The Future of Education in Acton Boxborough – Problems with Projecting Future Needs

I have several concerns related to the building project as it relates to how education will be implemented in the future 50 years. Investing over $100 Million is worth considering every reasonable alternative.

First, let's look back on the past 50 years since many of us lived it and were educated during that period. I vividly remember being told by enthusiastic teachers about ,schools in the future,. They really made computers sound like magical problem solvers. Even going back further, there were predictions of direct uploads of educational material to a student's brain in the early 1900s (see cover image of this story or this link Link)! However, we were never as close to having that technology until today. An internet search using terms like, "school of the future 1960" leads to some interesting reading. Many historical predictions were accurate in general: students would learn by computers with video and audio instruction. Many of these models relied on students working at their own pace or possibly directed by their teachers and parents. It turns out there are many flaws in assuming a certain level of self-imposed discipline as well as the time it takes to train individuals to operate computerized learning. Thankfully, there were enough experts around to point out that learning is implemented by instruction and guided experience through both auditory and visual communication and that communication is most efficient between a teacher and student. A computer can simulate instruction but can never replace a human teacher.

Now that we are so close to blending artificial intelligence with human decisions, we are faced with some serious ethical questions: How important is teaching with technology? How is exposure to/relying upon technology possibly damaging to other important learning opportunities? How much individualized data on students should be collected and shared with testing agencies? How secure are these data? Could this information be used against students in the future (mental health, social credit scores (as is being tested now in China, which is assisted by Google))?

As adults, we see trade-offs resulting from using technology. Did experts predict the unintended consequences of how being able to multi-task incredibly efficiently often leads to an inability to concentrate on one task for any meaningful period while also reducing our ability to have a conversation without checking our device (for either messages or information related to the conversation) every 5 minutes or less? Just because we have access to technology and online resources doesn't mean that we need to use it for every part of our lives, much less in the education of young, developing minds.

Given the fact that criticism of using technology excessively in schools has fallen on deaf ears of the administrators and parents (e.g., Google Classroom), it is now deeply embedded in the system so we need to ask how will teaching with technology drive the building design and capacity? This should reduce the need for large, classrooms and even the need for schools in general as more parents are able to provide homeschooling and homeschool coops of some kind. I simply question the accuracy of any predicted educational needs for the next 50 years.

When some of the schools we are now considering replacing were built, there was one "great idea" to open the entire wall of some classrooms to the outside. What an innovative concept! Basically, installing very large, inefficient sliding glass doors. I'm not sure how local hippies at the time sold the idea at Town Meeting, but I don’t' think these doors have opened in decades and they are quite drafty. For a town that is very vocal about energy conservation, there is a lot of heat energy being wasted. The age of the building and predicted longevity of the new building should rise our eyebrows in skepticism. Many of New England's most prestigious academies and colleges proudly use buildings constructed in the 1700s. I live in a house that just turned 50 this year and we're looking at getting a few more decades out of it. Age alone does not disqualify a school usefulness. This decision is determined by structural integrity, capacity, and/or inefficient design. Will the proposed school last for barely 50 years or are we likely to get 100 out of it?

In some ways, I'm encouraged that the plan appears to keep using teachers in their traditional roles and not limiting their tasks to taking attendance, discipline, providing brief instruction on which video to watch (by subject matter experts), distributing worksheets, and grading assignments and tests. Although this is currently common, and often appropriate, enough of us agree that personalized teaching with small classes is valuable and worth the investment. However, there clearly remains disagreement between student wellness, stress-management and special needs vs. accelerating advanced students to obtaining college credits by the beginning of their senior year. These are two very disparate endeavors, each with associated challenges that could drive building design. Will we need more small rooms for special needs in the future and is that ratio appropriate for the projected class sizes? Will the advanced students even need to be in the building? Will the priorities shift so far to the advanced side of teaching that wellness and special needs be marginalized? Will public Pre-K become mandatory? Will there be more required high stakes testing for all grades and even Pre-K that drive room/tech design or capacity? I wouldn't be surprised if the state soon proposes measuring stress of students while testing by attaching passive probes to children requiring renting or purchasing of physiological measuring devices. My predicted response to critics of such a proposal: "It's for their own good. Don't you care about stress?"

My point is, when looking back on predictions from the past, it often seems silly that people supported some of these flawed ideas with great enthusiasm. What makes anyone think that experts in 2019 are any better than those from 1960, 1970, 1980, etc.? The only innovation in the current plan is to build a net-zero building for Pre-K – 6 in one, massive building (ages 3-13). Pre-K is especially a slippery slope because it has historically been provided by private businesses, many offering incredibly diverse options. Does the District/Taxpayers really want to be locked into providing Pre-K in a public building and the associated bureaucracy and a one size fits all Pre-K competing with local, smaller nursery schools? Will state mandates creep further into Pre-K requirements? What indirect requirements will result from agreeing to accept MSBA money? This will possibly cover approximately 30% of the cost, but this may come with such messy strings attached that we end up with a school that is not the right fit for our community.

There are enough questions on the table related to the necessity of spending over $100 Million with substantial tax increases to all property owners that I will be voting NO. I also believe strongly that the integrity of the AB School Committee remains in question. For those of you unfamiliar with past events, please refer to the following link summarizing the foundation of my reservations trusting the judgement of these leaders.

Unredacted-executive session minutes show how supterintendent was pressured

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