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“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” ~ Yogi Berra.

Clearly, change is in the air these days in education, whether we’re Waiting for Superman, racing to the top, dotting our three i’s, or wondering how tea party politics may change the face of Washington.

In light of all these changes and uncertainties, the question on many minds is likely, where is it all leading?

The most truthful answer anyone can give to that question is this one: nobody knows for sure.

It’s simply not possible to predict how all of these various trends will come together to shape a new future. That doesn’t mean, though, that we can’t prepare ourselves for it. The trick is to consider multiple, alternative futures and begin to envision how we—or our districts, schools, or students—might flourish in each.

In a new book from McREL to be released this month by Solution Tree Press, we analyze current and emerging trends in a wide array of areas, including politics, the economy, technology, and society. After analyzing these trends, we offer, not a prediction of the future, but four, very different scenarios for what the future may hold.

The scenarios in the book, titled The Future of Schooling: Educating America in 2020, are designed to provoke readers to ponder many “what if,” questions, including:

  • What if the current, multibillion-dollar federal investment in education succeeds in identifying and scaling up numerous innovations that transform schooling as we know it?
  • What if, on the other hand, investing billions of new dollars fails to create dramatic improvements in education? Will the public continue to support public schools as we know them?
  • What if online learning becomes as commonplace in the schools of tomorrow as chalkboards were in the schools of yesterday?
  • What if technology allows students to proceed at their own pace along individualized pathways, measuring their progress in real time at each step of the way?
  • What if the world’s best teachers are able to broadcast their lessons to thousands of students each day?

The reality is that the world of education is changing rapidly. While we don’t know exactly what lies ahead, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the world standing still and education in 10 years looking exactly the same as it does today.

The good news is that when confronted with this uncertainty, we don’t have to throw up our hands in hopeless desperation (or stick our heads in the sand). Rather, we can begin preparing today for what tomorrow may bring.

Learn more or purchase a copy of the book on the McREL website here.

Bryan Goodwin is McREL’s Vice President of Communications and Marketing.

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • Esther says:

    The question isn’t if things are going to change; it is if districts, schools, teachers and parents are going to continue in their current configuration.
    I don’t think the status quo is sustainable and I have no idea what is next.
    I just know that, as a teacher, there will always be children somewhere who need to learn how to think, read and write.

  • Alyssa says:

    As a teacher in today’s ever changing classroom, it is important for teacher’s to remember why they got into the field of eduation. When I get boggled down by paperwork, conferences, and school politics, I like to think about the impact that I am making in the lives of my students. I think that preparing for the uncertainty in education will deflect from teaching in the moment and trying to make a difference in my student’s lives. It is important for teacher’s to be open minded to change and instill in their students a love for learning. Even though I do not know what the future holds in education, I know there will always be a student who needs the support, comfort, and guidance that I can give them.

  • Jamie says:

    I agree that education is changing and will look completely different in ten years. I am excited to read this book. I am not fearful of what is to come. I think self paced learning is here to stay. The school I teach at offers courses like this now and they are online classes. I believe that our students can benefit from some of the recent technological advances. For instance, social networking is something all of my students use. They long to feel apart of a group. The future of education is embracing this by enabling kids to join different groups maybe than the ones at their home school. Students have a choice and I think that is great!

  • Nicole says:

    Teaching is constantly changing. It has changed since I started teaching six years ago. It is important to prepare our students for the future. There is so much technology out there and it is constantly upgrading too. This technology can enhance classroom instruction and student learning. Teaching can be stressful with all of the changes that occur, but I agree with Alyssa that we as teachers need to keep an open mind. We are here for the students because we want them to be successful. Teachers will need to do whatever it takes for each student to be successful.

  • Jamie says:

    I think technology is here to stay and anyone who believes differently is living a fantasy. In order for students to survive in the workplace of the future, they need to be able to use technology in all of its facets. Individualized learning will, in my opinion, help students at all levels reach their maximum potential. Students can learn the basics at their own level, then study in depth subjects that interest them. Indeed, we are all different. Learning is most effective when the subject matter is meaningful to the individual.

  • Christen says:

    I am curious to know what our schools will be like in ten years. If there is more money spent on education I hope we get positive results. Students need to learn how to use technology and teachers need to be open to change. I hope that teachers will be better able to meet the needs of their students. Hopefully the more advanced technology will not stop the social skills from developing. I wonder how much teacher unions will change in the next ten years, and if ineffective teachers will actually be fired.

