Building a Better Teacher (the Online Version)

New York Times Magazine got the title right but the story wrong.  Doug Lemov is great and his book, Teach Like a Champ, will be a big contribution to the sector.  But we’re still trying to solve a 1990 question—how does one teacher lift the achievement level of a diverse group of students?
Here’s the problem: we need to make 3.7 million teachers a standard deviation better—fast.  Lemov will do for classroom management what Madeline Hunter did for lesson plans, but it won’t fix the problem.  A good teacher in command of his/her classroom will reach some kids but not all kids.  The standards are high and the needs are great—this is not a technique question, this is a design problem.
Here’s the 2015 question we should be focusing on: how do we build personalized learning experiences to help diverse students graduate from high school college and career ready. If you start with that question, you get a different solution than current ‘teacher effeteness’ initiatives.  You start with great diagnostic tools, then you add engaging adaptive curriculum, then you add powerful application, guidance, and support functions.  With a powerful core instructional technology, you can begin to imagine a new set of interesting roles for learning professionals.
By 2015, most high school students will be doing some of their learning online.  By 2020, most high school students will do most of their learning online.  Progress will be lumpy—some folks will work the old question instead of the new question.  The ‘tech-as-air’ generation is ready to go to work in our schools; we should be preparing them to teach online and support online learning.
We can’t reform our way to excellence and equity.  The Building a Better Teacher story should have been a description of the emerging tools and personalized supports that will redefine education.

Tom - Speaking Engagements

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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2 Comments

Jay M - Online schools worked for me
3/17/2010

I agree with you, with the progression of learning technologies and the internet preparing teachers to teach online should be a priority...students should be taught using the technology of today so that they can utilize it when they need to in the real world

John Danner
3/20/2010

Rocketship starts with the idea - what if we used online learning to allow us to hire half as many teachers and pay them twice as much. We're halfway there right now (one quarter online, need to move to one half). If we get there, it means that our teachers start looking a lot more like professors both in pay and the number of students they impact. The added benefit is that doubling salary and looking for half as many teachers seems like a good way to match supply and demand for teachers.

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