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Look Here: Predicting 2020 Requires 20/20 Vision

There’s a lot to see in the coming year – you may want to cover your eyes

by LeiLani Cauthen

Nearly every school district in America is seeing some degree of student attrition. Except for cases of rapid population growth or regional migration, traditional public schools are witnessing a phenomenon unseen in our lifetimes. Families are just saying “No” to the public classroom experience and instead are opting for homeschooling, charter and magnet schools, virtual schools or a blending of multiple options. This year, 27 percent of school-aged children have opted out. Next year, that number is expected to climb above 30 percent. If trends continue unabated, by 2030 we may be looking at nearly 50 percent of school-aged children walking away from traditional public education in this country.

One out of every two children. Let that sink in a minute. At what point do we pull the plug? I don’t know about you, but I find this bit of information staggering. Is there a silver bullet to this downward spiral in student enrollment, or will public education be irreparably changed?

If there is a silver bullet, here it is. The way to beat back student enrollment loss is by becoming focused on the student experience. Based on our research, schools being a place of superior experience is what we need to be to survive from now until the 22nd century, because people expect this of us. They expect a quality experience, not just from schools, but from everyone and everything they encounter as they move through their lives.

It’s the 800-pound gorilla in the classroom.  Students are walking out on traditional public schooling and into a better learning experience. It is a situation that is both urgent and immensely important – and surprisingly, fixable.

To see the solution, we first need to look at the trajectory of the market overall. Then, look at the drivers behind it. What’s really happening as our kids are leaving and going to alternatives and doing all these other things? A lot of what is being done at schools and districts is far better than it was 50 years ago. So, let’s accept the fact that we’re not living in the movie Grease, the time when everything was great, and people broke out into song and dance. But it is a time when we’re doing things better, yet kids are descending into madness easier. They’re not making it. So, what is happening? The drivers are very interesting, and the good news is, the right fit is in sight.

We’re in an inverse growth model, diametrically opposed to where education was 150 years ago. It started out as a Little House on the Prairie school model, a one-room schoolhouse. It aggregated. And somewhere along the line in the 30s, someone came along and said, “Let’s create a manufacturing model and we’re going to have classes and grades and march kids through this gradation pattern of change.” So, then everybody did that. And then there was a heyday in the 50s and 60s and we all congratulated ourselves on our highest graduation rates ever. But it’s been in decline ever since. 

Where this thing is going now

There’s an inverse growth model happening at the same time: School-choice, blended and flipped learning and a heavy dose of consumerization. This whole curve is a desegregation decentralization wave. It’s a cultural wave and that wave has already happened in other industries with its own drivers. Look at retail. Who’s killing it in retail right now? Amazon – they’re placeless. Who’s killing it in transportation? Uber and Lyft. FedEx almost killed the post office. 

Consumerization at its present growth in the private sector or homeschooling is on a trajectory to carve out nearly 50 percent of public education within the next five years. It’s now culturally popular in California to go out and form small consortiums, to turn somebody’s garage in the neighborhood into the homeschool and all the parents take turns taking a day off. This is a cultural trend and it’s increasingly being talked about. 

At the opposite side of this, we have a new trend that will kick in and we predict it’s going to happen this year, where physical schools are going to say, “Uh Oh, we’ve got to do something,” and they’re going to focus hard on presenting quality experience. Why? Because it’s the number one silver bullet on homeschooling.

That physical presence, if you can create it at the level of a really high art form, where it’s a game of life, will be the great equalizer. Just imagine students are there, having meaningful social experience. The Esports activity they get to do, or the hands-on robots project that they’re going to do that they’re not going to do in homeschool. Those things, the science experiments and those other things that school can do as a hub of quality experience, things like woodworking, for example. Learners are not going to do those things at home. As a school, there are so many things that we can do that are going to create quality experience. Our objective is to focus on that; then we’ve created something that wasn’t even there before. It’s a reason to be there. So now we have a reason for a physical location. But does that physical location have to be the same as it was in every other respect? 

The answer is a resounding, “Nope.”

Just remember – if you can see it, the future begins now. You’ll need to allow your mind to envision what will happens when we blend learning so that all the learning is done through a magnificent automatic, fully adaptive digital curriculum with all the moving parts and pieces and individualized pathways. The learning will converge via algorithms into these great small group projects and the things that cause students to be there physically. So now, instead of two roads — online learning over here and physical learning over there, you’re going to take your whole enterprise and flip it like Uber, flip the market like Amazon flipped the market.

If we can do that, instead of students walking away from traditional public education, they’ll be sprinting towards it.

Hey, look at that. They’re all coming back.

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