The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write,
but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. Alvin Toffler

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Is This Horse About Dead?

As events in Wisconsin unfold, as I exchange emails with my congressmen pleading for additional funding for preschool and allowable growth . . . . the thought suddenly occurs to me. Is this horse about dead? Are we beating this educational sytem as it sinks ever closer to oblivion, looking to feed it the last dollars we can eke out of an economy that can no longer afford it? Some of the wisest words spoken in recent months regarding the plight of pk-12 education were by Senator Jack Kibbie of Emmetsburg, who stated to educators, "You need to re-invent yourselves. You had to do it during the farm crisis of the 80s and again during the recession of the 90s. There are 3 more years of this downturn and we will not raise taxes to pay for it. You need to re-invent yourselves again."

Jack is right. It may not get done in 3 years, but it is time to accelerate the process of re-inventing how we do things. Schools are bloated, personnel-heavy, behemoths in an age where lightning fast efficiency is the name of the game. As much as we may love the time-worn concept of herding our same-age students from room to room in order for us to teach at them or even learn with them, the inefficiencies and clumsiness of such a system demand that it be left behind.

Digital technologies make information instantly accessible to whomever and wherever we desire. Computerized management systems allow us to manage student records with little human intervention needed. Yes, facilitation is needed, but even in the isolated case of our school's flipped calculus class, we are seeing students working in a totally different environment than the traditional enclosed classroom.

When we loosen the strictures of time and place(classroom walls) newly found efficiencies suddenly emerge. How many calculus students can our calc teacher actually facilitate if 75% of his students only actually need to see him 10 minutes a day instead of the 60 minutes they've been coming in to hear him present the lesson? And, obviously, those students can be in his building, or in a building miles away, or in their own home.

So, today I'm thinking Jack is right. The old horse is about dead. We will never again be able to afford school as we have known it. Now we have to invent school that we can afford, using the technologies of the 21st century that will make it affordable. Thankfully, it will also be more appropriate and more in accordance with the way kids today prefer to learn.


  1. I very much agree with you on this subject. It will take strong leaders to make these changes and forward thinking legislatures to adopt them. The biggest problem that I see is the general public's resistance to change.

  2. so...what does successful reinvention look like this time around? Do the local systems wait for guidance/help from the state or federal level or do they try to reinvent their own system in isolation? Is change really reinvention if its an island unto itself?

  3. Wow--great perspective. I agree...we need to be re-inventing our educational wheel. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks for continuing this is the right thing to do for our children! In reading Jamie Vollmer's new book, Schools Cannot Do It Alone, and from my 20+ years of experience in public education, I am firmly convinced that we need to engage our community in this conversation as soon as possible. The proposed change in grading at Waukee Middle School has brought out a tremendous amount of questions about why change this age-old (not necessarily because it is working but "that's the way it has always been" mentality) practice. Prairie Lakes AEA would love to help with this conversation if you are interested or believe that it would be appropriate. I am also firmly convinced The entire school community needs to be on board as well in order to make this change possible...are we there yet? Keep making us think Mark as we need to make the changes to our entire system sooner than later...the competency based education conversation has been a good one and the elimination of the Carnegie Unit would go a long way down the road to change!

  5. Rose, the few school districts who are willing to do it will become leaders for others to follow. It has to happen. I am all for school districts stepping out on their own and getting it done. Bravo, Mark! Watch the video at this post to see what one person can do!