By Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education
On October 29, the New York Times published an op-ed by Frank Bruni1 that is based on a new book by Joel Klein (past chancellor of New York City Public Schools) and that has plenty of advice for educators. According to Bruni, Klein tells us that the primary issue in education is teacher quality.
Bruni’s analysis of Klein’s writing is good enough that everyone should read it and read between the lines too. Bruni also had the opportunity to interview Klein and asked some penetrating questions. Here are some bullet points that I have excerpted from the article:
• Stiffen the admission requirements for schools of education.
• Fix education school curricula, including ensuring teachers master their subjects.
• Create a rational incentive system for compensating teachers, a huge problem today.
You can read the article for the details. What does all of this have to do with technology? A great deal, actually, and in two important areas. The first area is teacher training. We can do much in this area, both with simulating teacher classroom experiences and with mastering subject matter. We currently train pilots with simulators before putting them in airplanes. The same thing could be done for teachers to help them more rapidly reach competency with student interaction, discipline, and engagement.
I am only intimately familiar with science education and can say that we have some great tools to advance science teacher understanding of their subjects. Too many science teachers enter classrooms unprepared to teach science for the simple reason that they do not understand the nature of science. It’s sort of like teaching chess without knowing how the pieces move. We can fix that.
In the classroom, new technology makes it possible to do much more with the same time and money than before if we assume that the technology infrastructure is already in place. For schools with below-standard technology infrastructure, this may not be possible, but that’s a discussion for a later time — a very important discussion. Providing teachers with really good educational technology can make their life easier while improving student engagement, speeding student mastery, enhancing student retention and understanding, and keeping costs under control. Of course, the wrong technology can go in the opposite direction.
These thoughts are just the ones that struck me immediately. The new abilities of software to adjust to the learner and to provide multi-media experiences have not been exploited as much as possible. Teachers-in-training can interact with others at far distances and so add much to their learning experiences. When on the job, they can share with their cohort after school and exchange ideas. Districts can provide mentors for new teachers who won’t only be available when their travel schedules brings them to the school. It’s all online today.
The technology will not solve our problems in this case, but it can make solving them much more possible and much less difficult.
1 “Toward Better Teachers,” NY Times, 28 Oct. 2014.