What might education look like in the future?

Walter Russell Mead speculates in his post Occupy Management, on how primary and secondary education might be restructured after today’s massive transitions settle down.

He spends the first part of this post talking about the current turmoil in the public union sector.  About halfway through the article he offers a view of the future that is not 19th century, Dickens-like deprivation.

What could arise?

Imagine a system in which our current top down, administration heavy school districts and large schools were replaced by networks of teachers who band together to offer instruction to students in a given neighborhood or district.  A cooperative firm of anywhere from half a dozen to a few score teachers might open for business, receiving a government payment for each student they enroll. 

Small co-ops of like-minded teachers running a school as they wish.  They manage and administer themselves.  They offer to the community a school with the vision that drives them.  Perhaps they want to focus on a particular teaching style, small class size, heavy academics, heavy art appreciation, classical liberal arts, or whatever is their distinctive passion.  If they can draw in enough families (which means they draw enough vouchers to fund their vision), they are in business.  If their students meet standardized testing requirements, the school stays in business.

What goes away?

What largely disappears in this model is management as we know it.  Some sort of skeleton administration would be necessary, but its size and powers would be greatly reduced.  Teachers in this system would have much more autonomy than they do now.

What is the administrative load in a medium-sized or large school system today?  I will speculate it is the range of 20% to 40% of total salaries.  Imagine removing that cost factor and reallocating that to reduced class size or increased distinctives in curriculum or approach.

In spite of the common impression that the current turmoil has as its goal to hurt education and hurt teachers, the wave of transformation has the opposite result:

The decline of the traditional school system does not mean the marginalization and pauperization of teachers. It means more dignity, secure tenure for teachers recognized by the community, more freedom to teach the way the individual teacher teaches best, less oversight by political appointees and their empowered minions.  The transition is a transition to a more empowered, more active, more creative kind of life, and I suspect it also involves better pay.

Radical transitions are going to happen.  There is no doubt they will be painful.  However, the result will be better than we can imagine:

Life after blue is a life with more freedom, more responsibility, more dignity and, generally speaking, more money. Transitions, even benign ones, are usually disruptive and hard.  But the transitions we face offer so much hope and so much opportunity that the sooner we start, the happier we will be.

Check out the article for a more detailed, articulate explanation than I could ever provide.

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