The Public K-12 Education System has always been viewed as the institution to prepare students to be well rounded citizens for a democratic society and for post-secondary education. Vocational schools have always been the place to prepare students for the world of work. Colleges and Universities were designed to prepare students for their future career by providing a solid liberal arts foundation. While some specialization for careers occurred in both technical and undergraduate schools many careers required a graduate school education.

It is clear that the mission of the K-12 school system is still relevant and the roles of vocational schools, colleges, and universities are still important today. However, the world has changed dramatically over the last 5-10 years and will continue to do so. Vocational schools have become much more sophisticated by integrating technology into all aspects of careers. Colleges and Universities now allow students to specialize earlier in their tenure to choose a career direction in their first and second year.

Now it is time for K-12 education to shift its focus from how things have always been done to how things must be done for today and tomorrow’s world! The influx of technology has fundamentally changed our life and our position as part of a global society. This shift demands a change in how we look at the role of our K-12 schools in preparing students for the challenges and opportunities that are an every-day part of their lives.

Chasing the Technology Dragon
The implications of a technology-based society and economy on education involve the acceleration of the education process. Students need to learn about technology at younger ages to prepare for their life and the world of work. Adults need to become more agile in the digital world to be able to navigate the technology landscape for both life and work, and to relate to the children. Everyone must adjust to a world that moves quickly, expects frequent communication, and exemplary customer service. And, educators must all learn to develop vast networks of contacts and form partnerships to reach their goals.

Isolation, silos, and doing it alone is no longer possible or effective. Results are the focus for today not compliance to bureaucratic rules and regulations. Leaders must be allowed to lead by School Boards hiring and developing strong Superintendents and Principals that can make fast decisions and take risks to increase results. Finally, teachers need to focus more on building students competencies for success in today’s world and less on only content knowledge as the path to future success.

This transformation of our schools to 21st century or future-readiness is a difficult and often a painful process. Our federal government and state agencies are distracting our schools with constant new initiatives that are disconnected from each other and from the needs of our global society. Most of our higher education institutions are struggling to prepare teachers and administrators for a world that is rapidly changing with the new influx of technology and innovation.

Leading for Change
So how do we change the educational culture when the messages they are hearing are bringing them backward and not forward to today’s opportunities? Examples of fundamental change in other sectors are never driven by our government. Instead, they are driven from the fringe. Leaders who are not part of the current culture, and the outside partners who are not invested in preserving the past, are the people who will help education overcome the barriers that curtail change and innovation.

In the education world, it is the new leaders of today and the pioneers from the past who must drive the change. The true leaders who understand or are at least open to this change in role must band together and drive this change.

In Massachusetts, recently 80 Superintendents “stormed” the legislature and said “Enough is enough” to all the constant mandates and initiatives that are not tied to results. This is a start for the change that must happen now.

While I admire the superintendents for this courage, they must drive change themselves and allow outside partners in other sectors to help them. They cannot count on government bureaucracy to change. In fact, government is designed to preserve and protect not to lead and innovate. The Superintendents’ march should be a warning to our state Superintendents, commissioners and federal and state legislatures that change is happening and the grassroots effort, with support from the fringe leaders, will be driving this new direction. The legislature must change its role to supporting the change, not trying to drive it. They are not positioned well or equipped to lead this transformation.
I support and commend another Massachusetts effort led by Google, Oracle, Intel, and Microsoft to expand opportunities for students in computer science. If these companies join a grassroots effort to partner with our educational leaders this could be a catalyst for the transformation of our schools. It is my hope that this grassroots movement for change spreads nationally and other sectors, such as the technology field, provide the fuel.

I am concerned by a recent statement from a well-respected Superintendent. In response to my discussing the implications of technology on education, he said, “I guess this focus on technology may make sense, but we have to be careful that we do not lose our role in preparing students to be well rounded citizens.” He expressed concerns that if technology became part of a mandated curriculum that certain students may miss opportunities to follow passions outside the technology industry.

Let us become careful not to engage in the tyranny of the “or” and embrace the world of the “and” by realizing that technology is a life skill for all of us. Values are not sacrificed by including technology studies for our youth; instead, they are strengthened and give our students more ammunition to make a significant difference in the world. With these new tools we, as a society, are better equipped to pursue our passions and make real change. If we blink and miss the opportunities we will be disadvantaging our students, not enabling them.