I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to serve eight years as a School Board member in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). It was a great opportunity, but the pace of the work rarely gave me the opportunity to sit down and think about the important trends in education in a more philosophical manner. There was always the “Crisis De Jour” – something or some group that needed immediate attention. It is only now, since leaving the Board that I have had a chance to really reflect on the things I learned.
During my tenure at FCPS, I observed a number of emerging trends in K-12 education – with special attention to those involving technology and the changing workplace. As we all know, technological advances have exploded over the last decade and we would be silly to assume these changes will not impact education/instruction. We, as a nation, need to move quickly to react to these trends before they overtake us – if they haven’t already.
Trend #1 – Online Learning: The traditional educational paradigm has been to measure “time in the classroom” as an important metric. I believe this is somewhat of an outdated concept and does not speak to a child’s mastery of the content but rather simply the time they spend sitting in a chair. Technology is forcing us to rethink the importance of such a measure. We can now offer on-line textbooks, interactive discussion forums, on-line or virtual classes, and even a virtual school (as FCPS is now considering), that do not require children to actually sit in a classroom. Should our regulatory framework change to allow greater flexibility to Districts to adapt to these changes? Will Districts be able to offer these new learning options? What will be the overall impact from the increased use of technology? We need to address these questions and quickly.
Trend #2 – Information Enabler: Years ago there were (for all practical purposes) only two sources of information when a child stepped into the classroom – the teacher and the textbook. This consolidation of information/knowledge led to the natural role of the teacher as lecturer and the student as the receptacle for the information. Technology has stood that old axiom on its head and yet we have been slow to make changes to this “natural order” in our classrooms. Today, information is everywhere and therefore instructional practices need to adapt. I believe that many teachers and principals recognize this fundamental change and see the need to move from lecturer to learning coach – helping children understand where to find reliable and trusted information, how to discern fact from opinion, how to find information efficiently and how to work in groups to solve problems. These are the skills needed in today’s world.
Trend #3 – Skills Based Learning: Typically our educational system focuses on content/information above all else. There is some merit to this framework, yet in today’s world where professionals work to solve complex problems that cross traditional disciplinary lines we may need to re-think this approach. If you were to query a typical professional and ask them to identify the top ten things that make them successful at work, they would more than likely respond with just a few things that are content related – the rest would be skills. Yet our traditional educational system focuses on content and precious little time on those skills needed for success in the workplace. Today’s workplace focuses on solving problems and our classrooms need to mirror that.
Addressing these educational trends today will impact our children’s future success in the workplace of tomorrow. Why wait any longer to respond – let's get started now.
Brad Center from 2003 to 2011.