Issue 27: 2014

Special Section — Education

The Future of Education

An acknowledged expert in the field weighs in on where learning might be headed.

Brian Finke/Gallery Stock

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Over the course of four centuries, education in America has undergone many major changes, some of them controversial in their time. Even now, educational issues, such as the expansion of charter schools, regularly make headlines. But what lies ahead for American education, as we become more digitally based and more aware of the benefits of individualized learning?

We asked Tom Vander Ark, an education expert, to share some of his insights with us. Vander Ark is CEO of Getting Smart, an education advocacy company. He’s the author of Getting Smart: How Digital Learning Is Changing the World, and writer for the blog Vander Ark on Innovation. He also served as the first executive director of education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Technology

Vander Ark: It’s encouraging to see what’s happening with technology in education, starting in preschool and going all the way up to higher education. New technologies such as smartphones and tablets (and evolving technologies such as online learning) are enveloping the system. For many years most school districts banned the use of personal digital devices, but recently we appear to have crossed a threshold: most districts now have a policy, or are working on one, to let schools or teachers decide if and when students can use their personal devices. The fact that so many kids from every income level now have access to devices, and bring them to school, almost makes it counterproductive not to put those devices to use.


GS/Gallery Stock

 

K–12

Vander Ark: We’re seeing interesting things happening in kindergarten-to-12th-grade, or K–12. There are new tools and new school models in K–12 that support personalized learning, in part by taking advantage of new digital learning platforms. With programs such as this, kids can progress at their own pace, learning about and then demonstrating mastery of a subject — an approach that seems to keep them more engaged and motivated. Admittedly, some of today’s programs are early stage, but there are a handful of elegant solutions. They give me confidence that educational achievement in this country will improve as these strategies and platforms are almost certainly adopted over the next five to ten years.

Preparing For College

Vander Ark: We think that eventually high school students will routinely be able to take blended courses, online and in the classroom, giving them a more personalized way to study — and perhaps making high schools a bit more like colleges. What’s more, as things stand now, students can take Advanced Placement (AP) courses and other, similar courses in high school and put the credits they earn toward college credit requirements. Some students take enough college credit courses to finish college in three or even two years instead of four years. We think that in the future, these courses will routinely be blended, making them potentially more accessible to a wider range of students.

College

Vander Ark: We’re seeing more innovation in K–12 than at some universities, including those with highly selective admissions criteria. That said, many kids in college today are bundling — blending classroom learning and online learning — usually with help from tutors in both formats. In addition, many higher-education students are combining credits from multiple providers in what’s sometimes called à la carte learning. Perhaps they took college credit courses in high school, then took a two-year course at a community college, and finished an online course offered by a local university. We think this approach will eventually become commonplace.


Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

 

Institutional Collaboration

Vander Ark: There needs to be more collaboration among the separate institutions in the U.S. education system to ensure that students have more learning flexibility. At the moment, financial incentives and policy incentives for these institutions tend to work against rather than encourage collaboration, and the flexibility it can bring. That’s why I’m excited that Texas is sponsoring House Bill 5, which provides more flexibility in terms of graduation requirements and mandates that all ninth graders be informed of their options.

Special Education

Vander Ark: Unquestionably, new technology is transforming special education. Assistive technology, touch technology, voice-to-text and text-to-voice translation, magnification and adaptive learning — these are huge benefits for many categories of special needs. The ability to create individual educational environments — where it’s just more natural for these students to get help when and how they need it — will almost certainly expand with time.


GS/Gallery Stock

 

Measurement

Vander Ark: This is perhaps the most interesting and challenging innovation in higher education and in K–12: the shift of emphasis toward educational growth, where a student’s progress is based primarily on demonstrated mastery over time rather than during one or two annual exams. With technology, a child’s progress can be measured with every keystroke, and feedback can be provided almost constantly. This is making the major exams, such as finals, seem less and less relevant.

What’s needed, we believe, is an update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (and its reauthorization as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001), which mandates the use of yearly standardized tests. We’re all for measurement, but kids don't need to spend a week taking exams once a year when they’re receiving feedback constantly.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

Some of the featured participants are not employees of U.S. Trust. The opinions and conclusions expressed are not necessarily those of U.S. Trust or its personnel.

