Home > Uncategorized > Metrics and Mental Models, not School DISTRICTS, Impede Advent of Network Schools

Metrics and Mental Models, not School DISTRICTS, Impede Advent of Network Schools

December 14, 2015

Writing in Tech Crunch, Anthony Kim does an excellent job of describing the factory model used in school districts and describing the way that model blocks the advent of the technology-based individualized learning used in AltSchools, a for -profit charter chain “…backed by the likes of Andreessen Horowitz and Mark Zuckerberg.” First, a brief description of the kind of schooling AltSchool provides, which is close to the kind of Network School model I would envision:

At the location I visited, the school schedule was written on a white board and could be changed in real time. Students flowed between grade levels and classes based upon what they wanted and needed from teachers.

To me, it seemed a bit like a 21st-century version of a one-room frontier schoolhouse. But no matter — AltSchools “has been anointed by the top minds in Silicon Valley as the best hope for the future of education,” according to WIRED.

The reason why is AltSchools’ use of technology. Instead of textbooks, students in AltSchools’ mixed-grade classrooms work through “lesson playlists” on iPads or Chromebooks that are tailored to their proficiency level and learning style. Teachers supplement tech time with group or individual instruction, an approach known as blended learning.

Having provided this synopsis of the AltSchool model, Kim contrasts it to the factory model in place in the typical US school district and draws a wrongheaded conclusion:

Based on my experience, the biggest barrier to rolling out an AltSchools model more broadly would probably be the district itself. I’ve found that districts’ layers of complex and siloed workflows and vast systems of checks and balances often get in the way of implementing personalized learning through edtech, especially when technology changes so fast.

Before we revolutionize the classroom or the school, we need to revolutionize the school district.

Mr. Kim is right about “siloed workflows” and “checks and balances”, but much of that is driven by the public’s conception of schools, the political decisions that are based on that conception, and the accountability measures that policy makers implement based on public and political conception. And as readers of this blog realize, I believe the biggest impediment to introducing any form of individualized learning is the grouping of children by age-based cohorts and our seemingly intractable practice of holding children, teachers, schools, and school districts accountable for having students learn the same content at the same rate of speed.

Sorry, Mr. Kim, flattening school districts’ hierarchies will not pave the way for the kind of innovative practices AltSchool seeks. Before we can break through the departmental and organizational silos of school districts we need to abandon the age silos we use to contain students and the tests that we use to determine each child’s “knowledge” compared to others in that silo. We need to change peoples minds about schooling first… and the technology titans who want to make a profit on schooling could serve public education better if they helped lead the way to the kind of schools where “students flowed between grade levels and classes based upon what they wanted and needed from teachers by designing metrics that would encourage that kind of schooling.

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