Dear @Google Chairman @EricSchmidt, You Are WRONG About Educators

CBS 60 Minutes this evening broadcast an interesting piece about the Khan Academy, #flippedclassrooms and responsive instruction. I was right with them until Google Chairman @EricScmidt said this (key line bolded, best to watch it in action – link below):

60mins: Eric Scmidt, the pioneering chairman of Google, says he’s seen a lot of failed attempts to integrate technology into education. But says what Sal Khan is doing is different

@EricScmidt: Many, many people think they are doing something new, but they are not really changing the approach. With Sal, he said, ‘what we’re going to do is not only are we gonna make these interesting 10 min videos, but we’re going to measure if whether it works or not.’

60min: He was the guy to sort of make this happen? Why do you think it was him and not some person who was an educator, who had a background in this area?

@EricSchmidt: Innovation never comes from the established institutions. It’s always a graduate students or a crazy person or somebody with a great vision. Sal is that person in education in my view. He built a platform. If that platform works it could completely change education in America.

Full video, the text does not do it justice (the interview happens at 11:25):

CBS 60 Minutes: Khan Academy: The Future of Education?

Mr. Chairman, I hate to say it but you are dead wrong, insultingly wrong, about educators.

Educators (who are probably some of @Google product’s biggest fans) are indeed innovators. What is the main difference between daily innovations and Khan Academy software? Funding. Bill Gates and Google (e.g. you) stumbled upon Khan’s youtube videos, (first made in his closet, by himself) and thought to fund it. Now, with a team, offices, software designers, backed by tons of financial support, Sal Khan can run as far as dreams can take him. I applaud him, don’t misconstrue my point here. I think he’s a really smart guy, doing really smart things, that hit a very lucky break that helps him continue to grow.

Imagine what could be possible if you funded more innovating educators.

Educators are innovators. For instance, the things you love about Khan Academy are not new. Could Google commit to funding more innovations from “established institutes” (e.g. classrooms, schools, universities) so they grow at the same impressive rate?

  • Teachers and other “established institutions” are innovating student centered, not teacher centered, instruction. Thousands of teachers learn together, study together, read professionally together–and most importantly study students together–all to get better and better at seeing student work more clearly and responsively teach to it. What if you funded classroom educators enough to give them their own teams of helping hands to increase these innovations? Co-teachers, web designers, more time for professional conversations during the day?
  • Flipped classrooms are everywhere, just one of many innovations “established” educators are studying. Use your own Google to google the term – there are Youtube channels, websites, blogs, teachers innovating ways of allowing students to spend more time on task in class and provide more student feedback along the way. What if you funded those educators trying to make more time for student practice in class? Or help us with our bigger stumbling block: connecting students who do not have access to the internet or technology at home. It’s a regular point of conversation and debate in the education community, helping students and families connect in a more connected world.
  • Monitoring student progress and responding to it, a constantly innovating and developing practice led by “established” educators. A computer-based system is interesting, but, teachers have been innovating how to notice and record student achievement and respond to it way before screens. One example is what we call “conferring notes” and again, teachers have been studying these, perfecting these, all with the attempt to see student growth more clearly. Actually there is an app for that…but it started on your competitor’s devices. What if you funded teachers to develop and tailor their own systems for monitoring progress, instead of just creating a pre-packaged one way, why not fund ways of letting innovative educators innovate and build systems in real time?
  • Teachers in “established” institutions, with low funds, often need to innovate to get the supplies their students need. I wrote about the “book gap” in our schools in an earlier postwhy not fund additional supplies, not just tech, but books or science labs or math supplies, or music instruments or art?
  • Teachers are innovating professional development. Use your own website to search for “edcamp” and insert almost any major city in the US and you’ll find thousands of educators rethinking how professional development is done. Why not fund edcamps or other conferences?

