John Kasich, Ohio’s new governor, has emphasized his goal of reforming Ohio’s educational system. (See: Kasich creates cabinet post for education.) The person charged with this big task is Bob Sommers — given the title, “Director of The Governors Office for 21st Century Education.” In the video (below), Mr. Sommers addresses a group of Ohio’s educational leaders.

Sommers’ answers to the question: “What is your vision of the future?”

  • Technology will be integrated in such a way to personalize education via “mass customization.”
  • Whole group classroom instruction — a teacher addressing an entire class — will be rare if nonexistent.
  • Adult success will be judged in terms of student success.
  • The use of technology and improved management will make education much more cost effective.

In the video Sommers indicates schools need goals “beyond math and reading,” He indicates that schools must do more to develop character, cultural competence, drive, creativity, persistence. I’d like to know more about Mr. Sommers’ views of school goals and how these goals should be measured, how teachers and schools could be held accountable.

Mr. Sommers has an impressive resume. He has worked over 30 years in every aspect of public education: teacher, board member, superintendent, charter school leader, etc. In the video he comes across as a sincere and thoughtful educator, a leader with a well developed point of view concerning how to improve public education.  One slide he used in the presentation:

Per pupil cost has risen sharply, but test results have stayed flat.

See handout: “Education that Gets Results: Giving Taxpayers Their Money’s Worth”

Some of his points:

  1. We are saddled with a “legacy system” — one that cannot sustain itself — and we need a new system that focuses on students rather than adults.
  2. We’ve played games with the accountability system — “Our accountability system is basically lying to us.” Regardless that Ohio shows an increase in the number of “excellent schools,” an increase in state assessment scores, the fact is, any third party assessment (ACT, NAEP, etc) of Ohio’s results is flat.
  3. The biggest challenge is not the budget, not the stats — it is tradition. He quotes Henry Ford as saying that if he asked his customers they would have said they wanted “a faster horse.” Traditions keep us from creating the new generation of education.
  4. Technology must be fully integrated, we must seek “mass customization.” We must put students in charge of their own learning. Technology should not be laid over the current system, but must be an integral part of a new system.
  5. Putting a great teacher in charge is more important than the number of students in a class. Great teachers should be paid extremely well. The idea is to start with a system of bonuses for teachers, and to transition to a more comprehensive system.
  6. Support innovation, stop failure. Rank schools on performance (75th out of 610, etc.) Even top schools are motivated to improve their ranking. Give parents takeover rights.
  7. Invest in students. Put more money in classroom, less in bureaucracy
  8. Expand choice. Increase EDChoice scholarships (vouchers); Remove the cap on charter schools; Eliminate auto transfer of collective bargaining on conversions
  9. Create a digital friendly state. Give students a choice for digital instruction. Simplify and focus state educational technology leadership. Build a platform for Digital development by Ohio’s teachers

Questions to Mr. Sommers start in the video at 1:06:35.  The first question is the best:

What will the system look like when these changes are made. Please give us your vision.

Mr. Sommer’s response:

In broad strokes, First of all, We will not have uniformity in the educational process. Uniformity at the institutional is fundamentally counterintuitive to meeting the needs of individual students. There is no model student. Anytime we apply a uniform application (there is a problem)

A lot of education today would be like the doctor who, if you had a sore would prescribe penicillin. If you had a headache — penicillin. If a broken leg — penicillin. Nobody would think that was logical.

Here is the fascinating news, if we apply the right mechanisms to the right circumstances to keep them engaged, keep them excited (there is success) Children are fascinated with learning about the world. But what happens is that overtime as we apply institutional standardized instruction, we kill their interest. First thing — there would not be uniformity in the educational experience

Second,All adults will judge their success by their students success — not if they turn their paper work on time, not if they have best friends in the administration, not if they won some (bureaucratic) battle — they will be judged only by how well their students succeed. And when their students didn’t succeed, they would be energized to find a solution

Third, There will not be classrooms, with teachers doing what I am doing now (giving whole group instruction) presenting information. Whenever you see a classroom, adults or children, with one person leading the group — and test this out, and visit a good classroom, watch the kids — I guarantee you are lucky to get 30% of educational productivity in that setting. Most of the students are not engaged. They are idling, waiting to hear something relevant to their learning, or they are hopelessly confused. It is usually less than 20%.

A teacher in front of a class is fundamentally very unproductive. This design for education comes from years ago at the turn of the 20th century. At that time we didn’t have the knowledge we have today about brain theory, human motivation, technology. We are clinging to a practice that was required long ago, but, that today’s technology and today’s understanding doesn’t require us to cling to

Fourth, The last thing in this new system is educators not saying, “We have this problem and we need more money to solve it.” Money will be important at some level, but it will be a system where educators will say, “I’ve got to meet this performance target at this sustainable price point. — how do I go about organizing, using technology to actually at same time lower my cost to be a better value for taxpayers and, at the same time, serve students better.” At Butler, we called it the Kalmus ration — cost per successful student.

 

 

 

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