And, ironically, they all seem to have a tendency to suppress innovation.
Vouchers have been around for decades. They were, and are, touted as a way to introduce market forces (and therefore, innovation) and to smash sclerotic bureaucracies (which supposedly suppress innovation). The remarkable thing about all of the experiments with vouchers is their unremarkable results: neither disasters nor miracles. And, most of all, the parents, when given a choice, opt for traditional-style schools.
Charters are a bit more recent and have the same goal: free school leaders from the iron chains of the bureaucracies and they will experiment and innovate. The problem has been that the charter approval process is so afraid of corruption and failure that it has become very conservative: witness all of the “no excuses” charters, which are mimeographs of 1950’s-era Catholic schools.
“Edtech” is the venture capital term for “education technology.” (Sadly, this seems limited to computers and the Internet, leaving out intriguing possibilities.) The hope, and hype, is that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs will, of course, innovate; a slurry of products and apps have hit the market in the past decade.
Unfortunately, most do not take off. The products that do are not very innovative; a huge number of apps target Pre-algebra and Algebra I, which occupy a unique nexus: cooperative students and a simple subject. Outside of this sweet spot, there are fewer successes: most are small bore, like quiz-making apps, online portfolios, or web-based flashcards.
One thing all of these reforms have in common, below the surface, is a hostility towards teachers. Edtech promoters have been talking for a decade about how the Khan Academy, or MOOCs, would do away with traditional teachers and tutors. Charter and voucher proponents have antagonized teacher unions. The charters that get results get them by working teachers until they quit.
Outside of half-baked and quickly abandoned merit pay ideas, the education reform movement has done nothing to improve, or even change, the job description of a teacher. Some may argue that there have been changes to recruitment, training, and professional development. Perhaps, but to repeat: there has been almost no change to the basic job description of a teacher.
There appears to be an historic consensus. Just look at the support for education reform: massive public backing, intense study from academics, unprecedented interest from the private sector, gobs of money from charity, and rare bipartisan political agreement, and yet, no innovation at the very level that education actually takes place.
Why are the ed reformers so blind? Who will educate them?