Sunday, September 8, 2013

Professional Learning Communities

Our school district implemented the concept of the professional learning community (PLC) about 5 years ago.  I would feel comfortable proposing that our initial implementation be part of a case study in how NOT to implement PLCs.  There was very little vision, purpose, or leadership communicated to staff, and in the end, the effect was to create hour long blocks every Wednesday afternoon where groups of teachers got together to gripe and complain.  At some levels, this block of time has evolved into an additional planning period (ostensibly one in which “curriculum” development is to take place), while in others it has become a “work period” in which state reports and data analysis are accomplished.  This has been a major source of frustration for staff who see the need for collaborative vision and reform, but who feel helpless to lead.

As it happens, we implemented a 1-1 mobile learning initiative at our high school last school year, and as we worked with the principal to develop a vision for teaching and learning reform in that building, true professional learning communities began to emerge, almost spontaneously, and somewhat in spite of the current official PLC structure.  Originally organized by subject areas, now we see collaborative efforts from teachers in cross-curricular areas forming groups to share experiences in using mobile technologies to teach.  What binds them is not technology, curriculum or subject area, but vision, dedication to change and improvement, experimentation and a desire to collaborate.  They form these groups to battle the isolation and loneliness they feel in trying to innovate and adapt on their own, and they seek support from each other as they share this quest.  It’s been quite remarkable and instructional to see this development take place.

This movement is now translating down into our middle school, as they enter the first year of 1-1 mobile implementation.  I would not say that the technology caused this change, but it has given common purpose to teachers, who now genuinely want to collaborate.  There is a new feeling among staff that “We are all in this together.”  

In both buildings, the leadership of the principal has been a key.  Not in providing answers, but in supporting and encouraging experimentation, change, acceptance of failures, and the creation of a shared vision that comes from the staff, not from above.  This is contrasted by the leadership provided at our elementary level, where the focus remains on implementing yet another reading program chosen by the administration in isolation, and dictated to the staff.  At this level, teacher morale is low, isolation is the norm, and a sense of helplessness is pervasive.  All considerations beyond the strict implementation of the reading program are secondary, including the use of any technology and learning in subjects outside of reading.  The vision at this level is simple; bring reading test scores up by providing a system in which the teacher cannot “mess it up”.  

As a teacher and an educational leader, I have deep misgivings regarding the morality of such an approach.  Not so much in the goal itself, and not even in the empathy I feel toward the struggles of our elementary teachers.  But I do believe in the moral imperative that we must serve our students in the best way we can, and I feel that in this case, that imperative has been subverted to the goal of producing test scores at the cost of all else.  In this case, our goal is not directed toward serving students, but rather in answering a political agenda in which scores are produced for the sole purpose of producing scores.  As it has numerous times in the past, I believe our latest “program” is doomed yet again to failure.  As Robbins and Alvy point out, shifts in instructional, curricular and assessment practices cannot succeed without effective leadership, and teacher leadership must permeate a school.  

As with our elementary reading program, technology by itself does not provide leadership, nor does it produce learning.  But it does provide new avenues of teaching and learning, and with effective leadership, those avenues may be harnessed to produce collaborative efforts among teachers and can lead to the development of strong teacher leadership.

Robbins, P., & Alvy, H. (2004). The new principal's fieldbook: strategies for success. Alexandria: ASCD.

Kouzes, J., & Posner, B. (2006). A leader's legacy. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Son's, Inc.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Merit Pay and Compensation


In a discussion of teacher accountability, one of the first things we must recognize is that the term “accountability” does not mean the same thing as “fairness”.  When we talk about rewarding teachers for good performance and incentivising poor performers to become better,  we tend to begin with the simplistic notion that those who perform better should get paid more.  This seems fair to almost everyone, but it’s also the reasoning that stalls just about any effort to base pay on merit in education.

The problem is, no such system can ever be fair in an enterprise where the final results are impossible to measure quantitatively.  No matter how many ways we come up with to measure student performance, schools do not produce widgets.  The products of our labors do not go on to an open market to be bought and sold, and while society may benefit from, or pay for, the results, the only person who will ever “own” the final product is the learner themselves.  Education is simply not a market-based enterprise.

