Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cobb Schools: Technology

Public Education's bungling of all things technology is driven by a few simple precepts. First the status quo of a labor intensive system must be maintained and to the extent possible expanded by increasing headcount and compensation. And anything that expands the revenue stream into and thru the public school system is a good thing but only to the extent that it can be used to justify revenue increases.

Public Education has treated technology not as a tool but as a shiny object, an adornment, jewelry to distract from the not-so-graceful aging of a system in disarray and decay. It's as if they believe that enough parents will watch the Smart Board and become so enthralled that they no longer wonder why their little Johns and Janes are budding C.A.D.E.T.s (Can't Add, Doesn't Even Try). And these aren't really facts in question. The fraudulent spending on wasted technology by APS is only one example of how technology expenditures are nothing more than yet another friends and family program in Public Education.

But we should expect no less from what is little more than another government bureaucracy: unrestricted expansion driving declining quality of service whilst creating a monster that cannot be killed. Or perhaps it can.

In any field of endeavour technology is first deployed as a direct replacement for existing components in systems deployed in that field. Think "smart boards" or "e-books" or even "MOOC"s . By their very nature these micro-optimizations provide limited improvement and it is only when technology actually changes the system itself that the full benefits accrue. If one were to consider the rather straightforward application of technology to textbooks there would be a natural progression from local on-demand printing to ebooks and web publishing--electronic versions of the same old thing.

But what if technology became revolutionary? What if it were used for more than merely modernizing Gutenberg's invention?

We live in a world where Netflix can suggest movies and TV shows YOU might enjoy. Where Google can help you find things YOU are likely to find interesting. Where Amazon can show you products that may be even better suited to YOUR needs than the one you originally sought. These organizations have developed the capability to find out about you in order to better serve your needs and cater to your wants.

Do you really think it is a big leap to take that technology to the world of education and create an ecosystem that thru interaction with a student determines what that student knows, how that student thinks and more importantly what that student needs to learn and engages them in the activities that facilitate that learning? One company, Knewton, believes this is achievable and has set out to prove it. They have a platform to allow others, virtually anyone, to create a system that adapts to each individual producing a learning experience that grows with each student's skills and knowledge. These students learn under the unblinking eye of dedicated supervision guided by a virtual but personal tutor in the ultimate class size of one. Students using this system or others like it no longer need traditional textbooks because content consumption and student evaluation is continuous and integrated and exposed to them in an environment that is part of their everyday experience.

These students also no longer need traditional classrooms, schools or the educrats making them so expensive and ineffective. And we, the public, the taxpayers will no longer need to pay for them. This will revolutionize education and like all revolutions it will be resisted by the incumbents who currently hold the power and the purse strings. Regardless of educracy's hold on our tax dollars the change is inevitable because the outcomes will be better.

This presents an opportunity for Dunwoody as it moves to create its own schools. Rather than re-create a mini-me clone of a failed system in the hopes that smaller is better or in the self-righteous belief that anything we do must be better we should build a new system in parallel that leverages 21st century realities to produce 21st century results. This cap and grow strategy leaves the failed public school system in the last millennium and prepares our children to succeed in the new one.