As we close an eventful 2020 which probably rivals 1635 (first public school) and 1957 (Sputnik launch) for the most impactful year in education, RoundTable looks forward to what lies ahead. Here are the 10 necessary (if not revolutionary) changes that will begin or solidify as we start 2021.
The Destruction of the Carnegie Unit. According to the Carnegie Foundation, the Unit was established "in 1906 to measure the amount of time a student has studied a subject" (https://www.carnegiefoundation.org/faqs/carnegie-unit/). In high school, a student was required to have "seat time" of roughly 120 hours in a subject to earn 1 "unit" of credit. This was roughly meeting every school day for 45-60 minutes for each of the school weeks a year, generally 36-40 weeks. Most schools still use this metric and there is roughly the same (though divided into fewer days with longer time intervals) for the university level. This is one of the revered bastions of the industrial model of education. Carnegie's name says it all with the ties to industrialization. But it does not fit education today, especially in the pandemic and especially with options in asynchronous delivery through experts. Picture Bill Gates as a 17-year-old sitting in a Computer Science class. He could do more than everyone else would do in a year earning their unit in his 40 minutes of class time and would waste 40 weeks to "earn credit." Groups like the Mastery Transcript Consortium (master.org) are destroying this model of transactional grading and transcripts. Along with the destruction of the unit would come the opportunity to disabuse students of the notion that all they had to do would be to show up. Really what we want from students is to engage, think critically, and learn how to learn. The unit never really saw that as the point. Rather it was based on the premise that we would train young men and women to punch a clock, insert a timecard, or ultimately be "good workers." The 21st Century Economy has moved past that type of thinking (or lack thereof) and so should education. The pandemic has given us the excuse to rid ourselves permanently of the Carnegie Unit.
The Revision/Retirement of State-Mandated Testing. Most states reluctantly canceled testing in the Spring of 2020. They did not know how to do it via remote delivery. But like the wise always say "Never waste a good emergency." Many think that state-mandated testing is a farce. So now would be a good opportunity to cancel it forever. Like History after the battle, the victor gets to write the history. So also, the writer of the test (or her demographic) gets to control the test score results. When predominately white teachers design the tests based on white tropes that are commonly shared from birth, white students do better. When liberal authors write the test with the new agenda, those attuned to that agenda and who have families attuned to that agenda win. Whenever you do a multiple-choice test with reading comprehension, the passage matters. The passage must have some content and the content has clues that the demographic may or may not be hip to. Even though it wouldn't be a bad idea for the sake of citizenship and civility, we haven't been able to universally agree on a classical cannon. E.D. Hirsch, Jr. did have something with cultural literacy that would do our educational system justice if it was removed from a "white literacy" to a "world literacy." So notwithstanding an agreement in the country on what students should be studying and therefore testing on, we should abandon outdated modes of assessment like summative high stakes testing and see what students can actually do rather than what they can recall. Again, the industrial model of education is probably most to blame for the ineffectiveness of standardized testing. It is efficient, but not effective. Like Saturn cars, the manufacturer could churn out a bunch of cars in a hurry, but they weren't very good when they got on the road. In the same vein, we can grade a lot of state standardized tests and we can make some efficient curricula for faculty to burn through, but it does not mean we put great students out on the road. The pandemic has given us a great opportunity to change this. Let's do it.
Race for the Remote Talent Pool. While we are in a recession for some sectors of the economy, the demand for talented information workers from remote has never been greater. So many times in my career as an academic leader it felt like finding a great teacher in a high-demand subject was nearly impossible. Calculus, Physics, Chemistry, Latin? In a small city without top universities? Forget it. These were the scenarios that kept me awake at night as a #schoolleader. But now, with the public's acceptance of remote learning, and teaching, one can contract an expert a few periods a day to work with students in the field of their expertise without setting foot in the city of the school. That talented worker could do this for several schools and make more money working fewer hours while never setting foot into traffic or traffic duty. If your school does not yet have a better plan for attracting top talent to teach in these areas, RoundTable would like to help. We have some easy and cost-effective ideas for you.
