Educon is again blowing me away this year. The rich conversations, the access to incredible talent and thinkers in education, the informal late night discussions that occur all across the city of Philadelphia, and the efficiency with which the SLA students run the weekend all contribute to an exhausting yet incredibly fulfilling weekend for me.
But, one chance encounter with a well known “innovative” educator (who shall remain nameless) has me thinking the hardest this morning. Upon being introduced to me, he asked where I was from. I told him how I was an administrator at a state wide virtual school in New Hampshire. He asked who we were affiliated with.
“K12? Connections? All virtual schools are affiliated to some bigger company,” he said.
“No, we’re independent.”
“Oh.” He replied as his eyes lit up. ”So you develop all your own stuff?”
“No, we do buy our curriculum…” I started to reply.
“Oh, well I have spent a lot of time reviewing online curriculum and they all suck.”
For the next 60 seconds
he ranted about how we really were not independent. How we were not innovative, just simply pushing content out without changing the model at all really. The implication of course was that if the curriculum “sucked” then our school must as well.
At first, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I wanted to tell him how we were a competency-based school. How we can allow students to earn academic credit through internships, field based experiences and community service projects. I wanted to tell him how none of our more than 11,500 enrollments in 2011 began without a parent-teacher-student conversation. I wanted to tell him how the single most important thing our instructors do is form relationships with their students. I wanted to tell him how empowered our teachers are and the fact that they build such close personal relationships with their students allows them to personalize, supplement and differentiate the curriculum for each of them. I wanted to tell him that more than 90% of our students and their parents would recommend our courses to their friends and I wanted to tell him that a vast majority of our families believe that their online instructor knows them better as a learner than their teacher in school.
But after a bit, I gave up. He really wasn’t interested in what I had to say. Even if he would have given me the opportunity to speak, he simply would have waited until I was done so he could start up again. He wasn’t interested in listening, he was interested in telling. After a short while, I wasn’t interested in listening either, so I politely excused myself from the conversation.
If I were to review the Algebra curriculum from 50 schools (brick and mortar and virtual) from across the country, wouldn’t they all look pretty similar? Wouldn’t they all have more or less the following (and most probably in the same order)?
- Numbers and Operations
- Exponents, Polynomials, Factorization
- Geometry and Measurement
- Data Analysis and Probability
- Linear Functions
- Using Tables and Graphs
- Quadratic Formula
- Single and Two Variable Problem Solving
Yet, what makes one algebra program better? What makes one algebra class better?
Its the professional work teachers to build relationships with their students and breathe life into that curriculum for their students. Its the work teachers do when they realize that the curriculum doesn’t meet the needs of an individual student to personalize and differentiate, to make the curriculum relevant and engaging, to turn the relatively mundane into a masterful kaleidoscope of lessons, homework, activities, and ultimately, learning.
I get the fact that more and more curriculum is being bundled and sold by corporations all in the name of test prep. And, yes, it can be a lot of work to overcome poorly written curriculum. But the suggestion that a school, ANY school, is the function of its curriculum alone doesn’t account the for professionalism of the teachers who are helping their students engage in that curriculum.