Moving away from the factory model of schooling… and more!

July 25, 2012

I think about education all the time.  Today I found an article about education in Fast Company (an unlikely source) that knocked my socks off.  You can stop here and read it.  But here’s my take and why I’m excited.  (I don’t think the author reads my blog, but the parallel thinking involved is incredible!)


The article is What Will The Ed Tech Revolution Look Like?  Predictions for how the next 15 years are going to change how children learn, at school and at home.  It was written by Tim Brady, a partner and co-founder of Imagine K12, an incubator for tech companies focused on serving the K-12 market, so he is seeing this through the eyes of an entrepreneur (which is a good thing).


He wrote: “In an increasingly competitive world, it is clear that our education system–as currently designed–isn’t sustainable.”  That’s what I’ve been saying – the model, the system itself, is inherently flawed.  I keep saying that it’s the model – not the people – that isn’t working…but I do think that the people should have changed it on their own!  More on that in another blog.


At school, Brady predicts that in the next 5 years we “will see teachers become more efficient in their jobs by adopting web-based tools.”  That is for sure.  I see teachers with iPads, phones, and using programs to make things better and faster!  I think this will happen much sooner.


At home, he says “[t]he Khan Academy has brought the notion of self-paced learning outside of the classroom to the mainstream”.  In a way he’s right.  But there have been other proficiency-based systems in place much earlier, such as Chugach School District in Alaska and others I’ve blogged about. Sal Khan was great, but there are others also making news on the self-paced learning front!


Although I think it has already happened, Brady says that the computer “will now also be seen as a device for learning inextricably tied to a child’s education. This small but important change in perception about the computer at home is a precondition for the second wave.”  I think this is already true.  Look at the educational software available, as well as the research tools and exciting resources available to children and young adults.  Look at the smartphone revolution, the tablet revolution, the electronic reader revolution.


In 5-10 years, he says “[o]nce web-based software becomes commonplace in the classroom, new distribution channels for selling into schools become possible.”…   


While he is involved in this marketplace by bringing products to market, what he says is very important for all of us. This is a huge economic and power shift.  Just as online shopping has changed the brick-and-mortar world to a click/​​click-and-mortar world, there is a change in the purchasing system that will mean great things for K-12 education.  


Brady thinks that educational purchasing will experience what I call a “teacher as consumer revolution”.  Brady says that Instead of superintendents and folks at the top making purchases, “[w]hen dozens of teachers in a school district are using the free version of a web-based product, it’s clear that the product is effective and necessary. The superintendent will no longer need to solicit teachers’ input to know what they want and need.”…”This new bottoms-up channel makes the their jobs easier and their teachers more productive. The best products, rather than the best sales forces, will begin to win the day.”  


Wow – the free market and consumer choice at work – getting better and less expensive products to market!  Brady thinks that “superintendents will give individual teachers small online budgets (less than $500 per year) from which to purchase their own products and tools.”


Incredible shift in economics, marketing and the rise of low cost, useful products being rapidly developed, improved and put to use.


In fifteen years (far too long for me), Brady says that “we will finally see widespread changes to our public school model. Schools will move toward…models that better support the needs of individual students and reflect the fiscal realities of today.”


In his words: “More specifically, public schools will look to save money by moving away from their traditional age-based and grade-based system (i.e. the “factory model”) toward one based on mastery. Kids will be able to test out of certain classes by proving competency. High schools, and maybe even middle schools, will begin to operate less like factories and more like colleges.”


  1.  One more advocate of moving from the factory model to proficiency-based teaching and learning!  Great!  Welcome aboard!


Brady shares my disappointment when he says that it will take fifteen years to see “substantial change. Fifteen years is an entire generation of students! It is difficult to accept the idea that change will take that long while we are failing so many students.”  That is for sure!


But who could disagree with his conclusion.  “Most exciting to me in this revolution is the movement away from the factory model of education and towards something more individually customized to each student and more cost efficient…We will fail fewer students because they will be more engaged, and we will lose fewer teachers to frustration.”


I agree.  There is good news everywhere.  Following up on last year’s Oregon Proficiency Conference, (see my May 2 blog) the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators is making plans for another conference this year.  I’ve been asked to speak about proficiency-based teaching and learning at an annual meeting this fall of private school administrators in Washington State.  

Good news about the shift from the factory model is everywhere, and proficiency-based teaching and learning is working!

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