The Strange Future of the Teaching Profession

In 1991, just after stepping into his new role as secretary of education, Lamar Alexander envisioned a system of public education where school districts would not have an “exclusive monopoly” to operate public schools.   Instead, a public school “could be redefined as a school that receives public funds and is “accountable to public authority,” and “could be operated by public entities such as the Smithsonian Institution, by private nonprofit organizations, or by businesses.”

Twenty-five years later, it appears that Alexander’s dream is closer than ever to becoming reality.

As billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Reed Hastings of Netflix and Bill Gates of Microsoft invest millions of dollars into “personalized learning” experiments, corporate-sponsored bills are rapidly popping up across the country to move states toward competency-based education models that investors hope will allow learning to happen “anytime, anywhere.”

Organizations like the Center for the Future of Museums are now predicting the end of neighborhood schools:

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The U.S. Department of Education in collaboration with The After-School Corporation describe a system in which students are “no longer tethered to school buildings or schedules,” but are instead free to tote data backpacks from one locale to the next in pursuit of digital badges.

In Pittsburgh, the Remake Learning Network, in partnership with the MacArthur Foundation, Common Sense Media, and Digital Promise, is currently trying to turn the city into “a campus for learning.” In Salt Lake City, where StriveTogether, United Way, and Target have teamed up to build “Community Schools,” parents are being encouraged to waive their FERPA rights so that data can be shared across the city’s organizations (including the Chamber of Commerce).

Meanwhile, groups like the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future and KnowledgeWorks are deciding how best to manage the teaching workforce in a world in which teaching is no longer an actual profession.

KnowledgeWorks, which has received upwards of 50 million dollars from the Gates Foundation and successfully lobbied Congress to include “innovative assessment zones” in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, has even prepared a menu of possible roles educators might play in this new system of public education.

Here is how KnowledgeWorks explains the impending shift:

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And here are some of the job opportunities KnowledgeWorks envisions for us:

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KnowledgeWorks has even set up a make-believe job platform site called VibrantEd to help us explore some of these future possibilities.

As strange as some of this sounds, it helps explain what Tom Carroll, president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, meant when he encouraged leaders of schools of education to get “out of the teacher preparation business,” and “into the workforce development business in partnership with school districts.”

Yes, teachers, they really do want to get rid of us.

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Are You Being Manipulated?

One year ago, representatives from the next-gen ed reform industry took part in the Partnership for 21st Century Learning‘s annual summit.

In one of the breakout sessions, the audience was asked to consider “embedded beliefs” about children and school while viewing a series of images like the one below:

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The session, titled “A Transformational Vision of the Future of Learning: A Strange Bedfellow Collaboration” and hosted by Microsoft, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, KnowledgeWorks, Disney, and both major teachers’ unions, emphasized the need for a “paradigm shift” from the “industrial age” to the “networked age.”

It’s a message that suddenly seems to be everywhere.

Here is Arne Duncan:

Our K–12 system largely still adheres to the century-old, industrial-age factory model of education…But the factory model of education is the wrong model for the 21st century.

And here’s Michael Horn of Innosight Institute:

With the opportunity of online learning coming on, what we talk about is shifting from this factory model system to a student-centered one that personalizes for each and every child.

… and Mark Schneiderman  of the Software Information & Industry Association:

The factory model that we’ve used to meet the needs of the average student in a mass production way for years is no longer meeting the needs of each student as our student body diversifies.

… and Susan Patrick of iNACOL:

The three areas that intersect to create the perfect storm for this education transformation are: personalization, blended learning and competency education. The power of each moves us away from the monolithic, industrialized factory model of schooling and toward a rich, flexible learning environment in which students move through advancing mastery along learning pathways.

… and Tom Vander Ark of Learn Capital:

The alternative to the factory model is a more personalized learning environment where all students are engaged and learning at their own pace in the best way possible for each of them. This is achievable—at scale—with improved Internet access, new adaptive technology, and competency-based learning environments.

You get the idea.

The message is so uniform that it seems as though reformers are all being coached by the same marketing professionals.

And that’s because they are.

Using market research techniques, FrameWorks Institute – which recently helped California sell the idea of Common Core – discovered that the public is far more likely to agree with reform messages that start by invoking the value of “progress.”

“The value of Progress produced substantial and statistically significant increases in support on all policies and attitudes tested,” FrameWorks explains in this memo on ways to talk about digital learning. “Because it pedestals all the good aspects of technology and backgrounds all the bad, it helps inoculate against “back to basics” thinking about learning and skills.”

For those looking to sharpen their reform pitches (or, if you’re like the Maine Coalition for Excellence in Education, you’ve gotten funding from Nellie Mae to take your state legislators on a retreat to sell them on the idea of proficiency-based education), FrameWorks recently released its findings as part of a “Core Story of Education” project.

The Core Story toolkit, called “Telling Stories Out of School: Reframing the Education Conversation through a Core Story Approach,” features message cards, talking points, sample editorials and twitter messages, and even a game to test your communication skills.

There’s even a handy chart you can use to anticipate how your message may go astray:

 

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Because telling the truth about our schools has never seemed to produce statistically significant shifts in the public’s inclination to let reformers take our education system in whatever direction they please,  you won’t find much of that in this toolkit.

For those interested in such things, I recommend you read this post by Audrey Watters or this one by Dr. Sherman Dorn for a solid debunking of some of the myths currently being sold by the reframing reformers.

For everyone else, here’s a link from the toolkit to help you with your tweets.