As Stacey Childress and many others have pointed out, Andy Kessler’s closing remarks at this week’s big ed-tech conference at Arizona State University went way off track. By positioning technology as a way to replace teachers, Kessler missed the mark on two key points.
First, great teaching will matter more, not less, in the digital age. As we’ve written here and here, digital learning has the potential to level the educational playing field on learning the basics. As digital content gets better and better, students around the globe will be able to learn basic content and practice skills through this new medium.
In that flat world, what will differentiate outcomes is how motivated students are to undertake the work of learning; how well they tackle the inevitable barriers to achievement, including social and emotional challenges; and whether they move beyond the basics and engage in the higher-order learning that’s increasingly important for college, careers, and life. And how well that happens for students will depend on what it’s always hinged on: the effectiveness of the adults in their lives. For most students—and for nearly all whose parents struggled in school—the adults who tip the balance are teachers.
Second, digital learning has the potential to extend the reach of the nation’s excellent teachers to far more students than they can teach today. By adopting new school models that change teachers’ roles and use digital learning to save teachers’ time, schools can put great teachers in charge of more students’ learning and turbocharge the development and performance of all teachers working in teams. And they can pay teachers more, sustainably, for reaching more students. Like it has in other professions, technology can give teachers unprecedented career advancement and earning opportunities while boosting performance.
This won’t happen automatically. Schools could just replace teachers with laptops. They could use savings from digital learning for something other than paying teachers more. They could use saved time for something other than helping more students and developing excellent teaching teams. But if they do, the nation will miss out on the enormous opportunity created by digital learning: the opportunity to give all students access to excellent teachers, while transforming teaching into a high-paying, high-impact profession.
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