13 Standards For A Near-Future School

by Terry Heick

Today, an ‘unconnected classroom’—that is, one without social components, digital media output, authentic and highly visible school-to-school and school-to-community functions, and personal learning for each student through mobile and adaptive technology for each student—is seen as appropriately cautious–which is why some teachers sometimes seem against technology in the classroom. Perhaps overwhelmed and underfunded.

By 2028, that same classroom will likely be seen as pedagogically absent and professionally negligent, and be leaning towards obsolescence.

The classroom as we know it is a dying breed. Teacher-led physical spaces with rows of desks and scripted curricula have never been optimal, but, through the power of norm-referencing, were acceptable. Just like doctors used to smoke, seatbelts were afterthoughts, and sexism and racism were punchlines for Archie Bunker, all classrooms were traditional, and this model became the icon.

It was this icon—of rigor, compliance, rote skills, letter grades, and institutionally-sided power—that characterized academia, and obscured the need for change. The question has always been “How are you doing in school?”

Increasingly, that question is becoming “How is school doing on you?”

Shifting From “How Are You Doing In School?” To “How Is That School Doing On You?”

Unlike colleges, which have to succeed as a business, K-12 has escaped the need for progress, partially because they’re perma-funded by governments. But a more sinister problem has been the increasing gap between schools and communities. By and large, parents no longer ‘get’ learning and what’s possible, so they allow schools to tell them if they’re doing well or not, which isn’t much different than a restaurant doing its own health inspection. This has allowed K-12 to chart their own ‘business model’ free from ‘consumer pressure,’ which hasn’t done them—that is, us—any favors.

Just as there is a standard today—that is school is ‘progressing’ as measured by standardized tests, leaving no demographic behind, and provides some kind of documented support for every student regardless of their need–within 10 years, there will be a new standard, and it will almost certainly be realized through educational technology.

Teaching, as we have designed it, curriculum, as we have packaged it, and education, as we have promised it absolutely, positively, cannot be successful on the shoulders of a single classroom teacher. Or two. Or even ten. Even if we limit our goal strictly to standards-based proficiency, it’s just not possible to consistently and authentically achieve, especially if we’re not willing to treat teachers as collateral damage.

13 Standards For A Near-Future School

Hopefully, by 2028, we have something deeply human and absurdly wonderful–something beyond anything we can come up with here and now. But as a kind of minimum–a socially acceptable standard–we could have something like the following:

1. Every classroom should ‘be’ some ‘place’

Every classroom should be ’embedded’ somewhere or in some thing–a physical or digital community, for example. This will make them accessible to every community member, organization, and business. All products, projects, scenarios, and student passions will be both visible and packaged in a way as to be compelling to society at large, with schools acting as a kind of marketing agency for students.

2. No student should be anonymous.

Through technology, every student will be connected not to one teacher and one set of parents, but a select group of peers, mentors, or networks of ‘mercenary educators’ who have fled classrooms to promote student success as teacherpreneurs.

Every student should have a network. That is, access to a network of mentors, partners, and ‘friends’ globally.

3. ‘Mastery’ should be replaced by gifts, artifacts, networks, and growth.

Dated views of whether or not students ‘meet standards’ for state or national criteria should be replaced by emphases on a student’s natural gifts used to create clear progress and growth over time. Put another way, it should be less about scores and grades and more about trends and improvement.

4. All texts (and related media like videos, podcasts, etc.) should be responsive.

All texts will scale to a student’s given literacy level, reading preferences, and even operating system to optimize reading as an experience. These ‘texts’ will be a combination of literature, non-fiction, social commentary, scholarly writing, creative and informal texts, and more.

5. Every school should see a ‘tech-standard’ bandwidth.

Whatever the highest internet speeds are available to local tech companies that demand (and often invent out of necessity) it, schools should have access to it as well.

6. Self-directed learning, creativity, social-emotional learning, and citizenship should be central learning tenets.

Rather, these should be seen as deeply human elements that transcend curriculum to catalyze learning.

7. Search and research should be central to the learning experience.

Search engines will have been replaced by a kind of hybrid of search, recommendation, crowd-sourcing, and ‘resource prediction engines’ which will use a personalized learning algorithm to predict what strategy, resource, collaboration, or other learning elements will benefit the student at any given time or place.

This will recontextualize the idea of research altogether.

8. Teachers should be master learners.

Teachers should be seen as master learners, orchestrating a fluid physical and digital learning experience that allows, for the first time in human history, and personalized and student-centered learning experience for each student while learning in parallel with students at times, as well.

In contrast to the potent–and even ‘intelligent’–but ultimately ‘cold’ technology, teachers will be seen more critical than ever to the learning process. And it is this contrast that ultimately humanizes them again in the eyes of the public.

9. The school building itself should feature human and knowledge-centered design and technology.

The quality of a student’s learning experience should depend less on the school, as technology should make curriculum, differentiation, resources, and even other teachers and classrooms accessible.

10. Artificial intelligence (think Siri, but smarter) should soon become a core pedagogy.

This creeps teachers out, but it shouldn’t. This doesn’t have to mean hollow, non-authentic digital blabbering, but rather a tool for each student to use to supplement or even create their own learning experience. Artificial Intelligence will be a core part of the education experience, helping students choose books, assessment forms, learning strategies, career possibilities, and more.

Every student should have their own ‘Siri.’

11. Transitions between physical and digital spaces should be seamless.

Physical and digital spaces should be blended together seamlessly, so much so that the idea of ‘spaces’ will become less important. They will work together–serve one another, rather than competing for dominance.

12. Digital portfolios should replace letter grades and function as fluid and living bodies of work.

Student work should be elegantly curated to reflect both the potential and affections of each student. These digital artifacts will be uploaded to the cloud, cherry-picked by a combination of teacher collaboration, student self-scrutiny, and artificial intelligence.

13. Students’ lives should be markedly improved by and through their ‘schooling.’

Part of this is autonomy and personalization: students should have endless choices.

Students should select from learning models, curriculum, or collaborative opportunities seamlessly. Choice breeds engagement, competition, and individuality, which in turn breed further innovation.