of the day students in a single room could be working on reading, writing, math, science, world languages, or social studies. They could all be working at a variety of grade levels.

Some classes, of course, would have to be actual hands-on instruction. I'm thinking of the Career and Technical Education courses, the science labs (probably - at least until the technology improves), the arts (music, fine art, dance, etc.), and perhaps a couple others. Not many.

I know that you're thinking that surely there is some need for the traditional style of instruction. There needs to be some open discussion of big ideas among the students and lead by the teacher. Nope. The virtual teacher can cover that ground. If students need to be brought together, it can be done virtually in an online chat room. They don't have to be in the same room - they don't have to be in the same school. With State Standards they don't have to be in the same District and with Common Core Standards they don't even have to be in the same state.

There is, of course, a need for students to have some adult in the school who is interested in them as people, follows up on their academic progress, and has a relationship with them. I know that the proctor shares space with them for much of the day and is sure to have a relationship with the students in the room, but the proctor isn't a professional expected to perform professional services. So let's add relationship managers to the school staffs - one for every 96 students. If each student meets with their relationship manager for a half-hour, then the manager can meet with twelve students a day. That means that the manager can meet with each student every 8 days - twice a month. That's a pretty close relationship, wouldn't you say? Garfield High School would need about 20 relationship managers.

With the lowered cost of this style of instruction there's no reason that school could not be year-round.

Since so much of the work is done online, it would be easy for students to work from home on days when they are sick or to work from home to make up missed assignments.

What would a school like this cost to run? After the fixed costs of the technology, I think it would be the same or less than schools now cost. The proctors would earn about $30,000 and the relationship managers would earn about $60,000 - and that's for year-round school. The call center staff would earn as much as call center staff in any other business, about $25,000. It's very possible that this sort of instruction would be just as effective as schools are now.

Do I have it wrong? Have I misread the goals of Education Reform? I honestly think this is the Education Reform dream come true. While we might find it sedentary, sterile and isolating, it does sound like it could be effective. And steps are taken to mitigate those downsides: daily P.E., daily group project time, and the twice-monthly meeting with the relationship manager.


Anonymous said...

I think you're definitely on to something Charlie...though why stop at the buildings? I can take your future scenario even further and predict that children will be assigned a laptop at birth and it will be up to parents to make sure they are accessing their online classrooms, etc.

Imagine how much money can be made if the majority of school buildings are sold off to the highest bidder (in many cases private schools)!

Students—especially those in K–12—need, live interaction with caring, committed, experienced teachers to be inspired to learn. The trajectory of the current ideas surrounding Ed Reform are indeed frightening.


Anonymous said...

I think you've mapped out the scenario. I wonder how many In the movement woud admit it? Some might, because they wouldn't see this picture as bad. First, they'd ask us if our current model works better. Then they'd ask us if it's cost effective, like the debate about class size.

And there are the straight out hucksters, who see that unflattening the spending in education will leave more money for a select few who manage the call centers, write the software, deliver the standardizes algebra lecture (hey maybe one would get to choose between Scarlett Johanson or Justin Bieber).

Add in the folks who don't really believe in public education, for their own children and are comfortable with shutting down the system for all, some proponents of private, religious, and home school education, as well as the childless.

I think your dire scenario is very plausible, not at all a conspiracy, and that we have to figure out how to field an effective defense.


Jan said...

Touche, Charlie. I think a LOT of ed reformers would be happy to agree that this sort of model is what they have in mind. I agree with zb -- we need to figure out an effective defense, but I think that this is an instance where the best defense will be a good offense -- we need to figure out what WE think future education should be, in light of the strengths, weaknesses, costs, and benefits of the current system.

I think what we REALLY need to do is present an alternative model. It needs to retain all that is wonderful about the current system -- but it needs to address the failings, and it needs to start to incorporate some of the cost saving devices that ARE out there -- especially if they can be used to improve the model.

If you rolled back time 300 years, when education was truly a "hand crafted" product, and not "mass produced" and if you added computers and the internet, how would education have developed differently.

For all the kids languishing away, bored in class while teachers struggle with slower learners, for all those (like mine) who desperately need differentiation and different delivery systems, what can we come up with that uses all of the assets we now have (computers, internet, videoconferencing, etc.), does a better job of helping kids learn, and is as cost-effective as possible?

I don't think the model Charlie presents is the best one (though I think he is grimly accurate in terms of what ed reform is moving towards). But I don't think we can afford to be the party of "No." I think we need to envision, and present, a better model.

Chris S. said...

One fortunate thing is that this experiment is already in progress in the form of on-line colleges. I've heard some horror stories in the news about hucksterism and from instructors about over-work, but the outcome data would be really interesting. Do graduates get jobs in their field? What do they and their supervisors think about the adequacy of their education?

My own personal experience with online education suggests you (the student) have to put a lot more effort INTO it to get the same amount OUT of it. I would guess online ed would be even more affected by the challenges of student life outside the classroom - thus probably widening the "achievement gap."

Whatever happened to the old adage "You get what you pay for?"

Jan said...

Good points, Chris S. I know nothing about online colleges (except that they exist), and I agree with your suggestion that what you put INTO it in large part determines what you get OUT of it. I also think it has the potential for increasing the "gap," but consider --

My child came home bitterly complaining, not long ago, about totally wasted class time in classes with subs who are doing no more than "holding down the fort" for 50 minutes. A "lose - lose" situation, as far as I can see. What if the school had "banked" videotaped lectures by the "real" teacher for those days? What if the kids could watch them in class, or at home (or at a library with headphones) instead of squandering a whole period? What if the adults acted like the kids' time mattered?

As for younger kids, I think there is no comparison. They need small classes, and way more project/hands-on/imaginative work than they currently get. Some stuff can be learned, through "computer games" but most stuff should not be. But what if we could restructure SOME high school courses to work more like college courses, and send the extra dollars DOWN to elementary schools to cut class sizes by 1/3or more (14 - 16 instead of 21, 16 to 18 instead of 24, etc.

High school kids not ready for that kind of autonomy could be routed to classes/schools that still required (and measured) seat time by the hour. But not all kids do -- especially as they get close to 18.

TechyMom said...

Just to play devil's advocate for a moment... This sounds an awful lot like the virtual offices that are so popular in the tech and publishing businesses. The people I know who have work-from-home/virtual office arrangements really like it. Maybe an education that works like this is better preparation for the work world of tomorrow? Teens also seem to have a fair number of online friends who live far away. Maybe this isn't at all weird to a generation that meets its friends through online gaming?

I like face to face interaction, and agree that it is very important for younger kids. However, I think a model that uses more online time might make sense for an awful lot of high school and college kids. WAVA seems to work pretty well. Is this really all that different? Is it really all that different than a lecture class at UW with 700 students, and a 20-student quiz section where you discuss things?

Anonymous said...

I don't know. The thing my daughter loves the most about the private high school she attends is the teachers. They are engaging and passionate about what they teach. They interact with the students and can segue into current events if the situations calls for it (something like the earthquake in Japan happens, etc.). Class sizes are small, and the teachers know each and every student's strengths and weaknesses.

I'd like the idea of having pre-taped lectures etc. for when a teacher is out, and/or a way for students who miss class for any number of reasons to have a way to get the info. But I don't think standardized, route lessons and more and more computer action is good for the full-term of learning—even for high school and college and the student. I guess it would depend on the class.

I am also not a big fan of the 700+ lecture hall college class either. If my daughter wants to attend the U, I'd push for CC for the first two years to get the smaller classes and more real professors/less TAs.


seattle citizen said...

I agree that there is surely a need for new configurations of delivery, but I disagree with the idea of doing it for profit, and the profit motive seems to me to be driving "reform."

I'm am wary of the package: We don't just have advocates saying, "let's try this, how abnout that," we have the package deal (as Charlie describes.) Some of these elements might indeed be useful, and it's unfortunate that those that might know, the educators in the classroom, are apparently swept aside in the drive towards "the package."

Educators could help implement (indeed, they already do, by their own creative inclusion of tect, etc) some beneficial changes, but those that are driving the ship of reform don't care about the current crop of educators, in fact, as Charlie points out, the current crop is marginalized, called dinosaurs, their wages and benefits are attacked as unreasonable, they are made disposable...

Speaking of disposable, has anyone else heard the new ads on the radio, by Stand For Children and Partners for Education, that support HB 1443 (on getting rid of seniority)?

I wonder who paid for THOSE ads....

Charlie Mas said...

