New Book Advocates Using Pandemic Lessons to Reinvent Education
Plus, Are More Parents and Students Turning Against the 4-Year Degree?
In a new article for the Hechinger Report’s Future of Learning newsletter, reporter Javeria Salman interviewed me about my new book From Reopen to Reinvent (which yes, you can buy and review here!). She did her homework before we talked. You can read our edited conversation in her piece, titled “New book advocates using pandemic lessons to reinvent education: Author Michael B. Horn doesn’t want schools to squander the chance to transform.”
As Salman wrote, “Frustrated at seeing so many people fall back into the old ways of schooling, Michael B. Horn, author and co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, created a blueprint for schools and educators to reinvent the current education system, despite the challenges. ‘I wanted to give a template for how they could escape it and what they can do instead,’ Horn said.”
In addition, Kerry McDonald, an author and senior education fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education (among other titles), interviewed me for her podcast about my new book. You can listen to that conversation, “Disruptive Innovation in Education: Michael B. Horn on current and future education trends,” here or watch it below. Kerry also penned a piece based on our conversation, titled “How Disruptive Innovation Is Accelerating the Growth of Alternative Learning Models.”
More Thoughts on Mastery Learning
My recent oped that offered responses to four legitimate concerns about mastery-based learning (which was also published originally in the Hechinger Report and slimmed down from my new book), prompted some good questions and responses. I wanted to highlight one of them that Andy Calkins, co-director of the nonprofit Next Generation Learning Challenges, sent me.
Andy suggested that I may have missed a couple of people’s concerns about mastery-based learning, including “that it risks putting ‘some kids’ in an endless loop of trying to achieve mastery on certain skill units and having them fall way, way behind their age-based cohort, creating a host of other difficulties.”
Rather than provide my response, I asked him how he would answer this question, and this is what he wrote me:
The real question is: “falling behind what, exactly?” Our century-old public education model runs, as it was designed to do, along what was in the 1920s the latest thing in organizational and industrial design – the assembly line. The line was organized into age-based grade levels. Every child is a widget that is supposed to learn the same set of skills at the same rate as the others in her age-based cohort. If not, she is “behind.” But we have learned a lot about how people learn, in the past century. Children and adolescents do not learn at the same pace as others their age, and they do not all learn in the same way. A 10-year-old may be able to do mathematical thinking at the supposed “level” of an 11 or 12-year old, while taking a while longer than other 10-year-olds to develop writing skills. Parents with multiple children know this and see it in their kids every day – each child develops somewhat differently from the others.
Age-based cohorts may still have a place in schools, to provide some level of community and continuity. But our century-old education model organizes literally everything – classes, schedules, testing, expectations, even kids’ socializing – around a convenient but vastly over-valued organizing metric: age. It is the only time in our lives when we are so segregated by what we come to realize – after we leave high school – is a fairly meaningless distinction between people born one year (or even one month, in the way it works in schools) apart.
It is pernicious and clearly unproductive (as an ocean of data shows) to demand that a child with fourth-grade level reading skills be required to decode ninth-grade level reading. Why does that happen? Because that child was not given time, opportunity and needed supports when he needed them, while the rest of his age-based class – or at least, the conveyer-belt of age-based, grade-level expectations – was moving on. Recognizing that children learn skills at different rates and in different ways from their peers is a crucial step in hauling our public schools out of the 1920s, and acting on what we now know, with certainty, about how people learn. The consequent step, just as crucial, is to redesign schools around that understanding, so that all learners get the supports (or the more advanced curricula) that match their needs and capacities, when they need them, and so that this child-centered matching becomes the cultural and operating norm, replacing the stigma of “falling behind.”
If you have thoughts on Calkins’ answer, let us know in the comments!
Is the Public Turning Against the 4-Year Degree?
One more article in The Hechinger Report, this one by reporter Jon Marcus, caught my attention as worth highlighting in this newsletter. (A clarification—I promise this newsletter isn’t sponsored by The Hechinger Report, but it does happen to be a terrific nonprofit dedicated to covering innovation and inequality in education through great journalism.)
Jon’s article, titled “How higher education lost its shine: Americans are rejecting college in record numbers, but the reasons may not be what you think,” is a telling piece about the multifaceted reasons behind Americans’ shifting attitudes toward college to help explain why “the proportion of high school graduates enrolling in college in the fall after they finish high school has dropped from a high of 70 percent in 2016 to 63 percent in 2020.”
It's also a striking statistic given that it comes just over a decade after President Obama set a goal in 2009 for the United States to lead the world in the proportion of its population with a college degree by 2020. Indeed, it seems the opposite is happening.
From my perspective, Jon’s piece speaks to something in the cultural zeitgeist that helps explain why everyone from C-level executives at Fortune 500 companies to parents of elementary-school age children in my hometown of Lexington, Mass. have, over the last few years, asked me if their kids will really need to go to college. A decade ago, these conversations weren’t happening nearly as often.
Indeed, a new report from American Student Assistance and Jobs for the Future also shows some evidence of the shift, as “58% of Gen Z youth surveyed believe companies should hire more graduates who have pursued non-degree education pathways. Sixty-eight percent of employers agree that organizations should proactively hire those from non-degree pathways.”
BUT BUT BUT…. Only “37% of youth think employers are biased towards degree-holders, and most ‘white collar’ employers still see the degree as a safety net.” And we should be honest that even though this situation ought to change, the Gen Z youth aren’t wrong.
With that said, as enrollment continues to fall, colleges are continuing to consolidate. This Inside Higher Ed story by Doug Lederman tells the fascinating story about how that played out in Vermont with three colleges that have been combined to form Vermont State University—and shrinking the number of programs offered from 250 to 100.
As always, thanks for reading, writing, and listening.