Category Archives: Human Teachers

Why don’t we have a 10x better school?

10x

There’s a Silicon Valley mantra that your need new product needs to be 10x better than the incumbent in order for you to displace them and have a shot at a market monopoly.

Uber, for example, is a 10x product. It vastly better than taxis on so many dimensions (price, easy of use, consistency, service, etc.).

In education, it’s unclear to me that we’ve built a schools that are 10x better than the median traditional district school.

We have built schools that are 10x better than failing urban schools, and it’s no surprise that this is where the entrepreneurial sector has seen so much success.

Why haven’t we built a bunch of schools that are 10x better than an average school?

I’m not sure, but some reflections below.

1. Educators are trying to be 10x at the wrong thing 

Great tech companies usually initially succeed because their technology – not their operations – is 10x better than their competitors.

Often times, technology can be built by smallish group of highly talented people and then scaled at little marginal effort or cost.

So far, school operators have not been able to replicate this model of technological advancement and scale. This way of thinking is not in their DNA. They are still trying to squeeze 10x improvements out of areas such as program design, human resources, and operations.

It will be interesting to see if Summit, Alt School, Khan Academy and others can utilize a 100x tech backbone to scale an instructional program that, over time, evolves into a 10x better school.

2. There’s no profit motive

Perhaps. With companies like Bridge Academies, we are seeing interesting attempts at 10x breakthroughs in the for-profit international market.

On the other hand, there’s plenty of for-profit K12 and university operators in this country, and they aren’t launching 10x better schools that are displacing government and non-profit operators.

3. The education sector is over-regulated

Perhaps regulation is stifling innovation.

I’m sure that this is at least partially true, but the most in demand private schools are not very innovative. Rather, they tend to be highly selective, academically rigorous, extracurricular rich, and culturally strong.

And they also cost $30,000 a year.

So, to date, the private side of things is not exactly delivering a bunch of breakthrough innovations.

Maybe an expansion of education savings accounts will unleash some 10x products, but it’s hard to say this with great confidence.

4. The industry culture is risk averse 

Education may be attracting and retaining professionals who are generally not willing to take the risks needed to achieve 10x products.

In some sense, given that children are involved, this culture is to some extent warranted.

But maybe it needs to be loosened up a bit.

5. This is (mostly) as good as it gets

Not everything can be made better. The fork I ate my dinner with today is not that much better than a fork from the 1970s.

Perhaps this is about as good as schooling gets.

My guess? 

I don’t yet have opinions that are strong enough to warrant action beyond the work I’m already doing.

But I want to keep thinking about this.

Formation: Why We’re Far Away from Peak Teacher Performance

I just read Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.

One of the book’s main arguments is this:

  1. Performance is improvement is driven by: maintaining intense focus, staying on the edge of one’s comfort zone, getting immediate feedback, identifying weak points and developing practice techniques designed specifically to address these weaknesses.
  2. This cycle is best done in fields where there is a long history of teaching that clearly articulates specific phases of mastery (musical instruments, chess, etc. all have fairly linear performance paths).
  3. Because deliberate practice is hard work, those individuals who are successful over the long run have generally found ways to keep themselves motivated and have crafted supportive environments for themselves.

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Jal Mehta’s book The Allure of Order  thoughtfully narrated how teaching failed to develop a professional body of knowledge.

Rather than refining practice by building a long-history of evolutionary cataloguing of what works or conducting rigorous research on teaching techniques, the teaching profession formed through continuous bruising battles around contract rights.

In many cases, these battles led to real improvements in teaching workforce conditions; however, they also came at the expense of a professionalization of the practice.

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So, for most of the 20th century, teaching suffered from a lack of a body of knowledge around performance progression *and* a lack of a culture of feedback.

The lessons put forth in Peak have in most ways been ignored.

Children have likely suffered.

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Enter Harriet Ball.

Enter Doug Lemov.

Enter Dave Levin.

Enter Mike Goldstein.

And so forth.

Basically, you have a group of educators saying: what the f**k?

Why, in one of the world’s oldest professions, do we not have a cannon of performance progression?

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I am highly skeptical of most human capital education reform efforts.

I think state mandated teacher evaluations will yield little over time.

I think most education schools care more about spreading ideology than building a knowledge base around effective teaching.

I think most districts are hopeless when it comes to giving timely and precise feedback to teachers.

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My guess is that the way forward is supporting the Lemov / Relay effort to capture the practices of best teachers, and then to compliment this evolutionary approach with RCTs when feasible.

And move from district operation of schools to non-profit operation of schools (so as to better implement cycles of feedback + creating intensive and insular cultures of performance perfection, as with music academies).

But given our starting point, we’re probably decades away from hitting peak teacher performance at scale.

The Second Decoupling is Near?

robot

The Second Decoupling will occur when school and learning are in many ways divorced.

I’m really not sure when the Second Decoupling will occur, but one of its key features will be the new role and function of the teacher, especially human teachers who work in school buildings.

Michael Godsey, a teacher, penned an interesting piece in the Atlantic on the evolving role of his profession.

I think some of Michael’s predictions will be born out, while others probably will not.

From the article:

I describe what I think the public-school classroom will look like in 20 years, with a large, fantastic computer screen at the front, streaming one of the nation’s most engaging, informative lessons available on a particular topic. The “virtual class” will be introduced, guided, and curated by one of the country’s best teachers (a.k.a. a “super-teacher”), and it will include professionally produced footage of current events, relevant excerpts from powerful TedTalks, interactive games students can play against other students nationwide, and a formal assessment that the computer will immediately score and record.

Personally, I think we’re more likely to see one-to-one (personalized playlists) more than the streamed super teacher lecture, but who knows.

From the article:

…there will be a local teacher-facilitator (called a “tech”) to make sure that the equipment works and the students behave. Since the “tech” won’t require the extensive education and training of today’s teachers, the teacher’s union will fall apart, and that “tech” will earn about $15 an hour to facilitate a class of what could include over 50 students. This new progressive system will be justified and supported by the American public for several reasons: Each lesson will be among the most interesting and efficient lessons in the world; millions of dollars will be saved in reduced teacher salaries; the “techs” can specialize in classroom management; performance data will be standardized and immediately produced (and therefore “individualized”); and the country will finally achieve equity in its public school system. “So if you want to be a teacher,” I tell the college student, “you better be a super-teacher.”

I don’t think college students will need to become super teachers. My guess is that they will need to learn to co-instruct with technology. This will probably require skills in data analysis, coaching, leadership, and perhaps psychology. I could imagine therapy being a key function of the schools of the future.

From the article:

I’ve started recognizing a common thread to the latest trends in teaching. Flipped learning, blending learning, student-centered learning, project-based learning, and even self-organized learning—they all marginalize the teacher’s expertise. Or, to put it more euphemistically, they all transform the teacher into a more facilitative role.

I’d be a little more specific here: they marginalize the teacher’s content and delivery expertise. As I note above, other skills will become more valuable.

Anyways, there is much to consider about the Second Decoupling.

And that’s enough conjecture from me.

Back to work on the First Decoupling.