The authors of the piece comparing the school privatization program in Chile with what we are now seeing in the United States were Alfredo Gaete of Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile and Stephanie Jones of the University of Georgia.
The pair sent me a second essay that addresses some of the criticisms:
Newspaper editorials are not the ideal form for opening up complex problems, and yet they play a key role in informing the public and generating dialogue and ideas of what might be possible.
We wrote an essay that was criticized by institutions that support the privatization of education and the idea that an unregulated free market is the best way to organize a society, including the public education system.
We responded to one of the critiques and largely perceived the second critique as a public relations effort. The Cato Institute has published a second critique, however, and we wish to respond to that criticism here.
Both criticisms focused on one or both of the first two points, out of seven, that we made in our original essay about the results of Chilean market-based education reform after 30 years of implementation. We acknowledge these two statements could have been phrased more precisely – and we will do so here.
But before doing that we want to note that even if we cut off these two points from the list, there are still five points virtually untouched by the criticism we have received so far – and also that these five points alone are everything needed to raise serious doubts about the desirability and success of the market-based educational model in question.
We claimed that the following seven facts were helpful to assess “the Chilean experiment" (the last 3 decades of market oriented educational policy in Chile):
Now, regarding point one, we neglected to include up-to-date data showing that in fact there are some relevant gains both in PISA and SIMCE scores (the two measures invoked by our critics) during the last 10 years or so.
Yet, researchers (including Professor Elacqua, whose work was cited against our assertions) have reasons to believe – and our critics have neglected to report this in turn – that these gains are not due to the competition mechanisms of the market-oriented scheme, but rather to other factors such as, for instance, the implementation of the “Ley SEP," a recent affirmative action legislation developed precisely to alleviate the inequalities of the scheme.
It is this same affirmative action legislation that may explain the improvements in the last decade that have been made on equality, especially regarding the academic achievement gap. So it would not be in order, we think, to invoke this progress as evidence of the alleged advantages of the privatization of education. Nor does this render false our second point, namely, that Chilean society is more unequal (both academically and economically) today than it was before the privatization of education and that the correlation between family income and student achievement is clear.
And finally, we regret to acknowledge that in our original essay we fell into the trap of highlighting and questioning test scores as part of our argument against the privatization of public education. The testing and accountability fetish being used to support privatization efforts is destroying the integrity of the teaching profession, engaging in what we consider child labor where children’s forced and repetitive work on test preparation and testing has financial benefits for adults and private companies, and diminishing what the word education means in practice and theory.
Regardless of the “miracles" claimed by proponents of competition and privatization efforts, it seems as though the dirty – and much more complex – truth comes out at some point. The Texas Miracle used to design No Child Left Behind was a case of cooking the books; the Atlanta Miracle included systemic cheating to save jobs and schools from being closed and educators are now sentenced to serve time behind bars; the New Orleans Miracle continues to be an embarrassment with the retraction of research reports indicating success and criticisms about bad data; and in 2013 there was confirmed test cheating in 37 states and Washington D.C., but surely it is more widespread than that given the high-stakes of the very tests that have been criticized for their bias, invalidity, very high cost, and damaging effects on what schooling has become.
Not everything is a competition, not everything should be designed as a competition, and education – especially – should not be treated as a competition where there are guaranteed winners and losers.
No one should lose in education.
Education is a public necessity that calls for collaboration; the sharing of resources, information and practices; and justice. It should be the job of a healthy state aiming for the common good, not a game for businesses with a focus on profits, losses, and hedging financial bets.
JOANNE RATHE/GLOBE STAFF
Regis College’s renovations include an extension of Maria Hall (center), which will look onto a grassy quad that is replacing a parking lot.
Antoinette M. Hays spent decades as a nurse, teacher, and college administrator before becoming president of Regis College. But what could prove to be her most valuable credential isn’t on her resume; it’s in her genes.
Hays grew up in Waltham watching her parents launch and grow businesses — her mother, a dancing school and her father, a construction firm.
“I was encouraged to be open-minded and take risks," she said. “ ‘Be a leader, not a follower,’ my mother would often say."
Hays has used this entrepreneurial pedigree to help transform the Weston campus from a struggling all-women’s Catholic college into a coed university with a global footprint and aspirations to be a national leader in health care education. A little more than a decade ago, Regis appeared on the verge of closing after years of losing students and money; now, the school is in the first stages of a $75 million expansion and upgrade of its facilities.
