Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

How Not to Flip Personalized Learning Skeptics

By Guest Blogger — November 06, 2017 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This month, Rick is out working on a new project exploring the lessons of Bush-Obama school reform. In his stead, we’ve got a terrific lineup of guest bloggers. Taking over this week is Mike Goldstein. Mike is the founder and former CEO of Match Education in Boston, and former Chief Academic Officer of Bridge International Academies.

There are four ways to pitch new ideas to teachers:


  1. “With W you get a better result, using less of your time.”
  2. “With X you get the same result, using less of your time.”
  3. “With Y you get a better result, in the same amount of your time.”
  4. “With Z you get a better result, but it will take more of your time.”

Z is the most common reality.

Think of successful project-based learning at exemplars like High Tech High, or “No Excuses"-style teaching at great schools like KIPP. It’s Z all the way.

Think of teacher-time-intensive add-ons like “using data” or “restorative justice” or “home visits” or “differentiated instruction.” While the reality of implementing these practices is probably Z, that’s an unappealing pitch to many teachers. It is therefore quite tempting for principals and superintendents (and advocates far from classrooms) to pitch with the Y or even W message—telling teachers it’s the same amount of their time, or even less of their time, to do it “the new way.”

What do teachers think when approached this way? They describe being annoyed at what they see as a lack of transparency. They’re being told Y (better result, same teacher time) but believe the truth is Z (better result, more teacher time).

So teachers have a few options. They can put in that extra time and do Z. They can do a half-baked implementation of Z without the extra time. They can ignore Z as best they can. Or they can cut something else from their weekly routine (which may have been even more valuable to students than Z).

Personalized learning is one of these “new ideas” often pitched to teachers. There are many reasonable objections to it (see here, here, and here for just a few), but my concern is that the true cost of teacher time is typically not revealed up front—that it’s a classic Z situation. There is some evidence of this cycle: teachers become intrigued with personalized learning, try it in their classrooms without allocating large amounts of additional time (because nobody told them it was essential), and then retreat when things get bumpy.

Thomas Arnett writes that blended learning is supposed to help save teachers time—but typically fails. He lists three reasons for this:

1. Blended learning has upfront teacher time costs. Planning to have students learn math using software? It will take time to familiarize yourself with Khan, Zearn, Reflex, and TenMarks. And there’s still the consideration of what to do with students who struggle to learn this way.

2. Hybrids add complexity. As Arnett writes, “Hybrid innovations use old technology and new technology side-by-side in an attempt to capture the benefits of both...The problem with hybrids, however, is that they are inherently more complicated to operate than either the old technology (traditional teaching) or the new technology (students using Khan) alone.”

3. Technology misses the mark. If a teacher doesn’t trust the learning data, or the data is just hard to use, or the “hints” don’t help when kids are stuck, then the technology isn’t going to save teacher time, it will cost teacher time.

Imagine a class of 25 kids who spend 40 minutes per day using math software. Assume each student needs 10 minutes of teacher time each week for a 1-to-1 check in to discuss progress, challenges, goals, and so forth—in hopes of each student getting more out of that 200-minute-per-week commitment.

Do the math. That’s an extra 250 minutes per week of conversations for the teacher. One could say, “Do those meetings during math class,” but often teachers are instructing small groups of students while others are online (that’s the “blended” part of blended learning), so they’re not “free” per se.

Enter the estimable Brian Greenberg, from Silicon Schools. Recently he and two colleagues published what they’ve learned in the last five years. I urge you to read the whole thing, but one big finding was a need to address a very specific aspect of implementing personalized learning. They write:

Make time in the schedule for 1:1 goal setting and check-ins. These 1:1s won't reliably happen if they are not built into the weekly schedule. Make 1:1 meetings effective and high-impact: put data in student and teacher's hands ahead of time so they can be prepared. Provide students and teachers a thoughtful protocol to follow. Students and teachers can accomplish a great deal in ten minutes if both parties come in prepared and clear on the focus of the conversation. Give teachers the chance to practice goal-setting meetings, get feedback, and observe other more skilled teachers lead successful goal-setting sessions. I agree. Without these sorts of meaningful teacher "check-ins," a number of students simply won't make much progress.

I realize it’s scary to pitch new ideas to teachers like, say, this:

Would you consider using Khan Academy during math class? The good news is it may help your top students race ahead, and your weaker students move at the right pace for them. Plus you'll have the chance to do more small-group instruction. However, you'll have to find 4 hours a week outside of class time to meet with each pupil, and a 5th hour of ongoing PD on how to do those goal-setting sessions well. There may be ways for us to figure out together how to make this time available, but I didn't want to sugarcoat that this approach takes more time than your current teaching."

I still think it’s worth it. We’ll see “fewer false starts,” and in the long run convert some personalized learning skeptics.

Mike Goldstein

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up 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.

Events

Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Using Integrated Analytics To Uncover Student Needs
Overwhelmed by data? Learn how an integrated approach to data analytics can help.

Content provided by Instructure
Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: October 27, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Vulnerable Students Left Behind as Schooling Disruptions Continue
The effects of unpredictable stretches at home can mirror those of chronic absenteeism and lead to long-term harm to learning.
4 min read
Students board a school bus on New York's Upper West Side on Sept. 13, 2021. Even as most students return to learning in the classroom this school year, disruptions to in-person learning, from missing one day because of a late school bus to an entire two weeks at home due to quarantine, remain inevitable as families and educators navigate the ongoing pandemic.
Students board a school bus on New York's Upper West Side on Sept. 13, 2021. Even as most students return to learning in the classroom this school year, disruptions to in-person learning, from missing one day because of a late school bus to an entire two weeks at home due to quarantine, remain inevitable as families and educators navigate the ongoing pandemic.
Richard Drew/AP
Education 'Widespread' Racial Harassment Found at Utah School District
The federal probe found hundreds of documented uses of the N-word and other racial epithets, and harsher discipline for students of color.
1 min read
A CNG, compressed natural gas, school bus is shown at the Utah State Capitol, Monday, March 4, 2013, in Salt Lake City. After a winter with back-to back episodes of severe pollution in northern Utah, lawmakers and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert will discuss clean air legislation and call for government and businesses to convert to clean fuel vehicles.
Federal civil rights investigators found widespread racial harassment of Black and Asian American students in the Davis school district north of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Rick Bowmer/AP Photo
Education Tiny Wrists in Cuffs: How Police Use Force Against Children
An investigation finds children as young as 6 and a disproportionate amount of Black children have been handled forcibly by police officers.
15 min read
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Nam Y. Huh/AP