Helplessly Hoping

We see that the world has changed. We’ve been listening to the buzzwords for a decade now. Online learning. Digital citizenship. Web 2.0. Personal learning networks. Social networking. Data-driven decision making. We have to prepare our students for a world we can’t imagine. We have to re-invent our industrial age skills. If Rip Van Winkle woke up today and visited a school… blah blah blah.

K-12 schools are also under extraordinary pressure to prove that they’re effective. We use standardized assessments that are designed to measure how well the students have learned the academic content standards at each grade level. With more and more pressure to make sure that every learner passes every test, the reality of school is that we’re totally focused on whatever it takes to get the students to pass the tests.

Since we don’t measure things like innovative thinking and creativity and collaboration and information literacy, where do those things end up on the priority list? While the technology standards may call for teaching email in third grade, the fact that there’s no test means it doesn’t get taught.

Photo credid: Huskyboy on Flickr
Photo credit: Huskyboy on Flickr

But at the technology conference, we get reminded of all of the things we should be doing. We hear about the erosion of the American standard of living. We hear about outsourcing and the transition from industrial to service to information to innovation economies. We see all of the things that are technologically possible, and we know that we’re not really doing the right thing.

So we have this tension between what we have to do and what we need to do. The frustrating thing is that we’re hearing the same things year after year, but it seems like we’re not making a lot of progress. Part of this came up in Tuesday’s panel discussion. The panel was supposed to be discussing how we can engage and empower under-served communities. As the discussion meandered all over the place, they had to repeatedly refocus on things the people in the audience can do to try to help the under-served. Sure, there were suggestions for the Obama administration, and things that the legislature can do, and big-picture ideas about how the educational system should work. But there weren’t a lot of things that the people in the audience — teachers, local school district officials, and tech support people — can take away and implement.

So we know where we are. We know where we need to be. But we don’t know how to get there. So we hope for incremental improvement. We work with individual teachers and individual classes and try to squeeze some of the elements of the new world into the old model. But at the same time, we realize that if we continue on the current course, the change we need isn’t going to happen in time.