As Regis holds its 85th commencement next week, it can celebrate a remarkable turnaround — the product of vision, innovation, agility, and smart financial management. Regis has launched new multidisciplinary programs at the undergraduate level; vastly expanded graduate and continuing education; forged relationships within the state’s burgeoning biotechnology, medical device, and health care industries; and partnered with universities in Greater Boston and around the world.
Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff
Regis College president Antoinette Hays (second from right) talked with students last month. From left: Julia Jones, Sam Jean-Gilles, and Chris Cortez, of Framingham.
The college also built on established nursing programs to refocus curriculum on so-called STEM — for sciences, technology, engineering, and math — skills sought by companies of all kinds. The result: Over the past decade, undergraduate enrollment has jumped more than 40 percent to about 1,100; graduate students have tripled to nearly 900; and annual revenues have quadrupled to $48 million.
“The things that we do are as big [as], if not bigger than, schools that have 60,000," Hays said.
Jeff Denneen, head of the higher education practice at the Boston consultancy Bain & Co., said Regis has positioned itself to prosper by squeezing costs even as it has grown. In addition, Bain projects enrollment in STEM-related master’s programs, such as those offered by Regis, will increase at an annual rate of 7 percent, compared with 3 percent for all master’s programs.
“It seems they’ve really zeroed in on a very good spot in the market in Greater Boston," Denneen said.
Regis was founded 88 years ago in Weston by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, with the goal of educating women and training them for service to the community. The college’s decline began in the closing decades of the last century as students increasingly preferred coed schools to single-sex colleges. Many were drawn to major Catholic universities such as Boston College and Holy Cross, which started admitting women undergrads in the 1970s.
Workers prepared the “Great Walk," curving along the Great Lawn that fronts the Regis campus, for the installation of lights that are part of the Weston expansion.
Regis operated in the red through most of the ’90s, hitting bottom in 2001 with a shortfall of $6.8 million, about a third of the school’s $20 million budget. That year, Regis hired Dr. Mary Jane England as president and Thomas G. Pistorino as vice president of finance and business. While outsiders questioned whether Regis, with an endowment of just $32 million, could survive, its trustees, alumni, and staff committed to keeping the doors open.
The college made hard choices, slashing payroll by 30 percent and eliminating several majors. But the leadership also recognized that “cutting our way out of the red ink would only get us so far," Pistorino said. “The underlying theme has been to grow."
Citing statistics that showed just a fraction of high school women preferring a single-sex college, England led Regis to accept men in 2007 (its graduate programs already were co-ed). Within three years, undergrad enrollment was up nearly 30 percent.
The school also tried to diversify its revenue base. Inspired by Lasell Village at Lasell College in Newton, Regis announced plans in 2005 to build a retirement community on its undeveloped East Campus. It seemed a natural choice, providing the college an income stream and nursing students with training opportunities. Neighbors, however, strenuously objected to the plan, which called for several high-rise buildings.
The legal battles continued through 2011, when Hays became Regis’s president and decided to abandon the project. Hays said the college has no immediate plans for the property, but selling to a developer “would be the least likely option."
The biggest driver of growth at Regis has been graduate programs in health and related fields. Many graduate courses are offered at night, on weekends, and in the summer, which means Regis classrooms are rarely empty.
Caroline Duque, who earned her master’s degree in Regulatory & Clinical Research Management in December, said she was drawn to Regis because it offered both clinical training and courses in how to navigate the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies.
Today, the 27-year-old Marlborough resident coordinates clinical trials for Biogen in Cambridge. Businesses “want more and more specialized professionals," said Duque, who estimated that half her Regis classmates were already working in the industry. “Having a degree in clinical research really helped me."
To accommodate increased enrollment, Regis is building a four-story addition to a dormitory with suite-like accommodations for 70 students. The addition will be completed this fall along with a new entrance to the library.
Both will look onto a grassy quad that will replace a parking lot at the heart of the campus. The school also plans to build an addition to the science building, renovate the student union, and launch a capital campaign to pay for the improvements.
In recent years, Regis also has invested in technology. Students are provided with iPads. Teachers are experimenting with flipped classrooms, where lectures take place online and class time is devoted to discussion and real-world applications. A virtual campus, created through online courses, is in the college’s plans.
Just as it listened to industry in shaping graduate programs, Regis took cues from students in revamping undergraduate curriculum. The “aha moment," Hays said, came as more students began pursuing minors and double majors to create their own interdisciplinary program. That led Regis to encourage collaboration among departments and develop curriculum that cuts across different fields of study.
