Problem: The World Is Getting Flatter – Why Not Our Educational System?

There are massive functional and communication inefficiencies inherent in our current public educational system at the elementary and secondary levels, such as:

  • Lesson preparation and delivery work activity is highly redundant and costly
  • Effective communication between students, teachers and parents is woefully inadequate and consequently compromises student potential

We use simple architecture analysis techniques specifically for dissecting the education segment. Also, we have identified, modeled, evaluated, and mapped the discovered inefficiencies to emerging educational solutions that will address them. The educational solutions presented in this paper have been developing organically within the education community. However, they do not have a cohesive adoption strategy that will optimize their full potential.

What Is Insanity?

According to Albert Einstein, insanity is defined as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.  What does this quote have to do with our approach to education?  Well, 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. They also deliver lessons and assess a student’s progress to the point where it seems redundant (See Figure 1). This is performed at the cost of approximately $63 billion dollars a year.

Which begs the question, 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? Of course not, it is more wasteful than ideal. 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 into their approach. Once done, the average teacher could probably expect a third of their students to not feel challenged enough. Also, one third in need of 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 in these kinds of scenarios. It is convenient to say it is the teacher’s shortcomings for the failures of students. From there, fallback on sound-byte-based thinking, such as:

  • 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, and have different states of cognitive, emotional, and social readiness. This is not an uncommon phenomenon in most classrooms. Now 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 3 Years, Can Impact Student Achievement By 50 Percentage Points 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 one thing  right in its use. The data implies there are realizable inherent benefits 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 levels of our teachers 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, doctors and engineers. We have a few great ones, a number of good ones, and some in the middle amongst others.

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 1/10,000 the size of our education system would even 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 to retain them? No. So, what would a business do in this scenario? A business analyzes their value chain, the supporting processes, and technical capacities to see how to improve overall performances in the system. They would not just focus on one high value component. Companies would research and develop cost effective alternatives that drive systematic improvements. Companies design the investment to compensate for the inadequacies of the system and attempt to improve overall performances.

In this case, how can we systematically improve the quality of lesson preparations 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 a 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 Khan Academy, an evolving multiple discipline digital video curriculum that enables students to interact with a lesson at their own pace, inside and outside  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 students access the lesson online while they are at home or at a friend’s house.

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 classroom.  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 our recommendations, continue reading to the next blog post:

Flattening the classroom by flipping the teaching engagement model