The Magic Wand

What if I could give you a magic wand to wave over our educational system and make it fulfill our dreams for our children? What would you have it do?

I find this question stumps most people.

We all know education in America is far from what we either want or need it to be. We all know it lacks the essential creativity our children will need for 21st century work and life. We all know it fails even the least stringent tests for those who need it most. We hear the same refrain again and again. More money — even though we have tripled our per pupil expenditures over the past half century without any significant improvement in performance. Better teachers and teacher training – even as we have taken away the opportunity to be imaginative and entrepreneurial which brings the best and brightest into a discipline. More demanding – even though we have not a shred of evidence that our children are responding by caring more and working harder. Science – even if what we are measuring will not be a useful life and work skill. To make matters even worse, education in America seems so resistant to change, so overwhelmingly complex, so replete with attempts to transform it, no wonder my question stumps most people.

No doubt great teachers are transformative but until we make their jobs transformative we will just have to hope research into cloning makes a huge breakthrough, because we will never get enough great teachers, never ever. No doubt more money is necessary in many places, but we have cloaked our schools in so many narrow demands that we starve the essential. No doubt we need to demand more of our children but more of what, for we have asked them to work harder and not work smarter even though school today should be about smarter and not harder. And no doubt we require more learning science and more learning research, but when we study the same old we get the same old, it does not take any scientific research to find out that barely 1/5th of our students really master the required content.

We know what we need. Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk has been watched more times than any other. Not just any other on education, but any other TED Talk, now approaching 30 million times. Ken talks about creativity in education. We are starving for it. So how do we get it to happen?

What could a magic wand do?

If I had such a magic wand I would use it to make a minor change in the instructions of our new Common Core Tests. The tests are designed to be given on internet-connected computers. I would change the instructions to enable every student full educational access to the Internet at any time during the tests. The Web is certainly full of strange beasts and of course we should protect our students from accessing those, but everything else, sites like YouTube that are today blocked by many school systems should be accessible, spreadsheets, Google searches, Wikipedia, sites designed to help students take tests, yes even help from a friend. Anything of educational value.

When our students leave our classrooms and go to work they will live in the real world where they will have such full Web access. Don’t we want them to learn those things that will enable them to use that access to solve problems and to learn to do things? Don’t we want them to use this incredible new tool that is defining 21st century work and life to its fullest advantage? Don’t they need their schools to prepare them for the kinds of tasks they will perform which almost certainly will involve the Web?

The Common Core tests are redefining education. If we give our students full educational Web access when they take these tests, they will be able to take charge of their learning, and they, not the tests, will redefine education. Oh, for sure the tests will have to change and our classrooms and teachers will most certainly change, because there will be no reason to teach our children the long division algorithm any more then we should go back to teaching them the square root algorithm. They will not get “What is ____?” questions whose answer could be easily found on the internet. They will have to get “What if…” questions that will challenge their creativity, demand knowledge, and engage their insight. The tests will have to be designed to represent the real world and not an artificial one that has produced profound and fatal flaws as described by Steve Rasmussen.

Such a minor change in the instructions will change our schools in dramatic ways and open a floodgate to creativity for both our teachers and our children. Magic wands are simple things, but they have the capability to make wonderful happenings. Opening the internet door to our tests and our schools would profoundly change education.