How to reinvent K–12 schools

And why it's critical we do so

As the United States closes the books on a turbulent end to the 2019-20 school year, many are breathing a sigh of relief—and realizing that that breath won’t last long.

Educators, parents, and policymakers alike are asking big questions beyond what will families do without summer camp. What will school look like in the fall? What should it look like?

Most of the coverage on these questions has focused on the logistics of schooling. Things like—will school be offered in a blended arrangement with a mix of in-person and online, remote schooling? Will there be rotations where students attend every other week? Three days a week with Saturday schooling? Will students be required to wear masks? What’s the maximum number of students allowed in a classroom? How will schools handle busing? What about sports?

But what much of the conversation has missed to this point is what should the learning in school look like in the fall? That is, regardless of where students learn, what’s the greater opportunity for schools to innovate to move past an instructional model designed to standardize the way we teach and test that worked well for the industrial era but is an utter misfit for today’s knowledge economy?

That’s the perspective I’ve been taking as we enter this short and urgent window that is not only forcing us to rethink schooling for next year, but also allowing us to reinvent it.

To help answer those questions, I recommend strongly the three most recent episodes from my new podcast, Class Disrupted, with Diane Tavenner.

In the second episode, we talked to Larry Berger, the CEO and founder of curriculum and assessment company Amplify, about why children are doing so many worksheets right now—and what’s a better way of learning? How we can use digital-learning tools in far better ways than what we’ve seen in many schools to help students learn?

In the third episode, we addressed why Sal Khan of the Khan Academy, perhaps the world’s best known educator, can’t just teach everyone—by talking to Sal Khan himself—to give a more holistic picture of what schooling can and should look like.

And in the fourth episode, we addressed a question a lot of parents and students have been asking over the past several weeks—why are we doing school at all?—with guidance around the larger purpose of schooling and how to deliver on it with a set of big changes to teaching and learning that go far beyond just adding digital curricula.

I also offered a roadmap for what schools ought to be doing as they reopen to address the vast differences in learning that students will have done over the past few months in this piece for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, titled, “When schools reopen: Assess closely and differentiate intensely.”

Finally, I had the opportunity to interview Joel Rose, CEO and founder of New Classrooms, which offers a model for learning math in schools that personalizes for each student’s distinct needs, on this YouTube Live conversation about his recommendations for reopening schools and teaching math.

College in the fall

Just as what K–12 schools will look like in the fall remains uncertain, the same is true for higher education. Although many schools have announced their plans, many students are continuing to express interest in taking a gap year instead of enrolling.

That’s led to a few folks taking to the Internet to discourage the practice—whether out of a concern for having students delay their entry into the workforce and lose out on the accompanying wages or because gap years have historically been reserved for those with wealth.

In my latest for Forbes, I tackle that question—and strongly disagree with those discouraging the practice—in, “A Gap Year Shouldn’t Be Just For The Privileged, Especially Now.” As Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College, said recently, “It’s only privileged if we think about [the gap-year experience] the way we’ve traditionally thought of it.” Read more here.

To one of the points in the piece, I also encourage you to check out my piece for Forbes titled, “Incomplete College Price Tags Pose Risk To Students When Choosing College.”

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Here are some other links that may be of interest:

K–12 education

A Time for disruptive innovation in education: The 180 Podcast

Higher education

The Student Section Podcast Episode 2: Michael Horn

Kaplan Launches Boost Year To Offer Affordable Online Gap-Year Program

As always, thanks for reading, listening, teaching, and learning. Stay safe and stay strong,

Michael