The Future of Education: Sajan George at TEDxUNC

Translator: Tracey Hill-Bensalem
Reviewer: Ariana Bleau Lugo [Sajan George, The Future of Education] What does the future of education
look like? At Matchbook Learning, we dream
of designing the future of education. But where do you start? We would argue that you would start
at the very bottom — The very worst-performing
public schools in our country, that are serving our
most desperate children. And why start there? If we don’t design a system that
meets the needs of those children, we’ll never have a future education system
that meets the needs of all children. But what does the bottom look like? Brenda Scott is a K-8 school
in Detroit, Michigan. If you were to visit the school, you’d immediately be impressed
by the architecture. Amazing. Impressive.
Expansive. Modern. But the building doesn’t tell
the whole story. You see, last year, before we arrived, out of 832 students, only 7
were proficient in either reading or math. Seven. Now, if you think
I’m overdramatizing the impact of public education at its
current state in this country, by pulling this one example,
consider this: That we could have gone
to any zip code in America that’s in the bottom 25% income-wise, and the chances of those kids
getting a college degree by age 25 is just 9%. The number of schools
like Brenda Scott, that are chronically failing,
are projected to reach 20,000 in number, in just two years. And in two years
an amazing thing will happen. For the first time in our nation’s history we’ll adopt a single set
of national education standards, called the “Common Core”. And these Common Core standards will be benchmarked
to the very best in the world. To education systems like Singapore
and South Korea, Finland. And what do you think’s going to happen to the number
of chronically failing schools when we significantly raise the bar on what our kids are expected
to learn and to know in order to be
internationally competitive? The number of turnaround schools
is likely to skyrocket. But these schools
in these bottom 25% zip codes are trapped inside cycles of poverty, homelessness, abandonment. Is it fair to ask any school to overcome
these gravitational forces? I can show you many images like this one, that surround our schools. But that would be an incomplete story. I’d rather show you an image
of inside the school. You see, inside the four walls
you get a different image. You get hope. You get kids like Jalen,
a fifth grader, who dreams of one day
becoming a CIA agent. He wants to be a patriot,
and defend our country. Jalen doesn’t know that,
statistically, he’s got a 9% chance of making his dream. So the future of education rests,
for us, on one single question — How do we help Jalen? I don’t mean how do we help him
in a one-off way. How do we help him systemically? So that every Jalen, in every zip code, not only dreams their dream, but realizes their dream. In order to understand our future
we have to go back to the past. The picture on the left
is a 1913 classroom. The picture on the right
is a 2013 classroom. Side by side, there’s a 100-year
difference between these two pictures. And yet, very little else differs. In both pictures,
students are grouped by age. They sit in rows. A teacher lectures them
through a printed curriculum, moving them at the same pace,
sequence, and learning style. I dare you to find another industry
that has changed so little in a hundred years. In fact, we know
in the last ten years alone technology has completely disrupted
entire industries, with companies like Google,
and Facebook. They’re leveraging technology
to transform industries. So what about technology
transforming education? Well, there’s been some. Obviously smart boards
have replaced chalkboards. We have computers and computer labs. But, if we’re honest,
it really hasn’t transformed teaching and learning. And the minute we push
this conversation a little bit further, about how technology
could play a role in the classroom, parents, and policymakers alike,
become concerned that we’re creating too disconnected of a system. We don’t want robots teaching our kids. We don’t want our kids becoming robots. And so we’re wrestling
with this question — What about great teaching? While there’s a lot of debate around
how to fix public education, one thing that isn’t debatable, that the research undeniably supports, is the impact of quality teaching. The single most important determinant of your child’s academic success isn’t technology, isn’t poverty
or economic or family background, it’s the quality of the teacher
that stands in front of him or her. Think about that.
Quality teaching trumps poverty. Benjamin Bloom, a researcher,
thirty years ago did some amazing research
that actually provides us a clue, a window on what the future
of education could look like. He studied a group
of elementary students that were being taught
in a conventional class: One teacher, thirty kids. At the end of the unit
they were assessed, and, not surprising,
there is a bell curve of performance on that assessment. He ran a second experiment, this time similar students,
same content, and still one teacher to thirty students. But now, instead of just doing
an assessment at the end, they did assessments throughout,
as the material was being taught, to see if the kids had mastered
what they had learned. If they did, they moved forward.
If they didn’t, they’d repeat. Under this mastery-based approach, these students outperformed
their conventionally-taught peers by an entire standard deviation. He ran the experiment a third time. And this time, what he did was in addition to this mastery-based approach
of frequent assessments, he gave every student their
individual tutor, a college student. And in this one-to-one
mastery-based environment, these students outperformed
their conventionally-taught peers by two standard deviations. Now think about what Bloom
stumbled upon. By simply changing
the delivery of instruction to be more of a one-to-one
mastery-based environment 96% of those students outperformed
their conventionally-taught students. Bloom’s solution is elegant,
simple. It’s beautiful. But unfortunately, for us,
it’s not scalable. We can’t give every student
their own teacher. We couldn’t financially afford it, and even if we could,
where would we find the teachers? So we come back to this question — What should we do for Jalen? On the one hand, you have technology
transforming entire industries, and yet there’s obvious
constraints and challenges around how we do that in education. On the other hand, you have
this compelling research that says the impact of a teacher
on a child’s learning, and yet there’s constraints and challenges around how we scale great teaching. Maybe the answer isn’t either
technology or great teaching. Maybe it’s a both/and, that intersection. The blend of great technology
and great teaching, or what we would call
a blended model of school. You see, in a traditional classroom
we start the year in September. Let’s say it’s a 4th-grade class, and we move that class through in a linear fashion through
a 4th-grade curriculum, assess them at the end of the year, assuming they have mastered
