I had a conversation tonight with Richard Colvin, Executive Director at Education Sector, asking him what he was hearing at the #NSVFSummit, the Lollapalooza of the education reform set, and how it related to the 21st Century education and work worlds. What he had to say was a good piece of constructive skepticism about whether real learning, or what people call "deeper learning" is really going on in this new shifting marketplace.
For those of you not in the know, Silicon Valley has of late taken a massive interest in improving the lives of the American student and teacher. Their way of doing this is to invest private dollars, foundation dollars, and public money into new strategies for school development, curriculum, education startups and delivery systems for content, technology and ideas. There are doubts about the efficacy of the movement, but where there is doubt there is no shortage of almost religious fervor about the good these people can do to improve American education.
A visit to a NewSchools Venture Fund Summit is like walking into the Mormon Tabernacle and rejoicing in hope and the potential for change. It really does seem almost evangelical. And it should not be missed.
Douglas Crets: what have you been hearing at this event, what seems to stand out to you in terms of what can be done to prepare students for 21st Century challenges?
Richard Colvin: A lot of the conversation here is about how the web and digital media can enable customization of learning and empower students to initiate and monitor their own learning. It's unspoken if whether what they are learning is college readiness skills.
There was a question to Salman Khan—Your lessons seem to be quite good at delivering basic skills, but less so at engaged learning. He said, That's the case, and eventually we will be able to do that.
Douglas Crets: I don't remember the exact prompt I gave Colvin, but we then began talking about the ability of technology to enable students to take on basic skills lessons, and how that freed up teachers to teach deeper engagement. Throughout, the discussion still drifted back to Colvin's concern that maybe it was hard to prove that deeper engagement was going on, especially in literacy. He had no problem with math being taught in the blended learning model espoused by some members of the education reform sector.
So then I asked if the launching of the Common Core State Standards Initiative eased his mind on this worry. Didn't the Common Core enable a fair set of standards that would make it easier to evaluate these things?
Richard Colvin: The point I have heard several times is when you have common core, you have a platform against which you can then measure results of all innovations against a common set of expectations. They're [districts, schools, state standards] not all going off in different directions, and that facilitates innovation. That's kind of an interesting idea, but I think it's an unproven idea.
It's almost like having a standardization of the specifications of the DVD format. Once that is all settled, then you create a market. If every school, every district, has to teach the common core standards, you create a market for innovation. But whether that creates higher order learning, that's less clear.
This is the part that becomes really tricky. What facilitates that deeper learning is a teacher or guide—however you define it — who has deep, deep concept knowledge.
Joel Klein said, you take the Gettysburg Address, and if you really understand American History, you get so many things out of that that normal students wouldn't get [from just web delivery of content]. I think the thing that is hard for this group, is how do you deliver that deep understanding and knowledge with technology?
Douglas Crets: So what do you need to see to make it provable or clearer?
Richard Colvin: I would need to know there was that these technologies provided teachers an opportunity to gain deep content knowledge and conversely facilitate students' understanding of this deep knowledge and the learning of skills in a deep way.
The question is whether you can create the deep engagement of students that, whether you can build deep teaching into it. You can deliver content, you can deliver skills, but I don't think anyone would disagree there is a ways to go.
You can follow more of Douglas Crets' engagement with education entrepreneurs, technologists and reformers at the #NSVFSummit News and Interviews Page.