For nearly 100 years, teacher pay has had absolutely nothing to do with the quality of instruction, yet in every school some teachers are more effective than others, some work harder than others, some spend many more hours “on the job” than others.  We all recognize this, and we all feel it’s not fair, yet there are always those who outperform others.  The question is, what motivates those high-achievers?  Why do they continue to work so hard?  What rewards the exemplary teacher?  If it were simply a matter of pay, in the current system all teachers would have long ago leveled themselves out and stopped reaching for greater gains than their paychecks demand.  

To be sure, some teachers have applied this logic, and they have indeed leveled themselves out.  We all know them... do the job, get the check.  Never volunteer.  Don’t coach.  Never work outside the contracted school day.  These are the same folks who expect everything to be equal and fair.  “No teacher should have a bigger desk or room than mine.”  “Why did THEY get a new computer?”  “The (high school, middle school, elementary, district office) people get EVERYTHING, and we get leftovers...”  

Many of us (myself included) have fallen into this trap before.  I remember my resentment as a young science teacher that I had to spend extra time getting labs ready, inventorying equipment and chemicals, cleaning lab equipment, etc. while social studies and math teachers had only textbooks and worksheets to deal with.  PE teachers didn’t even have to grade homework!  What a rip-off!  They all get paid more than I do!  NO FAIR!  

And don’t even start with coaching... no job in secondary education creates more responsibility, demands more time and sacrifice from the worker AND their family for less compensation than coaching a sport, a music program, or other performance-based student activity.  And yet, every school across the land fills dozens of coaching and sponsorship slots each year with capable people who for the most part do a far better job than the compensation merits.

If what motivated educators to perform was primarily monetary compensation, our profession would indeed be in a sorry state today.  There are many out there who believe that is already the case, but we know better.  For every slacker and complainer, there are at least 10 quality teachers.  They may not all be great, but they work hard and put in more time and effort than the paycheck demands.  They try to get better.  They come to work early and they go home late.  They have homework, and they often put their families and their personal lives behind the needs of their students without complaint.  We all know it’s not fair... yet here we are.  


If we’re just talking about improving the system, what makes any of us think that “merit pay” or performance-based compensation would actually work?  Don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE to see more money for all the extra things I do, but would it make me a better educator?  Would I try even harder?  I don’t think so.  So if it’s not money, what is it that makes us put the effort in?

We’ve all experienced that utter sense of joy when we see the light come on.  We’ve felt the supreme satisfaction that can only come when student performance surprises us by exceeding our own expectations or those of others.  Those supreme moments when all that hard work and failure and extra effort pay off, when we secretly say to ourselves, “Man, it was so worth it...”  I can imagine being a teacher with more compensation and I can remember being a teacher with less, but I cannot imagine being a teacher without those moments.  In fact, I can’t imagine a worse occupation than being a professional babysitter for 100 or more students, 8 hours a day.  You couldn’t pay me enough to do that job!  In fact, I have to admit a grudging respect for the sheer stubbornness of those few who call themselves teachers for no other purpose than to pry that measly paycheck from the taxpayers.

If you want to incentivise our performance, recognize what we and our students do, and value it!  Ask for more of the moments and worry less about the scores.  Stop assuming it doesn’t matter to us when our students don’t reach their potential.  Let us be a part of accomplishing great things, one student at a time.  Listen to our ideas, and stop viewing us as interchangeable mechanical pieces, cranking through curriculum and honing fine test-taking machines.  Let us work with each other to build something greater than a collection of standards, and give us the time and support to build it.  Support us with administrators who are more concerned with vision and student accomplishments than budgets and test score rankings.  And LEAD us.  We crave leadership, direction, and vision.

We teach because to most of us, it is the most important job in the world.  The difference we make every day in human lives, even with just a few words, weighs on us.  We want to get paid, but we want success and growth and learning more.  We’re accomplishment junkies!  Don’t try to make things easier for us or “idiot-proof” education... Instead, help us to accomplish the hard things.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Call for Reform


