The New School

Reynolds, Glenn Harlan. (2014). The New School.  New York:  Encounter Books

As we think of the future of schools in America, there is good news and bad news.  It seems everyone has an opinion about school because most of us went to school.  We believe our experience makes us right because we know how we progressed. Bad news usually comes from not taking change seriously. Sometimes we respond too late to new trends. The good news, there are ways to prepare for an unknown future and we can, if we want to, make the necessary changes.

As criticism of schools continues, I get concerned that some, who were successful in school, are some of the most vocal against changing anything. What has changed, in my opinion, is that there is a growing number of people who are successful and have found different ways to learn outside the traditional school system.  They may or may not attend public, private, charters, etc. and they have found ways to be a success in a changing world. They truly are the learners that Eric Hoffer mentioned in his quote, ‘In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future.  The learned find themselves equipped to live only in a world that no longer exists.’ 

My son, who reads the Economist Magazine, bought me The New School for Christmas.  I offer this as a worthwhile perspective to consider.  To quote Bob Dylan, ‘the times they are a changin’.

We, in schools, business, and government, spend a lot of time talking about the future and the need for different models to prepare for the inevitable changes ahead. There was a need for standardization while in the Industrial Economy.  (thank you Frederick Taylor).  As we have moved through several phases, knowledge economy toward the unknown, many schools are still preparing kids for standardization which no longer exists for large numbers of citizens.

It seems that K-12’s purpose is to prepare students for college.  “Labor Statistics predicts that 7 of the 10 fastest-growing jobs in the next decade will be based on on-the-job training rather than higher education.”  And, the costs keep mounting putting students and families in debt. The amount families pay for college has skyrocketed 439% since 1982.  I remember complaining when my Calculus book costs $10.00 in 1964. Now it is over $100.00 and increasing.

In addition to the debt accrued, there still is a belief that college is required for a good job.  I wanted my own kids to go to college. They have been very successful.  Not everyone needs to go to college.  I want kids to be ‘learning ready’ when they leave high school. There is an African Proverb that is close to my heart –“Not learning is bad, not wanting to learn is worse.” I also want to expand the idea that there are multiple ways to success.  I want kids to be career ready (what is going to be needed in the future)  and community ready (preparing kids to be good citizens).

David Perkins, Harvard recently said at a Learning Omnivore meeting last March 2017, let’s figure out what is ‘learning worthy’ and then make sure students are ‘life ready.’  I really like that.  There are some real advantages to having a computer and/or iphone in your possession.  Kids can find out all kinds of information.  My question, as a former principal, is how do you know what you find is true?  I think we need to add that to our equation of properly preparing students.

Getting a college education can be an asset but no longer is the insurance policy of a good and/or secure job. The downward mobility is real in both income and status. Consider a few more possibilities. Anya Kamenetz suggests in her book, DIY U- the real pioneering will be in online education and the work of “edupunks” who are more interested in finding new ways of teaching and learning than in protecting existing interests.

UC San Diego hired its first vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion. The California State University system has more administrators than it has faculty and (they) are not alone. The University of Michigan has 53 percent more administrators than faculty, YIKES (Bill)

            The explosion of administrators is a major cause of college tuition increases, and when budgets are tight, cuts are often made in faculty hiring and salaries – but, there’s always money for administrators. (Yes, Bill is a former administrator)

The following really got to me. Academically Adrift by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, surveyed college students and found that there wasn’t a lot of learning going on:

  • 45 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” during the first two years of college.
  • 36 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” over four years of college.”

All the time spent on increasing the number of students going to college results in the following. In Academically Adrift, Arum and Roksa note, “Among students starting at four-year institutions, only 34 percent finish a bachelor’s degree in four years, and barely two-thirds (64 percent) finish within six years, p.47. So, my question is should we only be focused on preparing kids for college? How about preparing students for life?

            I told a former student, Kyle, who was going to a vocational-technical school program that was connected to a high school where I was principal, ‘I’m probably going to pay you big money to fix my lawnmower and snowblower someday.’  Kyle said, “pretty much.”  Kyle was and is smart.  I wish I had his talent.