I want to be clear that this cube farm model for education isn't intended to be an dystopic nightmare. I think there are a lot of people who would welcome it. It does offer a lot of benefits:

1. Individualized instruction. That means early intervention for students who are working behind and plenty of challenge for students who are working ahead.

2. Dedicated time each day for cooperative project work. Probably more than kids are getting now.

3. Extended school year. That means that the academic achievement gap is likely to be closed and all students will achieve more.

4. Personal relationship. How many students have an adult who knows them and engages with them one-on-one for half an hour every eight school days?

5. Opportunity to connect and collaborate with peers all over the state and possibly the country.

6. P.E. every day.

I'm telling you that this is not a nightmare but a dream for a lot of people.

Charlie Mas said...

Okay, here are some refinements on the vision:

Instead of computer work stations, all of the work is done on portable tablet computers.

Younger students leave their tablets at school. Older students take them home at night.

All of the work is saved on the servers (in the cloud) so loss or damage to the tablets doesn't result in loss of the students' data.

Students receive directions on their tablets that tell them when it is time for them to go to their hands-on classes or P.E. or their meetings with their relationship manager.

The network puts together discussion groups, schedules them, and contacts the students (through their tablets) when the discussions are to begin.

Honestly, this isn't necessarily a bad vision.

I know that everyone remembers a teacher who inspired us in some way, a teacher who really taught us something. The relationship managers can more than fill that role, and can work with the same students for years. Wouldn't that be great? Did your special inspirational teacher spend a half-hour with you alone twice every three weeks? I doubt it.

Charlie Mas said...

The hands-on classes would still be taught face-to-face.

Sahila said...

I really, really hope you are having us on, Charlie, with your comments that your future vision might be a good thing....

Ironically, VW today is "mingl"... as in the need humans have to congregate and mingle/interact with many others, us being social/tribal people and all....

Anonymous said...

There are 2 reasons for efficiency -

I. let's get the water and sewage and food growing and food processing and food distribution and textile making and textile growing and roof making and education and health and childcare and senior care ... systems EFFICIENT so we can all contribute to keeping the systems running, and we can all have picnics with our friends, and time for our opera - nascar - football - reading groups - frisbee - yoga - whatever ...

a.) I think that since people are greedy, we need to invent systems which most reward creating the most good for the most. I think systems which need people to be altruistic and smart so good things happen are systems which are a waste of time.

II. the historical, "normal" and current reason for efficiency is to allow some elite at the top to be selfish pigs about resources, AND to stay on top being selfish pigs.

The people really really calling the shots in ed reform are venal selfish pigs, and, unfortunately, they've hood winked a lot of well intentioned citizens into being foot soldiers for the venal.

While the attackers of education sicken me, too many of those involved in education over the last 30 and 40 years did a REAL crappy job of self improvement, and public engagement.

Sick Sick Sick.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, makes me nostalgic for Socrates and his symposium (that's saying a lot, since I struggle through Plato's dialogues). I guess we can learn how to text using all the latest OMG, LOL acronyms to make our point. Kinda remind me of the movie my 9 year old was watching, WALL-E, where humans turn into lard legs stuck in floating tub watching things on their Viewing Screen.

What a future. Heck we won't need our brains by then, just 2 thumbs.

- UW (Utopian Wilderness) grad

Anonymous said...


I was with thru I.a (Go, Ayn Rand!), after that you lost me. Your point...?


Anonymous said...

grumpy? at 7:23.

IF you think well of that simpleton Rand and her mouth breathers, it makes sense that my points in part II make no sense.


seattle citizen said...

aauurrrgghhhh! Remember to copy your comment before sending! If we are going to use tech in education, we better hire a huge cohort of tech support! This confounded teletypey contraption, this new-fangled "blog," just ate another of my sparkling and witty comments!

WV says, "nudmid," which is meaningless but captures my mood somehow, as Blog ate my comment...

seattle citizen said...

Sick Thrice (I hope you're feeling better!) What I wrote, in a nutshell, is a request that you tell us WHO you think has not been "self-improving" enough in education: Taxpayers? Legislators? Boards, admins, educators? Students?

I think there has been a lot of improvement, at least at the building level, especially considering the accelerated change, the changing demands, the diversifying student body...
Could you tell us who isn't self-improving enough?

I agree with you on the public input issue, tho', public educators (and those who manage them) are not nearly involved in the public communications aspect enough. For in-school educators, tho', I think they have an excuse: They're busy.

Word Verifier sees with its eysighti

dan dempsey said...

We have a large number of students poorly served by the current system (perhaps by Design?).

Does this NEW Futuristic Change offer much for most of them either?

I've taught the students in the bottom quarter using online materials and found it very unsatisfactory. Online works much better with the top 15% of students.


Lots of arguments against tracking during the last 25 years.... from school leadership.

We already have a two tiered system..... we have those who complete high school and the 30% plus that never graduate.... Many of these kids quit school because we simply refuse to meet their needs.... They have no interest in taking Alg I much less Alg II.... we pretend that everyone needs these skills... that is simply a false assumption.... In Washington state we are graduating a lower percentage of kids today than we did in 1970.... We claim that all kids need the skills that we force them to take.... a very large percentage of kids simply bail from the system....we can pretend that we are meeting the needs of workforce kids but we are not.... they have to leave the system and get OJT to be prepared for the work-world.....

OJT is the most efficient learning because they only spend time learning what is essential to the job..... Our public school system has no idea what is essential to any job....


Career & Technical Ed in many cases does not provide the straight forward On the Job Training that many of these potential drop-outs need.


We need a major unbiased examination of what is happening in WA State and the Nation .... and that is hardly going to happen in the current toxic climate of Education Deception.


None of the sides that are major players in this game are going to allow such an examination.

Jan said...

seattle citizen: I totally agree that two "bad" elements of the current reform are: (1) the "package nature" of the deal, and (2) the obscene prices being paid to private ed companies who provide the management, software platforms, curricula, etc.

The problem, as I see it, is that the driving force for many (if not most) of the players is not the kids -- it is the money. But they WRAP it in a nice package, so people think they are saving money, when all they are really doing is sending it to big ed corporations (there are LOTS of baddies here, from the big chain charters, to the people who make a mint on AP/SAT/ACT testing -- and all the prep and books that support it, to companies like the one involved in the STEM tech contract.

To the extent public education goes in this direction, there should be a much more "open platform," "shared information" ethic underpinning to the whole thing.

Look at the TfA placement fee! It is nothing short of astonishing that they have the gall to ask (and that Districts are stupid enough EVER to pay) these fees. We don't pay the UW, or Seattle U, or PLU, a "finders" fee for placing their grads in classrooms -- and to the extent it supports the mentoring, etc., we don't pay these organizations to come on board and "teach" our first year teachers, provide curricula, etc. The students pay for their OWN educations (or get grants, or go to public universities) -- but since when has it EVER been the school district's job to pay to provide the education that gets a teacher to a basic certificate? Nowhere. Why do we do this? Why do we pay millions for "consumables?" There is already a huge quantity of free or very low cost stuff available, and many of our best teachers could provide more -- for a lot less than we pay for-profit Big Ed to provide it.

We need to take back the "means of education" from Ed Reform, look for innovative ways to teach, and encourage learning, that costs much less, and does more.

And we need to NOT lose sight of SG's observation -- that inspired teaching is probably THE most valuable thing that comes out of schools. Those teachers who really light up kids' desire to learn are -- outside of the kids themselves -- the most valuable asset we have. We need to find ways of supporting and encouraging those interactions, and holding on to those teacher assets.

Anonymous said...


Oops, forgot my snark symbol! :<O


Anonymous said...

citizen at 8:24 from 3*sick -

thanks for getting me to attempt to clarify.

at the building level, we're past maxed out.

while the reformistas offer little beyond an efficient future of Kopps & Kipps skimming fat paychecks while the serf farm inhabitants work themselves to collapse - I can't really find much of value, in my class or in my school, that justify the well paid hordes in the various colleges of ed and schools of ed and depts of ed and headquarters of ed. The little of value that they have provided to our kids, in class, the public is practically unaware of - hence the welcome the reformistas have found.

dan - since the training I've had always shows videos of kids who do their work, hence whatever you do with them works, I'm not surprised that kids who aren't doing well in school aren't going to do much with education delivered via internet - tubes - video - berry - pad.


Charlie Mas said...

Take a look at this blog: edReformer.

In particular, take a look at this post: How to Blend Math. It begins like this:

"Most schools are looking for ways to boost achievement and save money. Blended learning is part of the solution. Blended learning is an intentional shift to an online environment for at least a portion of the student day to boost learning and operating productivity. Math is a great place for a school or district to introduce blended learning because it:

facilitates individualized progress

leverages great math teachers

takes advantage of quality math content (open & proprietary)

can be augmented by games and tutorials

These folks are overt about wanting to "leverage" teachers' work.

They are overt about this Vision.

I suspect that some of them actually are delighted about cuts to public education budgets because when states cut spending on education it forces schools and districts towards their Vision. When states cut spending on education it forces schools and districts to accept deals with private groups - non-profit and for-profit.

I don't make the future; I just see it.

You need to see it if you want to fight it.

You need to see it so that - if you lose the fight against it - you can take steps to mitigate it with hands-on instruction, with collaboration time, with P.E. and with access to someone who has a relationship with the students.

Charlie Mas said...

So, just to state the obvious...

There are three reasons that people want to increase productivity in schools.

1) Productivity has been increased in every other human endeavor and some people are just committed to it like a religion.

2) Some people are going to make a whole lot of money off the increase in productivity. The software that allows the state to fire 500 teachers could easily sell for the salary of 400 teachers.

3) There are those who want to reduce the cost of public education just so it will reduce their tax bill.

There are certainly some folks who want it for all three reasons.

Chris S. said...

OK, if Charlie were implementing this vision, it might just be an improvement. I guess it's my lack of trust in who's pushing in in the real world.

And yes, online education definitely has it's place - as pointed out - with motivated, adult-like learners who have no better options.

In Charlie's version, supplementation with quality human interaction is key. Do I think that's going to be done well in the reformer's future? Only at private schools.

wv says I'm a "trater"

Dorothy Neville said...

This vision done well would certainly have helped me, have helped my husband and my son to have gotten better educations. The key is -done well-.

We are just not there yet. We are nowhere near being able to effectively and validly measure the wholeness of student progress, but the ed-reform movement wants to jump the gun and use standardized tests to show student improvement to measure teachers, but nothing about anything else in the system, such as curriculum, class size, quality of PE and recess facilities... Sort of like a place holder until we are sophisticated enough to really measure student achievement with completely accurate attribution analysis.

That, as Goldhaber himself said would be premature, would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, because it will cause a revolt when people realize how it hurts education instead of fixing it. That will set back true education reform, as it deprofessionalizes teaching without realizing we still need teaching professionals to guide the changes, to interact with kids and to help create the new paradigm.

My son took several on-line classes while he was part-time homeschooling 6th and 7th grade. Some were great and some were dismal. Some had live discussions, others had email and individual telephone help. Now at UW, his physics classes use an on-line system for homework and it is quite well done. Students who use this system wisely will not only get good grades, they will really and truly understand how to solve the problems and therefore be able to do well on in class tests without frantic studying. (yet it is possible to scam the system, get decent homework grades without understanding the material.)

Anonymous said...

"1) Productivity has been increased in every other human endeavor"

I think this is where the logic fails most strongly for me. I think that productivity hasn't been increased in the endeavor that most resembles teaching (at least when the teaching is of children)and that's parenting, child raising, and family.

I think productivity increases are possible in teaching (for example, in high school, where collaboration among subject area teachers might help create a whole that's more than the parts). I think record keeping and record sharing might help and might benefit from technology.

But, I think that good teaching happens through human interaction, that young children need not just information or good lesson plans, but people who seem to care about them. I think a lot of early learning is a reward/reinforcement strategy that depends on children being "rewarded" by human being for learning. Systems that try to replace this human interaction with "wire mothers" (in the form of technology, video lectures, computer games) are likely to fail for the average human child.

Now, I do think that there's variability (that there might be some who learn better in that environment) and that as children grow older, the content of the learning can be more important than everything else and the teaching methods can change.


Patrick said...

1) Productivity has been increased in every other human endeavor and some people are just committed to it like a religion.

Productivity increases have really been in only a few human endeavors. Even in computers, practically the poster child for productivity increases, the hardware has gotten phenomenally cheaper and more powerful but software productivity has gone up little if at all over the last 40 years.

dan dempsey said...

ZB, spot-on big-time with=>

"I think that productivity hasn't been increased in the endeavor that most resembles teaching (at least when the teaching is of children) and that's parenting, child raising, and family."

