GRAVES: Despite backlash in SD and Chicago, educational sea change happeningTwenty-five years ago, K-12 education was a cultural institution with almost no outside competition and the 8 mm movie projector its most compelling technology.
By: Joe Graves, Mitchell superintendent
The phrase, “May you live in interesting times” is an interesting mixture of salute and punch line. The salute is clear. The irony comes, of course, when the recipient, i.e. target, realizes that this is not a toast but a curse.
Frankly, I don’t see it as a curse. Who exactly would want to live in uninteresting times? And the answer is: apparently a lot of people. The good news is that regardless of just how many people do want their lives to be unchanging, they typically can’t do much about it other than to stew and lament.
And these are decidedly interesting times in education. Twenty-five years ago, K-12 education was a cultural institution with almost no outside competition and the 8 mm movie projector its most compelling technology. Today, public education has competition from private schools, home schools, virtual schools, charter schools (though not yet in South Dakota) and other public schools (through open enrollment).
In each of these cases, at least some part of the public school establishment has railed against and fought the legality of the new competitors and, in every case, they have been unsuccessful in doing so. And through all of it, public education has survived and in some cases thrived in the face of that competition.
Yet the truth is we ain’t seen nothing yet.
Over 2 million students in American went back to school this fall — to a charter school. Virtual schooling is now up and running in every state, and all signs suggest that its impact is only at the most nascent stage, meaning of course that its potential is limitless. Meanwhile, Texas legislators may very well be on verge of approving vouchers to parents so they can choose to send their children to any school they desire.
What Bill Gates said about technology, probably applies to schools as well: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10.”
From which I take it that 1) enormous change is coming and we need to be ready to respond to it and 2) that the change doesn’t come today (i.e. the next two years) should not lead us to the conclusion that it isn’t coming at all.
Unfortunately, educators being human beings and human nature being what it is, it seems we are acting, regardless of what we say, as if no change is coming. Since those changes — market forces, individualization of instruction, vast technological access, etc. — are indeed inexorable, the real issue is whether or not the current educational establishment will take a seat at the table and change itself in such a way that it remains relevant in the near future or becomes the pedagogical equivalent of the buggy whip manufacturer after the first Ford plant opened.
Alas, the signs do not bode well. As if to provide an idealized illustration of such, the public school teachers of Chicago — earning some of the very highest pay in the nation while producing some of the most abysmal results — go on strike opposing minor changes in job security and the extra work involved in offering important new educational opportunities for students.
Meanwhile, closer to home, advocates for South Dakota teachers, who have always argued correctly that our state’s teachers are not paid enough, sponsor and advocate for a referendum to defeat recently passed legislation, HB1234, which provides tens of millions of new dollars for teacher salaries, provides both market and merit incentives, and ends a state mandate for teacher continuing contract rights (tenure), i.e. job security.
So what if the whole world now recognizes that market forces must be allowed to solve the problems of teacher shortages? Who cares that a compensation system which offers no recognition of teacher effort or merit is patently unfair? And big deal that tenure means that some students will continue to have mediocre, or worse, teachers.
The good news is that regardless of the backward-looking and intransigent efforts of some groups, education will change. It will be more competitive, more market-oriented, and more sensitive to individual student needs. A lot more.
The efforts to resist these changes will not negatively affect students in the long-run precisely because they are inevitable. Nevertheless, the willingness to accept these changes by public schools and those adults who inhabit them will determine whether or not and to what extent public school educators remain key players in education two or 10 or 25 years from now. Right now, that part of the future is looking far from a sure thing.