Ed-Tech Innovators: Get Results Now by Leveraging Great Teachers

by | July 11, 2012

Thanks to Tom for the chance to share our thoughts. Tom has done so much to paint a picture of education innovation’s potential.

We’re excited about the prospects, but we all know it will take time for digital learning to transform education. Meanwhile, the effectiveness of teachers will continue to be the single most important school factor in student learning.

That doesn’t mean innovation isn’t important. On the contrary, it’s vital for moving from today’s reality–in which only a fraction of students have excellent teachers–to what students need: consistent access to excellence. Here’s a prediction: Digital developers whose products are used to enable excellent teachers to reach more students successfully will be rewarded with positive results and avoid the dreaded “Cheaper but No Better” headlines.

It’s worth reminding ourselves just how good great teachers are. The top 25 percent produce well over a year of learning annually, on average. Kids who have them consistently can catch up from behind. Those in the middle can surge ahead, becoming honors students. These teachers already produce high-growth, higher-order learning with mediocre textbooks. They cobble together materials, on paper and online. They jury-rig rudimentary digital instruction to fit their students. They decode students’ needs and personalize instruction–with little help from technology.

But in a one-teacher-one-classroom mode, 75 percent of classes do not have top teachers. Moreover, excellent teachers are isolated from their teaching peers.

How can innovation change this? By redesigning roles and using technology, schools could give all students access to excellent teachers–not in 10 years, but right now. Schools could also provide more time for collaboration, development, and leading peers.

Opportunityculture.org includes over 20 innovative school models, plus tools to help schools tailor and implement them. Soon we’ll be publishing analyses that show how schools could use these models to pay excellent teachers up to 130 percent more, in some cases paying all teachers more, within budget.

Technology powers many of these models. Some are “time-technology swaps,” using blended learning to free teachers’ time, so they can reach more students and focus on higher-order learning. Some use technology to enable “remote teaching,” connecting students with live, but not in-person, excellent teachers they’d otherwise never have. Others combine these with specialization and multi-class leadership.

With these models, all students could have great teachers nearly every year. Teachers could have paid career advancement opportunities.

But schools and excellent teachers need help from ed-tech innovators! Tom has helped us all understand the wish list in his posts. Here are seven high priorities we want to emphasize:

1. Digital content. Better learning software that guides students toward mastery. This is No. 1 because with better content, excellent teachers can better rely on technology to educate one set of students while they’re with others–extending their reach. Here‘s more about great digital instruction.

2. Aggregating platforms must help students and teachers match next-step digital learning to each individual student’s needs. Great teachers tell us they spend far too much time searching and cobbling–time they could spend reaching more students and leading peers.

3. Creation platforms that let excellent teachers create their own content, such as video lessons, that students can use when they’re not with teachers.

4. Data tools. Ever-improving dashboards that capture and display data from digital learning in ways that let teachers take responsibility for more students.

5. Remote teaching conduits. Excellent teachers need easier ways to teach students successfully in remote locations, using two-way video and other forms of emotionally connective communication.

6. Administrative time-savers. Great teachers must spend less time tracking attendance, keeping calendars, sharing assignments and grades, and completing paperwork.

7. Management software must help excellent teachers lead teams of professionals who play varying roles to meet the leader’s standard of excellence for several classrooms, what we call Multi-Classroom Leadership.

Of course, ed-tech innovators are working on most of the items above. But we worry you are coming at the task thinking, “How can we improve what today’s typical teacher does?” We urge you to set a much higher bar, asking, “How can our tools help excellent teachers expand their impact, while maintaining their stellar outcomes, so that all students have access to this standard of excellence?”

Innovators, as you make your plans, consult excellent teachers. Have them beta test your products. Create tools that meet their standards. Help excellent teachers reach far more students and lead peers. If you do, you’ll accelerate innovation’s transformative potential –and get the learning results we all need you to achieve.

This blog entry first appeared Education Week’s blog Vander Ark on Innovation. If you wish to comment, please do so on the original blog post.

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