In fact in Schools and Social Capital, James Coleman explained that of four major institutions the rights of the family has been continually deceasing legally.

Coleman Points out that the Public School is dependent on Social Capital ... yet for over 200 years, Social Capital has been on the decline. Men left the farm and went to work.... 150 years later the graphing showed, Women entering the work force mirrored the entry of the men.

In comparison to the extended family living on the farm in 1780, today for most children ... there is essentially NOBODY home .....

Now if teachers are reduced in number and replaced by online .... increasingly they trend is for NOBODY there.

Intergenerational contact is a necessity for many children to develop values that aid in the transition to adulthood. The factionalizing in so many areas by marketing as for "teens" further accelerates the decline of "family impact".

Maureen said...

zb is exactly right. Teaching (younger or less self motivated children at least) is labor intensive, and in fact skilled-labor intensive. U.S. industries that require labor to be physically present for production have not seen the cost decreases that industries that are capital intensive or allow labor to be off site have realized. This also helps explain what College costs have increased so much relative to the general inflation rate.

See The Baumol Effect:

Baumol and Bowen pointed out that the same number of musicians are needed to play a Beethoven string quartet today as were needed in the 19th century; that is, the productivity of Classical music performance has not increased. On the other hand, wages of musicians (as well as in all other professions) have increased greatly since the 19th century when not adjusted for inflation.

dan dempsey said...

Little wonder the classical music production needs to be replaced by the quartet of Two Guitars, Drums, and an electronic keyboard synthesizer.

So is the goal to have a well educated populace or a populace easy to manipulate?

Article IX:
It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.

Guess an iPad and a laptop for every student will be sufficient. No Vendor Left Behind.

Charlie Mas said...

I have to disagree with all of the disputations of increased productivity. Productivity has been increased tremendously in nearly every facet of human endeavor.

Each farmer can work more land and produce much more food and fiber from it than ever before. Manufactured goods are turned out in greater numbers with fewer people than ever before. Even service industries have seen huge increases in productivity as media and technology have leveraged service workers countless times over. Also, a tremendous amount of service work has been shifted onto the customer. We use an ATM instead of a teller. We push our own elevator buttons. We buy insurance online.

As for the musicians, thanks to recordings, we can leverage their work almost infinitely. Yes, we still need four musicians to play a Beethoven quartet - the first time. But if their play is recorded then it can be heard an infinite number of times and can be transmitted and duplicated as much as anyone would ever desire without any musicians ever playing again.

In fact, people can listen to world class musicians - even dead ones - instead of whatever local talent may be available.

Teachers have already been leveraged in the pre-modern era with the wide distribution of books. Every textbook (in fact every book) leverages a teacher's work. The student could get the learning from reading the book, neh? In that case, who is the teacher? The author, of course.

For a teacher to record a lesson on video is not that much different from the teacher recording the lesson in a book.

Except that it is. Like McLuhan said, the medium is the message.

We bring a different mindset to watching video than we bring to reading expository prose. Video carries a higher expectation of entertainment value. There's a different kind of credibilty. While we generally read critically (see how you are judging the truth and merit of that statement even as you read it?) we generally suspend disbelief when watching video. After all, seeing is believing. That said, we also discount the intellectual merit of images on video while we put a premium on the intellectual merit of the printed word.

I would encourage folks to read "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Neil Postman to consider this question more deeply.

mirmac1 said...

OMG, someone's channeling MGJ!

blahdy blahdy blah

Charlie Mas said...

Maureen and zb have put their fingers right on the key point:

Teaching, as it has been traditionally performed, requires lavish amounts of professional labor.

Here's what I am saying:

Reducing the amount of professional labor used in teaching is the central focus of the Education Reform movement.

They are trying to change it in every possible way:

* they are trying to de-professionalize teaching

* they are trying to leverage teachers' work

* they are trying to get students to teach each other

* they are trying to get students to self-teach

They believe that the students don't need to spend their whole day in the company of a real professional teacher. They have noticed that students - even in the current system - don't get the teacher's professional attention for very much of the day. So why not use technology to provide that professional attention in smaller packets on an as-needed basis to a far greater number of students than ever before? In this model students study independently for the most part and contact the teacher only when they need help.

