The state of Oregon is in the midst of a grand re-creation of its educational system, based on the notion that it isn't preparing students for the jobs of the future. Yet last week, state education chief Rudy Crew said schools are doing an adequate, even exceptional, job for about 60 percent of students.
In an interview with The Oregonian newspaper, Crew said the solution for the other 40 percent lies in technology and in experiences outside the classroom.
It's worth pausing a moment on that figure: 60 percent. For all the hand-wringing about the inadequacies of our education system, Crew says it's doing well by more than half its students.
Let's acknowledge right away that 60 percent is not a passing grade. It's critical to reach the other 40 percent. But let's also acknowledge that the schools are doing something right if even Crew sees 60 percent well-served.
What's worrisome is the technology bandwagon. Technology — and especially online education — is touted as the answer to many educational woes. It's where the excitement is and where lots of energy and dollars are focused.
And, indeed, the potential is great, though there's a long road ahead to discover the ways it can help students learn rather than just generate enthusiasm.
Meanwhile, who's paying attention to the successful things we're already doing for the 60 percent? What are they? How do we preserve them? How do we adjust them so they work for less-successful students? It's not that this isn't happening — we're sure thousands of classroom teachers do it every day — but it's not what's getting the attention, and so it's not where the dollars will flow.
And in the end, where the dollars flow is a critical factor. If we decide online classes are the answer, that's where we'll invest. Crew told The Oregonian that one reason to turn to technology instead of more classroom teachers is that it's more cost effective. We disagree.
Online classes have an important role in education's present and future success, but they can't replace the human connection and inspiration of effective teachers, something we suspect is critical to the 40 percent.