August 29th, 2012

The Thin Value Proposition

I think Chris really nails it here:

For-profit education assumes a thin value proposition of the promise of educational technology, using these tools as a way to automate and teacher-proof teaching while having the effect of creating a more standardized curriculum (which will most likely be tied to a standardized assessment) that may allow students more ability to proceed at their own pace but will, in the end, be more restrictive in terms of student ownership over their own learning. That is a profound failure of the promise of educational technology.

It’s becoming more and more apparent in my travels that what teachers and administrators all over the place are feeling is a continued narrowing of student outcomes to those things that are easily measured which can then be used to evaluate anything and everything about schools. The idea that there is any real concern about “student ownership over their own learning” on the part of policy makers or for-profit planners is becoming laughable on its face.

But here’s the thing: a few days ago I listened to two rising seniors in high school welcome back their teachers at an opening day with two very moving, articulate speeches. They talked with emotion about the teachers who they will never forget, the bus drivers who eased their transitions to school, the administrators who have guided them at important points in their lives. They never once talked about how well prepared they felt for the test. Never once did they suggest that the most important things they are taking with them from high school are grades or content knowledge or problem solving skills, all of which are no doubt a part of the equation for “success.” The value of school they spoke about came directly from the relationships, the encouragement, the patience, the nudging, the inspiration that came from the adults in the room, all of which will serve them to a greater degree than than passing the test.

That’s what we will lose if we see technology only as a way to “automate and teacher-proof teaching,” if we envision it like some as a low-cost way to deliver the curriculum to get better scores and “higher student achievement.” That’s a deeply scary scenario.

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