April 25, 2017
With 25 years working as an educational negotiator, I have seen and made numerous proposals at the bargaining table in connection with teaching and learning. Today, given the backdrop of the Third Industrial Revolution, and new and exciting developments in the fields of technology and digital learning, coupled with a looming national teacher shortage; in the next ten years, educational negotiators will likely be exploring ground-breaking issues at the bargaining table such as the two below that will have the potential of radically changing the way classroom instruction is delivered.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the Classroom
In the same way that machine intelligence is becoming more seamlessly integrated into the fabric of our society and industry, it will also become integrated into public school classrooms. At present, because the intelligent machines available on the market are in an early phase of development with only limited capabilities for teaching and learning, these machines do not currently pose a threat to the teacher workforce. However, once they develop more sophisticated capabilities for learning on their own, and the ability to replace some of the functions of teachers at a low price-point; where teachers are in short supply and AI technology can provide school systems with innovative and less costly ways to solve the teacher shortage problem, representatives from both labor and management will surely be discussing the use of AI in the classroom and its impact on teaching jobs.
Deconstruction and Re-definition of Existing Teacher Roles
In today’s classrooms, teachers are required to serve multiple roles – delivering instruction, managing classrooms, assessing student performance, and curriculum planning and development to name a few. Individual teachers are not likely to be experts in each of these areas. Surely, they can be trained, but this requires resources. By deconstructing the traditional role of the teacher, school systems could eliminate the responsibility for all teachers to independently perform each of these job functions. Functions such as curriculum planning and student assessment could be performed by one grade-level/subject matter expert and one data specialist. The net result is a reduction of the total number of teachers needed in a school. When and where teachers are in short supply, classes can also be combined using blended-learning platforms to deliver high quality instruction in a digitally-rich learning environment. This may be a more likely solution at the secondary school level where class-size is not a significant determinant of overall student achievement. It is also possible for schools to achieve economies in their supply-chain by outsourcing some of these teaching functions. Developing strategic partnerships with businesses that can provide them, nurturing alliances with other school systems through collaboratives, and finding other more efficient technological solutions will merit consideration.
If deconstructing and re-defining the traditional role of a teacher, and integrating artificial intelligence into the classroom will be explored as options for solving the teacher shortage, both will certainly be a part of the conversations that take place between labor and management in teacher contract negotiations in the not too distant future. Navigating this unchartered 21st century collective bargaining landscape will require edudexterous leadership on both sides of the table.
Robert J. Harris (@edudexterous) is an Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources.