QUESTION: A lot of people are talking about the fact that we need to reform or change public education.
Fischler: If you look at the way education evolved, many people left the farms to go to the cities and the cities had to organize the population, so they chose to divide children by age. So all six-year-olds were put in the first grade, eight-year-olds were put in the third grade, etc. We organized the schools chronologically based on the student's age.
We ended up with a class of six-year-olds, normally 25 youngsters in a class. They moved as a unit to second and third grade, because time is fixed and the only thing we varied was the ability based on the children's performances so we varied A, B, C, D, etc., but we keep time fixed.
School started in sept and ended in june and we hoped that a student would make progress in a year's time. But one thing we know is that children learn at different rates and they have different preferential learning styles. So rather than build a system that accommodates the individual child, we asked the student to accommodate to the administrative structure where the unit was not the student but the class. If we are ever going to get out of this box that we created, which is an industrial model using an agrarian calender, we have to reorganize the school so that each student becomes the class.
We couldn't do this before we had the computer. The computer became the important technological advance which enables us to accommodate each student. Now, with the cloud infrastructure, we can have 30 students sitting in the same classroom but working on thirty different areas. Instead of being the conveyer of time and the presenter of information, the teacher has a new role: being an advisor, a guardian, a motivator, a person who offers additional help. The curriculum is provided through the learning environment, which we've created in the classroom to accommodate each student.
Much has to be done to transfer from the industrial model to the individualized model of instruction within the context of the boxes that we have created. The students are sitting in a room, but they're being taken care of [treated?] as individuals.
QUESTION: Is each student working on his own, interacting only with the computer?
Fischler: No, there are times when computer-assisted instruction (CAI) is used. There is another phrase called computer-mediated instruction (where the teacher is communicates with the students through the computer), but you also have project-oriented instruction where the students work in small groups. When they work in small groups, they are learning more skills (soft skills), such as cooperation, communication, responsibility for getting their piece of the assignment done. Project learning, individual learning (through the software in the system)
Because we now have a cloud technology, we can have youngsters doing math, but they can be at various places in the course on the continuum. The computer is both a learning tool, a research tool, a tool for monitoring the students' progress and a communication tool. It is important for teachers to integrate that tool during the course of the day into the instructional strategy of the children.
The outcome of this vision is to produce active, lifelong learners with the skills necessary for tomorrow's economy. We want to produce a motivated learner who has acquired the language of English and math and the ability to analyze and synthesize and use self-judgment as they proceed to move through the K-12 environment. We want them to become an adult with salable skills. Some will go to university, some will choose technical schools and some will go directly into the workplace and continue to teach themselves the things they have to learn.
With the pace of change in today's world, what we learn today might no longer be relevant or useful in tomorrow's environment. To be able to continue to learn is critically important.
The Solution (tape 2) 2A
How do we make change happen?
Let me try to give a schematic with time and cost. This is not a transformation that you can do in one day. Let's think about what the banking community did from the time I was a young man until today. There used to be “banker's hours” from 10 a.m. To 2 p.m. People had to go to their specific bank to make transactions. You went to an NCR (National Cash Register) machine and the teller put the interest on the booklet or you made a deposit or withdrawal, the record was made on the little book. But you could do this only between 10 and 2 and only at your bank. Then the war came along and we were operating on a 24-hour system and the banks were forced to change. They extended the banking hours so that those who got paid on Friday could go to the bank by 5 pm or 6 pm. Then the banks became technologically oriented so now you can go to any branch and do your business because all of the information is centralized on a computer system. You can bank 24/7 through ATMs or by mail. All of that has changed the banking structure.
We have to do the same for education. Teachers work very hard to try to educate the students but they can't have 30 lessons and go home and help each child move forward within their responsibility. We have to move from the class, which might have had three levels of achievement
This system was particularly detrimental to the teaching of science. Many teachers didn't have time to organize projects, so science became a story, not a project-based verb, which is what science is. Science is a verb, not a noun.
Let me walk you through the cube which enables me to project the various components of cost and time.
The components to bring about educational change over time at an extended cost. We need to look at each student as a class. That's where we want to go. We want to be able to help each student succeed. Now we want time as a variable and mastery at a certain level becomes the goal. If we use a standardized test as an example, such as Florida's FCAT with a score of 1 to 5, we want every student to get at least a 3.
How do we know that they are ready to get a passing score (3)? We use the self-paced mode to proceed through the modules of the curriculum. The teacher acts as a guide and provides the student support and motivation to continue to learn. Every time a child finishes a module, they get a smiling face, which they can take home. Therefore the parent knows that the child has finished a module and passed the requirements in that module. This is a continuum. Education is a continuous process for individuals. I want to build an environment which reinforces the positives because I don't know where every student is going to be at every exact moment in time. I know where every students is on the continuum because I have a management system as one of the components that is in place. We have to know where every child is on the CAI approach. Using the computer as a tool of learning, we know where every child is within the curriculum. The appropriate material comes to the child when the child is doing English or mathematics.
We also want the child to read, but not always on the computer. We want the child to read books and magazines, so we want the child to do research. We have a tutorial mode, the second mode, where two or three children are working on a project and they share responsibility for solving a problem that is of interest to them. The child in the tutorial mode uses the computer as a research tool, they have to read, analyze and synthesize, developing higher level skills in addition to comprehension.
Finally, the students use the computer as a communication tool because they work with each other using elearning or email or to produce powerpoint presentations to present what they've learned to the group. They are communicating to the group using the language that they picked up in the self-paced mode.
Rarely do we expect to see the teacher talking to the group as a whole. We usually see the students interacting and making presentations to the group. It's good to have a topic of general interest that allows for group presentations to occur. That's where the creative curriculum gets built by teachers. The student management system is costly and is installed to allow the teachers to track the children.
SOLUTION 2B (video)
How do we get the community involved?
Parents, ministers, business leaders, employees, they all have a stake in the schools, so how do we get them to buy into this plan? This takes time. The community needs to understand a good deal of the new philosophy. So we have to take the time before we begin to implement the system to make sure the community members are on our side. They know why we're changing and how we're changing and we are not going to lose their child because we're going to know more about their child. The parents are going to get feedback from their children. Through a computer portal, the parents can come in and see the children's work, both in the tutorial and the group presentations.
The curriculum has to be bought for the computer-assisted and computer-mediated instruction (CAI and CMI). Technology has to be in place. Every child needs access to a computer and students can share computers and learn together, so there needs to be a minimum of one computer for two children. They need it for all three modes of instruction. The computer is not in a computer room, but rather it is in every classroom. What's important is that the computer is a tool.
Finally we have to train the teachers.
We have to organize the school and the structures so that time is a variable. If we require that every student finish every part of the curriculum at the same time without this flexibility, we will not get the benefits of the individualized results. We need to allow some students to take longer to gain mastery. It is true that students start school at six years old, so they come to schools with different experiences and language skills, even though everyone has been alive the same amount of time. We have to know where each student is, what they bring into the school, what the setting is at home and the reinforcement that is necessary for the learning process to take place. The parent has to be able to work with the child because the child might be working on something over the internet.
This organization has to accommodate the change in philosophy and the existing organization. Not every student has to be in academically rigorous high schools. Not every student needs to be in high school until they are 18 years old. Some will get out at 17 or 16 and there may be some students who need an extra year. The important thing is that the diploma says to the outside world, “This student has reached a level of mastery in English and math and has the skills to use technology to be a self-learner.” The skills related to work or to go on to university or the community colleges. Not every child is oriented to go to the universities but they all have the skills to
The community college doesn't have to remediate the students because the high school diploma isn't issued until the child has shown mastery. As self-learner that's what the diploma means.
Time Needed for the Change
You can't do this in one year just as the banking system couldn't change overnight. You have to wait for all of the technology, the buy-in by the community and training are in place. You're adding each year the incremental equipment. Each student has a computer, which needs to be purchased when the student comes into the system. Over a period of time, you continue operating the old system while you are investing in the parts for the new system. This is not like an automobile assembly line which can be shut down for retooling and in three months you come up with new models. This has to be done over time while you are operating under the existing system.
Everyone wants to know “how quickly can it take place?” It depends on the resources you have available over and above what you are already spending to maintain the system to move, acquire and gather the necessary tools and help the teachers learn to use the computer as a tool for students to learn.
Question: What would be the DROP OUT RATE under this new system?
Fischler: There is no dropout rate. If a student is an active participant in the learning process and gets positive feedback and is enjoying what he's doing because he's going through success, not failure, then students stay in school. If you reinforce success, and it's not fixed in time but related to the student's rate of learning, then there is no need for the student to drop out.
It reminds me of an adult playing golf. The first time you pick up the club, you find out that it's not so easy and when you finally hit one good shot, it doesn't mean that the next shot will be good, too. It takes practice. You have positive reinforcement because you are playing the game against yourself. The first time you shoot over 100, then you shoot in the 90s, and if you stay at it and you get reinforcement from those you play with, you end up getting a lower score. But you won't break 100 the minute you hit the first ball. You have to practice. Don't focus on the balls you hit in the water or the woods. The structure focuses on your success. You can help students over the difficult path and they will stay with you.
Under the existing system the drop out rate is roughly 30 percent and even more in some inner cities. Dropout tends to be related to economic backgrounds, so the drop out rate is generally lower in the suburbs. The economy determines whether the student succeeds, as does the home environment. This is why it is important to engage parents and get their support for this transformation of education. One of the major reasons for the drop out epidemic is when a child arrives at school with deficits. It's very difficult for them to make up the difference in the time available and they drift further behind and they are left back. All the research points out that if you hold back a student twice, they drop out. If you reinforce the positives, people enjoy the experience. We have to change the orientation and culture of the school.
Stop throwing money at the current system
We can't put money in the existing system and expect change. The analogy that I use is the propellor vs. rockets. You can throw all the money you want at the propellor system, but you'll never get to the moon. You need a new principle operating with a new fuel that can operate external to the atmosphere to get to the moon.
We have the same problem in education. We have created a structure that comes form an age that is entirely different from the one we have now. The demands of society today says that we have to educate every child to at least have a bona fide high school diploma and skills to get employed. That's the minimum requirement we have. We have to take into account what we know about learning and we have to look at what the student brings into the school and how to capitalize on the learning style of the student. The diploma has to be defined by what the student can do. Time becomes a variable.
If the student is having trouble from going from A to B or B to C, that's where the teacher comes in to differentiate and adapt the curriculum to the needs of the student. With the CAI and self-paced system, the teacher has time to sit with individual students. Over time students that are rapid learners and bright and motivated are moving at a faster pace. The child who has more difficulty conceptualizing the material can get help from the teacher, who now has time to help. The slower child can get help from a student who has already mastered the material or a teacher's aide. You can have students helping another student. This changes the climate of the school and the parents through the internet portal sees what the student is doing. Homework isn't just doing repetitive work, it's being able to come into the servers and continue to grow because you are working on projects that you enjoy and you're motivated to learn.
We have to provide time to let students become successful. Bringing in good teachers and principals is not enough. We need the transformed structure, and a change in philosophy and culture.