Ron Chapman’s Modest Proposal for School Reform

With so many “challenges” in the local schools–from funding formulas and budget crunches to possible layoffs, not to mention test scores and dropout rates–why do we keep approaching education the same way our grandparents and great-grandparents did? Who’s to say, in other words, that one teacher standing in front of a classroom of 20 (or 30 or 40) students is still the most effective way of teaching in today’s hyper-wired world?

That’s what our old friend Ron Chapman has been pondering, and it led the legendary Dallas broadcaster to brainstorm a modest proposal. Namely: Why aren’t we identifying the very best teachers–the cream of the crop, those who truly motivate and inspire–and then training a camera on them and feeding their wisdom and energy to kids throughout the districts, teleconference-style?

“Today’s students do not relate to someone standing in front of a room writing in chalk,” Chapman says. “They talk to each other through a screen. So, put the [greatest] teachers on an iPad or iPhone or flat screen, with a ‘teacher’s assistant’ in the room, and the teacher shortage is over. It’s [a two-way] ‘Go to Meeting,’ where everyone is seen and heard.”

Similar methods have been used in medical education for years, Chapman points out, so why not in the schools?

“I once said to an employee, ‘I told you that,’ ” the pioneering deejay recalls. “He responded, ‘A message is not complete until it is accepted by the recipient.’ I was furious, of course. But he raised a point: If a teacher delivers a lecture and it’s too boring to grab the student’s attention … has it made any impact?

“If the teacher is on video, there can also be a copy of the [lesson] made for absent students to play catch-up. … Those [teachers] who don’t get chosen for the on-camera study process will soon ramp up their presentations, and there’ll be more excellent teachers.”

Many public-school teachers, it seems to me, remain resistant to vouchers and other forms of competitive progress–merit pay, for example–that just might jump-start improvement in a system that many believe is lagging.

One thing about Chapman’s proposal is clear: It could eliminate the need for a heckuva lot of mediocre and poor teachers–and maybe even some brick-and-mortar facilities as well. So don’t look for the education establishment to leap up and say, “Great idea,” Ron, anytime soon.

But, with change revolutionizing so many industries these days, why should schools be exempt from radical approaches with the potential to transform?

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