Think of this as Volume 15, Number 37 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
They have failed, for two reasons:
Desktop FAIL. Before teachers could learn the tool the tool was obsolete.
The real problem here is political. It's not what you think. It's not the intransigence of teacher's unions, and it's not the union-busting efforts of school boards.
It's political interference, deciding what is to be taught. Everyone is guilty of it. And it's startlingly irrelevant to the task at hand. All these political issues should be subject of debate and disagreement inside the classroom, and everyone else should get the hell out.
Facts are increasingly unimportant when you can go to the Internet for all that you need. Yet these are the obsession of most people looking at education. Should we tell kids that global warming is real or controversial? Should we tell them that about evolution? What will we say about Jesus Christ or Mohammed? Whose history should we say is the right one? Which books are we going to let the little ones read?
It's all irrelevant. The real goal of education is to learn to use the abundance we have. To read it, understand it, manipulate it. Just as in math and science, it's not making the calculations but understanding how the calculations are made that counts. Any calculator can calculate. Only a human being can do creative math. That's where they will make their money, in using this raw material, in essentially educating themselves, and teaching one another.
The focus of our economy is moving, as it does with each generation. When I was a kid it moved from the factory to the office. Now it's moving from the office to the campus. It's a lot more important to my real estate agent that I'm a subway ride away from Georgia Tech and Georgia State, and just two miles from Emory, than it is that I'm near an office park.
Office park, places where managers sit around making decisions, are going the way of the Rust Belt. The middle management and sales jobs lost during the Great Recession are never coming back. But while the jobs of the last generation eventually migrated to China and India, these jobs are simply going into computers. There are line people and decision makers, and in business there is very little in-between. The only “factory” jobs left are going to be those writing software, for as long as software is still written by hand.
By contrast, there is a boom going on around major university campuses, and this won't stop. These are the new engines of our growth. Not just the campuses themselves, but the new companies emerging from the research done there. Doing those jobs requires an ability to read and understand, to reason, to write, to synthesize.
Is our kids learning that? No, because their parents are arguing about the what instead of the how. I don't need to know that Jimmy Carter was President in 1977. I can look it up. (Well, I was there, but my kids can look it up.) It's understanding history, being able to form a coherent argument (pro or con) about it, or about anything, that is important.
Once we get that through our heads education policy can change in radical new ways, up and down the line. Out with the sage on the stage – I don't need someone presenting lesson plans. Out with the test takers – I can do that online. In with the guide at the side – it takes a human being to guide and inspire, to figure out how kids learn and give them tools they can grok and use. Teaching needs to become a higher-level task done by fewer people.
Most learning can be systematized. Nearly everything you need to know from kindergarten through a Bachelor's Degree can be standardized. We should be testing for mastery, for skills, and letting those who pass go on through. Then acknowledge the mastery and find a way for those people to exploit that talent, because we need all of it we can get.
Tablets and broadband are cheap. They should be doing the grunt work of education. Let teachers teach, which means keeping kids on task, listening to them, inspiring them, getting them over the inevitable humps on the way to understanding.
Focus on the how of education, not the what. Leave your politics, whatever they are, at the schoolhouse door.
Let your kids amaze you.