Problem: The world is getting flatter – Why isn`t our educational system?

There are massive functional and communication inefficiencies inherent in our current public educational system at the elementary and secondary levels.  The problems are:

  • Lesson preparation and delivery work activity is highly redundant and costly.
  • Effective communication between student, teacher and parent is woefully inadequate and compromises student potential

Using simple architecture analysis techniques looking at the enterprise and specifically dissecting the education segment, these inefficiencies have been identified, modeled and evaluated and mapped to emerging educational solutions that will redress them.  The educational solutions presented in this paper have been developing organically within the education community but do not have a cohesive adoption strategy that will optimize their full potential.

What is insanity?

According to Einstein “it is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.  What does this quote have to do with our approach to education?  This is what we do; year after year after year.  During a typical school year, our 3,335,100 public school teachers working in 98,817(1) elementary, middle and high schools, prepare lesson plans, deliver lessons and assess student’s progress that to a large degree are redundant (See Figure 1).  This is performed at the cost of approximately $63 billion dollars a year.



Is this really the ideal way to run an educational system?  Is it the best use of skilled professional’s valuable time?  Is it a good use of a tremendously valuable and costly public resource? Here is the size of the resource pool that currently works in the U.S. primary and secondary education system:

  • ES and K Teachers 1,655,800 – Median Salary $50,150
  • MS Teachers 641,700 – Median Salary $50,770
  • HS Teachers 1,037,600 – Median Salary $52,200 (2)

To illustrate the point, every year tens of thousands of elementary school math teachers prepare and deliver a lesson on adding and subtracting negative numbers to their 25 or 30 children.

Each teacher would have invested varying levels of rigor, dedication, creativity, design or customization to their approach.  Once done, the average teacher could probably expect a third of their students not be challenged, one third in need some moderate assistance and the rest to be struggling or in the process of giving up.

It is way too easy to blame the teachers. It is convenient and perhaps fashionable, to say it is the teacher’s shortcomings and fallback on sound-byte-based thinking:

  • They are not well enough prepared,
  • We don’t get the “best and the brightest”
  • Old fashioned, technically illiterate,
  • Unions, tenured and lazy,
  • Out of touch with current pedagogical approaches.

The vast majority of classroom teachers face the daunting reality that students learn in many different ways, at different rates, have different states of cognitive, emotional, and social readiness.  Not an uncommon phenomenon in most classrooms.  Imagine an educational model where the availability of a highly qualified teacher, their devotion or the amount time they have to solve a student’s learning barrier is no longer tied to a classroom clock.

Recent research strongly suggests that a highly effective teacher, given three years, can impact student achievement by 50 percentage points (2) when results are compared against other teachers and standardized test scores.

Regardless of one’s opinion of the value of standardized testing, these teachers are doing something very right.  They have “it”.  The data implies there are inherent benefits to be realized in high quality lesson preparation and delivery based on these individual success stories.  If we assume that only 5% of the teaching profession possesses this impact quality, it would leave us with a serious question: Can we significantly raise the performance of our teacher to a point that we could fundamentally change the existing educational model’s performance?  Let’s face it; teachers are no different than many other professionals.  They are subject to the same bell curve as are lawyers and doctors and engineers. We have a few great ones, a number of good ones, some in the middle amongst others. Enough said.

Are we betting our future on great teachers, a skill that seems to be pretty rare and should be highly cherished?

Do we think we can train or re-craft even half our teachers to be that impactful?  No company of 1/10,000 the size of our education system would dream of trying such an approach.  Even if the best and the brightest wanted to commit to education, would we have enough money to pay for the quality and retain them? What would a business do?  They would analyze their value chain and the supporting processes and technical capacities to see what can be done to improve overall performance of the system.  They would not focus on just one high value component.  Companies would research and develop cost effective alternatives that drive systematic improvement.  The investment would be designed to compensate for the inadequacies of the system and attempt to improve the overall performance.

In this case, how can we systematically improve the quality of lesson preparation and delivery to ensure greater student achievement? How do we tap some of those intangible qualities of impactful teachers and make them available to more students?  How do we increase the number of students who can demonstrate they  “learn” the lesson and improve their educational foundation? In essence, how do we create greater value from those rare teachers and their proven techniques?

Within education today, there are a number progressive grass root movements that are beginning to show the way to do just that.

Many people have heard of the Khan Academy, an evolving multiple discipline digital video curriculum that enables students to interact with a lesson at their own pace, both outside or inside the classroom.   Another fascinating development is the flipped classroom. Here, creative teachers, once again, using digital video technology and the Internet, have developed video based lesson plans that allow the student to educate themselves, at their pace, within the confines of a coordinated schedule.  The student accesses the lesson online while they are at home or at a friend’s house.  The understanding of the lesson is assessed during the classroom hours.

While the students are learning the lesson at home, the teachers will have transformed the classroom time into working sessions.  In this milieu, the students get help with the application of the lesson via “homework” exercises, group discussions, collaborative projects and ultimately ensuring the qualitative understanding of the lesson.  Those that can learn faster learn more.  Those that need help are given assistance. These approaches allow students to absorb the lesson and push themselves towards personal growth instead of being subjected to the fundamental constraining parameter – the amount of teaching time in the class room.  A classroom of 25 to 30 students with differing skills and modes of learning are now free to spend the “appropriate” time to absorb the lesson in much more effective and personalized ways.  This can level the playing field and address the socio-economic achievement gaps within the system.

For more on the recommendation, continue reading to the next blog post: