As a wise philosopher from the Bronx once said: “predictions are hard, especially about the future.” I was reminded of this while reading an outstanding book by Brian McCullough called How the Internet Happened. If you want a good, concise history of the tech business, buy this book. It starts with Netscape’s IPO in 1995 and ends with present-day Smartphones. In between it covers everything from Microsoft’s browser wars, the dotcom bust, the rise of Google and paid search, PayPal and ecommerce, Facebook, and much more.
It catalogs two decades of incredible, unforeseen change. No one, and I mean no one, could have predicted where it would all lead. Too many twists and turns took place – some planned, most not – to create opportunity, innovation, and wealth.
I compared this with our own line of work (education) and thought: twenty years ago you could have predicted exactly where we’d be today. The classrooms of 2018 are essentially the same as the classrooms of 1995…and 1985…and 1975. This is pathetic. If there’s one field that should be on the cutting edge of innovation, it’s education.
No secret why that is, of course. The public school system is organized to benefit adults, not children. Yet if education could make the same breakthroughs as Silicon Valley routinely does, here would be my five predictions as to what the school of 2028 would look like.
First, the teaching staff would not be public employees – they would all be private contractors. I think this is inevitable anyway, given the fact that it’s too expensive to hire public employees anymore. The pension and benefit costs are crushing state budgets across the country. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Joyce Carmine, the Superintendent of Park Forest Public Schools in Illinois, retired in 2017 with an annual salary of $398,000. This entitles her to a $300,000 pension every year for the rest of her life – courtesy of the Illinois taxpayer.
I wonder what her neighbors in Park Forest think about footing the bill for that, given that the median income in that community is $44,000. How much longer will people in the private sector tolerate working into their 70s to support people in the public sector retiring in their 50s?
The replacement of public employees with private contractors not only makes good economic sense, but they would also be free of the regulations that choke government personnel decisions. Public school teachers are nearly impossible to fire, are paid on the basis of time served rather than results delivered, and cannot be rewarded for superior effort. Is it any wonder the good ones leave and the bad ones stay?
Second, say goodbye to the current school schedule. The public school of 2028 would be open year-round. No more spring, summer, fall, or Christmas breaks. Other than Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, there would be no other days off.
But don’t worry – your kids wouldn’t be in school all the time, because the third change in the school of the future would be to adopt a block system for classes. This means kids would take only one class a month. All day, every day, for that month, your child learns nothing but biology. And since our teachers are all private contractors now, parents can choose whoever they want. Maybe it’s a retired biotech specialist who teaches three weeks of standard biology and then takes her class into the lab for the last week so they can map out genomes.
If parents wanted their kids in school the whole year, fine. But everyone needs a vacation, right? That brings me to the fourth change: take vacation whenever you want. Right now that’s only in the summertime, but who wants to go to Disneyland in July? Why not go in October or February when the crowds are lighter? With the block system, all classes wrap up at the end of the month, so if you want to work through the summer because Dad’s company won’t let him take a vacation until November, you can do that.
And to really get maximum impact, classes need to be smaller, which means there would be more of them. That means maximizing the floor space in each school. To do that, our final change would get rid of the things you don’t really need in school: gyms, libraries, and cafeterias. Yes, I know this sounds radical, but we’ve got to be honest about what’s most important – teaching. I loved PE as much as the next guy, but it’s not essential. Break a sweat on your own time. Go for a run after school or play a pickup basketball game at the park. School is not for that.
But surely libraries are necessary? Well, how many kids have you seen in a school library outside of class? Most of them avoid it like the plague, and these days if they really want to read a book, they can do it at the public library or on Kindle.
And cafeterias? Granted, the free meals for at-risk kids are sometimes the only decent ones they get, but why does a cafeteria need to deliver this? Why not provide a food station somewhere with fruit, chips, wrapped sandwiches, etc. that they can get during a break and bring back to the classroom? That’s right – eat in the classroom. We routinely do this with our students and have never had a problem. In fact, I think they prefer to eat while they work.
So there it is: the school of 2028. Somebody should try it somewhere and see how it works. You could even name it after Yogi Berra.