An undergraduate program in biomedical engineering that debuts this fall is an example. It not only will require students to understand technology but also health and regulatory issues.
Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff
Graduate students sat in the lounge at College Hall.
“The millennial student is looking for an opportunity to tie the liberal arts with professional programs," Hays said, “because they’re looking to be sure that there’s employment at the end."
The Regis community, meanwhile, is fanning across the globe. Faculty and administrators are helping Haitians establish a master’s program in nursing. Also in the works is an exchange program with the Caritas Institute of Higher Education in Hong Kong.
The college already has numerous partnerships with local universities. For example, Regis students take health policy courses at Brandeis University in Waltham, which in turn sends students to Regis for epidemiology and biostatistics.
One thing has not changed at Regis: More than half the students are the first in their families to go to college. Decades ago, nearly all were daughters of Irish, French, Polish, or Italian Catholic immigrants; today, men and women are also Latinos, Asians, or African-Americans practicing many faiths. Some 30 percent of students come from minority backgrounds or abroad.
As this history shows, said M.J. Doherty, an alumna and special assistant to the president, Regis, through all its ups and downs, has remained true to the principles of its founding sisters.
“Their mantra is service to the dear neighbor without distinction," Doherty said. “They also practice reading the signs of the times."
Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff
Antoinette Hays, a Waltham native, took over as Regis College president in 2011.
By MATT RICHTELAPRIL 24, 2015
PALO ALTO, Calif. — PALO ALTO HIGH SCHOOL, one of the nation’s most prestigious public secondary schools, is sandwiched between two stark and illusory paths. Across the street to the west, Stanford University beckons as the platonic ideal, a symbol of the road to Google, the White House, the mansion on the hill. To the east, across a bike trail, are the railroad tracks where three boys from the school district have killed themselves this year.
Suicide clusters are relatively rare, accounting for about 5 percent of teenage suicides. Startlingly, this year’s is the second contagion to visit this city. Five students or recent graduates of the district’s other high school, Gunn High School, killed themselves beginning in 2009.
Experts say such clusters typically occur when suicide takes hold as a viable coping mechanism — as a deadly, irrational fashion. But that hasn’t stopped this community from soul searching: Does a culture of hyperachievement deserve any blame for this cluster?
The answer is complex, bordering on the contradictory: No, the pressure to succeed is not unique, nor does it cause a suicide cluster in itself, but the intense reflection underway here has unearthed a sobering reality about how Silicon Valley’s culture of best in class is playing out in the schools.
In addition to whatever overt pressure students feel to succeed, that culture is intensified by something more insidious: a kind of doublespeak from parents and administrators. They often use all the right language about wanting students to be happy, healthy and resilient — a veritable “script," said Madeline Levine, a Bay Area psychologist who treats depressed, anxious and suicidal tech-industry executives, workers and their children.
“They say, ‘All I care about is that you’re happy,’ and then the kid walks in the door and the first question is, ‘How did you do on the math test?’ " Ms. Levine said. “The giveaways are so unbelievably clear."
Denise Pope, an education expert at Stanford, calls this gulf between what people say and what they mean “the hidden message of parenting."
But here, and in lots of other ultrahigh-achieving communities and schools, Ms. Pope said that children are picking through the static to hear the overriding message that only the best will do — in grades, test scores, sports, art, college. “In everything," she said.
“I hear students tell me that if I don’t get into X, Y, Z college, I’ll wind up flipping burgers at McDonald’s," said Ms. Pope, who is working with Ms. Levine to counsel at the high schools.
Ms. Pope said that wrongheaded idea becomes an emotional and physiological threat when multiplied by at least three other factors: technology that keeps teens working and socializing late at night, depriving them of essential rest; growing obligations from test-prep classes and extracurricular activities; and parents too busy to participate in activities with their families.
“We are not teenagers," Carolyn Walworth, a junior at Palo Alto High School, wrote in an editorial in the local paper in response to the suicides. She described students as “lifeless bodies in a system that breeds competition" and wrote of going to the emergency room to deal with stress, missed periods and having “a panic attack in the middle of a 30-person class and be forced to remain still."
There has been lots of talk in the community about what to do, she wrote, but action has not followed. (The district is providing counseling services, offering a suicide-prevention kit and urging teachers to limit homework hours.)
“Please, no more endless discussions about what exactly it is that is wrong with our schools, and, above all, no more empty promises," she wrote, and noted: “We are the product of a generation of Palo Altans that so desperately wants us to succeed but does not understand our needs."
