We Need Fewer Teachers, Not More

In Sunday’s NYT, Elizabeth Green explains beautifully the challenges of classroom teaching, revealing both the critical importance of teaching talent and the extraordinary challenges of producing it. Bored students are ignoring assiduous efforts by hard-working but not particularly knowledgeable or pedagogically sophisticated instructors. Schools of education are driving off in the wrong direction, she tells us, and no one can quite figure out in advance how to give future teachers the tools to perform well at their trade. She says we will need millions of additional teachers to cover baby boom retirements, and wonders how we can find enough good ones.

The answer is that we can’t–not even with more effective education schools or elaborate merit pay programs or by ruthlessly dismissing ineffective teachers.

As I explain in Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning, we need fewer teachers, not more, and those few teachers must reach thousands of students at a time.  Fortunately, this possibility, once remote, is now arriving with a speed as rapid as that of the avatar-laden space ship zeroing in on the planet Pandora.  As we enter the world of high-powered notebook computers, broadband internet connections, 3-dimensional curricula, open-source product development, and internet-based games, both co-operative and competitive, students will learn by accessing dynamic, interactive instructional materials that provide information to each student at the level of accomplishment he or she has reached.

Today, millions of students in brick-and-mortar classrooms are either bored because they already know the material being presented or confused because it is far beyond their contemporary level of comprehension. Teaching algebra to someone who cannot divide just doesn’t work.

Solving the teaching problem does not mean hiring millions of better teachers but finding new ways of reaching students directly.  Teachers can then be used as coaches to help students access curricula created by the world’s most brilliant pedagogues–who in some cases may turn out to be students themselves.

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