Saturday, 1 April 2017

Has the time come to start replacing Secondary Teachers with Para-Teachers and the Application of Technology?

Ideal World v Reality

In an ideal world we would want every secondary school child to be taught by a suitably qualified specialist teacher, however we are far from that reality. 
  • On a global level according to UNESCO, there are an estimated 263 million children who are not in education and the world will need 5.1 million more lower Secondary teachers by 2030 to meet future demand. 
  • On a more parochial level, the UK National Audit Office report Training New Teachers (10 Feb 2016) showed that the proportion of physics classes taught by a teacher without a post A-level physics qualification rose from 21% in 2010 to 28% in 2014; Indeed the Institute of Physics in 2010 estimated that some 500 secondary schools in the UK didn't have a qualified Physics teacher.
Given that the teacher recruitment crisis is only set to get worse, has the time come to review the role of teachers and to look for new models for our schools?

In The Future of the Professions Richard and Daniel Susskind argue there needs to be new business models for education:
‘It is widely recognised that there is insufficient funding available to run high quality schools and universities if teachers and professors operate in the traditional way.’ (p.208)

Revisiting the Role of the Teacher

Susskind and Susskind  argue that professional work should be 'decomposed', that is broken down into constituent ‘tasks’ and that a 'Process Analyst' should determine if these tasks could be carried out by a less qualified Para-Professional or indeed  by the application of technology (See previous blogpost for a summary of some of their key arguments). 
So what of teaching? Can teaching can be decomposed and the tasks either delegated to a 'Para-Teacher' or performed by the application of technology?

Teaching Decomposed

It is undoubtedly possible to break down 'Teaching' into a whole range of tasks. Indeed Governments and Trade Unions around the world have a range of views of what should be (and what should not be) the tasks that teachers do. It is difficult to find either a consensus or a list that comes without a political agenda. However, the US Department of Labor Bureau of Statistics (2015) Occupational Outlook Handbook, which is fundamentally an official careers advice site, lists ten 'duties' of a high school teacher which appear in most other lists:
Screenshot of US Department of Labor Bureau of Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook entry for High School Teachers (captured 17/03/2017)

Process Analysis of the 10 teacher tasks:

We then need to determine which (if any) of these tasks could be carried out by a less qualified Para-Professional or indeed  by the application of technology.
Is doing this task not getting the most out of a qualified Physics teacher?
One way to facilitate tackling this question is to imagine a school that only has one suitably qualified Physics teacher when it really needs three. The school leader might want to maximise the impact that the one Physics teacher has on the teaching of Physics across the whole school. Which of the following tasks would the school leader be able to delegate to a lesser qualified Para-professional (or non-Physics graduate qualified teacher)? Can any of the tasks be carried out by the application of technology?
  1. Planning Physics lessons;
  2. Assessing students to evaluate their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses in Physics;
  3. Teaching students Physics in full class settings or in small groups;
  4. Adapting Physics lessons to any changes in class size;
  5. Grading students’ assignments and exams to monitor progress in Physics;
  6. Communicating with parents about students’ progress in Physics;
  7. Working with individual students to challenge them, to improve their abilities in Physics, and to work on their weaknesses;
  8. Preparing students for standardized Physics tests required by the state; 
  9. Developing and enforcing classroom rules and administrative policies; 
  10. Supervising students outside of the classroom—for example, at lunchtime or during detention;
A Process Analysis might decide that 
  1. Planning Physics lessons needs to be done by a Physics professional, However, the planning of lessons could be centralised and done by one person who ideally (but not necessarily) would be in the school.
  2. Assessing students might be done in a number of ways including by professional judgment of a Physics teacher; by tests marked by the Physics teacher or by a Para-Teacher with a mark scheme; and by online adaptive testing.
  3. Teaching students might be done in a number of ways including by a Physics teacher physically in front of a class or by video-conferencing; by online lectures; and through online courses.
  4. Adapting Physics lessons might be done most easily by a Physics professional, but can also be done by adaptive online courses.
  5. Grading students’ assignments and exams by professional judgment of a Physics teacher or by a Para-Teacher based on assessment and objective criteria; and electronically as the result of online adaptive testing.
  6. Communicating with parents about students’ progress might be done through traditional means such as written subject reports or parent-teacher meetings, but might also be done through teachers have 'live' online markbooks which are available to parents.
  7. Working with individual students is best done by a Physics professional.
  8. Preparing students for exams might be done by revision lessons run by a Physics professional, but increasingly there are online revision resources (e.g. BBC GCSE Bitesize) and online self-testing programs.
  9. Developing and enforcing classroom rules is not directly Physics related and could theoretically be carried out by a less qualified Para-Professional.
  10. Supervising students outside of the classroom  could be carried out by a less qualified Para-Professional.

Decomposition and the Question of Quality of Outcomes for Student Learning

The next step is for the Process Analyst to determine the relative quality of outcomes for student learning of these teacher tasks being performed by a qualified classroom teacher following the traditional model and the alternatives: the 'Para-Teacher' or 'Application of Technology' models. 
If we accept that Assessing Students might be done by a Para-Teacher with a mark scheme or by online adaptive testing. are these alternative models better/similar/ worse for student learning  than assessments conducted by a qualified Teacher?
Whilst the qualified professional is likely to be qualitatively better at conducting many of the teacher tasks, it is quite possible that there are circumstances where the alternative models may be better, particularly when we take the matter of scale into consideration. For example, a teacher may be able to produce personalised learning plans which address individual concerns and go at an appropriate pace for each student for a small number of students, but this level of differentiation may not be possible when teaching a large number of sets and with large class sizes. Conversely, an online adaptive course with built-in assessments might be able to provide personalised learning plans and assessments for thousands of pupils at a time.

And so . . . .?

As the statistics given at the start of this post suggest, we are already facing a challenge of recruitment of specialist teachers. Many schools are already having to explore alternative models to staff lessons in 'shortage subjects'. 
We have to recognise that the traditional model of a suitably qualified specialist teacher standing in front of a class of 30 pupils is a luxury form of education that that  most societies can no longer afford.
Although many in the profession recoil at the thought of revisiting our traditional classroom model, it is time to abandon our idealism and find a way of delivering the best possible form of schooling that is practically possible. The 'Para-Teacher' and the 'Application of Technology' are likely to have a significant part to play in the future of secondary education.

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