Think of everything - and I mean everything - that the Education Reform movement supports. All of it points to this one aim.

The anti-teacher tone
Teach for America
Student-led instruction
Inquiry-based instruction
Project-based instruction
Online education
Credit for competency
Alternative teacher certification
Alternative principal certification

All of it is pointed towards reducing the amount of professional labor spent in education. That is their real aim.

Their purpose? Most likely just the selfish impulse to reduce their personal tax bills.

seattle citizen said...

Charlie, regarding increased productivity, you write that "Each farmer can work more land and produce much more food and fiber from it than ever before."

Not "each farmer": Most farmers (globally) do not have access to mechanized equipment or powerful (and in soem ways dangerous) additives.

The productivity gains you posit from (some)farmers are not so easy to ascertain. Yes, Old Macdonald produced 1000 bushels using machines and additives, instead of 200 hand-picked and "natural," but what are the associated costs of the equipment and the additives? How much does it cost to mine the iron that makes the steel that goes into that John Deere? How much to clean the Gulf of Mexico of the fertilzers poured into it by the farms along the Missisippee watershed, so the hundreds of square miles of dead zone are remediated?

What about the productivity of the farmers who are trying to farm naturally along that river, who cannot because of contamination from iron extration and nitrogen fertilization? THOSE farmers have decreased productivity.

The connection to education "productivity"? What are the other factors that are not costed? If we increase "product" of, say, math (whatever that product is ultimately determined to be by the machines), what do we lose in the process? What gets cut out? If SOME few instructors are able to use machines to increase the learning of some few learners, what are the costs to the rest of the learners around the world? What is the cost of the heavy metal or rare earth metal in a laptop to a learner in Bangladesh?

Does our "productivity" come at the cost of someone else's?

Just something to think about, these unknown costs of productivity. Nothing is free.

(Lets not forget the lost jobs: The automators promised us that when the machines made everything we would have luxurious free time, but that just ain't the case. My brother, a programmer from the early days, spent the early eighties automating sawmills. Great productivity, lots of lost jobs. It was sad to see the few remaining (and despondent) millhands standing around monitoring the machines...)

Chris S. said...

Thanks, SC, I was going to bring up the Sustainability issue. I'm not sure what the parallels to globla warming will be, but you can bet there will be some unintended effects. That's why you start these things with pilots - which I assume are going on, and I hope will be assessed honestly.

And mirmac: Board Meeting Bingo!!! Totally! First Wednesday in May, starting at 7pm. See you there! (might it take a little longer with new sup? In the old world we'd have bingo after the first sentance.)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Seattle Citizen.

Is a farmer really more productive? Depends on what you measure. To farm now, soil must be "cleansed", sprayed with antimicrobials before planting is even begun. Next it has to be plied with antiherbicides. After the monoculture has sprouted, multiple rounds of insecticides and herbicides must be applied an reapplied. And finally, to get the productive yeild, tons of petrochemicals must be applied. Is that really more productive? We aren't considering the reduced fertility of the soil, the cost of the inputs, the other plants that would/could/should be growing, or the growing resistance of the monoculture to pests. These are all costs that have been borne or will bite us back later.

Other domains have similar "productivity" measure tradeoffs.

One of the main points of education is to socialize kids to the culture, and to teach them to collaborate. Sure, we've had books for a long time now, to dissemintate facts and knowledge. Learning to work with others and collaborate is a key skill, and one which every employer seeks.

What is clear is that these processes of industrialization seek to standardize.


Anonymous said...

As SC and Observer present above, you only get the appearance of "increased efficiencies and productivity" by ignoring the inputs/resources required to increase the productivity of the "worker" in question. The other critical aspect to the appearance of cost reduction is to ignore is downstream/impact costs of the activity, which must be externalized/socialized.


Anonymous said...

Important questions under the "increased efficiencies and productivity with lower costs" regime - How are the widgets similar? How are they different? Because it's only an increase in efficiency if the widgets are of equal or better quality than those produced under the previous regime.


Charlie Mas said...

Okay, fine. Go ahead and tell yourself that there has been no increase in productivity since caveman days. Go ahead and tell yourself that farmers with tractors can't raise any bigger a crop than farmers could before the plow. Go ahead and tell yourself that factories can't produce any more shoes or shirts or saucepans than could be made 300 years ago by cobblers, weavers, and tinkers. Go ahead and tell yourself that recording artists and TV actors can't entertain any more people than musicians could 200 years ago.