THIS curious idea of a rhetorical divide came up in a number of recent discussions with parents and their children. In one conversation about the suicides, a mother at a Bay Area school in a similarly high-achieving community told me how little pressure she puts on her teens and noted by way of an anecdote how she had succeeded: Her daughter, she proudly recounted, was so well balanced that she decided last year not to go to the best college she got into but, rather, the school that best fit her passions. The school was Vassar.
In this subtle linguistic slip, Vassar qualified as a second-rate school.
Esther Wojcicki, the teacher who oversees the Palo Alto High School newspaper, lamented the competitive environment but noted seconds later that the school paper had just won a “Gold Crown" award from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and that the two dozen students sitting at computer terminals at 4 p.m. that day were thrilled to stay until 9 p.m. to put out the school magazine because they have so much fun doing it.
Alan Eagle, a sales director at Google whose 17-year-old son, William, is a junior at Gunn, was frank about the distance between what he tells his son and what he means.
“I can say all I want that it doesn’t matter where my son goes to college," Mr. Eagle told me. But “I’m sure that as much as I preach that, I’m not being 100 percent authentic and frank."
He added: “I personally went to Dartmouth and it did help. I look at the economy, the difference between haves and have-nots, and I believe a college education is critical."
And a rich high school experience, too. A few minutes later, while acknowledging that his son had given up playing on the basketball team to study more, Mr. Eagle noted that “at least he’s still got track."
Glenn McGee, the district’s superintendent, also seemed to struggle to walk the line between celebrating the exceptional nature of this area while urging students to relax. Sitting in his office and looking across the street at the Stanford campus, he mourned the fact that some parents feel that such a school is the only acceptable outcome.
“In many cases, people have made a big sacrifice to live in this community," Dr. McGee said, referring to exorbitant housing costs (the median housing price last year was $3.3 million, making it the fourth most-expensive ZIP code in the country, according to Richard Florida, an academic who studies demographic trends). Characterizing the attitude of many parents, Dr. McGee said, “To be blunt, what is my return on investment?"
“My job is not to get you into Stanford," he said he tells parents and students. “It’s to teach them to learn how to learn, to think, to work together — learn how to explore, collaborate, learn to be curious and creative."
Some parents hear it, he said, but “a lot of families and parents don’t hear the message and say: compete and compete."
Dr. McGee said he had interviewed 300 students and found that half would be “really embarrassed" to tell their friends they got a B. But the truth is that it’s awfully hard to be the best here, given the curve: The SAT scores are so high on average that a student who finishes in the 75th percentile in the district has a 2,200, the 99th percentile in general for college-bound seniors.
Soon after lamenting the pressure, Dr. McGee raved about a student who was part of a math team that finished first in January in a national competition, and about the new performing arts center under construction, and about the coming $24 million athletic facility funded by a private family foundation.
And why wouldn’t he rave? Why not be thrilled by achievement?
Because the bar for academic success here has become so high that solid performance can feel mediocre.
It puts enormous pressure on a school, or a community, when such consistent, across-the-board greatness becomes a baseline of sorts — what Mr. Eagle described as a culture of “not just excellence but uber-excellence."
Perhaps that explains some of the doublespeak: Parents are searching for language to encourage their children, even push them, but not crush them.
One solution, said Ms. Pope of Stanford, is “downtime, playtime, family time." For parents, too. In other words: Take a leap of faith (well supported by science) that downtime will lead to a healthier perspective.
Dr. Morton Silverman, a psychiatrist and senior science adviser to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, suggested that another answer is recognizing that the doublespeak also betrays a sense of terror about the future among both students and parents.
With the economy in flux and the income gap growing, parents don’t see a clear path anymore to financial stability — even here, maybe especially here, where things move fast and competition is fierce. In addition, many of the fortunes made here have been based on creating things that destabilize traditional businesses and their workers.
So confront the new realities, Dr. Silverman suggested, urging parents to say something like: “I can’t tell you which path to take or how to get there, but I will support you," he said. “I’m here to back you up."
It’s a hard message to hear in a can-do place like this.
Walking near the train tracks where the children laid themselves down, Dr. McGee said this community, if any, should have answers.
“Can we put sensors up there?" he mused quietly to me, maybe to alert the train operators that someone has climbed onto the tracks. “This is Silicon Valley. There ought to be something we can do."
Glenn Kessler writes the Fact Checker column for The Post.
As the father of a high school senior who suffered this spring through the angst of waiting for college acceptance notices at a time when some top schools reject more than 90 percent of applicants, I have a simple suggestion to reduce some of the craziness.
