The shape of things to come

The Association of Educational Publishers (www.edpress.org) asked me and several others to gaze into our crystal balls and identify five "trends/factors/events that will (or should) have significant impact on the substance and delivery of educational content over the next five years." This turned out to be an interesting exercise, the results of which I offer to you, dear reader, and invite your thoughts.

 

First, technology and the gradual separation of teaching and learning from buildings called schools. Increasingly, school is an institutional provider of child care and socialization but education is happening all over the place as a growing fraction of it is delivered electronically rather than face-to-face in classrooms. Many students will still sit in school, to be sure; others, however, will do much learning at home, in summer camps and day care centers, in churches, boys and girls clubs, and libraries.

The proliferation of virtual schools and virtual charter schools is just part of the story.

Coming soon are hybrid institutions, where the kid may or may not be in a school but much of his instruction and instructional materials come from far away. His main teacher may be on the other side of the country or the globe. The adult in the classroom with him may resemble a teacher aide, tutor, or college intern, there more to keep order, answer questions, and help him learn rather than someone to present a lesson setting forth what's to be learned. The lesson presenter will be elsewhere. There will be books, of course, and plenty of other instructional materials in paper form, but many of them will be downloaded from the computer rather than published and trucked in; and they'll be integrated with the lessons and courses on the big screen, the smart board, and the student's own desktop computer.

Second, No Child Left Behind and the ways it is reshaping what's taught and learned. As everyone knows, NCLB puts a premium on reading, math and, soon, science, and that premium will gradually reshape the American curriculum. People are already wringing their hands over its implications for such subjects as writing, history, civics, art and languages, not to mention home ec and drivers' ed. I don't think those things will stop being taught. Some states and districts and individual schools will even emphasize them. Indeed, art and music magnet schools, or history-centered charter schools, may be really hot. So will summer camps and programs that emphasize arts, language immersion, and suchlike, as well as supplements that parents can get for their kids to learn at home, and after-school programs that introduce kids to these additional subjects after the regular school day ends.

Within the reading-math-science core, NCLB, the state standards upon which it rests, state tests, and NAEP will further shape what is taught. There, more profoundly than in collateral subjects, districts, schools and teachers will find themselves with less control over curricular content, which will be dictated more by outside forces. On the other hand, because they're now accountable for students actually learning that content, they'll have ever greater need for, and choices among, materials and instructional strategies that are both creative and effective.

Third, the spread of school choice in its many-splendored forms. ECS says that nine states plus the District of Columbia have already adopted some form of publicly funded voucher, tax credit, or tax deduction to assist families to pay for private schooling, and Ohio is on the verge of expanding its voucher program. Despite ceaseless political pushback and Blaine amendments, the move toward vouchers will continue, albeit slowly. But it's surpassed by ever greater activity on the charter school front - upwards of a million kids will be enrolled in them by September - and an astounding array of public-school choice programs (this also encouraged by NCLB), not to mention home schooling and other hybrids such as charter schools that kids attend part-time while working or studying at home the rest of the time. Upwards of 20 percent of U.S. students are already educated somewhere other than their neighborhood public school, and this number is growing as geography ceases to be destiny with respect to schooling and the choices available to families proliferate.

 

Fourth, the array of education providers is proliferating, too, as for-profit and non-profit entrepreneurs enter seriously into the operation of schools and the creation and delivery of education services, both full-time and part-time, in school and out. The Supplemental Educational Services (SES) provision of NCLB is one driver here, but so are several large foundations, the KIPP program, Edison and National Heritage Academies, the entrepreneurial energies of Kaplan and Princeton Review and a host of others, and the new-style education reformers who cluster around charter management organizations and the New Schools Venture Fund. Large governmental bureaucracies may have more say than ever about education standards and results, but they will have less control than ever over the delivery of education services. K-12 education will become more like postsecondary - and like a zillion other sectors of our mixed-market economy. 

 

Fifth, we will see the gradual demise of the ten-pound textbook. You may respond that, between ill-educated teachers and state-mandated standards, we'll depend on textbooks more than ever, and indeed there will be pressure in that direction. But the countervailing forces are mounting. Just as we no longer need a three-pound guidebook to plan a trip to Europe, an eight-pound cookbook to find a tantalizing recipe, or a huge phone book to look up somebody's cell phone number, we're not going to need mega-textbooks to teach kids. They've gotten too bulky, too pricey, and too caught up in politics. We'll see more detailed state standards and frameworks setting forth the essential core of the curriculum, accompanied by more diverse ways of packaging content and lesson plans by which to deliver that curriculum into the minds of students. Just as many a college professor has dispensed with the textbook in favor of a collection of readings that he assembles and Kinko's duplicates, and just as many academic journals are evolving from thick publications into searchable websites, so will the elementary/secondary textbook gradually be transformed into a menu of other options for teachers and students alike.

What have I got wrong or overlooked? Gadfly welcomes your comments.

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