Every four years during presidential elections, education betterment becomes topical. It is the one stomping area upon which both parties agree. George W. Bush rallied around “No Child Left Behind” (great name) and President Obama has introduced “Race To The Top.” Both agree, as do Bill and Melinda Gates, that investments in better teaching will improve student learning. But there are some flies in this proverbial ointment. One such hindrance is teacher assessment or measurement. Teachers, administrators and unions agree that measurement of student performance is warranted; however, their comfort level surrounding implementation doesn’t always extend to the teachers, themselves. The old advertising adage, re-purposed for education, does not work in today’s world: “I know half of my teachers are good, I just don’t know which half.”
When this “assessment” issue made the front page of all major newspapers during the Chicago teacher strike, both presidential candidates “turtled.” Union support is typically a left leaning position, but this hot potato has lost its political luster.
Pedagogy, the science of learning, has long been the domain of teachers and is a very humanistic study. But technology in education has created a bit of a market discontinuity, a disruption. Pedagogy has some new tools: interactive white boards, video lessons, student response systems, MOOCs (massive open online courses) and social media platforms (e.g., Edmodo), to name a few. All of these provide rich learning and measurement opportunities. Education is no longer advancing by slight, incremental steps – and it’s scaring a lot of people. Just as Detroit was slow to react to the need for smaller cars, many in the .edu community are not adapting well to progress.
Technology is changing the way classrooms are designed. Updated pedagogy, influenced by technology, is changing the way learning is viewed. Teachers’ understanding of individualized learning styles is helping the space evolve from an impersonal, “front of the classroom schoolmarm” experience into a middle of the classroom immersion with bi-directional facilitators. In addition, parents are being asked to shoulder more responsibility for their children’s education. Online tools are allowing parents to have the ability to be in the know, without hovering.
K-12 education is big business for sellers, while mainly a non-profit for buyers. Inherently, this is conflicting. Without getting into that discussion, let’s just say that there are many smart, passionate and caring people involved in education, and if we can expand consensus among those people that student learning is the sole objective, then that shared, common ground should get us past unions, teacher assessment and the bipolar technology/ pedagogy conflict. Technology is not the enemy, but it does require a gentle hand and its own learning curve.