The definition of an enrolled student has changed and will morph well beyond the bounds of what most in education consider "a student." Your school has already done this: on-campus, hybrid, remote learner, remote teacher, hybrid teacher, full-time, part-time, flex, summer camper, enrichment learner. Why would we go back to only having full-time on-campus teachers? Why would we go back to having only full-time on-campus students? The only reason would be to make it easier for teachers and/or administrators who didn't grow during the pandemic or who dislike technology. If you lead in a private school, there is revenue to be had by making flexible options. Now is the time to sit with your team and let it be known that you will not be going back to a one-size-fits-all model. Here again, RoundTable has expertise in working with schools to create models that work. We give you expertise in what kinds of platforms to use. We work with faculty to make their connections with remote synchronous students more efficient and more relational. We also show you strategies that can significantly raise revenue with some things you are already doing but bear you no fruit currently.
The definition of what makes a great teacher has changed and your observation/evaluation models must keep up with the changes. Many of us came up using either the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching or the Robert J. Marzano Art and Science of Teaching as evaluation instruments. There are perhaps none better. However, times change and these need to be updated. Marzano had a category for "With-it-ness" in his observation tool that I loved to use as Principal. I think our new model of "With-it-ness" should include knitting together what the remote learner is doing/thinking/feeling with the ones in front of the teacher in the classroom. Likewise, Potential for Positive Change/Pivoting should be a category in any teacher feedback model. Inflexibility in educational practice is now not just an inconvenient peccadillo. We need to call it for what it is: sin. As a school leader in 2021, it is advisable to look across your faculty and staff and see who protects silos and pet traditions. Is the educator really a mission keeper or a turf warrior? Elevate the former and eliminate the latter. Some including Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, have called for this "hybrid" model to be phased out. "Hybrid doesn't work," Weingarten says flatly. "You can't live-stream and teach in person at the same time" Weingarten was quoted in an article for NPR written by Anya Kamenetz entitled "5 Things We've Learned About Virtual School in 2020." RoundTable categorically disagrees with Weingarten's assessment. If she is talking about grades Pre-K through 3, she might be right. However, grades 4 through 12 are certainly capable of having robust hybrid class sessions where some of the students are home learning online and some are in the classroom. The key is the teacher's ability to engage and the teacher's utilization of simple, low-priced technology that includes responsive cameras. I have client schools that have invested in this framework and are doing it well. They are doing it so well that students from other schools are enrolling immediately after visiting because they are at schools that are not doing it well. I have observed teachers who do it well and I have observed teachers who do not do it well. The key elements are engagement, feedback loops, "with-it-ness," strong story, and visuals. These elements can be improved by teachers and can be trained/developed by forward thinking school leaders, teacher leaders, and 3rd party sources like RoundTable and the Global Online Academy
The K-shaped recovery has remade business and will also remake education in both the public and private sectors. Elizabeth Aldridge of Business Insider wrote this insightful column in mid-December explaining the K-shaped economic recovery anomaly that the pandemic created/exacerbated in this article. Essentially, the pandemic rewarded those who could work from home in industries that were on solid footing. We know what Zoom stock has done. Paypal, likewise. The wealthy suburban housing market? It has been off the charts. Realtors and mortgage brokers' work has never been easier or busier. However, hotels, cruise lines, and restaurants faltered. Likewise, those who had stock portfolios saw them temporarily dip in April and then rise to the heights not yet seen before. What does this mean for education? Name brand private schools and our most elite colleges will likely be able to continue to charge what they will. Schools with tight balance sheets were temporarily supported by PPP money and expect another round of money, but much of that just was insurance money and money used for sanitation and subs. The school situation is a little like the microcosm each family in America will inherit when the government sends stimulus checks to many families. If you had continued working through the pandemic and will get $2400 for a family of 4, you have a great opportunity to invest in the stock market, use the money to create even more cushion in your emergency fund, or pay some debt down. If you have lost your job, this money represents a lifeline, but might not get you to the spring. Our schools are similar.
Enlightened schools will use vast resources to serve both the richest and poorest families. In response to the K-shaped recovery, we will see more schools like the one proposed by the Casa Laxmi Foundation that would start next fall in Bay County, Florida near Panama City. Casa Laxmi proposes to build a state of the art international boarding school on the bay to serve the very rich and the very poor at the same time. The tuition model is incredible and counter-intuitive. One would pay either in the neighborhood of $150,000 or zero. It would have all the bells and whistles one would expect from an international boarding school in a tropical location, just that the rich would be paying the tuition for the poor (usually orphaned or single parent) students. It has rightly been called "a social experiment" by many including the prospective founders. Nevertheless, it just may be one answer to the K-recovery. Significant social-emotional intelligence training would have to be implemented so that this does not simply become a School Ties or Scent of a Woman scenario. Many experiments like this though would give us the best hope of substantial educational change despite the best efforts of the new executive branch with Dr. Jill Biden and Dr. Miguel Cardona, President-elect Joe Biden's pick to be the Secretary of Education.