Place two limits on college applications: Students should be allowed to submit no more than 10 through the Common Application and no more than four to the eight Ivy League universities.
The Common App, which was created 35 years ago with the sensible goal of streamlining the college admissions process, currently limits students to 20 applications. But that’s too many. The ease of applying — and the fear of rejection — makes students submit to increasingly more schools.
The root of the problem, of course, is the various college ranking systems, which credit schools for their selectivity. That encourages schools to seek ways to boost the number of applications they receive. Our mailbox was flooded with college brochures just weeks after our then-sophomore son took the PSAT.
Washington University in St. Louis, for example, even shamelessly promotes the fact that, unlike most selective colleges, it requires no supplemental essays beyond the basic Common App. You just click a box and, presto, your application is submitted (for a $75 fee, of course).
The net result is that colleges are being overwhelmed with applications by highly qualified students — and turning most of them down.
Lee Coffin, undergraduate admissions dean at Tufts University, wrote in a blog post last month that 74 percent of Tufts’s nearly 20,000 applicants were deemed qualified for admission — and that 42 percent were recommended for acceptance. But in the end the university could only accept a record-low 16 percent, making it nearly as competitive as Cornell University, an Ivy school. Five years ago, Tufts accepted 26 percent of applicants.
In response, students and their parents are engaged in a Great National Freak-out. The online forums of the College Confidential Web site are filled with anger at a system that has spun out of control. “This process is insane," wrote one parent on March 24. “I’m Harvard ’84, and my son is so much more accomplished and smart than I was in high school. But he’s getting rejected from places like Cornell and Northwestern, and waitlisted at Chicago (which had a 40% admit rate back in the day)."
Even more painful were the posts of parents whose children were rejected by every single college they applied to.
Limits on the number of applications would be the first step to restoring some sanity.
Take, for example, the eight Ivy League universities. I went to Brown University as an undergraduate and Columbia University as a graduate student, and I have visited all but one of the others. They are all high-caliber universities, but they have very different strengths and cultures; they just happen to be in the same football league. Students who want to go to Dartmouth should have little reason to apply to Brown, and vice versa, unless they simply are trying to buy a brand name.
A limit of four Ivy League applications would force students to make choices and understand the differences among the schools. Congratulations to the handful of students who got accepted to all eight this year, but they can go only to one school. Because they applied to so many schools, other well-qualified candidates had to cope with rejection notices.
The Ivies could accomplish this change by having each student certify that he or she is applying to no more than three other Ivies — just as students who apply for an early decision promise to attend the school if selected.
Meanwhile, the Common App could do its part by reducing its maximum number of applications from 20 to 10. Doing so would open opportunities for many students because it would shrink the competition to the students who truly want to attend those colleges, rather than including people who willy-nilly check a box.
My wife and I worked closely with our son, who attends Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, to identify the colleges that best met his needs and talents. He applied to just eight and, happily, got into five of his top six choices. But we were on the edge of our seats for weeks, as things could have easily gone the other way. That’s because getting into college has largely become a lottery.
Attending the right college should not be a game of chance. Limiting the number of applications would improve the odds for everyone.
Whenever a college student asks me, a veteran high-school English educator, about the prospects of becoming a public-school teacher, I never think it’s enough to say that the role is shifting from "content expert" to "curriculum facilitator." Instead, I describe what I think the public-school classroom will look like in 20 years, with a large, fantastic computer screen at the front, streaming one of the nation’s most engaging, informative lessons available on a particular topic. The "virtual class" will be introduced, guided, and curated by one of the country’s best teachers (a.k.a. a "super-teacher"), and it will include professionally produced footage of current events, relevant excerpts from powerful TedTalks, interactive games students can play against other students nationwide, and a formal assessment that the computer will immediately score and record.
I tell this college student that in each classroom, there will be a local teacher-facilitator (called a "tech") to make sure that the equipment works and the students behave. Since the "tech" won’t require the extensive education and training of today’s teachers, the teacher’s union will fall apart, and that "tech" will earn about $15 an hour to facilitate a class of what could include over 50 students. This new progressive system will be justified and supported by the American public for several reasons: Each lesson will be among the most interesting and efficient lessons in the world; millions of dollars will be saved in reduced teacher salaries; the "techs" can specialize in classroom management; performance data will be standardized and immediately produced (and therefore "individualized"); and the country will finally achieve equity in its public school system.
"So if you want to be a teacher," I tell the college student, "you better be a super-teacher."
