Feature for iPad By Anthony Rebora on November 22, 2011 11:37 AM
Apparently Bill Gates isn’t the only personal computing pioneer to have expressed strong concerns about the ability of America’s public schools to prepare students for the economic future—and to lay a good part of the blame on teachers’ union regulations. Toward the end of his bestselling biography on the late Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson recounts a private meeting between Jobs and President Obama that took place in the fall of 2010. At one point, Jobs—never one to hold back his opinions—brought up the subject of education. Isaacson writes:
Jobs also attackedAmerica’s education system, saying that it was hopelessly antiquated and crippled by union work rules. Until the teachers’ unions were broken, there was almost no hope for education reform. Teachers should be treated as professionals, he said, not as industrial assembly-line workers. Principals should be able to hire and fire them based on how good they were. Schools should be staying open until at least 6 p.m. and be in session eleven months of the year. It was absurd, he added, that American classrooms were still based on teachers standing at a board and using textbooks. All books, learning materials, and assessments should be digital and interactive, tailored to each student and providing feedback in real time.
On that last point, incidentally, Jobs had a personal business interest. Toward the end of his life, Isaacson notes, Jobs was taken by the notion that the iPad could ultimately, in effect, replace students’ heavy backpacks. He saw the textbook industry as “ripe for digital destruction,” and was planning to hire top textbook authors to write alternative, digital versions for the iPad. These iPad-specific textbooks would be free and, in Jobs formulation, allow schools to “circumvent” state adoption processes.
It’s not clear from Isaacson’s book whether this project ever went anywhere, but it’s something teachers may want to keep an eye on: Jobs obviously had a pretty good track record on sensing well before everybody else which way the winds were blowing.
Well, there you go–another billionaire heard from. What is it about combining money—lots and lots of money—and thoughts about public education? Is there a truly wealthy person out there who does not disdain teacher unions? I had to chuckle at some of the comments included above. Did Jobs not see the irony of the juxtaposition of thoughts like these?
- Teachers should be treated as professionals, not as industrial assembly-line workers.
- Principals should be able to hire and fire them based on how good they were.
[Would that not be the same as if they were industrial/factory/assembly-line workers???]
Did Mr. Jobs really believe that teachers are somehow empowered to select curriculum materials to be used in classrooms across this great nation—that teachers and their unions absolutely insist on old-fashioned textbooks and chalkboards? However did he get the idea that teacher unions had rules that forced their members, as well as their schools, to stick to outdated tools and methods of instruction? Why, I heard staff just the other day in the teacher lounge bemoaning the loss of Hornbooks and slates. LOL
[Let’s see now—who else could possibly benefit from the constant churn of textbooks? Who is it that controls the content and production of standard instructional materials? This one’s a stumper, by golly. Must be them danged teachers!]
Was he really convinced that it’s teachers and teacher unions who interfere with the acquisition and implementation of modern instructional technology?
If schools are behind in technological advances, it ain’t the faculty’s fault!!!
I think I may have discovered one possible explanation or contributing factor to consider: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Ask any teacher: It’s a great day at school when the copier is working. In some schools, the faculty has just recently been allowed to access the bloody fax machine. Teachers joke—in that sick kind of jokey way—that there is better technology at the local McDonald’s. Think about it.
Ask a teacher about regular computer access—a dedicated computer for the teacher and a computer or two for the kids in each classroom.
Ask about tech support. Ask the folks in the district technology support team about the limited and inadequate funding for tech support. It’s hard to keep available technology up and running in a big district with only four tech specialists.
Ask a teacher what happens during the 3-4 weeks of state testing, in September, in January, and again in May, when whatever computer labs a school might have are taken over for test administration and only test administration. Classes go for weeks with no computer labs for any subject-related instruction, including for the technology and computer classes.
Hey, I am not complaining so much as making observations about the realities of classrooms and schools and computers. For the past 4-5 years, we have all been trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got, and at the same time, looking for ways to fund the advancement of technology in our K-12 classrooms.
Teachers would “kill” for top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art technology and the infrastructure to support it.
I can see it now,… tons of free, expertly designed, digitally mastered iPad-specific “textbooks.” Sounds like a very generous, considerate, and charitable idea. Thanks, Steve.
Not a bad business plan either. Just saying.