Keep telling yourself that.

Anonymous said...

No, the widgets are really just the same. That's the point.


Anonymous said...

Yup Charlie, you're right. That is what it's all about.

Then, the only question is WHAT the kids will be learning, and more importantly, who gets to choose the information. Democratically elected school boards and state superintendents, or for-profit, pro-capitalism-only oligarchs?

Once it's all streamlined and commoditized, the stage is set for the final coup d'etat: What goes into those young minds.

It worked for Nazi Germany, Russia and China for awhile. No reason "it can't happen here." Reminds me of a Sinclair Lewis book by that title. We're almost there.

As was said of Sideshow Bob from the Simpsons: "Anyone who speaks German can't be bad."


Anonymous said...

Charlie, I think the sustainability point is a good one. Yes, we can make things better and more efficient. Nowhere has that been demonstrated better than in theaters of war, where an unmanned drone can kill dozens. I'm not being inflammatory, it's really productive from our standpoint, albeit costly.

On the other side of the coin is that increased productivity doesn't translate directly into efficiencies and better qualities of life. Take healthcare in the U.S., for example.

Or how about the fact that we can, through modern factory farming and technological improvements, feed the world three times over. But we don't, and people starve throughout the world.

So while I agree with you inside the productivity bubble, I think the larger point is: where does it get us, ultimately, as a human race, or even as a nation?

No matter how many more widgets we make, and we can make billions, if we don't deploy them fairly and humanely, it's largely in vain.

The expensive private schools won't be embracing technology at the expense of teachers. That should tell us all something.


Anonymous said...

Charlie, the future is here. Read it in NYT:

Gates Foundation and Pearson (textbook publisher) have announced a partnership to create on line math and reading courses to meet the common core standards that 40 states have now adopted. It will be interactive and have video games and social media component to make learning more intuitive and exciting for my offsprings.

-just think... "No dark sarcasm in the classroom"

$$$$$ jackpot

Moses said...

I'm seeing a fair bit of conflation between productivity and efficiency in both Charlie's original post and many of the responses. It's worth noting that these two goals, while related, are distinct, and that one can make pretty serious trade-offs in targeting productivity or efficiency (not to mention sacrifices in sustainability in advancing either these other goals).

A more efficient system uses fewer resources to attain its goals. A more productive system increases the quantity of its outputs well holding steady or decreasing its costs. In the case of agriculture. increases in efficiency and productivity that have been brought about through mechanization, chemical pesticides, and bio-engineering have all damaged the sustainability of the enterprise. Some of that damage is easily trackable (i.e. top soil depletion), while other damage is much further ranging and cannot be predicted at this time (cross pollination from GMO organisms). There are serious questions worth asking as to whether all of the various trade-offs have been worth it. Please note, this not supposed to be a blanket condemnation of all of these technologies, or even necessarily of any of them individually. Also note, that tools can be utilized in various ways. The ways in which technologies like GMO crops have been rolled out are actually more significant in terms of both gains and losses than the technology itself.

To turn towards schools, one important thing to bear in mind in either looking at productivity or efficiency aims for education is that students are not widgets. The effects on educational outcomes from tweaking a system to make it more productive or more efficient are harder to predict for schools, and less likely to become evident in the short term.

For instance, we are currently seeing a massive drop in the number of college graduates who are looking at teaching as a possible career. This is very likely an unintended outcome of the last decade of educational policy, and it represents only one such possible outcome. Many more will only become evident over time.

To reframe, all of the technologies Charlie has pointed to in terms of tools of so called "Education reform" (a term that once had a much broader meaning), are not in and of themselves tools of efficiency or productivity. They are tools that can be put towards achieving those ends, as well as other ends. No matter how we choose to deploy these tools, the full range of outcomes will be very difficult to predict because students are not widgets. They are people, and as David Cohen has pointed out, working with people in the process of human improvement is an extremely messy endeavor.

Charlie Mas said...

Before this thread is so old that no one remembers it...

This just posted to the LEV blog, an article by Tom Vander Ark touting tech in the classroom.

tim proy said...

Every points you mentioned here are would be affected very much with future education. I think online education would play bigger role.
continuing education