In the April, 2013 edition of District Administration Magazine, Alison DeNisco reports in an article titled “Thirty Years Later, Little Has Changed” that despite numerous reform movements, including No Child Left Behind, a February report from the Equity and Excellence Commission finds that indeed, little has changed since the publication 30 years ago of the “A Nation at Risk” report.
DeNisco’s report highlights “the vast gaps in educational outcomes separating different groups of young Americans...” and calls on the federal government to take a more active role in public education.  The proposed action plan includes restructuring school finance systems to better reflect student need, efforts to improve recruitment and retention of quality teachers, providing high-quality early education for all children, and requiring states to meet realistic but aggressive expectations of student outcomes.
This all sounds so familiar... and I wonder how long it will be before we, as a profession and as a nation, begin to realize how far from the mark we are aiming.  We’ve wrung our hands for 30 years, fretting over test score comparisons among disparate nations with unique populations, social settings, and widely-varied economic and political systems.  In the process, we’ve converted a useful but rather insignificant metric into the primary goal of our educational system.  It’s as if we’re in a sporting contest and the only measure of success is the point total for each player.
To make matters worse, we intuitively know and pay lip service to the notion that education should be about maximizing the potential of every student, yet in our rabid pursuit of the winning record, we put policies and practices in place that practically guarantee minimum proficiency from each student regardless of ability.  Does it not occur to policy makers that test scores can be increased by also raising the bar for students with superior academic abilities?
Our educational system has been chasing this canard for so long that it’s considered almost subversive today to promote higher achievement from students with higher abilities, or to direct resources to developing talent in the arts and other non-core areas.  Instead of focusing our efforts on maximizing learning to the utmost potential of EVERY student, we concentrate all resources on those closest to the cut score... not because those students are more or less precious to us, but because schools and educators are judged almost exclusively by how many students make it over that very low bar.
Dr. Yong Zhao takes a hard look at the numbers in his blog, “Numbers Can Lie:  What TIMSS and PISA Truly Tell Us, if Anything?”  He makes the point that while international test score comparisons may be a valid indicator of “the extent to which an education system effectively transmits prescribed content”, comparison of economic measures on both a personal and national level would indicate that “the successful transmission of prescribed content contributes little to economies that require creative and entrepreneurial individual talents and in fact can damage the creative and entrepreneurial spirit.”
I don’t argue against the need for reform, in fact I believe it’s greater now than ever before.  But I do believe that in our zeal to “win” the test score comparisons, we’ve done far more harm than good, and what is more, we’ve lost sight of what the true purpose of education should be, particularly in the unique setting in which we find ourselves as a nation.  We face forward and see a future in which the global economy is undergoing unprecedented transformation, to a time in which the value of rote knowledge and content is diminishing and the value of creative skills and flexibility in thought and learning is at a premium.  We decry students being unready for post-secondary education and yet we look at the face of higher education changing daily, as illustrated in the discussion paper “College 2020” from the Center for Policy Innovation Discussion and the article “Education Technology Success Stories” from the Brookings Center for Technology Innovation.
The target of required skills seems to move almost daily, and we see mounting evidence of the shift in economic power from monolithic corporations to agile, small-scale and flexible entrepreneurship, yet we insist on the pursuit of a standardized, inflexible education system based on uniformity and content-based score performance.  At a time of unprecedented opportunity and value centered on individualized talent and interest, a time when we see the third world emerging as an economic force based not on corporate might but innovative thinking, rather than stepping forward to meet new opportunities we instead look back and pine for “old school”.
New technologies and communication channels open the door to learning avenues never before available.  We can move forward with individualized learning, we can provide authentic collaborative and creative projects, we can develop 21st Century skills, and we can measure and track academic progress through dozens of different metrics.  The technology available to our teachers and students today make all of these things possible.  Yet we continue to view test scores as the sole indicator of success and point our efforts not to the future, but rather to creating proficient test takers
I believe curriculum reform should be directed to the future rather than to the past.  We need to step forward and embrace change, and we need to leave behind the notion that the measure of success lies in the contest of test scores.  As educators we need to muster the courage to apply new pedagogies, to come together with our colleagues and communities and to demonstrate in ourselves those skills we know our students need.  We need to take education back and change it from something done TO students to the opportunity it should be FOR students to learn and grow.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Regarding Curriculum Design... Who Cares?


I know the title of this blog comes across as a very flippant remark.  But now that I have your attention, let me explain.

As the blog assignment requires that our opinion be supported by research, I did what most of you probably did, I typed "Who should define curriculum?" into the google search page.  And just as the Education Week article associated with the assignment points out, it seems there are as many definitions of what "curriculum" means as there are people trying to define it.  So, what's a blogger to do?  How do you hold and defend an opinion over a topic for which there is no agreed upon definition?

