Preparing for an ‘inevitable’ era

Author icon: Head shot of Commissioner Stephen BowenSometimes it’s helpful to step away for a moment from the frenzy of daily operations to reflect on our work and where it’s headed. That’s what the staff of the Department of Education did earlier this week.

On Tuesday afternoon, the entire DOE was treated to a presentation by Bea McGarvey, former executive director of education for the Portland Public Schools and co-author of the book “Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning.”

Bea shared with us a compelling vision for the future of public education: one that harnesses the power of technology to customize learning for each student based on his or her interests, learning style and educational needs.

It’s hard to say whether Bea’s vision for education will come to pass, but she makes a convincing case that it’s, well, inevitable that elements of it will find their way into public education in the not-so-distant future.

We have an obligation to prepare all students for the world of the 21st century. But despite all our efforts to improve it, the public school system we have just isn’t up to the task. It’s an antiquated relic from a bygone era, and it isn’t meeting the needs of our  students.

We need to change the way our schools work.

The 21st century system we need to build will have to include, at a minimum: a learner-centered system in which students take a more active (central, even) role in managing their own learning; a flexible structure that adapts to the needs of the student instead of requiring the student to adapt to it; and an unprecedented integration of technology that gives educators the data they need to meet the needs of all students, to provide those students with new approaches to learning, and to ensure that all our students are ready for the global information age.

It was great to listen to Bea’s presentation, to think about what education might look like in the years ahead, and to begin the work of building a state Department of Education that is ready for a new era in public education that is, in Bea’s words, inevitable.

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