The Future of Education

Transforming the schools for your child, for all children.

Posted Jan 22, 2016

Dennis Hill, CC 2.0
Source: Dennis Hill, CC 2.0

The U.S. spends more per student than any other country in the world yet perennially scores among the lowest among developed nations and is not improving while other countries are.

Additionally troubling, despite a half century and literally trillions of dollars and enormous effort to try to close the achievement gap, that gap remains nearly as wide as ever.

Yet “reformers” continue to mainly just tinker around education's edges:

  • Remodel school buildings, remove graffiti.
  • Ensure classes are taught by teachers with the right license
  • Ensure equity. The mantra is “All students can learn to high standards.”
  • Lower class size, as if the same teachers teaching the same curriculum at a ratio of 1/15 will make that so much difference compared with 1/30 to justify doubling the cost of the teaching force. The data suggests it doesn't.
  • Emphasize multiculturalism.
  • Lengthen the school day and start school younger, that is, expand Head Start even though the metaevaluation indicates it’s ineffective. In other words, give kids more of what doesn’t work?!

More dramatic changes at least deserve a pilot test. Here’s an example of a reinvented "high school" I’d be excited about. I call it SuperSchool.

What relevance might this have for you as a parent or citizen? While you probably won't be able to convince your local education leaders to fully try SuperSchool, you may find elements worth sharing to your child's principal or at the next PTA or school board meeting.

Where

A high school campus that is badly in need of replacement or repair that’s located on high-value land would be sold to pay for SuperSchool. The likely extra money would be returned to the taxpayers.

As you'll see SuperSchool would have hours daily of face-to-face contact, but the SuperSchool day would start at home, which enables high schoolers to sleep later, in keeping with teen biorhythms. At that point, each student would go to his or her computer and sign in with a fingerprint reader that keeps verifying that s/he and not a stand-in is participating in the classes. Excessive absence triggers an e-message to an attendance officer who contacts the parent.

If the home environment isn’t conducive to learning, the student may take a laptop or tablet (school-provided if necessary) to the place of his or her choice: a neighbor’s or friend’s place, a library, coffee shop, etc. 

The SuperTeachers.

Critically, the courses would be team-taught by SuperTeachers, nationally preeminent, transformational teachers: those that not only, year-after-year, produce test score growth above his/her students’ previous years’, they’re recommended by a committee of the teacher’s students, parents and principal as inspiring a love of learning and contributing exceptionally to the student’s growing to become responsible, ethical, well-adjusted adults.

Making such teachers available to all the nation's students of course, is possible only through the use of video, an excellent trade-off. Wouldn’t you rather have world-class teachers on video than the random assortment in-person?

SuperCourses

On the computer, students would see the menu of all their courses, including the elective of their choice.

Every day, each student would choose the order in which s/he takes that day’s classes. “Today, I feel like starting with biology.” No need for the school to preordain a rigid class schedule. The only requirement would be that, by the end of the four-to-five hour course block, the student meet or exceed the expected progress in each course, based on the student’s previous record.

Each class session would be rich with simulations adapted to the student’s learning speed and abstraction ability, continually updated based on the student's recent performance---like a golf or bowling handicap.

Class sessions would be punctuated by questions for students to discuss with each other online in real-time or any time afterwards. At any time, a student could query a live teacher who’s just a click away. Every 15-minute module, there would be a few-question quiz that’s the gateway to the next module.The standard class session would consist of three 15-minute modules.

Help buttons would be strategically placed within each module to provide additional video explanation by a SuperTeacher. If that's insufficient, the student could, at any time, click to get help from a live teacher by phone or chat, like customer support on consumer websites.

Students could take SuperCourses in whatever language they wished, thanks to human-augmented real-time foreign-language interpreting and translation software . Little by little, non-native speakers of English would transition into classes taught in English.

SuperCurriculum

The curriculum would be reinvented to focus on what’s most important for all high school graduates to learn: practical reading, critical thinking, writing, mathematical reasoning, scientific thinking, citizenship, aesthetic connoisseurship, financial literacy, conflict resolution skills, and physical and mental health.

In contrast, the current curriculum is heavily determined by university academics, who place undue emphasis on arcana of far less interest or value to most students, especially to low achievers. It is elitist to insist that every high school graduate struggle with the intricacies of Shakespeare when s/he can’t decipher a consumer contract, to try to make sense of three-dimensional geometry when he can’t estimate, to balance chemical equations when she lacks the knowledge or inspiration to live healthily and ethically.

Lest you think I exaggerate the preponderance of esoterica in the curriculum, I invite you to peruse the Common Core (the standard U.S. curriculum) for high school math: To give you a taste, this is the very first paragraph of the Introduction to Algebra standard:

An expression is a record of a computation with numbers, symbols that represent numbers, arithmetic operations, exponentiation, and, at more advanced levels, the operation of evaluating a function. Conventions about the use of parentheses and the order of operations assure that each expression is unambiguous. Creating an expression that describes a computation involving a general quantity requires the ability to express the computation in general terms, abstracting from specific instances.

SuperTesting

To assess cumulative retained learning, the quizzes would embed questions from earlier modules. Because the tests are online, results would immediately be added to the students’ record. Low scorers would be flagged for tutoring. high scorers for enrichment. That embedded testing would eliminate the need for a few days every year of out-of-context standardized testing, time away from instruction, on tests that many students blow off because they "don’t count.”

The co-curriculum, face-to-face.

Of course, while it may be worth trading-off face-to-face contact so that all kids can get world-class teachers, it's important that the rest of the day involve considerable face-to-face interaction.

So after completing the day’s block of courses, students would eat lunch at home alone or with friends and if the student can't drive or bike, s/he'd carpool or use a school or public bus to get to a two-hour-a-day Real-World Experience: an internship in a government, for- or nonprofit workplace.

Adults in all walks of life would be encouraged to apply to mentor an intern. The mentors would be required to pass a background check and to pass an online interactive course in the art of supervising and mentoring an intern. If sufficient mentors couldn't be recruited to work voluntarily, they would receive an honorarium. Students and mentors would be matched using software like match.com.

After students' two hours at their internship, they would go to their choice of group extracurricular activity led by an live adult. These would be held in existing community resources, for example, drama at a local community theatre, sports at a community or college athletic facility, band in a church basement, other activities in an apartment complex’s community room, or even in students’ homes. A stipend to each venue-provider would be paid. Many venues and parents would welcome that—It’s space that may have otherwise sat empty with no income generated.

Why try?

SuperSchool could enable every child, rich and poor, urban and rural, anywhere in the U.S. or potentially the world, to receive highly individualized, enjoyable, world-class instruction at dramatically lower cost.

Because each course would require just one development and one small team of teachers yet would be distributed nationwide, the cost saving would be mammoth while including exemplary teaching, simulations and interactivity far too expensive and difficult to develop district by district, let alone teacher by teacher.

Of course, it’s possible that this beta version of SuperSchool would cause more problems than it's worth but it’s only a pilot. After that, SuperSchool could be scrapped, improved, or scaled.

But even as a pilot, SuperSchool offers legitimate hope for dramatically improving important student learning and personal growth more pleasantly than in traditional school and at remarkably lower cost, something that heretofore seemed impossible.

Here are this series' other articles:

The Future of Relationships

The Future of Work.

The Future of Clinical Psychology