The Agile Education Manifesto

Posted on 01/25/2015 in misc

Agile software development is an incremental model. It changed how software gets created. The basic idea is to build the product iteratively, never locking yourself into a detailed product plan with no flexibility. Instead of coding for 18 months and launching the complete product, the idea is to get the minimally viable product launched as soon as possible, then keep building on it. By launching early and updating frequently you get immediate feedback, and can change course as needed to make the product successful. This model relies on trust between the developer and customer, as there are no detailed requirements and things can change weekly based on what is learned as the product is built.

It occurred to me that the same idea can and should apply to education.

The agile software development manifesto was written in 2001.

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over Processes and tools

Working software over Comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation

Responding to change over Following a plan

Education in the US is sorely in need of dramatic change, and the agile philosophy can easily be adapted to describe an education model that works better for developers and customers teachers, students, parents, and the entire community.

Individuals and interactions over Processes and tools

We don't need to edit this at all, as it describes exactly the relationship we want in a learning environment. We have about 100 years of data on process driven education, and the results are not pretty. Putting 20 same-age kids in a room and expecting them to learn the same things, at the same time, at the same pace, doesn't work. That anybody every thought it would is kind of amazing. People, and that includes kids, are individuals. As such, the education process should recognize that, and organize around meaningful interactions between teachers and students viewed as individuals, not as insignificant members of a group. Homeschoolers had this figured out years ago. One-on-one or small group interaction is so much more powerful, and efficient, as a learning model. Yes, it will require great change in our school systems. The sooner we start the better off our kids will be.

Working software over Comprehensive documentation

We can edit this to Actual learning over Standardized testing. It's debatable if standardized tests actually measure anything useful at all, beyond a student's skills at taking standardized tests. What we care about is learning. Exactly what is being learned is not that important. Once a kid can read, write, and handle math up through about Algebra I and Geometry he has the tools to teach himself anything else he might want to know. Elaborately documented learning goals mostly serve the people selling the tools to track all that meaningless data. Instead of large bureaucracies churning out out reams of meaningless data, we need small teams actually learning, and doing stuff with that knowledge. Anybody in the education system not directly supporting that effort is unnecessary overhead.

Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation

I would rewrite this as Community collaboration over community adversity. It really does take a village to raise to a child, but today that village is mostly at odds with each other, to the detriment of the kids. What we care about is actual learning, we don't care where that learning happens. In school, at home, at a community center, or at the park, it simply does not matter. Mandatory attendance rules (contracts) need to be abolished in favor of enabling actual learning. If a kid does math at home, science at school, helps out with the family business over the lunch rush, and spends the afternoon reading in a hammock, he is learning at every stop. We need to stop force feeding kids what we think they should learn, and instead get out of the way so that they actually can learn. Parents teachers, and the community as a whole need to work together to allow learning to happen, instead of fighting over taking credit (and the funding dollars), whether any actual learning took place or not.

Responding to change over Following a plan

I don't think we need to change this one at all. Large bureaucratic school systems, much like large ships, simply can't change directions quickly. Change is probably the only constant in our fast paced world. Seniors in high school today had never heard of social media when they started kindergarten, yet navigating the social media landscape is a critical skill for a 17 year old today. You can't delete mistakes from the Internet, yet our education system is woefully unprepared to help 17-year olds navigate critical communication systems in 2014. Mass purchased textbooks lock entire states worth of kids into one textbook committee's idea of how math should be taught. What if your kid doesn't learn that way? This is another area where homeschoolers have excelled. If the 3rd grade math curriculum you chose isn't working you simply sell it on Ebay and try something else. We need that flexibility in the schools, along with teachers that are both trained and empowered to make those changes whenever needed. German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke famously stated that "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." Neither students or teachers are the enemy, but the sentiment holds. No education plan survives contact with the actual students. The flexibility inherent in homeschooling needs to available to every student, and teacher.

The Agile Manifesto is based on 12 principles:

  1. Student engagement by rapid acquisition of useful knowledge
  2. Welcome changing objectives, at any time
  3. Meaningful progress made frequently (days and weeks rather than months)
  4. Close, daily cooperation between teachers, parents, and students
  5. Curriculum is built around motivated individual students, who should be trusted
  6. One-on-one or small group, face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication
  7. Student engagement and happiness are the principal measures of progress
  8. Sustainable education, able to maintain a constant pace
  9. Continuous attention to student input and desires
  10. Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential
  11. Self-directed education should be encouraged as much as possible
  12. Regular adaptation to changing circumstances

We formally recognized (nationally) the shortfalls in the US Education system in the 1970s. 40 years later we've spent billions of dollars on centralized control of education, and have virtually no progress to show for it. It's time to try something different. It's time to get agile.

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