Michelle Rhee Mis-speaks Again!

It’s been a while since I authored a post, and it was due to the recent TEDxPeachtree event I helped curate in Atlanta, Georgia. It was a runaway success, and was all about change and “ideas worth spreading.”

I have been trying to determine what theme to explore next, and today’s edReformer gave me the perfect topic:  Michelle Rhee, while the face of education reform in America, needs to spend more time reviewing research on digital learning.  

As an informational tool in which student information is all in one place and easy to find, I think it’s a great idea.  As an instructional tool, I’m not sold on that yet.

Now let me defend Ms. Rhee because she was given a subjective definition of what “digital learning” is.  So in the definition presented to Ms. Rhee, it was tied to a discussion about virtual charter schools and “digital backpack.”  I believe the question should have been framed differently, and Ms. Rhee didn’t consider this in her response.  The question should have been:    “Why are we not implementing more blended learning plans into the K-12 curriculum, so that students are taught using stimuli they are utilizing in their daily lives?”  I disagree with Ms. Rhee that the research is insufficient.  Articles such as this one show the true potential of incorporating blended learning programs into schools.  It’s not an “either or” but a h  If our system is going to use digital technology solely for student information systems, performance tracking and classroom management, then I fear our country’s economic competitiveness is at serious risk.   If Ms. Rhee wanted to make her “post-DC Schools Chancellor” chapter one that will leave a real legacy on U.S. Education, then she should go back to her Teach for America roots and create a best-in-class teacher workforce training, acquisition, retention and evaluation program.

We need to stop bashing teachers.   If a fair, balanced, teacher performance and training program was put in front of the teachers union, where they saw the value received in exchange for moving away from some of its archaic policies, then we might see some reconciliation and real reforms.   But when are the Joel Kleins and Michelle Rhees going to realize that to change the teacher compensation system, we need to change many other factors that are inter-related.  Teachers need to be better paid, better respected, better educated, better trained and better evaluated.  The criteria need to be part measurable, part discretionary, and intrinsically motivating to both parties.  Teachers need to be given more flexibility to teach to their students, and incorporate whatever resources, digital or non-digital, are necessary to motivate students and achieve the desired results.

There is plenty of research in the marketplace about using digital technology, including video games, to achieve desired learning outcomes.   Maybe our system needs to define what a “school” or “learning environment” is?   I believe that many students learn far more outside of school than they do inside of school.   When the learning environment mirrors real life, then perhaps we’ll begin to see measurable performance results from American students.

But “not sold on digital learning as an instructional tool?”  With all due respect, I truly hope Ms. Rhee reads more research with the free time she has and becomes a leader in not just the transformation of the 21st century teaching environment, but also the transformation of the 21st century learning environment.

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