Monday, February 02, 2009

The Change We Need in Education


*Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on running a stellar campaign and bringing such energy and enthusiasm to the electoral process. A special thank you for demonstrating what a “new generation” campaign should look like: inclusive, engaging, informative, and exciting. Your use of social networking, web resources, and advanced data analytics combined with the best of traditional campaigns—on-ground volunteers, phone banks, and community organizing—was stunning.

By the way, this is exactly what we’re looking for on the road ahead in education. We’re looking to leverage new generation technologies combined with the best of education tradition to engage, excite, and educate students in powerfully positive ways. As you noted in your campaign, education is going to be essential to prepare America to compete in tomorrow’s economy. As you well know, your administration’s aggressive environmental, health, and economic transformations will be short lived—if not abject failures—if we don’t ready our educators and educational systems to prepare our students for the change to come.

As a first step, educators need to be ready to champion digital and information literacy as a basic skill—for themselves and their students. With our students, we can’t assume that because they play video games or text endlessly that they are ready to leverage technology in the workplace or as citizens. To build digital muscle for both students and teachers, we should exercise more options to learn with new technologies. At a minimum we should expand our use of blended and online resources. This means ensuring a national broadband infrastructure for our schools, Smart Boards and projectors in our classrooms, and virtual school resources beyond the buildings. We should also explore how we bring mobile devices into learning, gaming into instruction, social networking into academic communities, and advanced analytics into assessment, counseling, and teaching.

Regarding advanced analytics, in our everyday lives, we see Amazon use these tools to give us instantaneous book recommendations, iTunes uses them to customize its “Just for You” section, and credit card companies leverage them to catch fraudulent charges. But imagine if we could use these tools to give our learners instant access to learning resources based on their assessed needs—e.g., “students like you who had these difficulties in algebra have found these web-lessons useful.” Or imagine if our counselors had analytic systems to help them identify and intervene with the most at-risk students before they dropped out. Given our dropout rates in high schools and underprepared-student challenges in higher education, the imperative to leverage these advanced analytics for more than shopping or TV watching should be an imperative.

However, as your campaign modeled, we can’t just throw out the tried and true because of tantalizing technology. We need the best of both worlds. We need to recommit ourselves to the traditions of emphasizing the human touch, fostering mindfulness in educators and students, and inspiring the best of critical thinking as we all wrestle with technology’s problems of persistent partial attention. Indeed, the longstanding tradition of educators working together to imbue our students with strong habits of mind is more important than ever before. The potential of marketers and Machiavellian special interests to manipulate this generation of kids is staggering. We must remember Thomas Jefferson’s admonition: “if a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it wants what never was and what never will be.” In today’s digital democracy, this has never been truer.

As they take on this change, our educators will need our state and federal education systems to incent and reward their efforts. As a result, our systems have to become more nimble and responsive. Our students will be learning for a lifetime, so building strong institutional partnerships between early-childhood, primary, secondary, post-secondary, and continuing workforce education (public and private) is a must. The expansion of early college high-schools, dual-enrollment programs, and institutional articulation agreements is essential.

In addition, the traditional “education pipeline” metaphor needs to be retired. Instead, we are better served as policy makers to think of our diverse students as swimming in a lifetime learning swirl—flowing in to and out of our education systems at all ages and stages. Correspondingly, policy that rewards partnerships, powers technological innovation, and recognizes and rewards student progress (e.g., laddered credentials) is vital. Moreover, we can’t just measure our success in these endeavors against static, 20th-century benchmarks. We need to embrace more complex growth models for students and diverse goal sets for institutions.

There are of course key tactical steps we have to take—continue to aggressively expand science, technology, engineering, and math education, and integrate globalization more fully into our curricula. However, it is the larger strategy of taking the best of our education traditions with the transformational tools and progressive policies at hand that will truly outfit us for the road ahead. That is the powerful lesson we can learn from your successful run for the presidency. And, like your campaign, we’ll need your leadership to take on a big-picture, 50-state strategy to drive this positive transformation.

Again, congratulations on the inspiring embrace of change in your campaign—and the happy result! Here’s hoping that we can embrace this model in our world and bring the change we need to education.

Sincerely,

Mark David Milliron, Ph.D.
President and CEO
Catalyze Learning International

*this open letter to President Obama was first published by Scholastic Administrator

3 comments:

Ben Jedd said...

Mark,

It looks like the President reads your blog. Based on last nights remarks what advances do you see this administration having in the world of academia? How do you see this administration impacting and embracing today's technology into tomorrows classroom?

Ben

Mark David Milliron said...

Thanks Ben! It's pretty clear that they are serious about improving school and college infrastructure, access, and success. And, it's also clear that they see technology as a useful tool--just look what they're doing with electronic medical records. I'm pretty hopeful at the moment.

Rachie-Babe said...

Hi! I enjoyed hearing you speak at the Lansdowne Residency for Walden! I'll be adding your blog to my favorites! Keep up the wonderful work.