'The next president must use technology to improve education, not cut costs'

18th August 2016 at 11:00
presidential election, education, technology
As the election looms, education expert Julia Freedland Fisher assesses the state of the education system and what needs to happen to make it better

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As the presidential election approaches, we are asking leading experts to assess the state of education in the country now; to evaluate President Obama’s legacy and highlight what needs to happen under the next administration.

Following the first installment with Andy Hargreaves, we now ask Julia Freeland Fisher, the director of education research at the Clayton Christensen Institute, for her thoughts.

She leads a team that educates policymakers and community leaders on the power of disruptive innovation in K-12 and higher education. Her team aims to transform factory-model education systems into student-centered designs that educate every student successfully and enable each to realize his or her fullest potential.

Julia what will be the legacy of Race to the Top and Barack Obama’s other education initiatives?

Overall, Race to the Top solidified the administration’s push to shift states from focusing on inputs to outcomes. This was not a new agenda – indeed it was in many ways enshrined in the previous administration’s accountability push. However, Race to the Top as well as programs like the i3 grant, aimed to ensure that innovations at the state and local level took root and grew in service of student outcomes rather than traditional measures like enrollment or seat-time.

Although these policies did not lead to foolproof results, they kept education focused on metrics including graduation rates and achievement gaps.

Given the shift in focus in the global education reform debate from the 3 Rs to the 4 Cs (critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity), what are the steps we need to take?

Our traditional model of education has struggled to meet the needs of each student because it was never designed to do so. Our research has shown that the disruptive innovation of online learning holds the potential to break apart the factory model of schooling.

Armed with software programs that can deliver instruction and assessment, teachers can blend instruction in ways that frees up more time for small-group differentiated instruction, provides better data on how students are performing, and affords students greater flexibility and choice in how and when they move through their learning.

Technology, however, is not a silver bullet. In the years to come, online learning programs could be deployed primarily as a cheaper delivery tool to decrease spending, without revolutionizing instruction.

The education system needs leadership to steer the growth of technology in a direction that benefits all students, rather than simply cuts costs.

The next U.S. President will need to champion classroom and school models that use technology to personalize learning, rather than giving into the temptation to simply digitize our monolithic 19th century classroom.

How can we make teaching a more prestigious career?

The challenge of recruiting and retaining high quality teachers is not new. The rise of technology, however, does open the door to new strategies previously out of reach.

Specifically, as we start to shift more instruction and assessment online, we predict that how teachers spend their time can likewise shift radically.

For example, the role of a single teacher can start to “unbundle” – such that teachers can actually play to their strengths and passions rather than having to serve as a jack-of-all-trades to a large cohort of students.

Some teachers may serve as curriculum designers, others as mentors and motivators, and still others as subject matter experts.

Blended learning environments also open up greater possibilities for team teaching models that allow teachers to divide and conquer based on their expertise and strengths and to rely on one another rather than operate in silos.

Although these are by no means cure-alls to elevating the profession, the possibilities that technology introduces may be paving the way to specialization, choice, and expertise that would allow teaching to assume newfound status in the labor market.

How do we make Higher Education more effective in meeting the employment needs of the world outside the campus?

Amidst debates about college access and affordability, we think the question of employer needs should sit at the core of higher education conversations. Without answering it, we risk pumping more and more students through a costly system that is not aligned in reliable ways to the job market.

Employers chronically struggle to articulate their precise needs to higher education institutions. That said, institutions of higher education remain chronically misaligned with the labor market and fixed in their ways.

There are a number of postsecondary models, however, which are defying these odds. In particular, online competency-based programs are emerging both within existing institutions like Southern New Hampshire University and Western Governors University, and in new startups like Udacity.

These programs offer not only flexibility in how students move through their learning, but also break learning down into “competencies” which often align directly to employer and industry-driven needs.

We’re seeing similar alignment in efforts like coding boot camps that not only teach software development skills but also focus on intensive job placement efforts in the home stretch of the experience.

For the federal government, particularly as new offerings gain market share, accountability should shift away from traditional accreditation and oversight. Instead, the government should welcome new entrants with untraditional models, in exchange for higher levels of transparency around prices and outcomes. 

The original version of this article first appeared in The Global Search for Education series on CMRubinWorld.  Follow on Twitter @CMRubinWorld



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