I made these predictions about three weeks ago, and now that we're halfway through January, I still stand by them. It's a cheap writer's game-- we won't know if I'm right until December, and I predict that nobody will remember what I predicted. So here are my guesses wise predictions about six stories that will heat up in 2020.
Ed Tech Will Try To Grow Its Market
Tech companies are sure that education presents a great growth opportunity, and they have products to push. Personalized Learning! Artificial Intelligence! Machine Learning! Learning Management Systems! Integrating all sorts of data and making life easier for teachers! It will all be promised, multiple times, in the hopes that folks have forgotten all the failures of the recent past.
When reading ed tech stories about the Next Big Thing, always remember that when a tech company says “This is what’s coming next,” they mean “This is what we’re betting on. This is what we have a vested interest in pushing.” Ed tech’s crystal ball is a marketing tool, not a prognosticatory device.
Student Surveillance Will Be On The Rise
This is part and parcel of the rise of ed tech; any data that passes through a computer can be stored, analyzed, sold, and repurposed. As has always been true, the best way to get people to give up freedom is to scare them. So from Florida to college campuses, the message is that we are going to put students under constant surveillance for their own good. It will protect us from school shootings and stop suicides. And while we’re at it, we can build a cradle to career pipeline that will insure that each child is an employable, useful meat widget for future employers (there are plenty of folks lined up to work on this, some with creepy slogans like “Every child. Every step of the way”).
There are two questions to ask in response to these stories: Is there any evidence that this kind of hopped-up surveillance actually works? Whose interests are actually being served here?
Personalized Learning Products Will Flood The Market
Personalized learning will continue to have a moment. It just sounds so good, like something everyone would want for their own child. As high stakes testing continues to come under fire, PL seems like a perfect antidote. And it feeds perfectly into (and provides protective cover for) the two trends mentioned above. We’re not going to sit your child in front of a computer to be strip-mined for data—no, we’re going to provide a personalized learning experience curated by hot new artificial intelligence that uses machine learning to understand exactly what your child needs. We’re going to provide teachers with freedom from grunt work while rolling out pages of data analytics.
There are so many things to watch out for. Consider, for instance, if the vendor admits to any shortcomings of the program—is there something that it can’t do? An honest discussion of the product’s value would include a discussion of limits—anything else is just marketing. Spoiler alert: Whatever the program is, it can’t assess essay writing. No software can.
Other questions to ask: Has this been tested by anyone other than the company selling it, and what were the results? How does the AI algorithm work? You don’t need to know the lines of code, but if the answer is “By special secret proprietary computer magic,” be highly suspicious.
Folks Will Continue To Puzzle Over How To Fix The Teacher Problem
The challenge of attracting and retaining teachers will continue to attract attention. Folks will continue to recognize that teaching is more attractive if teachers are given better pay, good benefits, and professional autonomy. Policy makers will continue trying to think of ways to attract and retain teachers without giving them more pay, better benefits, or professional autonomy.
The Accountability Pendulum Will Swing
The Every Student Succeeds Act has given states an opportunity to make some of their own choices about how to hold teachers and schools accountable for performance. While states have been slow to embrace that little bit of freedom, the new plans are finally starting to take effect, in particular reducing the influence of high stakes testing. By the end of 2020, we should be hearing the first wave of complaints that there are now fifty different systems creating a higgledy piggledy patchwork of non-comparable accountability systems, and wouldn’t it be better is there were one accountability standard for all the states?
The Combination Of Elections And Stubbornness Will Make Betsy DeVos A Target Up Through November
Who could have predicted that the issues of loans for students at predatory for-profit colleges would be the issue that would really get under the Secretary of Education’s skin? But it has all the elements that hit her nerves—government trying to interfere with the operation of a business, Those People trying to get away with shirking debts and avoid consequences for their own bad choices, courts telling her what to do. After signing off “with extreme displeasure” and being found in contempt of court for willful non-compliance, DeVos has shown that this is a hill she’s willing to fight (or at least drag her heels) on.
As one of the least-beloved members of the Trump cabinet, DeVos was always going to draw fire from the Democratic candidate. Latching onto an issue that plays as corrupt wealthy people out to get ordinary folks only makes it easier to target her without resorting to worn clichés about grizzly bears. We’ll find out this year whether DeVos has the political savvy and self-control to drop her profile, or whether she’ll hold tight to her righteous principles and continue to gift the Democrats with a cartoon villainess to campaign against.