Applying skill biased technical change to the #teaching profession (I think)

I’m trying to finagle a new idea in education based on a short article I read in the most recent NYT Mag about “skill-biased technological change” (SBCT). I’m definitely NOT an economist, but from what I gather, it seems to fit. 

So, in my terms, the concerns regarding SBCT are that changes in technology are favoring highly-skilled or technical workers while leaving those less skilled in the lurch. As a result, wage inequality increases for those that technology benefits. Therein lies the bias, according to SBCT. 

I’m probably grossly over-simplifying the theory here. However, let me roll with it for now and I can refine my thinking, or correct it, once I hear from some economists I contacted. Traditionally, wages are relative to the supply in the labor market. If there is over-supply of a certain worker or skill, wages are going to decrease overall. If technology enhances a certain skill, or the productivity of the workers that hold that skill, then wages would increase, even if there is an increase in supply of those workers. 

From my standpoint, there has been a HUGE, MASSIVE boosterism for educational technologies lately. Sure, there’s a lot of money to be made, education is a big market, and people always have something to sell. Some of the technologies I’ve found helpful, and others are completely superfluous. For instance, schools spending thousands upon thousands of dollars on hulking Promethean Boards, bolted to the wall in a completely unaesthetic fashion? I’m not entirely sold on their absolute necessity or value. In most cases, they’re PowerPoint projection devices on steroids. Novel, interesting, but not essential by any means.

Moving on. In a lot of cases, technology does not always enhance the skill of teaching. It de-skills it, thereby depressing wages or keeping them static. There seems to be a contradictory debate happening in education right now. On one hand, it is argued that that excellent teachers can overcome poverty and all sorts of other anti-child positions. We need better teachers, better-trained ones with higher aptitudes. On the other hand, let’s blame teachers for all social ills, keep their wages stagnant, and overall refuse the investment necessary to make them successful. Instead, the bulk of the investment, or at least new infusions of capital into education, seem to be related to data, assessment technologies, the hardware to support assessment, and technologies that individualize or customize educational experiences. 

This does not nearly address the dream “shopping” list for educators. I’m sure the LAST thing many would ask for is data infrastructure. Nevertheless, these investments are capital biased in that the only ones standing to make any money or increase their productivities or value or worth are test publishing companies and technology firms. Teachers do not share, or even students, in these innovations. They are victims of the innovations. 

So, what is the SBCT, or capital biased, in the teaching profession? My lay interpretation is that technological or technical or capital-biased changes in education, largely standardized curriculum, assessments, and data-collection, do not serve educators well. In fact, teacher professional judgment is undermine and the profession is de-skilled. The prevailing education reform movement, driven by technocrats and bean-counters and wonks without classroom experiences, is not really interested in heavy investment in teacher salaries because there’s no money to be made off that kind of capital infusion. Moreover, the dominant wisdom is to reduce the teacher workforce, increase class sizes with increasing enrollments, and only increase wages based on performance. As it stands, teacher wages remain relatively static and non-competitive.

The kinds of changes in education are thus only those that de-skill or de-professionalize educators. Standardized curriculum and assessments reduce teacher judgment and leave open the potential for lower wage replacements who can do the job, such as poorly trained and low skilled (relative to veteran educators) TFA recruits. Such recruits are not overall interested in education as a career, at least in the classroom. So, they can be easily replaced and renewed year after year. With standardized input and output of educational products, there is no real need to change anything. Any human being with some good sense can step into the classroom. And, if the education reform movement-eers have their way, software and hardware will entirely replace the educational experience, putting each student in front of a computer or SMART device or whatever and leave the decision-making to the cloud. That way, the educator in the room of perhaps 60 students only needs basic people and troubleshooting skills. Classroom management, pedagogy, curriculum theory? Not at all.

The technical changes in teaching being pursued right now are not in favor of teachers or students. They are in favor of capital investment in the educational marketplace with a firm desire for profits on those investments. Being touted as real change in education leading to success, the standardized curriculum, assessments, and data infrastructure are really pigs in a poke ( I think that phrase fits here). That is, innovations supportive of capital investment and not investment in a skilled teacher workforce and an educated (not schooled) student population.

Ultimately, as long as these technical changes come only to the interests of capital in education, teacher wages will remain static or unchanged and the profession will become less skilled, not being a profession at all.

Phew, does that make any sense?


1 Comment

  1. As long as technical changes come only to the interests of capital, to debt leveraging by way of interest on loans for increased technological innovation, being efficient of not to teacher-student interface other than the furtherance of needed tech labor, teachers’ wages will deflate relative to markets and increasing market share. That teaching is considered a profession is a dubious construct up to this point in history. And the economic balance of supply and demand skews whereas capital investment in technology will depreciate supply value, reducing the necessity of hitting some supply / demand balance (ceterus parabus). In other words, capital will always seek to maximize profits while reducing liabilities and insufficient or non-exemplary assets. That is: the source (and thus contingent worker supply and wages) of educational delivery will contract as all education delivery reaches a peak in the cost curve as a singularity of information becomes a broadcast from one site. How efficient is that? Like all streaming to students online or in front of smarter boards from, say, 30 Rock?


Comments are closed.