  • I appreciate the insights of everyone who has responded to this blog. As many of you mentioned technology, let me touch on it briefly.
    Technology is a key driver of change in all four of the scenarios we present in the book. We found it difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a future in which technology has not changed education in some fairly dramatic ways.
    That said, the key question that remains is for what purpose technology will be used?
    In one scenario, for example, we envision students using technology to customize their own learning experiences. In another, we imagine a world in learning is very standardized and technology is used to rank and compare students—not just in their states, but across the world.
    In other words, while we tend to think of technology as changing our world and society, the reality may be more that technology tends to accelerate trends already in place.

  • Ashley says:

    Education will always change. Changes are being made everyday. School has changed a lot since I started teaching 5 years ago and even more since I was in school. I can’t even fathom what changes will be in the future. My number one hope is for there to be more parental involvement and support. Other things, such as money and technology, will always change for the better. I hope parental involvement improves and doesn’t decline anymore than it already has today.

  • Megan C. says:

    Part of our school’s mission statement is “preparing students for the future” by teaching them how to question ideas, analyze information, and apply learning to real life situations. Often, I find myself asking, “What am I really preparing my students for?” I agree that our education systems, as well as socieities in general, are rapidly changing, even from year to year. The fact is, we are currently teaching our future leaders. While we can’t fully know the scope of change that is ahead or the challenges they will face, what truly matters is that we instill in them a love for learning–whether it be through traditional classroom teaching, individual structures, or even via the Internet. Through this, we will find that students are motivated to seek out individual interests, will learn how to critically think and analyze, and will be prepared to face whatever challenges are presented in the future.
    Yes, public funding may (and will) continue to change, the bad teachers may (and should) be fired, and learning may continue to evolve online. Regardless, we will still need and want successful students who are capable of using today’s technology to impact tomorrow.

  • Fawn says:

    When I first became a teacher, I wasn’t prepared to think beyond my own classroom. I was focused on creating lesson plans that met state standards and finding ways to meet the needs of my students. As I am now realizing, teaching isn’t just about my classroom and my students. It is a holistic view. What education is now and what it is going to look like even a few months from now. It is an ever changing career. My focus has turned from my classroom to the education system itself. What my role is and how I can contribute. It can be an overwhelming thought: thinking about what education is going to look like in the future. With that said, we must always be moving forward and working collaboratively. Our students need teachers who are in it for the long haul and ready to do whatever it takes to ensure the best for them.

  • Colleen says:

    Having been involved in public and private education for the past 15 years I am amazed by the many changes that have occurred. I can either embrace change and grow, or fight it and begin to resent my job. Through it all, we need to remember to put kids first. After all, they are the reason we do what we do. If ALL learning communities do that, we will be successful.

  • Sarah says:

    Eduction and teaching change significantly from year to year. Predicting what it will be like 10 years from now is an interesting thought. Predicting what it will be like in a month is even difficult. There will always be new research emerging about what makes teachers effective. Technology has already become such an important part of education. I know student’s lives will be extremely different as they go through school because of this. I wonder how teacher’s roles will change. Will we be teaching the technology, and students will be responsible for their learning through the internet or will teachers use technology to teach?

  • Laney says:

    I think that if things did not change, we would be at a loss. The great thing about technology is that today you can walk into a classroom and see students and teachers interacting on many levels. I love it when my students can show me something that I didn’t know before. It makes the learning process a challenge to both teachers and students. We need students to buy in as much as possible and what better way than moving forward and learning together.

  • Steve Leroux says:

    The problem with all of this change is that we never allow enough time to see if the change is working. Too often we see the “next best thing” and slam it down everyone’s throat and then come back next year and give them this years “next best thing”. Change is bad, but it doesn’t have to happen every year.

  • Jan says:

    While it is true that education is continually transforming, and often for the better, I would have to agree with some previous comments. We often do not allow for the benefits of these changes to happen before we move on to another trend. And often this is after we have spent a number of hours being PD to understand the new trend/philosophy/technology. However, change is progress and often for the better.

  • Anna Bury says:

    There is trend globally to teaching world wide through Skype. As an English as a second Language teacher I see this as a really valuable link, particularly with time differences between countries. For example students in America may go to school all day and then want English tuition at night can then have a Skype coach in Australian using real time coach after school.
    I see this as a mix of future tech and old fashion tech. I like the mixture of both

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