that 4th-grade material in the linear fashion,
and are ready to go on to the 5th grade. But if we assess those kids at the beginning of the year,
in September — in Jalen’s school we would find, and in many schools like it — These kids aren’t ready
for the 4th-grade. They’re one or two
or multiple years behind. And if all we do is move them
through a 4th-grade curriculum we’ll find at the end of the year
they’re not ready to advance. So rather than optimize
this broken system, we decided to blow it up. Metaphorically speaking.
(Laughter) We went into Jalen’s school and we created every classroom
to be a blended classroom, and here’s a picture of that. Every student has their
own individual learning path. Let me deconstruct this
classroom for you. In the classroom there are
four distinct groups. Along the far left of the classroom,
are a group of students that are working individually
on their computers. They could be listening
to an online lecture, doing a game-based problem, reading a narrative. There’s a group at the back that are working intensively with a teacher. The teacher’s giving direct instruction,
from him or her. This is a group that may be
behind the curve. A group in the middle
has gone through the first two groups, and is now applying what they’ve learned,
demonstrating mastery. They could be doing
group work, or project work, writing an essay,
doing a scientific experiment. And, finally, there’s a fourth group,
along the far wall, that are now online,
assessing what they just learned in those different rotation groups, to confirm that they in fact learned it, but also,
to extend their learning curve, to figure out now what to do next. You can see how this model
would be great for students, different modes of instruction, meeting them where they are,
different pacing, but how does a teacher begin
to teach in this environment? In the old way, they knew what
they were going to teach on Monday, on Tuesday — Now you’ve got kids at different paces, taking assessments at different times, each with their own individual
learning path and learning style. At Matchbook Learning we do
three things with these teachers. To not only enable them to teach in
a blended classroom, but to thrive in it. First, we give them real-time
data on each student. They pull up a dashboard
on a computer, and they can see every student plotted, both on their current performance, and on their year-to-date performance. Now we obviously want to optimize
both of those axes, but the reality is — Kids accelerate and decelerate
their learning at different times, get stuck, unstuck, at different points
in the curriculum, and so what we do with this data
is we can see trends, and on that real-time data,
we give them real-time feedback — what instructional strategies
are working well, with which groups, which kids are working well
with what instructional strategies. And then the third thing we do, is we sit down with these teachers, one-on-one, every two weeks. And we ask them a series of questions that actually they’re best able
to answer, not the technology. Are the students engaged
in their learning? What are you observing? What’s evidence that they’re
mastering what they’re learning? What’s their work-product look like? And, finally, based on the data,
what will you do next? How will you regroup the students
over the next two weeks? What new strategies will you use? What existing strategies will you tweak? This enables them to prototype rapidly. Real-time data. Rapid feedback.
Constant prototyping. These three things
have enabled other industries to completely transform themselves. And this combination of daily feedback,
and bi-weekly sit-downs enables us to coach and mentor
teachers over a hundred times, individually, in a given school year. You’d have to be a professional
athlete or a Hollywood actor to get that kind of coaching
in your career. But that’s where we’re elevating
the profession of teaching. That’s how we take ordinary teachers
and make them extraordinary. Our hope is that in September,
at the beginning of the school year, if we start these kids
not at their age or grade level, but where they actually are,
academically, and move them through individual
learning paths, within small groups, within classrooms led by a teacher
in a blended environment — We can see by June,
that some of these kids will make a year’s worth of growth,
some two, some even three. And let’s face it, if these schools
are that far behind, they have to make this kind of growth if they’re ever going to catch up. But can it really work? Well, in Jalen’s school,
in our first year last year, we took assessment at the beginning
and the end of the year, and compared the two points to figure out
what their growth was during that year. And what we found was 74%
of those kids in reading, and 83% of those kids in Math made a gain of at least 10% or more. That’s statistically significant,
because 10% represents at least a year’s
worth of learning within a single year. And then we looked at the data
a little bit further on these kids. And what we found of those kids was 38% of those kids made
a gain between 10 and 20%. 33% made a gain between 20 and 30%. And get this — 29% made a gain
of greater than 30%. That’s more than 3-year’s worth
of learning in a single year. We wanted to bring the very best in blended school turnaround design to the very worst schools, to create a powerful proof point
at the very bottom that would serve as a proof point not only for this school
and its community, but for the city, the state,
and maybe even the nation. Our inspiration for this was Chuck Yeager. Chuck Yeager
was a 1947 U.S. Air Force pilot. He was the first ever pilot to fly
faster than the speed of sound. Prior to him, no one had ever
broken the sound barrier. Chuck didn’t have a faster plane, or better technology,
or even better training. He had a belief. No, a conviction that what everybody else said
was impossible, he believed was possible. And his proof point was so powerful,
that after he did that a generation of pilots after him
attempted the same and succeeded, because they then knew
that it wasn’t impossible. So much so that today
the sound barrier really isn’t a barrier. It’s routinely broken. What would happen,
within this unending sea of chronically failing schools, or turnaround schools,
as they’re deemed, that within this sea of turnaround schools we could create a few
powerful proof points? At the very bottom,
those worst-performing schools, and take these schools and in a four to five-year period enable them to become the very top, with those same kids? We believe that those proof points can become tipping points, that can reverse the trajectory of under-performing schools
across the nation. But not just show a way to transform
under-performing schools, but actually show a way
to transform all schools, and design a future of education
that we all can be part of. It starts and ends with Jalen. You see, we believe that Jalen not only deserves to dream his dream, he deserves to realize his dream. And when we help Jalen
realize his dream, he and his peers will help realize ours,
as a nation. Thank you. (Applause)