I used to think I was kidding, or at least exaggerating. Now I’m not so sure. When I consulted a local career counselor who is on the brink of retirement after a lifetime in the public schools, he said I was wrong about my prediction—but only about it taking 20 years. "Try five or 10," he said.
I smiled and laughed, and then suddenly stopped. I thought about how many times I had heard the phrase "teacher as facilitator" over the past year. I recalled a veteran teacher who recently said with anguish, "we used to be appreciated as experts in our field." I thought about the last time I walked into a local bookstore, when the employee asked if she could order a book for me from Amazon. Are teachers going the way of local bookstores? Suddenly I felt like the frog in the pot of water, feeling a little warm, wondering if I was going to have to jump before I retire in 20 years. Try five or 10.
I started reflecting. A decade and a half ago, I dedicated two years toward earning a master’s degree in English literature; this training included a couple of pedagogy courses, and it focused on classic literature, the nature of reading and writing, and the best ways to teach it. A decade ago, my school sent me to an Advanced Placement English conference at which I studied literary analysis for three days. As with the graduate program, I don’t remember the conference involving technology—it was simply the teacher, students, and a lot of books. Now, I don’t remember the last time I’ve attended, or even heard of, any professional-development training focused on my specific subject matter. Instead, these experiences concentrate on incorporating technology in the classroom, utilizing assessment data, or new ways of becoming a school facilitator.
When I did some research to see if it was just me sensing this transformation taking place, I was overwhelmed by the number of articles all confirming what I had suspected: The relatively recent emergence of the Internet, and the ever-increasing ease of access to web, has unmistakably usurped the teacher from the former role as dictator of subject content. These days, teachers are expected to concentrate on the "facilitation" of factual knowledge that is suddenly widely accessible.
In 2012, for example, MindShift’s Aran Levasseur wrote that "all computing devices—from laptops to tablets to smartphones—are dismantling knowledge silos and are therefore transforming the role of a teacher into something that is more of a facilitator and coach." Joshua Starr, a nationally prominent superintendent, recently told NPR, "I ask teachers all the time, if you can Google it, why teach it? And it’s already become a cliche that the teacher should transfer from being a "sage on the stage" to being "a guide on the side."
I started looking around me. Teachers like me are uploading onto the web tens of thousands of lesson plans and videos that are then being consolidated and curated by various organizations. In other words, the intellectual property that once belonged to teachers is now openly available on the Internet.
And the teachers unions don’t seem to be stopping this crowdsourcing; in fact, the American Federation of Teachers created sharemylesson.com ("By teachers, for teachers"), which says it offers more than 300,000 free resources for educators. And even though its partner, TES Connect, often charges money for its materials, the private company claims that nearly 5 million resources are downloaded from its sites weekly. Meanwhile, TeachersPayTeachers.com, an open marketplace for lesson plans and resources that launched in 2006, says it has more than 3 million users, including 1 million who signed up in the past year. Close to 1 million educators have purchased lesson plans from the site, while several other teachers are earning six figures for creating the site’s top-selling materials.
I think it used to be taboo for teachers to borrow or buy plans written by other professionals, but it seems that times are changing. Just last week, I spoke with a history teacher from Santa Maria, California, who bluntly said, "I don’t ever write my own lesson plans anymore. I just give credit to the person who did." He explained, rather reasonably, that the materials are usually inexpensive or free; are extremely well made; and often include worksheets, videos, assessments, and links to other resources. Just as his administrators request, he can focus on being a facilitator, specializing in individualized instruction.
I’ve started recognizing a common thread to the latest trends in teaching. Flipped learning, blending learning, student-centered learning, project-based learning, and even self-organized learning—they all marginalize the teacher’s expertise. Or, to put it more euphemistically, they all transform the teacher into a more facilitative role.
In "flipped learning," the student is expected to absorb the core knowledge at home by watching videos and then engage in projects, problem-solving, and critical-thinking activities at school, as facilitated by his or her teacher. Project Tomorrow’s nationwide 2013 survey found that 41 percent of administrators say "pre-service teachers should learn how to set up a flipped class model before getting a teaching credential," while 66 percent of principals say "pre-service teachers should learn to create and use video and other digital media." And once again, when the teacher relies on digital media to provide the core knowledge, his or her role will inherently shift to that of a facilitator. The University of Washington’s Center for Teaching and Learning, for example, explicitly describes "flipped learning" as a way for students to "gain control of the learning process" while "the instructors become facilitators … the instructor is there to coach and guide them."