Despite its very best efforts and despite having educators with the best intentions running the Federal government's attempts at sustainable educational change, we will not see lasting, impactful change for at least 3-4 years from the Federal government. Federalism does not work for an educational system. States are a little better spearheading the educational direction, but they have a hard time as well. If ever there has been a situation that magnified the need for local control of education, it has been the pandemic. States were waiting on a federal mandate that never came. Localities waited on state guidelines that came back confused. The chief reason is that the pandemic demonstrated that each locality, and even each district, faced different circumstances. Rural students had no internet. Urban students often had internet, but no supervision. Suburban students seemed like they had it all and in many cases could go in person. California handled the pandemic much differently than Texas. Both had huge spikes, but most areas of Texas offered in-person learning this semester. Most of California was remote only. Those in the federal government who want to consolidate schooling and school systems must reframe their thinking. Likewise, if the Biden administration were to pass sweeping legislation aimed at improving schools, history shows that future administrations would be faced with implementing it since legislation takes so long. The best thing the Biden administration could do would be to establish a federally paid, national wifi access so that all students could have access to it whether they were in Waco's outskirts or those outside of Walla Walla, Washington.
If the Federal Government continues to see itself as the chief stimulator, expect significant educational stimulus dollars and think about whether they are is worth fighting for in your school situation. If you are a private school, you probably applied for and received PPP money. With a Democratic executive and potentially a Democratic-controlled bi-cameral legislature, depending on what happens with Georgia, there will be lots of pork going for schools to help families in remote learning situations or to help parents who are home working get their kids out of the house to school. Private schools could be an answer as they have proven to be more nimble. While there will be a huge fight to keep federal dollars out of private school hands, there will be market opportunities to serve families given stimulus and voucher type dollars to spend on the open market. Can your school align itself to meet that need without inhibiting your mission? It would be wise to set up a strategic group at your school to horizon scan now on what this would look like.
Athletics at your school will/should look vastly different in the next five years due to the pandemic, technological levers, and Gen-Z characteristics. There are some athletic associations in the United States like Alabama that prohibit member schools from playing non-member schools. In a pandemic that principle is no longer practical. If my team is healthy and my community is healthy, I will likely try to go play another team in my community regardless of state association. In college basketball, we have seen the normal scrimmage season where Division I teams play NAIA schools extended due to cancelations and prohibited travel. Here in San Antonio, NAIA school Our Lady of the Lake has gotten to play guarantee games with 4-5 Division I NCAA schools because they have been healthy, have a great testing protocol, and are willing to travel anywhere in the state to replace a Texas university's opponent who had to cancel. Finally, the sports we offer will change. The cracks in football's dominance due to concussions started ten years ago. Those young men born then with parents worried about the effects of concussions likely aren't signing up for Pop Warner. Additionally, the Big 10 and Pac-12's decision to can the season and then play just about a half of the slate of games means there will have been thousands of families in the Mid West and West who learned they could live without football in the fall. This will trickle down to the secondary level. Some wise schools like Lutheran High School in San Antonio (yes even in the heart of football-loving Texas) have started e-sports teams and leagues. One could envision there being as many e-sports teams at the high school level in America as there are football teams by 2030. Your school would be wise to look for to reappropriate your athletic program dollars and efforts to sports that are: completely outside, can be done from remote, can be done individually, or can easily maintain social distance. Also, be thinking about how to repurpose those locker rooms. Were they ever such a really good idea to begin with when you think about it?
Bonus: Hotels, restaurants, office buildings, and malls have rethought their spaces and use cases; So should schools and universities in 2021 and beyond. Our schools sit dormant on the weekends. Many working on academic credentialing could use employment because they would otherwise be working in the aforementioned industries while paying their way through school. Parents and students need support both in person and remote. Why not open our schools and the facilities there-in to groups of Teach for America like individuals, pay them, and have them teach families and students skills like entrepreneurship, negotiation, classical learning, coding, Shakespeare, athletics, and all myriad of valuable skills. We need different thinking than the CFO of the school saying, "no, we can't do that because of liability." Perhaps the government should change course and give liability protection to those in the industry of supporting kids and families in education like a Good Samaritan law.