Public education in America is failing, writes Shantanu Sinha at Reuters. He points out that while the vitriolic debate rages on, millions of children are the undeniable victims.
Steve Brill makes a compelling case that many issues in the educational debate are not actually debatable, but rather easily known facts. Too many people are simply denying the obvious.
"Steve pointedly demonstrates how common sense is not sufficiently applied in many hotly contested topics like rubber rooms, teacher merit pay, or tenure rules", writes Sinha.
"However, while these are all issues worthy of discussion, solving them still won't necessarily move the dial in a meaningful way. I think the entire conversation has been hi-jacked by issues surrounding the adults and little has been done to address the needs of students. If we spent more time thinking about what the students are actually experiencing, we would realize that we designed a very impersonal system that horribly misses their individual needs."
Sinha believes that students are treated like "cogs in a factory" and we are no treating them like unique individuals. If we push students forward, without addressing their individual needs, we could be disengaging them and they may be liable to give up.
"While most of the debate focuses on the "under-performing" students, I would argue that we're not exactly doing a great job with the students who seem to be passing by fine. Many of them are never pushed to their true abilities, and they quickly lose their natural enthusiasm for learning."
The education system badly needs an infusion with the tools of the 21st century, suggests Sinha.
"Every other industry has evolved significantly over the past century, yet education is somehow stuck in the past. Technology holds the potential to redefine the learning process and create an experience that is truly personalized for each student."
Blended learning approaches allow students to get personalized, interactive instruction through the computer, while the teacher is free to spend less time lecturing and more time driving social, engaging classroom experiences, writes Sinha.
While some worry that with the use of technology in education, the role of the teacher will be somehow diminished. But Sinha believes that great teachers have always been trying to make learning more accessible, individualized, data-driven, and social. The most valuable thing a teacher can do is take personal interest in each student's learning, and be the coach who mentors and inspires them, writes Sinha.
Sinha concedes that Brill is correct when he says that real reform is only going to happen by addressing the 95,000 public schools. That we need an approach to reform that does not rely on replacing every underperforming school and vilifying teachers' unions.
"Our problems stem from an impersonal, industrial-age approach to education, despite the technology available in the world today. We need to focus our efforts on giving teachers the tools they need to meet the individual demands of each student. "
Sinha stresses that students need the opportunity to take control of their own learning and rediscover their natural curiosity and excitement. If we empower and give them the facilities through technology or reform to the people who matter – the teachers and students themselves – they may surprise us.