President Arthur Levine, Woodrow Wilson Foundation
As it enters its 20th year, Education Update has become one of the most prominent voices in education in New York City. It has reported on schools and colleges at a time in which unions and governments clashed, parents boycotted testing, the federal role in education expanded, charter schools grew in influence and the common core came into being. Heated debates raged over teacher accountability and school ratings, student achievement and assessment, educational equity and alternatives to traditional public schools, tenure and LIFO and much more.
These are not a series of discrete actors and issues. They are products of America’s transition from a national, analog, industrial economy to a global, digital, information economy, which is radically changing the expectations and demands being made on our school.
Today’s schools were created for an industrial nation and resemble the assembly line which typified the era. They are built on a common time based process—13 years of schooling, a 180 day school year and classes for durations specified by the Carnegie Foundation in 1907. The measure of student progress is seat time, the amount of time students are taught. The underlying assumption is that all students can learn the same amount in the same period of time. The process is the same for all students and the outcomes are variable.
In contrast, information economies focus on common outcomes. Process and time are variable. In schools, this translates into a shift in emphasis from teaching to learning—what students know and are able to do. This has resulted in the adoption of state standards for student achievement and tests to assess student progress.
Because today’s jobs demand higher levels of skills and knowledge than ever before in history, states have raised their graduation requirements and are demanding higher graduation rates. They are holding schools and teachers accountable for results and supporting the creation of what they hope will be more effective schools like charters.
The sharp divisions on issues and among stakeholders are the consequence of these competing visions of schooling. For example, LIFO and tenure are time based and rooted in the industrial model of schooling: pay for performance, standards and testing are outcome-based products of the information economy.
Today our schools are being required to do both—maintain common time-based processes and achieve common outcomes. This is an impossibility. In the end, the information economy model of schooling will prevail. The challenge is to make an effective transition from the former to the latter. If we fail to do this—the divisions will become more bitter and the victims will be our children, our schools and our teachers. #