Revolutionary Schools

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How do you fix the United States education system and not go broke? Here are some interesting takes on customized education.

The Freakonomics Podcast episode “How Is a Bad Radio Station Like the Public School System?” focuses on the “School of One,” a New York City pilot program in elementary schools trying to eliminate the one-size-fits-all factory model in education. Instead of a teacher providing one instruction method to all the students in the class, instruction and advancement is highly individualized:

The classroom is divided into smaller groups based on different teaching methods.

  • Large group live instruction
  • Small group live instruction
  • Small group virtual tutoring
  • Independent practice
  • Small group collaboration
  • Independent virtual instruction

Students elect their own training method. And, this is not a hippy-dippy “let’s have class outside” feel good and don’t worry about results program. This is more objective based than any school I have every heard of:

Every lesson, every quiz, every keystroke is fed into the school of One algorithm. At the end of every day, each kids takes a test. Now, the algorithm can learn what the kid learned today? Which lessons stuck? Which need more attention? How each kids learns the best.

The data not only helps determine how to best teach each student, but also which teaching methods work best for groups. And the feedback is available not just for the next year, but for the next day!

In many ways this is similar to the type of school proposed by Bill Gates where students have access to the best teachers through virtual instruction:

Where is this “best instruction” supposed to come from? How about from programs such as Khan Academy: 2,400 videos and 125 practice exercises covering math, chemistry, astronomy, economics, history. Also, when I say math, I am glomming together hundreds of videos covering everything from the very basics to calculus.

This TED video from Salman Khan not only shows the quality of the virtual instruction and testing, but also the instant visualization of kids’ performance. Please, please, please, watch this video!

Of course, virtual instruction is not a panacea. However, it provides an alternative method of grasping a subject. Everyone can remember a teacher who finally was able to make a subject clear. Sadly, those teachers are few and far between. However, recorded instruction and distance based live instruction helps put that lighting in a bottle.

For post high school education, check out Washington Monthly’s article “The College For-Profits Should Fear”. This presents Western Governor’s University, a not-for-profit online university. One of the most interesting concepts (other than being a not-for-profit, which keeps costs down) is that the school lets students obtain credit by passing a rigorous test. This helps older students with industry experience avoid introductory classes covering material they already know. Again, there is the underlying idea of not making student’s waste time (and in a college setting: waste money) with a factory model of education.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Mikko Luntiala