Friday, January 25, 2008

K-12 Education--The Last Stand of the 19th Century

Eduflack offers up one of the most succinct indictments of the current K-12 education system. In a world where today's computers will be obsolete in 12-18 months, when information is shared across teh globe in the blink of an eye, where you can get and expect to get customer support 24-7 for just about anything you need and where the pace of change is so rapid that you wonder what happened, we still cling to an educational system that would not suprise our grandparents or even great grand parents in its style, content or delivery.
K-12 education is one of the last bastions of old-world thinking. Consider this, most of today's high schools are just like the high schools we went to, or our parents, or our grandparents. The fact is, little has changed in secondary education over the past century. We still have rows of one-piece desks. We still have teachers lecturing 25 some-odd students for the full class time. We still have worksheets and multiple-choice tests on relatively arcane topics. And we still have anywhere from a third to a half of students dropping out before earning their diploma.

At the same time, we preach the need for education. We tell students that high-skill, high-wage jobs require both a high school diploma and some form of postsecondary education. We talk about the relevance of school and the need to achieve. And then, in far too many communities, we go back to rows of desks and a lecture on the French Revolution.
To be sure, we are taking baby steps in the direction of making it better, but we often put bigger roadblocks in the way we approach education than we need.

To be sure, we are often quite reluctant to "experiment" with the education of our children, but that fear has paralyzed the ability of policymakers, teachers, parents and even students to find innovative ways to teach or to even put technology front and center as an integral part of the classroom. Bill Ferriter, for example, has routinely blogged about the barriers to using technology in the classroom and the fact that students place as much importance on their "virtual" friendships as they do their relationships with their flesh and blood classmates.

As was hammered home to me recently with my own children, both who are growing up in a time that did not know a world before the internet, we have an entirely new generation
a generation that never knew corded telephones, typewriters, a library card catalog, or UHF television. A demographic that can't recall a pre-Internet world. A group we hope is being built on the notion of working smarter, not harder; to innovate and not follow.
We need to radically rethink the manner in which we educate, pay and retain our teachers. We must alter our perception of what "school" is and realize that for our children and the children of the future, there is no real need for them to actually be physically in a room with a single teacher at any one time. Their teacher can just as easily be three or four thousand miles away as three or four feet away.

In a world where even Congress operates in a high tech fashion, it seems anachronistic to say the least to expect our children to operate in an educational world in which George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would be comfortable.

1 comment:

Dana said...

That is one of the things that concerns me most about the current push toward "accountability." In theory, I'm all for it. But the way it is playing out is forcing all schools to conform to a single model.

Unfortunately, I believe in a diversified market, we need a highly diversified education system...but we are killing that.