If versus Which

January 29, 2008 on 11:10 am | In education, technology | 3 Comments

While I intellectually understood many of the differences between technology use in public and private schools, having the opportunity to attend EduCon 2.0 allowed me to experience those differences at a more visceral level. The conference was filled with smart, passionate, innovative educators from public schools across the nation, many of whom have to spend ridiculous amounts of time and energy avoiding, or leaping over, bureaucratic, financial, and technical barriers.

At one point I had one of those Ah-Ha moments in which you realize the blatantly obvious. Technology use in a well-established, well-funded, traditional independent schools is generally additive rather than transformational because it can be. By most standards schools like mine are already successful. Most of our students get a balanced education, graduate from high school, and go on to college – and many go to the “good” colleges they’re supposed to.

Over the course of the conference I began to think of this as the If College versus Which College divide. As many public schools are struggling to find ways just to get kids to graduate, their private school counterparts have the luxury to focus on getting their students into the right colleges (and fortunately more and more schools seem to understand that “right” has more to do with fit than status).

In which context is radical change most needed and technology most likely to be truly transformational?


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  1. A-yep.

    I think that tech *can* be transformative in private schools when they create global (or even local) collaborations… or when they transform curriculum from tipping a scale where skills are more important than content. (Note that that’s a balance, not an either or. I think tech can show us that the balance should favor skills over content, but both are needed.)

    But many, many private schools are much more collaborative, much more progressive in teaching skill (if not always progressive in democratic values, but that’s another argument.)

    Many private schools are really, really successful already. The crisis we see in high schools isn’t as acute there for some very easy reasons. I’ve long said that if we were serious about education, we’d do three things:
    1) Small schools.
    2) Small teacher loads.
    3) Recruit and retain the best teachers (usually by paying them more and making their lives better with 1 & 2)

    Private schools do a great job of 1 & 2. (I’ve heard 3 is sketchy on pay, but otherwise, it’s a good life.) If we provided every public school with funding and structure to have the class size, school size and teacher load of the average of private schools, then we’d really start to see something.

    Comment by Chris Lehmann — January 29, 2008 #

  2. Thanks for your input, Chris. I completely agree with you that tech can be transformational in independent schools, and I think that it *should* be transformational in independent schools. What I realized at Educon was more about *why* independent schools tend not to feel the same urgency as public schools. In fact, for many private schools technology often seems to be another way they feel they need to sell themselves in the market by staying “ahead” of their peers.

    Comment by Bill Knauer — February 1, 2008 #

  3. Your thoughts sparked several ideas for me, Bill. I would argue that one of the great challenges confronting independent schools (particularly well established and well funded independent schools) is a disinclination to take programmatic risks. The price tag and the accordant expectations of students and parents can mean that less room is afforded for innovation and some of the missteps or ambiguities that may come with it. As you mention, students at high functioning independent schools often find college environments that fit their needs and interests. It is easy in those environments to think that new ways of thinking about education and communication can be high risk and low reward.

    The urgency of technology in independent schools stems from the need to usher in the outside world.
    Earlier this year my college alma mater hosted a reunion for teachers that included various workshops and presentations, including one that was sponsored by the founder of Learn it Live it, a Washington DC charity that partners with inner beltway schools to connect students with the many educational resources throughout the capital region. One of the expressed objectives of the program was to introduce students from disadvantaged backgrounds to successful professionals who were also raised and educated in underprivileged neighborhoods and schools. They argue that the dearth of professional role models contributes to feelings of disempowerment. The majority of students who attend the school where I teach know people who are successfully engaged in careers. The path from school to college to professional opportunity is well worn at most independent schools. In order to assure this schools invest heavily in academic preparation, study habits and college admissions counseling. This makes great sense and in many instances provides students with an education that is engaging, supportive and challenging on many levels.

    If a goal of Live it Learn it is to connect young people with experiences beyond their version of the everyday, an objective of independent schools should be the same; independent schools should aspire to provide opportunities for students that broadens their understanding of the multiple ways in which their education can be used to make a positive difference in the world. Technology seems to be an obvious way to accomplish this objective.

    Comment by Paul Burke — February 13, 2008 #

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