And then I realized, you can't define what is meant by curriculum until you can articulate the purpose of education.  Of course, there's not much more consensus on this subject than there is on the definition of curriculum, and yet we have schools, we have the social institution of formal education, we have countless programs devoted to the sole purpose of training educators, and in fact, the school forms the central hub of almost every community in our country.  We obviously collectively feel that education serves some very important purpose.

Ah, but what purpose, that is the question, and thus, the title of this blog.  Who cares?  Because the purpose of education, which tells us what the basis of curriculum should be, depends very much on who is doing the caring.

It was much easier to answer this question 50 or 100 years ago (though they may not have agreed back then, because this debate has been going on for over a century).  In his excellent TED Talk on the state of education, Dr. Ken Robinson explains that when the current system of education was conceived, it was primarily designed to meet the needs of industry, turning out workers and laborers to fill factories and provide management.  In 1930, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote that the purpose of education was to develop citizenship.  By that, she meant that the primary focus of education should be to produce thinking, intelligent people who would understand their duties as citizens and be active and involved in the process of politics and leadership.  

Today, Daniel Pink, in his book A Whole New Mind argues that we’ve moved out of the Knowledge Age, are leaving the Information Age, and are now entering the Conceptual Age, which requires new skills and a new form of learning, emphasizing creativity, innovation, and design skills.  Yet our assembly line, sort-them-out education system is still firmly planted in the industry-based Knowledge Age.  He argues that today, the individual must be valued for their unique contributions and ability to think creatively, take initiative, and incorporate a global perspective into their decisions.

In each perspective or age, the primary concern of education, that is, who is doing the “caring”, is different.  We seem to be entering a much more “learner-centric” time, where the main focus is on nurturing the needs of the individual student, and developing each to their full potential.  If this is indeed what education is to be about, then our methods, thoughts, and definition of curriculum must be radically altered from those previous ages.  A nationally designed, uniform and standard curriculum will not suit those needs.  Nor will high-stakes, standardized testing tell us if we are succeeding.

As a nation, we seem insistent on sticking to the old industrial model of education and curriculum design, hanging our reform hopes on a national curriculum and standardized testing.  Meanwhile our culture continues to move into the individualized Conceptual Age, our economy becomes more centered on  innovation and clever ways to generate and consume new information, and awareness and interaction on a global scale is becoming an essential skill.

I believe our students and many educators recognize the growing disconnect between policy and the needs of learners, and with them the needs of our society.  If this disconnect continues to increase, the tone and meaning of the question, “Who cares?” will continue to shift from inquiry to sarcasm.

How to Create Poor Leaders




Any endeavor that requires teamwork and results also requires quality leadership.  This is certainly true in every level of education, from student activities and the classroom all the way up through local administration and state and national policy formulation.  It is my belief that much of what ails education today stems from a crisis of leadership at all levels.

By this, I do not mean to say that capable leaders do not exist in education, nor do I place the blame of poor student performance and a lack of learning on the current leaders themselves.  It’s not as if anyone personally set out to fail our children or to hinder the performance of our academic institutions.  Yet quite clearly, our educational system is not measuring up to the goals of academic achievement, personal development of students, or producing quality citizens.


What is a leader?


 In my experiences as a student, team member, classroom teacher, coach, and director of technology, there are certain traits that all good leaders share.  While these leadership traits and qualities can be examined, studied, even defined and taught to a certain extent, they cannot be truly exhibited by all.  By its very definition, leadership requires followers, one leading many, an elite.  

This idea carries a negative connotation in today’s world, especially in the world of education, where we seem to be obsessed with total fairness and equality along with the expectations of identical, standard achievement by all.  This illustrates the first point of how our current system selects for poor leadership.  Make the end-goal impossible to achieve.  


Goals

Regardless of style, great leaders have the ability to focus followers on a common, attainable goal which includes a desirable result for all.  The goal does not have to be easily obtained, but it must be possible.  Examine the goal thrust upon today’s educational system by No Child Left Behind, uniform “common” standards, and high stakes testing.  All students MUST be proficient at passing tests in a narrowly defined subset of academic content areas.

As a component of the larger purpose of education, this goal may be attainable and desirable.  But as we are all aware, this has become the ultimate and end goal of every school, even to the exclusion of all other goals.  

