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Originally published June 13, 2013 at 4:05 PM | Page modified June 14, 2013 at 9:27 AM

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How teaching needs to change for the future

Editorial columnist Lynne K. Varner writes that improving education will come by way of advancements in teaching.

Times editorial columnist

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Whenever I read about the Khan Academy, the red lights start flashing. Not because ther... MORE
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I’m one chapter into a compelling read that has me convinced anyone who cares about the future of public education ought to snag a copy.

Current debates are frozen in time with no way to move forward. Look at our state Legislature, paralyzed over finding ways to transform schools and pay for them.

A recent Seattle Times front-page story pointed to a rapprochement between teachers and ed reformers at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Imagine if the two sides had been working together all along.

When I tune into these discussions, I find them ossified. “Teaching 2030: What We Must Do For Our Students and Our Public Schools — Now and in the Future” is about the future. If we’re going to talk about money, let’s talk about the future of teaching because nearly 80 percent of education spending goes toward salaries.

We should pay to improve education. Those improvements will come by way of advancements in teaching. So what will teaching look like?

How will future teachers be trained, what will classroom management look like and how should the labor movement change?

The future of teaching is foreshadowed by fledgling organizations such as Teachers United and the empowering rhetoric of “teacherpreneurs,” those über-teachers who mentor and make policy when they’re not in the classroom.

I’m wondering how public education will harness technologies that can help students learn. How will technology revamp the way teachers spend their days?

I’m a huge fan of Khan Academy, the popular online nonprofit with more than 2,300 free video tutorials. About 6 million students use the videos each month. My son and I use them to bolster the math concepts he is taught during the day.

So what if students got their basic multiplication facts via Khan and arrived in the classroom prepared to go beyond demonstrations of the mechanics of math? Is that not the higher-level thinking educators talk about?

Using technology for the basics could also help pave the way for the teacherpreneur trend. I’m not sure how else these teachers can live up to the vision of teacherpreneurs as co-teachers, mentors, researchers and writers of curriculum and assessments.

Pay attention to these things. Public schools hire 250,000 to 300,000 new teachers each year, making it one of the nation’s largest workforces.

How prepared new teachers are for the future is part of the first-ever review of teacher-training programs being released Tuesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Practically every four-year higher-education institution in our state will receive a rating and the national council hopes prospective teachers will use the information to choose their school and superintendents will use it to hire the best teachers.

“To get the best teachers in our classrooms, we need the highest-quality teacher preparation,” says Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality.

“By shining a light on teacher-preparation programs, we hope to highlight strong programs that will help aspiring teachers and hiring districts make strategic choices.”

Any discussion about the future of teaching has to include compensation. Public policy should answer the question of whether the status quo of regularly scheduled step increases and salary adjustments will remain, or if we’ll take a leap into the future with performance pay and raises. We rate and reward students based on performance. Why not teachers?

The morphing of teaching is itself in flux. Teachers in 2030 will not be robots or disembodied voices a la Khan Academy.

Expect continuous change. That may be the biggest take-away from debates about the future of public education. One academic framed it as Alta Vista before Google. Sounds about right.

Lynne K. Varner's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her email address is lvarner@seattletimes.com Follow her on Twitter @lkvarner


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