I love Google (well, mostly, google docs is sometimes more complicated than it needs to be but the idea is good), but my love for Google feels a bit scarred by your troubling statements. Unfortunately, Mr. Chairman, your comments show how much you do not know about educators. We innovate constantly, Twitter alone is full of educators spending hours and hours in the evenings in group chats discussing ways to innovate (#edchat, #engchat, #educoach, #ccchat, #kinderchat #1stchat, #2ndchat, etc.).

Educators. We know stuff. And we actually would really love to share it.

Maybe ask us?

Or even fund us? Or how about support the funding of our students (we’d actually like that even more)?

It takes a village.

I welcome your reply.


(For anyone not @EricSchmidt, consider tweeting him or his company @Google – or even tell @60minutes that ran the story – about your own innovations and/or leave some in the comments.)

Just a Few Tweets from Innovative Educators about Innovative Educators:

23 thoughts on “Dear @Google Chairman @EricSchmidt, You Are WRONG About Educators

  1. Schmidt said “Innovation never comes from the established institutions.” He didn’t say “teachers”. And to be frank, I agree with him. Established institutions are – by their very definition – not the well springs of innovation. They are ‘established’. But you are correct in saying that teachers are certainly innovative. I agree that they lack funding which could help them to grow their innovations outside of the classroom. And – for the record – what Khan is doing isn’t all that innovative. Instead, I’d point to programs like the Integrated Studies program in Camden, NJ

    • To clarify from my perspective, I think it was the combo of the 60mins question and both the way and words he used to answer it that upset me, may be reason why it upset so many others.
      I actually don’t agree that “established institutions” are “by definition” not well springs… isn’t Google established? Apple? NASA? Research universities? And yes, many schools? I’m not naïve to think there is tremendous innovation everywhere, every second — but at the same time, there is an awful lot going on out there. But so much more can be achieved through funding our innovative schools and programs, or at least giving people time and space to do so.
      Thanks for the link and what you do everyday on behalf of children.

      • Simply restructuring schools can lead to wonderful innovation and progress, most schools would profit from this at little to no extra cost, and with greater #s of educators spending quality time-on-task with students.

  2. Wow! I invite this man to see how I am using Google Apps, Google Docs, Google Forms, and Google Sites with my students on a regular basis. I also invite him to have a discussion about how his products could be tweaked to better fit the needs of teachers and students. I am an innovator!

  3. Thanks for your post. I don’t think “flipped” classrooms are especially innovative. They are simply a slightly more attractive way of giving a mind-numbingly dull lecture that is entirely one-sided and unresponsive to students’ needs. A pre-recorded video cannot answer questions in real time. It cannot alter its approach for a different type of learner, speed up or slow down (very much). It cannot check for understanding and then correct misunderstandings. All you can do with a video as a learner is replay it. Flipped classrooms are innovative only if all you’ve been doing to deliver information is to stand up in front of a class and turn yourself on like a tape. Although I have shown Khan Academy videos in class from time to time, I find this kind of approach useful only if I stop it and interact with the class frequently throughout the short video. They are most emphatically not effective teaching tools on their own–and a lot of students don’t get them and find them boring besides. My students are more tolerant of Khan Academy partly because we poke some gentle fun at how terrifically soporific Sal is.

  4. Chris, it’s interesting- all this talk about “innovating” right now. Our school district has just begun to implement a new teacher evaluation model based on The Art and Science of Teaching by Robert Marzono. The highest level on the scale is “Innovating” and it’s not just a gimme (in our old system you were either “Satisfactory” or not). Your urging for educators to inform Mr. Schmidt what we do every day to innovate is helping me to focus in on my teaching and reflect on what I already do as well as what else I could do to be innovating. Funny how everything is “connected”, huh? (I’m also thinking about your other blog post about re-connecting.)

  5. How do educators band together to lead schools? How do educators collaborate to get the kinds of support and “conditions for excellence” you outline in this post? The private sector seeking to overtake public schools are supported by tremendous funding and connections. They provide an easy solution to politicians who are in charge of school systems as these politicians can simply outsource both the job and the responsibility, and blame the private company if unsuccessful? I’m worried about the takeover of public schools. I’m excited about the potential innovation possible for students and schools across the country. Supporting public schools’ innovation and accessibility for all means that you believe in the potential for all Americans to succeed and get ahead. I fear that those who support the private takeover are simply supporting a status-quo culture where some have opportunity and access, and others don’t. Thanks so much for speaking up!