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21 Responses

  1. nonchalantd says:

    I'm not arguing in favor of wasteful spending in education, but if we don't make the investments to help these kids become productive members of society, we'll be spending the money to house and feed them and process and hold them in the penal system for much or all of their lives with no benefit to society. The younger generations are the ones who will be funding our medicare and social security benefits because, as it stands now, the government is borrowing to pay for those programs.

  2. Shiv-ani Insertsurnamehere says:

    Everyone doesn't need a college degree or a good public school to succeed! These goals have been vastly improved over the last twenty years, meanwhile our culture and economy plummeted. Fixing education requires the exact opposite–greater emphasis on jobs and true achievement, not official recognition such as degrees and test scores. Especially with the information age, these are outdated.

  3. blackninja546 says:

    I agree with this guy. Everyone learns differently at a different pace. The way the education system is, doesn't accommodate for anyone individually but as a collective which is bad.

  4. bma051000 says:

    No offense, but your grammar could use some polishing.

  5. bma051000 says:

    "not by looking for sure known answers to life with a set job for life, but by answering questions that there is no answer to,"

    Answering questions that there is no answer to? That is a total contradiction.

  6. KM Bappi says:

    Education is spreading…


  7. Djibril adamou seidou says:

    evry person can learn and improved on education but is better to have experience on  what you want to learn befort to start

  8. thomas kuriakose says:

    Very good idea, but unfortunately it is very expensive for a society of our ( St. Mary's Higher Secondary School, Thalacode, Mulanthuruthy, Ernakulam, Kerala, India. PIN : 682 314, Mob : +919447664228)

  9. nfulena says:

    Everyone today can have access to a wealth of knowledge resources and information with today's technology just as much as the fancier schools. Teachers can definitely be an even more invaluable guide. A deeper issue is wiping out the elitist mindsets and assumptions that some attach to certain of these elitist schools vis-a-vis the quality of education.

  10. Althafa Basha says:

    A great talk by Sajan..But trust me in ground reality implementing isn't a reality in developing countries including India..the biggest issue is lack of participation of teachers in public schools for whom they dont need to do anything extra for what they are paid. Even if they dont work they get their pay cheques on time…So I would really salute if a pilot of 10 schools in rural india is taken and this could be implemented. But TED is all about ideas and its a great idea without any doubt..

  11. changeisnowpeople says:

    wow!!…. next step. OURS IS A PLANET

  12. sherisse richards says:


  13. Tuhin Dey says:

    So basically you are focusing on only US education?

  14. Harrier Education says:

    Look beyond schooling.

  15. Omar khateeb says:

    yes ok good stuff, but it's not always about the quality of the teacher, it's about students being focused, getting serious about and putting more effort in their education in order to get better grades. It's about adopting a certain behavior towards learning and this is why you see people excelling and others failing. You cannot change a nation until they change themselves.

  16. alif Araf says:

    It is the environment that teaches you

  17. TheDarkKnight says:

    Most teachers in our country hardly care.

  18. Abhijit Zimare says:

    All these pointless talks. They are repeating over and over and over the same thing that is common sense and we all already know. There are no solutions coming up, please give the solutions.

  19. Quantumdude says:


  20. Paweł Parol says:

    Great ideas. However, the learning styles don't exist.

  21. Yodgorov Mansur says:

    Passed 5 years but nothing has changed. ?

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