Laurene Powell Jobs and her XQ school bus are coming to us via television on major networks on September 8th. She wants to remake high schools.
Powell Jobs would have you think that high schools haven’t changed for a hundred years. That’s not true. The American high school can certainly always improve, but the institution has served us well throughout the years. I’ve written about XQ before.
How could we change high schools? Here are six practical suggestions. If you have ideas, let me know and I will add them.
- For years, research has shown that high school students need more sleep. They should have later start times.
- Smaller class sizes would help.
- Make sure teachers don’t have so many preparation plans.
- End advanced placement classes (IMHO).
- Improve career-technical classes.
- Provide rich extra-curricular activities.
- Bring back life skills classes.
- Include a social justice curriculum.
- Include students on the disciplinary board.
- Provide civics education.
- Make sure students get opportunities to participate in the arts.
- Work to include the community.
- Ensure students have access to counselors, and school support staff.
- Every high school should have a great library, a real librarian, and technology and books.
It’s especially ironic that Powell Jobs uses a school bus to hype her venture philanthropic program. You won’t need school buses for what she’s proposing. That is unless they take students to places other than brick-and-mortar schools–like museums.
Her “remake the American high school” mantra is really about replacing high schools with technology—learning anytime, anyplace. Here are titles and phrases from the website that hint of that.
- Going to School in a Museum: Does Learning Have to Happen in a School?
- Imagine a Super School
- America Needs a New Way of Learning
- High School Will Never Be the Same Again
- The Next Generation Must Learn to Adapt to a Changing World
- When Your School is a Museum
Laurene Powell Jobs and the quest to change high schools are not new. If you want to blame someone for difficulties in public schools, blame politicians and corporate CEOs who have irresponsibly been attempting this feat on their own for years.
Remember Bill Gates and the small school initiative? They tried to break up Manuel High School in Denver using more than $2 million. It was a failure.
The Gates Foundation also failed at the first Philadelphia School of the Future—an all-tech high school.
Go back even further.
In 1995, the RJR Nabisco Foundation launched Reinventing Education: Entrepreneurship in America’s Public School, by the Chairman and CEO of IBM Lou V. Gerstner, Jr.
Gerstner talked of New Century Schools—“clearing away restrictions” at the same time pushing for the standards that would eventually hamstring teachers into a standardization box when it came to teaching.
Powell-Jobs might have her heart in the right place on some issues. Her attention to social justice surrounding problems facing children and immigration are commendable. She worked to pass Dream Act federal legislation to create a path for undocumented students to earn their citizenship.
But her underlying motives to transform public schooling to technology are troubling. Her background and current involvement in tech reform is telling.
- Powell-Jobs serves on the advisory board of Udacity. This company is the for-profit provider of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). We still aren’t sure how MOOCs will play out in the future. But there is concern about what it will mean to learning in university settings.
- Her Emerson Collective is an organization that supports nonprofits, social entrepreneurs, and partnerships surrounding schools. These connections in today’s reform are almost always about unproven reforms that will destroy democratic public schooling.
- Especially worrisome, is that Powell Jobs used to be on the board of directors of the NewSchools Venture Fund. This group, around since 1998, promotes and invests in many corporate organizations intent on privatizing public schools. They support groups like KIPP and Teach for America.
Schools highlighted on the XQ website advertised as innovative are all driven by technology. Teachers might be mentioned, but it’s not clear if their use of the word teacher means a qualified teacher with an actual degree in teaching.
It isn’t clear whether students have access to a well-rounded curriculum. Some of their innovative schools seem to specialize in a narrow area.
One question to ask, did Powell-Jobs attend a public high school herself? Do her children attend public schools?
To summarize, if you decide to watch the XQ special, and get excited to see Tom Hanks and other movie stars and celebrities, just remember tech and kids online for most of their schooling—in places other than brick-and-mortar schools. There’s always so much more to the glitzy marketing and propaganda than meets the eye.