Likewise, "blended learning"—in which students take at least part of a class online while supervised by adults—is now offered by about 70 percent of K-12 public-school districts. According the Clayton Christensen Institute—a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that touts "disruptive innovation"—the number of K-12 students who took an online course increased from roughly 45,000 in 2000, to more than 3 million in 2009. The institute also projects that half of all high-school classes will be delivered online by 2019.
I asked a longtime friend of mine—a high-school principal in northern California—to tell me candidly what he thought about blended learning. He said, "we’re at the point where the Internet pretty much supplies everything we need. We don’t really need teachers in the same way anymore. I mean, sure, my daughter gets some help from her teachers, but basically everything she learns—from math to band—she can get from her computer better than her teachers."
At a seminar about project-based learning, I told the presenter with an increasing sense of desperation, "You know, some of us English teachers still believe that teaching literature is still our primary job." He smirked and put his pointer finger near his thumb and said, "A very little part of your job." And I recently watched the TedTalk that won the $1 million prize at Ted2013, the one in which Sugata Mitra stated that "schools as we know them are obsolete" because the country no longer needs teachers. Here's how he envisions the classroom:
In the original idea of the "flipped classroom," it seems that the teacher was responsible for recording the lecture and posting the video online, but it’s now becoming more efficient to link to a professional video. And there are now thousands of videos from which to choose. The Kahn Academy—a nonprofit that claims to provide "a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere"—features more than 6,500 free videos and advertises over 100,000 interactive lessons on various subjects. According to Forbes, more than 500,000 teachers worldwide use these videos, which also have over 500 million views on YouTube. Meanwhile, YouTube’s own education channel ("Where anyone, anywhere can learn or teach anything") has 1 million-plus subscribers. And about 2,000 TED talks are available to view for free online and have been seen more than 1 billion times total. The list goes on.
I recently spoke with Monica Brady-Myerov, the CEO and founder of Listen Current, a website that curates the best of public radio, including current events, and offers the three- to five-minute clips alongside a full set of lesson plans and worksheets. When I asked her about the recent boom in lesson-plan production, she said, "It’s like the wild west right now, both in terms of online resources and educational technology. It’s why I quit my job [as a veteran award-winning public radio journalist], so I could ride out west." Here's what Listen Current looks like:
I found brief solace in the idea that I could still be the professional teacher that compiles all these resources—and then I found Edmodo. Branding itself as the "Facebook for schools," Edmodo started in just 2008 and now has more than 48 million members. I signed up just to see what it was all about. Within five minutes, I found a great lesson on Romeo and Juliet by John Green (a favorite author among teens, and on the list of ’s "100 most influential people"), a Kahn Academy video, immediate access to 100 famous speeches, and a somewhat fun interactive game based on Lord of the Flies. According to EdSurge, the Edmodo CEO earlier this month said, "We want to do for teacher resources what Netflix does for movies."
Well then. At least I can organize the video lessons and put them together in a sensible order—except that Activate Instruction is already creating a free and open online tool that is "similar to Wikipedia" and will "help put resources and curriculum in one place that any teacher can use." The company even put these materials in logical "playlists"; the first one I looked at contained 11 different professional resources for teaching a specific skill, including printable worksheets, an engaging video, an essay prompt, and a final assessment. And again, this company is just getting started—Activate Instruction was announced in 2013:
I measured myself against these websites and Internet companies. It seems clear that they already have a distinct advantage over me as an individual teacher. They have more resources, more money, an entire staff of professionals, and they get to concentrate on producing their specialized content, while the teacher is—almost by default—inherently encouraged to transform into a facilitator. Some people might cringe at a "Netflix for teachers," but it’s almost impossible to deny the inherent advantages Netflix has over a local DVD store, and it’s easy to imagine the potential improvements that could happen to these modern services.
For how many more years can I compete? A dozen years ago, I proudly worked for about 20 hours to create a lesson plan that taught poetic meter through the analysis of a rap song (I remember continually rewinding the cassette in my walkman). Last week, the first lesson I saw on sharemylesson.com was a thoroughly analyzed song by Katy Perry, with a printable worksheet that featured at least 10 literary devices, along with a link to her video. ListenCurrent.com gives me immediate access to public-radio clips that took me hours to accumulate just a few months ago. I may not use Edmodo or anything like it this year, but I also didn’t use Facebook in its first few years—or Amazon, or cell phones, or even ATM machines. Isn’t it probable that this educational technology is going to be overwhelmingly awesome in 20 years? I hear the career counselor’s voice: "Try five or 10."
I think to myself: These resources are already good for education, and they’re only getting better. Part of me is really excited that in two decades, the giant interactive classroom computer screen that I foresaw is going to be far more sophisticated than I can possibly imagine. Why should I stand in the way of crowdsourced lesson plans and professionally edited video tutorials? Shouldn’t I stop trying to compete as an individual "sage on the stage," appreciate the modern efficiency of today’s resources, and re-invest my time as their enthusiastic "guide on the side"?
When I told the school’s golf coach about flipped learning, I explained that it would be as if he asked the kids to go home and watch YouTube videos that teach proper mechanics and then practice those skills under his supervision on the course. He laughed and answered, "Oh, we should absolutely do that. Hank Haney’s video’s are way better than anything I can show them."
And if I compete with Hank Haney, shouldn’t I Hank Haney? In other words, if I think my lesson plans or video tutorials rival some of the best on the Internet (for now), shouldn’t I be trying to make six figures on the open marketplace at teacherspayteachers.com or as a curriculum designer for a private company? The dilemma intensifies when I suspect that un-credentialed "techs" might bust the teacher unions in 20 years ("try five or 10").
I looked through the current trends for some sign that the future classroom I envisioned won’t be realized within 20 years. I read Terrance Ross’s analysis of the Bridge International Academies and how their "scripted instruction," combined with technology and statistical feedback, has efficiently earned revenue while improving education in Kenya. Fast Company put the company on the list of "The World’s Top 10 Innovative Companies in Education," citing the fact that it’s already serving over 110,000 students, is significantly outperforming neighboring schools in both reading and math, and plans on educating 10 million students by 2025.
In a similar vein, live-streaming and other technology are also allowing some modern churches to move toward a "multisite" format, one in which a single pastor can broadcast his sermons to satellite churches guided by pastors who—this might sound familiar—concentrate on the facilitation of a common itinerary. Ed Stetzer recently wrote on ChristianityToday.com that "multisite is the new normal," and later explained, "it's easier to create another extension site than it is to create another faithful pastor who is a great communicator … it's easier to start a campus and beam my sermons to other locales than it is to raise up leaders and laypeople."
And as I mentioned earlier, last night I watched Sugata Mitra earn a standing ovation, $1 million, and a partnership with Microsoft for his TedTalk that declared that the "future of learning" is a "school built in the cloud"—one that doesn’t require teachers. It seems fitting that I watched the speech from my laptop, and that Mitra is a former computer-science teacher. Last November, Newcastle University opened the first "global hub" based on Mitra’s research, which suggests that children in self-organized learning environments "can learn almost anything by themselves" (and a computer).
This morning I spoke with a well-respected high-school teacher who supervises a blended course in digital photography. The course is mostly taught online, but students meet once every two weeks in the classroom. "So in five years, if a student has five teachers using this blended-learning style, they can just stay home the entire semester?" I asked. Apparently they could. And that, it seems, is homeschooling—with the high school’s resources.
I wonder why larger discussions related to these trends aren’t happening with greater urgency, if they’re happening at all. How hot does the water have to get before the best teachers start jumping for jobs in the private sector? As local communities and school districts nationwide commit to blended-learning programs, are they considering the long-term ramifications to the nature of their classrooms? Does the American Federation of Teachers know that, as its teachers upload their lesson plans into the cloud, they might be helping build an entirely different school, ones with self-organized learning environments instead of teachers?
I don’t have many answers in this brave new world, but I feel like I can draw one firm line. There is a profound difference between a local expert teacher using the Internet and all its resources to supplement and improve his or her lessons, and a teacher facilitating the educational plans of massive organizations. Why isn’t this line being publicly and sharply delineated, or even generally discussed? This line should be rigorously guarded by those who want to keep education professionals in the center of each classroom. Those calling for teachers to "transform their roles," regardless of motive or intentionality, are quietly erasing this line—effectively deconstructing the role of the teacher as it’s always been known.
Meanwhile, back on my campus, I wonder about the advice I should give a new teacher. Should I encourage this aspiring educator to fight for his or her role as the local expert, or simply get good at facilitating the best lessons available? Should I assure this person about my union and the notion of tenure, or should I urgently encourage him or her to create a back-up plan?
And when I think back to the original discussion, I wonder what I’m supposed to tell the college graduates who ask about earning a teaching credential. Because while I used to think I was scaring the youngster with my 20-year predictions, now I’m afraid I’m giving them false hope.