scott fitsimones

Learnings from a Conversation on Fixing Education

Recently I had a conversation with two smart friends about a passion of mine, fixing education, and I wanted to start a living document a few of the learnings. We came from 3 different countries and school systems, so there were some interesting perspectives.

Develop a funding equation based on need

The current system of using property taxes to fund schools perpetuates inequality since schools in low income areas will be underfunded.

In New Zealand, schools are given a ranking 1-10, 1 meaning they need the most help and are in lower income areas, 10 meaning they serve a wealthy neighborhood.

Schools that fund poorer groups should receive more funding - not less. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, low socio-economic serving schools are often penalized since funding is tied to standardized test scores, which often correlate with a family's income.

A good heuristic on this is that wealthier parents will make sure their school is funded, much like how private schools are already funded today.

School choice and conflict between public and private schools

Free market advocates argue that the ideal system is one where schools compete on quality of education, higher teacher pay, and low prices for students. The problem is that the free market has become a duopoly, and it seems like there is one product for middle class and above and one product for those below middle class.

When wealthier students opt to go to private schools, it leaves public schools with fewer resources and the wealthiest residents of the city are no longer bought into improving the education system.

We need to create a system that adjusts for that opt out and rewards schools financially for serving students from lower income backgrounds.

Self-paced learning with teachers as facilitators

It is likely that advanced curriculums create a self-fulfilling prophesy. As a kid, I was told "you are good at math" and thus I believed it and worked harder to become good at math and grow into that expectation.

The more harmful prophesy is the reverse - where students who are in non-accelerated classes come to believe they are not as smart and teachers lower their expectations for them.

We need a system where students who are excelling can blaze ahead, without the signaling and separation of advanced curriculums.

One interesting solution for this is the concept that teachers are just facilitators who enable students to learn at their own pace. This idea has tantalized science fiction writers, with the most notable example being The Diamond Age, which has inspired dozens of startups like Primer and products like the Kindle eReader.