Opinion: What Silicon Valley Executives Keep Getting Wrong About Education

Judy Hartnett's picture
Monday, February 27, 2012

Successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who, in creating and running their businesses, clearly understand the importance of understanding the market and testing how effective their products are, seem to leave those important instincts at the door when they comment on -- and these days increasingly get involved in -- K-12 education.

When it comes to making important business decisions, they will regularly seek the advice of domain experts, often at considerable cost in consulting fees, but they fail to recognize the equal importance of domain expertise in education.

The always interesting and provocative reflections of the legendary Silicon Valley investor (and Sun Microsystems co-founder) Vinod Khosla provided the latest example of this when, in his Feb. 19 blog-post in TechCrunch, he wrote:

"Education 2.0 [...] we have not experimented enough with [...] out-of-the-box approaches but have instead tried to force-fit [...] traditional (often broken) ideas into the 'computerized' model."

Which might sound fine if this statement were not preceded by his explicit mention of Khan Academy as one of the new experiments. For KA is precisely a traditional approach transported onto the Web, namely one-to-one instruction, sitting side-by-side with the teacher. Is KA valuable? Sure it is? But "all" Sal Khan has done is take the traditional textbook instruction and put it up on YouTube.

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