educational technology: the great teacher heterogenizer?

I finished this book, “Liberating Learning,” in the fall, and somehow forgot to post a review. Chubb & Moe are important players in education policy, having previously published influential work regarding school choice & competitive forces in education markets. This newer book is about technology and ways in which it can disrupt the structures and politics of schooling. Honestly, I’ve forgotten most of the particulars offered in the book regarding the current state of online learning – systems, student demographics, legal regulations, etc. This info is probably on its way to being obsolete by now anyways. So actually the purpose of this non-review is to share with you what I took to be one of the most important insights of the book, which I retained and continue to ponder:

Technology won’t merely change the way that educational services are delivered and consumed. Technology will also significantly change the face of the education profession.

Here’s how and why: Historically until about the present, public school teachers have existed as a more or less homogeneous group, with similar job functions and experiences. Teachers’ unions have had an interest in preserving the impression of teachers as a united group in order to more effectively pursue their collective political goals. But, with the advent and ongoing rise of educational technologies, teaching is becoming an ever more differentiated profession. Online classes, and even whole online schools, require (or at least can operate more efficiently from) the services of teachers and other education staff with diverse skills, time commitments, and salaries. Positions might include course preparers, live call-in support, graders, supplemental tutors, and so on. Some of these staff members might be career professionals, others temporary workers and/or stay-at-home moms looking for supplemental work, and everything in between.

Preserving this united face of teaching has been costly for students and/or taxpayers. Importantly, take the existence of a single salary schedule in many school districts. According to these schedules, teacher pay is determined by a teacher’s level of education and years of experience (these are the union-sanctioned criteria for salary). Teacher pay is NOT usually determined by the teacher’s field of expertise – this would cause division among teachers, as qualified science and math teachers would in many places earn more than others (higher salaries being needed to draw them away from lucrative private industry jobs). This results in shortages of qualified math and science teachers, while many education dollars are wasted in encouraging teachers to pursue graduate degrees that do not seem related to improved student outcomes.

Diverse education sector employees mean diverse interests. It will become increasingly more difficult for unions to garner support for pensions, last-in-first-out policies, non-value-added assessment methods, and their other standard political fare when these issues affect teachers and other education personnel differentially. This could result in a dramatic evolution of the unions, if not an outright demise, in a bottom-up fashion, without the need for controversial top-down union busting (*cough* Wisconsin *cough*).

Neither technological nor political change is inevitable; these systems are not deterministic. But educational technologies are interestingly poised to make a difference in the structure of the education industry as we know it (hopefully for the better) and teaching will change commensurately. Thanks to Moe and Chubb for so clearly articulating this insight.

One Comment

  • Or…technological innovations in education with further NARROW what can be considered as knowledge. Only that which can be conveyed or communicated via the technology available will be admitted into the world of knowledge. Technological access to education, schools, and knowledge will decrease the expertise and authority of schools and teachers, to be sure, but this will not automatically result in diversity. Diversity is the result of some natural processes (natural selection seeks both diversity and uniformity as means to survival) but also the deliberate effort to find the new and different. Making education easier through technology will make it less likely people will choose the struggle of learning things that are significantly different from their own experiences and rather become an instrumental good in the service of consumerism.

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