Return to Sender – Why Education Must Innovate
th=”120″ height=”120″ />On a recent morning I was on the treadmill for my morning run. As usual, I was flipping back and forth between ESPN and the morning news programs. I randomly stopped on a national news program that was reporting that the US Postal Service is currently losing $25 million per day and ready to default on the first of two $500 million loans from the federal government. The broadcast continued with a panel discussion debating the usefulness of today’s 6-day per week mail service and the future of a government service that is essentially unsustainable.
Let me begin by expressing my respect for postal employees. I believe the current situation with the post office has resulted from failure to adapt to a changing world – not the result of poor performance by the current workforce. Today’s postal employees are doing exactly what they are asked to do. I simply question if the service being provided is necessary today. Our postal employees deliver the mail with impressive consistency and great skill. Here is the essential question, “Could you survive with mail delivery every-other-day? Twice a week? Once a week?”
Use your imagination to turn the clock back 25 years. Imagine if the U.S. Postal Service had the foresight and innovative approach to move to every-other-day mail delivery in the mid-1980’s – and at the same time this revenue savings was applied to innovative projects and development of additional services. Instead of UPS or Federal Express cutting more and more into the market, the U.S. Postal Service may have produced creative alternatives. In addition to this stagnation, the emergence of on-line banking and bill paying has reduced the volume of some business mail. Simply stated, the post office does what it does very well . . . we just may not need it done the same way any longer.
The U.S. Post Office and public education have similar roots; both are American institutions that are an important part of our country’s historic fabric. Both the post office and public education have been protected monopolies, largely without any form of competition since colonial time. Benjamin Franklin served as the first Postmaster General, and Benjamin Franklin played a predominant role in The Academy, the basis for today’s public high schools. The similarities are clear, and the future of both classic institutions is in doubt.
Public education is under attack. It is not under attack because it provides terrible service or because educators aren’t utilizing the skills they were taught. Education is being criticized because we keep doing what we have always done. As a whole, public schools have changed very little over the past years, decades, and even centuries. A colonial classroom was organized very similar to the way a modern classroom is set-up. The tools have changed and the curriculum has evolved; yet much has remained the same.
Parents today demand choice – our society is predicated on choice. The proliferation of charter and digital schools in Ohio is indicates many are ready to take advantage of choices. Many of these educational options don’t compare to the educational opportunities in many public schools, by any rating method. Nevertheless, parents choose these options for their children. Public districts must ask the tough question, “Why are parents choosing these options for their children?” Furthermore, public schools must seek to provide choices for parents and students within the services of the district.
Public high schools must provide options for secondary students – options that include a full spectrum of instruction models – from traditional classroom experiences, to blended courses, to completely digital classes. Public schools can, and must, branch out, innovate within public education, and work with teachers to bring this menu of choices to life.
Districts must look to discontinue unnecessary practices. We have “piled on” new responsibilities without abandoning unnecessary requirements. Some of these will be tough conversations; we may abandon some sacred lessons, skills, and units. We can’t shy away from difficult questions. We are still on a largely agrarian calendar – why? We still teach cursive. Is this a skill 3rd grade students will need in 2022 when they graduate high school? Yes, six day a week mail delivery historically has been expected, but is it necessary? Sure, textbooks and 45 minute classes are part of high school life, but is this the best practice for students today?
The era of backpacks and textbooks may be soon replaced by laptops and tablets. We can’t even predict the “what’s next” for technology, learning, and instruction. We must work, especially at the secondary level, to prepare students for college and career options. According to a 2011 study, online education programs accounted for 30% of post secondary education enrollments – a number expected to approach 40% by 2015. We must prepare students for choice, digital learning, and online classes. We must better prepare teachers and develop digital and blended learning experts.
“By 2019, about 50 percent of all high school courses will be delivered online.” Clayton Christensen states in Disrupting Class. This number has been deemed conservative by many in today’s education circles. Innosight Institute defines blended learning as, “ a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home.”
Blended and digital learning are the equivalent of Federal Express and online bill paying. Public schools must act now or face growing competition, a declining market share, and continued questions about relevance. There is a tremendous opportunity. Exceptional teachers already are working on these very options. Potential partners with years of experience are developing online and blended models. However, there is still a need for the traditional skills that have made this country the world’s only superpower. Not all students are prepared for choices. For these students, schools will still offer traditional teachers, classes, and options.
Technology can create efficiency. Lessons that can be applied and utilized to give students the control of time, place, path, and pace. We can, and we must, do better. As an educational leader, I am truly energized to be part of such an exciting time in this arena. We have an opportunity to do something that hasn’t been accomplished in centuries – to modernize public education. I firmly believe education is the “silver bullet.” Our public education system, and our public education system alone, will determine the future of America. We will either prepare the future generations not only to complete, but to lead in a global economy, or we will prepare the next generation to simply survive in the twentieth century.
Living in fear, longing for the past, and reminiscing about how things used to be are not acceptable options. Americans are not returning to writing checks to pay bills, installing wall mounted landlines, or visiting Blockbuster for a VHS tape on Friday evening. We must innovate and provide a progressive, individually designed educational experience for each child. We simply can’t have any children stamped, “Return to Sender.”
Preparing Students for Tomorrow . . . Today