The education system has all the talent it needs

Kevin Berkopes • Published Aug. 2, 2022 on Inside Indiana Business

Your social media feed will inundate you with the grim statistics about the state of our education system nationally. Students are falling further behind, and teacher talent is at a crisis shortage level. The pandemic didn’t cause this; it just exacerbated it.

Global business leaders headquartered in Indiana have publicly criticized the state of our education system, declaring that it gives them pause for how they will build the future of their companies in Indiana. For example, David Ricks, the CEO of Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co., recently lamented in a speech at the Economic Club of Indiana that only 37% of Indiana’s elementary and middle school students tested proficient in math on the 2019 statewide tests.

For added context, 64% of Indiana schools and districts reported math teacher vacancies this past school year, and colleges of education report a 27% decline in math education candidates since 2010. All educational research points to a teacher’s expertise as the fundamental influence on student success. The consensus is that there is no expertise in the pipeline.

How could that be? Could it be a workforce wants to enter the classroom but has too many barriers? Is it possible the traditional “stand and deliver” model is undesirable and impractical for a workforce that is digital natives? We believe the answer to both is yes.

I assert our community has enough talent and expertise to achieve the education system all our children deserve. If I asked you if there were enough math teachers, you would rightfully say no; however, if I re-framed the question– are there enough people in our communities who could teach math?—you may change your perspective.

I believe that a more fundamental and undiscussed problem prevents the change we all desire. As measured on all nationally accredited rubrics for teacher evaluations, the work of a distinguished teacher is fundamentally impossible for one person to do daily.

It is not just hard. In my opinion, it’s impossible.

In 2020, my team at XR Technologies took the task of rethinking what it meant to equip any school type with an equitable and viable talent solution. Education is a sector where the process is not well defined. To create a well-defined process, we needed to get into the mechanisms of classroom teaching. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is missing in almost all education and technology models.

There is no shortcut to this discovery of process. We needed to have our people in diverse school settings, managing the classroom with thousands of students. We needed a “Department as a Service,” where schools would consider outsourcing all or part of their mathematics department to a company focusing solely on being the best at mathematics education. The talent crisis for teachers and the historic disruption of COVID-19 gave us the opportunity we needed. One might say that the recipe for success in our mission came from the total disaster of the status quo. If you have school-aged children, you have felt this intimately.

Once we have a well-defined process for educators, the next step is to find people who can deploy that process. Plenty of Hoosiers have a bachelor’s degree and are looking to serve their community as part of their career.

To remove any friction in getting into education, XR Technologies was recently granted the ability to license teachers by the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) as a Transition to Teaching Model Apprenticeship. You can work as a teacher while getting licensed.  The idea that there is a pre-requisite of content expertise does not hold weight once you understand the education process. The process only demands a stand-alone content expert if the teacher is asked to do the impossible daily. We refuse to place that burden on teachers.

There are 750,000 Hoosiers in our communities who have started a bachelor’s degree program but have not attained their degree. A similar number have finished degrees and are not currently using them to advance their career pathways. We are not looking for mathematicians or those who have obtained STEM or mathematics degrees in their undergraduate programs. The work of teaching requires a significant prerequisite that is not linked to your undergraduate experience–do you have the disposition to want to work with children, and can you connect with them and build relationships? If your answer is “yes,” we believe you can be an expert mathematics teacher with the Department as a Service innovation.

If we attracted just 1% of Hoosiers from these talent pools for licensure and provided a pathway to finish their bachelor’s degree, we would solve the teacher talent issue. You see, our communities have enough talent to have equitable education, but we needed the process through which they could work to be well-defined.