Today we seem to speak of accountability and raising expectations only in the context of this goal.  It’s as if a basketball coach were to be evaluated on the basis of point production, steals and assists by every player.  While a good coach would recognize that setting individual goals in these areas based on each player’s potential and ability would be beneficial to the team, it is doubtful that any coach with ability would take a job in which success were judged solely on these factors.  What is more, it is doubtful players would work hard to achieve these goals if the measure of team success were reduced to the public display of these skills by each individual.

Creating leaders


The pathway to leadership in schools is another shortcoming of our current system.  Too often an administrative certificate and leadership position is seen as a means of exiting the classroom and obtaining higher pay.  Many individuals do not enjoy teaching or find that it does not meet the idyllic expectations they may have had, yet they have a significant investment in their own education for that purpose and the only exit paths available are to choose a different career or to “advance” to a leadership position.  

This is not to say that all administrators were poor teachers, but the system is not designed to identify and funnel talented leaders into administration.  Certainly some administrators entered the profession with the goal of ultimately leading a school, but rather than selecting and cultivating leadership talent from the ranks of teachers, the currency of advancement in K-12 education is quite simply college credit.


Culture

You can make a solid argument that leadership among teachers is in fact discouraged in the current system.  We all know how it actually works in schools lacking quality leadership at the top.  Teachers who display leadership and initiative are asked (or often assigned) to take on more responsibility, with little or no monetary compensation let alone the provision of extra time to meet the new responsibilities.  Meanwhile, others who demonstrate poor leadership and initiative are rewarded by being “left alone” lest they produce even more difficulties for the administration to deal with.


Once this strategy of negative feedback is in place, it becomes self-sustaining.  It drives quality leaders away and encourages a sense of malaise and defeatism.  Resentment among team members grows and capable teachers retreat to their classrooms where they can safely display their talents in an environment under their own control.  Teachers quickly learn the mantra, “never volunteer” and all efforts to encourage teamwork and school progress or success are met with cynicism and anger.

State and national leadership in education seems to me to have taken on a completely autocratic style.  The answers and methods to be used are prescribed by the political bureaucracy and have evolved to become completely based on punishment and negative consequences. The leadership role at individual schools and districts has been usurped by state mandates and performance is judged not by display of excellence or achievement, but rather by the avoidance of failure at any cost.  While this autocratic style of leadership can be effective in certain scenarios, it ultimately depends on the installation of meek subordinates who follow directions and procedures without thought.  Even the most autocratic coach quickly learns that leadership on the floor or playing field is required for success.


Incentive

As a final point, I believe that great leadership and teamwork must have a reward, some mark of success in achievement of common goals.  Although this may be financial, most quality educators did not enter the field with monetary rewards in mind.  Whatever the mark may be, to have value it must ultimately be EARNED by both individual and team effort.  There is no real mechanism in place for this condition in our current system of education.  There is little public recognition of success save for individual student achievement, and that recognition is reserved for the student.  In fact, in our culture, high achievers are discouraged from pursuing a career in education.
 
If we want to develop quality leadership in education, we first must create realistic and meaninful goals for students and a culture in which leadership and success may be rewarded. This can only happen if those meant to be served by education can perceive the value of the efforts and appreciate the end result. In this we are speaking of the students, parents, and communities in which the schools exist. We must stop trying to serve a political bureaucracy obsessed by test scores and standardized output of product.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The System Approach


On the surface, it seems to make sense.  US test scores are low compared to other nations.  We fear this may pose a threat to our position in the world, our society, even our way of life.  We feel we must act before it is too late.  We conclude that our schools must not be providing a quality education to our students or the test scores would be higher.  

The problem is, there are so many schools, students, and teachers in our country that we can’t even identify what is wrong.  So first, we must standardize everything.  Every school should be doing the same thing, and then we can tell who is screwing up our test scores, and what we need to do to fix it.

When I wear my IT hat, I can appreciate this logic.  Tech staff face this sort of problem all the time.  Some automatic alert is sent or the performance of some system is not optimal.  This issue must be corrected before it turns into a bigger problem, possibly crashing the entire infrastructure.  First we identify the systems affected, then we try to isolate the cause of the problem.  Once the cause is identified, we take corrective action.  Often this means applying software patches or replacing a faulty piece of equipment.  Problem solved.

