When I hear conversations about edtech, just about everyone is talking about teacher and student facing tools and systems. Wonderful – they absolutely deserve the best. But there’s a meaty world of sticky problems that’s hidden a layer behind the classroom that ripe for a data scientist with a bent toward education. Layer is the wrong word – it’s more akin to an entire ecosystem of interconnected problems and relationships that all revolve around one word: fit.
Fit with school. Fit with classroom. Fit with principal. Fit with classmates. Fit with teacher prep program. Fit with district and community. Fit with grade level. There are so many “fit” questions that it’s a wonder we’re only beginning to see a few organizations dedicate themselves to this (myEDmatch and Haystack are two most prominent). And behind all the critique Cami Anderson is getting in Newark for One Newark, there’s an intriguing story of a unified application to help “fit” kids to schools.
Let’s look deeper at the questions themselves and how they’re managed now:
- Kid – School: parents choose where they want to live, and zip code is by far the largest determinant of where kids go to school, even when competitive schools are options.
- Kid – Classroom: almost entirely random. some manual smoothing by administrators and teachers.
- Teacher – License Area: wholly teacher choice, but usually have to decide before they begin (unlike doctors or lawyers).
- Teacher – License Approach: alt-cert v traditional, it’s all the buzz, but what if it weren’t so OR and there were more options like residencies, 5th year programs, etc.?
- Teacher – Subject: wholly teacher choice, but also have to decide where they begin, and sometimes dependent on what they’ve already learned (e.g. to teach HS math you need a solid background in math. At least in most states…)
- Teacher – Neighborhood/District: this has changed as markets have changed, but nowadays it’s primarily supply of jobs.
- Teacher – School: varies by district, but many principals don’t have full control over whom they hire. This is one space where companies like MyEdMatch have brought a new approach although yet to see long term results because they’re new.
- Teacher – Classroom: combination of where there are vacancies, supply for teachers (e.g. STEM subjects have more openings, as do SPED and ELL license areas), and some teacher choice.
- Principal – School: varies by district, but at least in NY neither the community nor teachers have any say in the matter. Sometimes the principals themselves don’t either – they’re essentially assigned.
I won’t even pretend I have the solution, but when I look at all the randomness, chance, and early-phase choices that need to be made it can’t help but beget the question: is there a better way to build better experiences for everyone involved?
The answer is unquestionably yes, but what do you see as the most essential levers to push on first?