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Education Opinion

Build a New Political Coalition Around Increased Learning Capacity

By Charles Taylor Kerchner — October 13, 2014 3 min read

If the existing politics of corporate reformers v. traditionalists can’t create a new public schooling capable of educating all the nation’s students, what can? For starters we need a new political coalition.

To build a new political coalition, we need an idea that will allow the existing interest groups, which include the people who think of themselves as reformers, to abandon trench warfare.

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting a “Kumbaya moment” where everyone holds hands and sings in four-part harmony. What I’m suggesting is that we move from big fights over little things to drawing a political line in the sand in such a way that the winner defines a new learning system. There will be losers, but the important thing is that there will be big winners, including teachers and students.

Just one, of many possible, policies to build a new new political coalition:

Build a learning infrastructure available to every student in California. Call it Start with English Language learners. Think of it as a combination of Facebook for school, the best computer game you ever saw, and a smart app for your mind. By thinking of the student as the end-user rather than designing educational products that will be attractive to a textbook adoption committee, the state can vastly open up learning to new participants, approaches, and ideas.

Get data and learning tools in the hands of students under the (sometime) watchful eyes of their parents. Build an open source system based on the experience of the users, expandable, fixable, and tweakable. Think Linux, the free open-source operating system, or Moodle, the open-source classroom and lesson system, rather than corporate and proprietary. Build systems plural, modular not monolithic, scalable not singular.

Learning would do three things.

First, provide information: think of it as lights on the pathway to college and career, an educational GPS function. Currently, the pathway is not well lighted, and it’s not level either. Professional-class families can illuminate the path to college for their children through the lived experience of parents. But for poor and working class families there are hidden rocks and potholes.

Second, offer a variety of learning experiences and access to them.

iPhone and iPad apps, some free, some fee, grow almost hourly. It’s possible to dissect a rat electronically with nearly the same precision as a knife and without the formaldehyde smell or the ultimate sacrifice on the part of the rat.

In fact, there is so much learning material on the Internet, that should function as an aggregator, in a way that is somewhat analogous to Google’s “news” application.

Also, might assist the development of particularly sophisticated applications, social or scientific simulations, for example, but even this material is rapidly being developed by universities, and advocates for particular types of learning, such as the Irvine Foundation.

Third, should allow students to take tests and get credit for learning.

For a century the two most important qualifications for passing a course have been the date of manufacture of the student and the number of hours the student’s bottom has been in a classroom chair. Access to learning was largely a function of birth date, and credit for a course was a function of class attendance and participation. Students should be able to take tests when they are ready, and then they should be able to move on.

We can’t change learning by changing governance and hoping that the new regime will change learning, we need to do so directly. The old Progressives that built Learning 1.0 understood a whole learning system. We need to do the same. We need Learning 2.0 and an investment in it.

The opinions expressed in On California are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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