Here are a few more possibilities. We’re seeing the beginnings of an online revolution with accredited schools like Western Governors University. There’s also a new online startup, Minerva University, that aims to compete with elite brick-and-mortar schools, and it includes such big names as former Harvard President Larry Summers. Udacity to offer a master’s degree in computer science. The cost? $7,000

I have also been on university faculties. Perhaps we’ll even see the rise of “hoteling” for colleges. If people want the college experience of late-night dorm bull sessions, partying, and pizza, why not give it to them but outsource the actual teaching? Build a nice campus – or buy one, from a defunct traditional school – put in a lot of amenities, but don’t bother hiring faculty: Just bring in your courses online. Hire some unemployed PhDs as tutors.

Transparency means the public can finally see how much money was spent redecorating the chancellor’s bedroom or putting up the football team in a local hotel the night before a home game, as is done at many big universities in the U.S., believe it or not.

            New approaches to credentialing, approaches that inform employers more reliably while costing less than a college degree, are likely to become increasingly appealing over the coming decade.

I think there will continue to be a need for knowledge, skills, and application, not necessarily a credential. I have been on several faculties in higher education, helping many to get licenses for teaching or administration.  Knowledge and theories are important but on-the-job is where we really learn to be a teacher or a leader.  I am grateful for those who mentored me along the way.

The U.S. has been very successful with a model of education that we have used for a long time.  The question is, how do we prepare young people and us veterans to deal with the changing needs for a renewing world. Education is a knowledge industry and why should we expect a knowledge industry in the 21st century to succeed by following a model pioneered in the 19th?

Smarter educators will start thinking about how to update the 19th-century product to suit 21st-century realities. Less-smart educators will hunker down and fight change tooth and nail.

            Who will win out in the end? Well, how many 19th-century business models do you see flourishing, here in the 21st?

Some Quasi-Predictions

            Here are some things I think we’ll see in education, both at K-12 and higher education levels.

  • CUSTOMIZATION – If the 19th century was about standardization, the 21st is about customization. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the distinctions between K-12 and higher education blur or vanish. This would go far beyond the “achievement tests” and “tracking” used in current schools and might even look something like a video game, in which students’ learning is more like play and in which the nature of their performance changes what comes next on an ongoing basis
  • GAMIFICATION – Thanks to The Sims and other programs, [students] learned how to make a budget and how to read an income statement – and to be worried when the cash flow goes negative. They learned about comparison shopping. So three cheers for The Sims.
  • INTEGRATION – The solution is not to send everyone for a PhD or JD, though. Instead, the wall separating school and life needs to be broken down. just because you’re out of school won’t mean an end to learning. Already, a growing percentage of higher-education enrollees are older “re-entry” students.
  • CHEAPIFICATION – I expect information technology to drive costs, and prices, down significant! When things become cheaper, consumers consume more of them. If more people consume more education, we II have a more educated populace. That’s a good thing, right?
  • FRAGMENTATION – it seems to me that the people running public education today are much less enthusiastic about assimilation than the people running public education were a century ago
  • TRANSFORMATION? – the best chances for job survival were for massage therapists, prostitutes, and new schools

What seems clear, though, is that the transition to a world run by robots and AI is barely beginning, and people have to earn a living in the meantime.

I highly recommend a NY Times article by Tom Friedman called, The Untouchables.

Some Concluding Thoughts

            Neither higher education nor K-12 schooling will remain in the hands of the guilds in the future, though we can expect a significant rear-guard action on their part. The financial costs of schooling, at all levels, are outrageous.

            The losers, on the other hand, will be, well, people like me: tenured academics or unionized K-12 teachers, those who [are in a good situation because of the way things are].

            The low-paid adjuncts, though, the new approaches may generate better jobs, better pay.

            Transitions are usually painful, though. For the educators at all levels whose jobs disappear or become less pleasant, the pain will be real, as life plans collapse, and benefits constrict.

            But comfortable or not, change is coming. Those who face it are likely to do better than those who refuse to.

A Quote to Ponder:

If you don’t like change, you will like irrelevance a lot less.”  General Eric Shinseki