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February 20, 2007

Steve Jobs and Michael Dell don’t often share the same stage, yet last Friday in Austin, Texas they sat down together to discuss the state of US public education. Ordinarily, I’d not really mention this (despite being a real Mac Fanboy), but what is interesting is the fall-out that Jobs comments have attracted.

Speaking at the “Texas Public Education Reform Foundation Statewide Education Summit” (they aren’t kidding when they say everything’s bigger in Texas!) Jobs raised a few eyebrows when he said that no amount of technology in the classroom would improve public schools until principals could fire bad teachers. Those of us in Scottish Education can probably remember that part of the McCrone deal was meant to make it easier to remove bad teachers… but this is evidently a new idea in the USA.

One observation that cannot help but resonate with Scottish Education was that neither Jobs nor Dell:

“…addressed what many educators consider the major problem in improving schools: the focus on standardized testing and, despite recent increases in funding, not enough money.”

We are hearing that the ’20 in a class’ in S1 and S2 are just meant to be an average… yeah, right.

Back in the States, there has been a really interesting debate doing the rounds on the back of Jobs’ words, and some of the most prescient comments have come from unexpected sources. Don Dodge of Microsoft is a respected commentator on Web2.0 technologies, but even he was surprised at the response he got to his post about Jobs’ comments (Steve Jobs says teachers unions protect bad teachers – can’t reward the good ones). What I like about Dodge’s thoughts is that while he highlights that you can’t fire the bad teachers, “…you can’t reward the good ones” either. How true he is.

In the world of business – indeed, in most spheres – good performance is rewarded. I remember being on a management training course (with Oddbins) which very graphically demonstrated the benefits of incentives over threats… and yet, where are the incentives in education? If I work myself silly teaching classes of 30 pupils with all the attendant marking and preparation, I get the same reward as the teacher with a class of 15 who doesn’t have any marking…

Going back to Dodge’s words, in his follow up post, he made some points that struck me as very hopeful for what we are hoping to achieve in Scotland with A Curriculum for Excellence. He highlights the necessity for incentives (and sanctions) for pupils as well as teachers. I particularly liked the following paragraph:

Students should also have consequences and alternatives. Lets face it, not all students are in the classroom to learn. Some don’t want to be there, don’t care about learning, and are very disruptive. Get them out. It is a privilege to be in the classroom…make them earn it. If the student can’t perform at that high level, then offer a lower level course. If they aren’t interested in a college prep course then offer them other vocational programs, or just life skills classes. Some kids learn more about life playing sports than any experience in the classroom. There are lots of ways to learn and lots of different things to learn about. Why tie all students down to one education path?

Don Dodge, 19/02/07

Does that remind anyone of anything?

Perhaps we as teachers are at fault for not giving the rest of the world credit for knowing what is the best course for education. I think that Don Dodge has voiced what many of us in education believe, namely that things need to change if we are to serve our pupils better… and I for one am delighted to hear that call coming from outside the education sphere because it means that we might just be on the right track.

A Curriculum for Excellence? I for one hope so.


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4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2007 12:50 pm

    Hey – this is good stuff, isn’t it? Thanks for posting it – couldn’t agree more.

  2. February 20, 2007 4:30 pm

    Thanks Chris!
    You still with the ‘Murcans?

  3. February 20, 2007 11:34 pm

    Nope – home last Friday. Brain still slightly askew – what’s new?

  4. February 21, 2007 12:35 am

    I’ve really enjoyed your travelogue… especially Williamsburg. As a fresh-faced cherub, I sang there with St Mary’s Choir during the American Bicentennial Celebrations in 1976. Even I with my child’s penchant for philistinism(?) could appreciate that this was someplace special.

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