One big reason why almost every major effort to reform American education has fallen flat over the past couple of decades is that they weren’t implemented from the classroom up. Instead the ideas, and the drive to make them work, have come the national, state or district level. This is not to say that every good concept for improving schools must come from teachers. But let’s fact facts: any idea that’s going to work must have enthusiastic support from the people doing the work. (And no, this has nothing to do with union votes.)
This incredibly obvious (at least to anyone who’s been part of education for more than a few years) piece of logic flashed through my little brain last week as I sat through a meeting. The topic was a rather large grant being implemented in a small group of schools in our district. The result will be that, over the next three years, several large technology companies are going to put a lot of hardware and software into the classrooms of these schools. By "saturating" them with technology, it’s expected that student learning (read: test scores) will improve dramatically.
That sounds very nice. What struck me, however, was that the discussion around the table had nothing to do with teaching and learning or with how the technology could be used as an agent for changing either. The talk was about boxes and connectivity and contests and surveys. In fact, there were no teachers around the table at all, or even anyone involved with curriculum and instruction. The kick off for this grant is in two weeks and I got the impression that most, if not all, the teachers in these schools had no idea what was coming.
I won’t even attempt to predict if this project will be successful, mostly because I still haven’t seen any specific goals or a detailed implementation plan. But the fact that it was planned and is being executed without any visible input and support from the teachers – the people who must make it work – doesn’t give me a good feeling. From all appearances, the project is being driven by the technology companies with the enthusiastic support of district administration. And haven’t we been down that road before?