“The education system in the US is a national disgrace.”
Massachusetts is currently the number one state in student achievement in the US. But, if it were a country, it would be just 17th in the world. What does that say about the other 49 states?
Dunn noted that there has been a lot of noise about education reform, and there is a lot of stupid money coming into education, but these are not getting to the root of the problem. Our goals should be to help teachers teach and students learn, not to reduce costs or make backpacks lighter. Dunn went on to comment that inadequate professional development around education technology has been the biggest impediment to change, and that our focus is often distracted.
In the second day’s keynote, Idaho Superintendent Tom Luna described how Idaho is transforming education with the recent passage of the Students Come First laws. He observed that it’s not just one thing, reform has to be comprehensive involving compensation and tenure, managing technology, changing teaching paradigms, giving parents greater voice and choice, and putting the children first.
The first hurdle was pushing the reforms through the legislature. When the education and political leadership looked at all the changes they felt needed to be done, they concluded that they would face just as much opposition if they tried to do part of the reforms or all of them, so they did not compromise on the breadth of the reforms they pushed through the legislature. In fact, they faced so much opposition that they received personal threats along with having their tires slashed. There was so much pressure that any time the legislators went home for the weekend, Luna knew that he would need to recount votes and re-innoculate the swing legislators.
The legislation passed. Tenure has been replaced with a different due-process system for new teachers. Teacher compensation has been raised, and is dependent on a combination of student test scores, parent evaluations, and school administration evaluations. Parents have more choices, students can opt to take individual courses from different schools or providers. All students need to take at least two online HS courses to graduate. And technology and PD are built into school financing so they can’t be singled out for reductions when budgets get tight.
Luna says it’s now up to them to implement. We can’t hide behind excuses that other countries don’t have our diversity or poverty. They may not have our exact problems, but all the countries ahead of us have their own hurdles to overcome, and they have made a commitment to educate all their children. Luna’s goal is not just for Idaho to become first in the US, it’s for Idaho’s students to become global leaders in student achievement and employability.
Since teachers are the number one factor in schools driving student performance, the ability to develop and keep good teachers is going to be critical to Idaho’s success. One small indication of success is that since passage of Students Come First, the number of teachers who have left Idaho to teach in other states has decreased by half.
With a general election coming up this November, Luna is hopeful that interim results will convince voters to stay the course.
In a panel of effectively communicating the power of education technology, Matt Cohen, Tom Whitby, and Frank Catalano pointed out that because there is so little education reporting in the general press, bad reporting gets magnified and distorts what is actually happening. Reporters don’t go into schools and they don’t talk to teachers; they talk with vendors, government officials, and politicians. As a result, persistent myths that get passed on as facts damage efforts to improve schools.
In addition to poor reporting, the trio noted three obstacles to improving teacher and student effectiveness. First, there have been so many different education reforms, many teachers feel that if they just ignore any attempt to change the way they teach, it will eventually go away. Second, if you take bad practice in the classroom and make it digital, it’s still bad practice. Effective change is effectuated through superior leadership that can overcome these and other obstacles. Third, the only tech professional development that most teachers get is one to two days at the beginning of the school year; that’s not enough to modify behavior or impart competence. Technology has to be made part of every teacher’s workday for it to hold up to its promise.
Bob Resnick of Education Market Research showed the growth of K12 education purchases has been increasing by 4.2% per year since 2004, to $18.3 Billion, despite education cutbacks. Comparing 2010 to 2009, digital products were up 17.9%, while the total market increased by about 4%. His data shows that student enrollment is likely to increase at the same time per pupil expenditures are increasing. The fastest growing segments (2010 over 2009 sales) are
- Reading and Math interventions (50% increase in sales)
- Online digital content (35% increase in sales)
- Assessment (35% increase in sales)
- Instructional software (25% increase in sales)
- Interactive Whiteboards (23% increase in sales)
While sales of some traditional materials are decreasing:
- Library books and services (17% decrease in sales)
- Teacher resource materiuals (13% decrease in sales)
- Guided leveled readers (10% decrease in sales
Resnick’s survey indicates the growth of interactive white boards, with an installed base in 2010 of 1.5 million units, or an average of 20 IWBs per school. Most teachers say that that they primarily use IWB resources that come “from their own imagination and ingenuity.” Resnick commented that the next wave of content development will be for IWB use and for 1 to 1 classrooms.
Resnick’s data points out the shift from print to digital occurring at all levels of education. Cengage’s Dunn, Idaho’s Luna, and panelists Whitby, Cohen, and Catalano demonstrated the complexity of education issues and the need to focus on student learning as the end result. Luna’s statewide initiative in education reform shows how difficult it can be to effectuate systemic change, and is an interesting experiment in top-down education reform. (Of course, that’s easy for me to say, I’m in NY, and it’s not my salary being affected.) Maybe, ten years from now, we will no longer start education conferences by pronouncing that the US education system is a national disgrace.