  6. I also wonder how many days of state testing he had to deal with while working on his ideas? What, oh none..? Our students get cheated of not only the resources that would make innovative learning possible, but also the TIME they need to learn ANYTHING due to testing. We had 42 days in one semester of various tests required by the state. When are kids supposed to learn the material being tested? On top of that teachers get nothing done due to testing because we “actively monitor.” Time that could be spent teaching, planning, and innovating is wasted babysitting…

  7. Yes! Please give me a staff to maintain my website and to video the cool stuff that goes on in my classroom. I’d also like a lab assistant who can prepare solutions and clean up -oh, wait. I need some lab equipment, too. Currently, 4 chemistry teachers at my school share 1 set of everything, including chemical splash goggles and aprons. I’d also like a classroom large enough to hold 37 students….. and maybe even some computers…. and then, KA will have a new bar to meet. I’ve been “flipping” my class without technology for years ( ).

  8. Very well said, Chris. Makes me proud to be an educator. Comments like that are so discouraging. Your defense lifted me right back up. While Mr. Khan was innovating was he also teaching students for 6 and a half hours, attending 2 hours of meetings, returning parent phone calls and emails, etc. all in one day?

    • I too was disgusted by what Mr. Schmidt said on 60 Minutes this evening (and what Mr. Khan said, but that’s a different topic.)

      You want to fund something real Mr. Schmidt? How about establishing funds for high schools to start Writing Mobile Android Apps classes? The funds could pay for teacher training (if necessary), books, Android SDK installation help, and a variety of Android devices. It could be a one semester course, following the structure of the Android development tutorial. There could be small projects to get the students started programming, and then working up to harder ones that help with the main parts of the Android framework. The students could then work on their own app that they finish and put on the Android Market.

      This is a summary of the course description that I just finished writing about for the rest of the schools in my district in Maryland. I first designed and taught the course last year, and I am teaching it again now.

      Innovation never comes from established institutions?

      • Mr. Schmidt could also fund newspapers in our classrooms. My students read print copies of The NYTimes every day in class and the effects have been astounding. They are broadening their knowledge of the world, debating amongst themselves and with adults, writing in response to issues, and so much more. I spoke to over a hundred teachers this summer about what my co-teacher and I are doing. Most of them were dying to do something similar with their students. But guess what? Subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, and journals cost money; money that school districts don’t have. The result? Fewer kids reading.

        And don’t even get me started on the #bookgap, as Chris wrote about in the entry before this one. You and Google could revolutionize education just by funding classroom and school libraries.

    • You are right, he didn’t have to return parent phone calls, emails or attend meetings. To achieve more than just talking about innovating – to do the actual thing – he needed to quit his day job and work full time on the project. Innovation is about execution as much as about the ideas. Sure, flipping the classroom has been bantered about in research communities for some time. It’s nothing new. What is new is getting the 1000s of little decisions right along the way to building a valuable project that catches philanthropic eyes. Let’s not put the cart before the horse here: it was a brilliant project before it was funded. And it is brilliant. The millions of unique users every month that use it are a pretty strong testament to that.

      And it opened the door for Coursera (where I’m presently learning statistics from a professor at Princeton along with 75,000 other students) and for Stanford to “flip the class” in some of its graduate level classes, including one in which I recently was a student (despite being in industry for a decade, it’s important to keep learning!). Stanford has a $16.5b endowment sitting in the bank (a little less than half of what Google does) to spend entirely on education, yet it took a wall street guy quitting his job and working for free to give Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller room to build Coursera, Sebastian Thrun (head of Google’s self-driving car) to build Udacity, MIT’s MITx, etc…

      It isn’t money, it’s passion, dedication, and, above all, execution.

      My 2 cents.


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