Over the course of four centuries, education in America has undergone many major changes, some of them controversial in their time. Even now, educational issues, such as the expansion of charter schools, regularly make headlines. But what lies ahead for American education, as we become more digitally based and more aware of the benefits of individualized learning?

We asked Tom Vander Ark, an education expert, to share some of his insights with us. Vander Ark is CEO of Getting Smart, an education advocacy company. He’s the author of Getting Smart: How Digital Learning Is Changing the World, and writer for the blog Vander Ark on Innovation. He also served as the first executive director of education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Technology

Vander Ark: It’s encouraging to see what’s happening with technology in education, starting in preschool and going all the way up to higher education. New technologies such as smartphones and tablets (and evolving technologies such as online learning) are enveloping the system. For many years most school districts banned the use of personal digital devices, but recently we appear to have crossed a threshold: most districts now have a policy, or are working on one, to let schools or teachers decide if and when students can use their personal devices. The fact that so many kids from every income level now have access to devices, and bring them to school, almost makes it counterproductive not to put those devices to use.


GS/Gallery Stock

 

K–12

Vander Ark: We’re seeing interesting things happening in kindergarten-to-12th-grade, or K–12. There are new tools and new school models in K–12 that support personalized learning, in part by taking advantage of new digital learning platforms. With programs such as this, kids can progress at their own pace, learning about and then demonstrating mastery of a subject — an approach that seems to keep them more engaged and motivated. Admittedly, some of today’s programs are early stage, but there are a handful of elegant solutions. They give me confidence that educational achievement in this country will improve as these strategies and platforms are almost certainly adopted over the next five to ten years.

Preparing For College

Vander Ark: We think that eventually high school students will routinely be able to take blended courses, online and in the classroom, giving them a more personalized way to study — and perhaps making high schools a bit more like colleges. What’s more, as things stand now, students can take Advanced Placement (AP) courses and other, similar courses in high school and put the credits they earn toward college credit requirements. Some students take enough college credit courses to finish college in three or even two years instead of four years. We think that in the future, these courses will routinely be blended, making them potentially more accessible to a wider range of students.

College

Vander Ark: We’re seeing more innovation in K–12 than at some universities, including those with highly selective admissions criteria. That said, many kids in college today are bundling — blending classroom learning and online learning — usually with help from tutors in both formats. In addition, many higher-education students are combining credits from multiple providers in what’s sometimes called à la carte learning. Perhaps they took college credit courses in high school, then took a two-year course at a community college, and finished an online course offered by a local university. We think this approach will eventually become commonplace.


Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

 

Institutional Collaboration

Vander Ark: There needs to be more collaboration among the separate institutions in the U.S. education system to ensure that students have more learning flexibility. At the moment, financial incentives and policy incentives for these institutions tend to work against rather than encourage collaboration, and the flexibility it can bring. That’s why I’m excited that Texas is sponsoring House Bill 5, which provides more flexibility in terms of graduation requirements and mandates that all ninth graders be informed of their options.

Special Education

Vander Ark: Unquestionably, new technology is transforming special education. Assistive technology, touch technology, voice-to-text and text-to-voice translation, magnification and adaptive learning — these are huge benefits for many categories of special needs. The ability to create individual educational environments — where it’s just more natural for these students to get help when and how they need it — will almost certainly expand with time.


GS/Gallery Stock

 

Measurement

Vander Ark: This is perhaps the most interesting and challenging innovation in higher education and in K–12: the shift of emphasis toward educational growth, where a student’s progress is based primarily on demonstrated mastery over time rather than during one or two annual exams. With technology, a child’s progress can be measured with every keystroke, and feedback can be provided almost constantly. This is making the major exams, such as finals, seem less and less relevant.

What’s needed, we believe, is an update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (and its reauthorization as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001), which mandates the use of yearly standardized tests. We’re all for measurement, but kids don't need to spend a week taking exams once a year when they’re receiving feedback constantly.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

Some of the featured participants are not employees of U.S. Trust. The opinions and conclusions expressed are not necessarily those of U.S. Trust or its personnel.