Friday, March 30, 2007

Differentiated Learning

The question of how we can improve our schools is a perennial one.

Some statistics seem to indicate that the Unites States' educational system needs a major overhaul. In a recent interview, Representative Bart Gordon (Tennessee 6th District), Chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, was quoted as saying that 50% of U.S. high school seniors are not proficient in math. He states that U.S. students score near the bottom of all countries in math and science scores. Only Cyprus and South Africa scored worst. His hypothesis for why U.S. schools score so low is that teachers in the U.S. are not sufficiently proficient in math and science. He says that only 50% of math teachers have a major in, or are certified, to teach math, and that 92% of science teachers in K-12 have neither a certification nor a major degree in science. If these statistics are to be believed, then a solution would be to increase the level of instructional expertise, either by training more teachers, or by somehow attracting professional mathematicians or scientists to teach. Bringing in additional expertise might be a solution.

On the other hand, do the scores take into account the great cultural, ethnic, and economic diversity that exists in the U.S.? No other country in the world, not even Russia or China, can claim to have as much diversity and thus, as many challenges, to their educational system. Most every public school in the country has poor and rich children; has children from supportive and abusive families; has children from English literate families or English illiterate ones. This is what this country has to contend with. How can one deal with such diversity? Having more individualized education would be the answer.

The key word in United States education today is differentiated learning: providing education that takes into account the different learning needs and styles of a diverse population. Whether the problem is low expertise in teaching personnel or the need to have individualized instruction for a diverse student population, how can society pay for such custom instruction?

The technology exists today to develop virtual experts that are pros at differentiated learning. Although an initial development investment would be required, once developed, such virtual experts would exist indefinitely, requiring only a maintenance cost. I have developed working versions of these virtual experts. Ironically, my biggest customer so far has been China. Will any group in the U.S. have the patience and futuristic foresight to invest in developing more mature versions of this technology?

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