Joel Klein: Enormous Resistance to Change in K-12 System

After leading the nation’s largest public school system for eight years, Joel Klein said he’s never been more optimistic about the impending disruption of education by technology.

This was after he called the education sector “a state and government monopoly, which, in essence, doesn’t align incentives with outcomes,” and has stuck to its 200-year-old model.

“The resistance to change is enormous and there’s no external incentive making you change,” said the former New York City schools chancellor. “Nothing comes easy in K-12, but it’s going to happen.”

Klein spoke at TechCrunch Disrupt 2012, a technology conference held in San Francisco this month, discussing why the Internet hasn’t yet “disrupted” the education sector as quickly as it has other markets, with Khan Academy founder Salman Khan and Udacity co-founder Sebastian Thrun. The conference is organized by TechCrunch, a media and technology blog that reports on startups, new Internet products, and breaking tech news.

After resigning as chancellor in Nov. 2010, Klein took over as CEO of News Corp’s Amplify, the media company’s latest move into the education sector. The new brand for News Corp’s education business, written about by my colleague Jason Tomassini, will include education software products as well as curriculum development.

As reported on Marketplace K-12, the re-branded division will include three initial focuses, beginning with pilot programs during the upcoming school year. Klein emphasized Amplify’s focus on data and analytics, “the kind of thing that’s long been missing from K to 12.” He later added that the data and information will assist teachers in customizing learning to fit the needs of each individual student.

“If kids get great stuff coming to them and they absorb it at their pace and at their level.. that will change the game,” said Klein.

He also mentioned Amplify’s other key focus areas such as their creation of a digital learning platform and an English language arts, science, and math curriculum, adapted to the Common Core State Standards and to individual students through combining texts, interactive elements, and assessments.

“Let’s be real. A kid who’s bored is not a kid who’s learning or engaged,” said Klein, describing the curriculum as “interactive, dynamic, customized” and “gamified.”

But Klein doesn’t believe technology alone will make a dent in the education sector. Just putting a computer in front of a kid doesn’t make the teacher’s job easier, said the Amplify CEO. “It’s whether we can bring technological advances to the space that will empower teachers and engage students,” he said, adding that the adoption of technology would become more successful when teachers started feeling empowered and more effective, leading to better results.

The talk’s techie audience had mostly positive reactions to Klein’s comments and his call for focus on assessment, with several live-tweeting the event.

Well-known education blogger Audrey Watters, who also tweeted during the event, was more skeptical of Klein’s promises.

For the entire discussion with Klein, Khan, and Thrun, you can watch the video below.

3 thoughts on “Joel Klein: Enormous Resistance to Change in K-12 System

  1. Empowering teachers? When he ran the NYC schools he totally disempowered teachers (and parents. ) Everything he did was top down — and was a lousy manager besides. But at least he’s good at picking up new buzzwords.

  2. Klein wants to empower himself and his corporate buddies with huge profits via cheap delivery of one-size-fits-all canned curriculum? Sounds like something we all should resist.

  3. The arrogance of people who could not do the job and know little about how to make a room of struggling, low SES students move forward, but have been dynastied and glad-handed into position of power over those that do….I don’t know how…no, wait: I do know how. It’s money, and it’s strategy. Want to see the profession change? Lift the top-down bureaucracy ran by private school and for-profit test-em ninnies. Educators are gifted and invested in the future of kids, not bottom line for charters and testing/tech/data collectors. Go hang with Murdoch at some European retreat, leave real teachers to do the work.

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