AEI’s Michael McShane recently wrote a commentary, “Don’t stifle the schools of tomorrow,” discussing the changing face of education as schools try to develop innovative ways of effective teaching. Schools such as the Carpe Diem Public Charter Schools that blend online and in-person instruction are producing amazing results. New teacher evaluation programs, however, do not take into account these hybrid education models and may potentially “stifle” their progress.
Here, McShane answers 5 questions on his article.
1. How do these hybrid schools you talk about fit in with the Clayton Christensen “disruptive innovation” model of school reform?
McShane: I think Christensen really understands just how huge a role technology can play in causing us to fundamentally rethink how we go about the process of teaching and learning. Scale is a huge problem in education. We have some 50 million school children, so putting a dynamite teacher in front of all of them (if we assume the traditional 25 students-per-class model) requires an enormous amount of human capital. If we can extend the reach of great teachers by automating some of the routine processes that suck up their time, or record and disseminate their lessons to broader audiences, or have them work collaboratively with technology to deliver content, we can take a big bite out of that problem.
2.) How do you think these teachers should be evaluated, given their “hybrid” environment?
McShane: That’s the $64,000 questions we’re hoping to answer on Thursday! My two cents? I think that teachers in hybrid environments are going to increasingly specialize (lesson planners, lesson deliverers, assessment developers, parent communicators, etc.) and norms and standards are going to need to be developed for each of these new roles, much like norms and standards have developed for what we know as teaching today.
3.) The Carpe Diem Public Charter Schools seem to be producing very positive results, both educationally and economically. Are there any other schools that have enacted this mixture of technology and teacher interaction successfully?
4.) Are there other barriers to the adoption of this model?
McShane: Sure. Many. The biggest one is probably the pipeline of teachers and leaders. It’s going to take a different skill set to work in an online school, a hybrid school, or a school with innovative staffing. Our teacher preparation programs, writ large, have shown very little interest in preparing teachers for these school models. I think politics is also a huge issue.
Fewer teachers means fewer union members, and, at least at first, I imagine unions will balk at any large-scale efforts to expand the model. But perhaps most of all, these new models challenge our conceptions of “schools” and “teachers,” two tropes that folks have become pretty accustomed to. It can be hard to convince people to send their kids to a school that is so foreign, and it can be hard to convince policymakers that these schools are worth the flexibility that they need. Expanding our imaginations is tough.
5.) You note that only 25% or so American classrooms have a high-quality teacher. Why do we have so many mediocre and poor teachers? How do other nations recruit higher academic achievers into teaching and are those approaches applicable to the US?
McShane: I think a huge driver of the teacher quality problem is the sheer number of teachers we need. We have about 3.3 million public school teachers in the United States today, and it’s hard to find 3.3 million people that are good at anything let alone a job as challenging as teaching. This is where some of these new models are so fascinating. If we need fewer teachers, we can be much more selective in how they are chosen, pay them more, and actually make their lives easier by removing many of the tasks that they find distracting from their core mission of instructing students.