The New Learning Landscape

This week I talked to:

  • an education author, a blogger, and consultant;
  • two districts executing a multi-provider portfolio strategy;
  • a charter management organization, a charter network and an online provider;
  • a former state commissioner and two state education officials;
  • an impact investor, a venture investor, and a private equity investor;
  • a social learning platform, a learning game platform;
  • an equity advocate, a choice advocate, and an innovation advocate;
  • and a handful of teachers.

These two dozen conversations (and a few thousand others) lead me to the conclusion that we’re at the beginning of a golden age of the edupreneur—a time when the options for learning and learning professionals and learning investors is blooming. There is an expanding array of options for people that want to learn and those that want to help young people learn. Teachers are at the heart of this expanding ecosystem.
These days, for many teachers it’s not a great job—except when you retire. Starting pay is lousy, first assignments can be awful, the job is daunting, support is weak, resources are lame, and there’s little time to work with other adults. This is not a good system. But there is an emerging picture of the new employment bargain for learning professionals–one that President Obama and Secretary Duncan are pushing–and it includes:

  1. Great opening offer: an attractive starting salary;
  2. Competent leadership: fair and thoughtful with a sense of urgency;
  3. A supportive and collaborative environment that provides rich team, online peer-to-peer, and whole-school learning experiences;
  4. Rational working conditions and assignments including an equitable distribution of teaching talent;
  5. The opportunity for rapid advancement based on demonstrated performance (measured by all available means) and initiative leading to a year round contract;
  6. Tiered staffing structure where master teachers make a great salary and aren’t forced into administration if their gifts are better used teaching;
  7. Differentiated pay based on skill set that recognizes that a talent market exists;
  8. Reliable and responsive human resource systems;
  9. The use of anywhere anytime talent—the right person for the right role regardless of zip code delivered just in time for the learner.

And here’s #10: if that doesn’t work, start a company, consult, build digital content, advocate. The sky is the limit for learners and professionals committed to helping young people learn.
The unions cling to the 1950 style back-loaded minute-by-minute, lowest common denominator bargain but the world has moved on. It’s time to learn.

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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