This “IT” approach is wonderfully effective.  Straightforward, easy to grasp, and chances are, someone else has had the same problem so there is lots of advice available from others on what to look for and how to fix it.  One of the best things about the IT part of my job is the feeling you get when you have successfully solved and corrected this type of problem.  

If you want this approach to work well (and in IT, you NEED this approach to work well), there are certain conditions which must be met.  In fact, a good part of what IT system engineers and managers do is to constantly strive to meet these conditions:

  1. Keep your systems and equipment as uniform as possible.
  2. Follow industry standards when selecting hardware and software.
  3. Continuously monitor and analyze metrics and keep them within accepted norms.
  4. Provide failover and redundancy whenever possible.
  5. Isolate your systems as much as possible from the dangerous world of malicious users and outside threats.
  6. Minimize radical changes in topology.
  7. Provide robust backup systems so that you can always go back in time to a place before the problem existed.

This method of operation is so powerful and effective that it’s been successfully applied to many industries, including agriculture, manufacturing, even shipping (have you seen the UPS commercials about logistics?).  It’s infused into our culture.  It’s even been successfully applied to human systems... think of the NFL, NBA and other professional sports.  All based on a system of standardized, replaceable parts.  Why wouldn’t it work in education?

The truth is, it probably would... IF we were willing to meet the conditions of standardization, which would look something like this:  

  1. Keep all students, teachers, classrooms and schools as uniform as possible.
  2. Select a national, standardized curriculum all the way down to the text books, lessons and assessments.  Control what is taught, when it is taught, and how much time is spent on it.  
  3. Monitor progress continuously.  Every day, every class, every student.  Whenever a score is outside of certain narrowly prescribed limits, take immediate action.  If necessary, replace the student, teacher, or lesson.
  4. Maintain extra students and teachers “on the shelf”.  You can’t allow the failure of individual components to affect overall system performance.  If possible and cost-effective, repair the component and then place it back in service.  If not, discard that component.
  5. Isolate students and teachers from new ideas or approaches.  Those should only be considered by the managers at the system level, and if approved, they should be implemented into the system following industry standard practices.  Whenever possible, new ideas should be tested in an isolated lab setting where the effects cannot be spread to the entire system.
  6. Minimize change.  Try to keep the same components in place for as long as possible, but when their specifications fall below standard performance benchmarks, replace and discard.
  7. If we find a systemic problem that cannot be easily corrected, go back to what was working before and try to avoid reproducing the problem.

Thank goodness I also wear a teacher hat!  No thinking, feeling human is willing to meet those conditions.  That’s the beauty and value of people.  We can do many things, we can understand and appreciate different perspectives, different models.  We understand context, we can see where a system might apply and where it won't work. We understand that people are not parts, that we’re not interchangeable components of some massive machine or system.  And each of us knows that our value to communities, cultures and nations cannot be measured by test scores.

The problems with applying the “systems” model to education are obvious.  The flaws in the logic begin with the assumption that when we compare US test scores to other nations, we are comparing measurements from equivalent components.  I don’t know of anyone who would argue that the testing population of US students is functionally equivalent to that of Finland or Malaysia. And the problems continue with the assumption that international test performance is the primary product that the education system should be trying to produce.

There is no existing evidence that international test scores are any indicator of current or future national prosperity, economic power, workforce capability, or productive capacity.  Nor are they indicators of human health or happiness.  Since those relationships cannot be established, we thus distill the primary reason for the push to standardized, common curriculum.  Raise test scores.

If that were our true goal, I’m completely confident it could be achieved.  With a strong federal mandate and enough money to create the necessary curriculum and assessments, every school could be cranking out proficient test-takers and our national ranking would surely rise to the top.  It would simply be a matter of cutting out the faulty components and replacing them with standard parts that do the job as intended.  

We all know that education is an individual, intensely personal experience.  We know that true learning involves failure, that self-confidence is bred in overcoming adversity, and that there are nearly as many different learning styles as there are students.  We know that regardless of the learning style, one to one tutoring and personalized learning is the most effective model to attain proficiency in any subject.  And we are starting to see the possibilities that new communication technologies, information access and teaching strategies can provide.  All of these truths lie in direct opposition to treating people and their education in a systematized, standard way.

As students, as professionals, as a nation, we need to have the courage to stand up and demand that the purpose of education be directed to the learner, to our communities and to our national interests, instead of sacrificing individuals to the purpose of winning an international numbers contest.