Although titled “Are We Dead Yet?”, Peter Cohen’s presentation at the AAP PreK-12 Learning Group’s CEO Roundtable on December 9 actually struck a positive tone in regard to the future of American education and the role of instructional materials in that future. Cohen, president of the McGraw-Hill School Education Group, started by citing some distressing statistics: the U.S. does not rank among the top countries internationally in reading, math, or science; U.S. high school graduation rates have remained static for the past 40 years; and by 2018 there will be a shortage of 3 million candidates for open positions requiring a post-secondary degree.
“This is not just a social injustice, it’s an economic travesty,” Cohen said. “This is a pretty significant issue if the United States wants to stay one of the top countries in the world.”
Educational materials will play a key role in efforts to bolster education, and Cohen cited projections predicting increased sales of U.S. preK-12 instructional materials over the next few years. He talked about hot trends, a few of which include Common Core, adaptive learning, differentiated learning, flipped classroom, online learning, electronic publishing, blended learning, and professional development.
Cohen discussed the four E’s of preparing content today, saying that all of these elements need to be in place: engaging for students, easy to use, efficient for educators, and effective. Proven effectiveness is critical, he said, “because if what we’re doing is not measurably improving outcomes,” then customers won’t spent money on these programs.
Still, he noted, instructional materials provide just part of the solution. Students have only about 1,170 hours of instructional time per year, and 1,400 hours are needed to fully cover the curriculum. “There is too much to learn for the time that we have allowed students to have in school,” Cohen said. One answer may involve adding instructional time by extending the school day or the school year. Although this entails an economic cost, the benefits outweigh the cost if programs are implemented properly.
Currently, many kids are simply bored in school, Cohen said. For instance, a study of 1,500 classrooms showed that only 15% had more than half of the kids paying attention. Strong instructional materials, especially those that take advantage of technology, can help.
Cohen described Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory, which states that engagement comes at the intersection of challenge and skill. “It’s that intersection of the right amount of skill and the right amount of challenge that actually has kids excited about learning,” Cohen said.
Student engagement matters, and it drops dramatically from 76% in elementary school to 44% in high school. “We as an industry have to figure out how we keep kids engaged all the way through school; it’s our responsibility,” Cohen said. He talked about using game mechanics as a way to boost engagement through adaptive learning.
In addition to developing effective instructional materials, we need to provide effective professional development to help educators use them. Currently, professional development is plentiful, but often not useful. Cohen cited research indicating that a majority of teachers rate professional development as ineffective and added that we need to embed professional development in our programs. He described how hospitals found that learning from peer groups is an effective model that can actually help save patients’ lives. In education, he asked, “How many times are we learning from each other?”
Cohen talked about creating an environment that keeps the teacher at the center of the program and described his company’s Time to Know digital teaching platform. Students are all online participating in differentiated learning activities, and the teacher is constantly monitoring what students are doing, with real-time professional development built in. “We can leverage data right there when teachers need it,” he said. “Students are staying engaged, and teachers are in an ecosystem where they can get immediate feedback on how each child is doing. It’s just one example of the kinds of programs we should be responsible for creating as we move forward.”
“Our programs have to be easy, engaging, effective, and efficient,” Cohen concluded. “If they aren’t, there are other choices out there that can do what we want to do, and they’re doing it for nothing. At the end of the day, we have a lot of opportunities. There’s only one thing out there stopping us—and that’s us.”
Watch this blog for more coverage from the CEO Roundtable.