Seth Saavedra

Seth Saavedra

A New Mexican born and raised, Seth Saavedra is a transplanted green chile addict currently living in San Francisco. He studied English, philosophy and economics at the University of New Mexico. After two years teaching middle school English in Connecticut, he continued working as a staff member for TFA, which has led to his obsession with talent and human capital, leadership development, and the intersection of education and technology. As the managing director of national talent recruitment for Teach For America, he is proud to connect great people with great jobs. In his free time he serves as league commissioner for many fantasy sports leagues, daydreams about the next city he'll call home, and blogs about his recruiting insights.

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Last week, Sean Cavanaugh over at EdWeek asked whether edu-preneurs should fear the bursting of the current ed-tech bubble. With nearly $300 million in K12 edtech funding in 2012, it’s an unavoidable question, though not an unassailable one. In fact, there’s been ample debate all year and with venture capital investment in education increasing nearly 500% in the past decade, the worry over “bubbles bursting” is legit.

Typically we think of an economic bubble as a matter of investment versus value. With investment and value in sync, there’s a virtuous cycle of innovation and growth, but when investment outpaces real or perceived value: *POP*. GeekWire’s Frank Catalano frets that “digital learning may be getting too popular among entrepreneurs and investors for the wrong reasons and [has] little to do with actually improving education.”

Photo by Amanda Bicknell via WikiCommons

If you’ve followed ed tech chatter these past few weeks, then you know that the buzz around Khan Academy, the popular online repository of educational videos voiced by the charismatic Sal Khan, has taken a rather negative tone ever since two teachers at Grand Valley State University created "Mystery Teacher Theater 2000”—in the style of Mystery Science Theater 3000—a scathing response to a Khan video lesson about negative numbers.


Salman Khan, speaking at TED 2011. Photo by Steve Jurvetson.

For those of you without the nearly 12 minutes to watch the MTT2K video, which has more than 32k views, I’ll summarize: it is short on actual humor and long on math inside jokes and nitpicks about Khan’s methodologies. In fact, I had to watch the video three times to understand the gripes. My main impression is that makers of the video are calling out Khan for a technical flaw or two, and their commentary is tinged with more than a dash of disdain.

While I believe that even the most ardent fans, be they of Teach For America or Khan Academy, must be critically engaged, asking tough questions, and examining fundamental assumptions, there is an important distinction  between critical feedback and cynicism. Robert Talbert offers a measured and balanced view on what he loves and doesn’t about Khan Academy: “I believe online video is an idea whose time has really come in education. I’m not jealous of Khan Academy. But I’m not an uncritical fan, either, and we need to look at carefully at Khan Academy before we adopt it, whole-cloth, as the future of education.”

There’s an ongoing discussion in the education community about what we can learn from the training of our armed forces to better prepare and develop our teachers. With just 13 weeks of intensive core training, the Marines manage to turn young men and women, most with no prior military experience, into a highly-skilled, effective fighting force.

Yet, as Andy Rotherham writes Time, “in American schools, we still haven’t figured out how to give our teaching force—whose members are college graduates, more than half of whom have advanced degrees—autonomy and accountability in a far less dynamic workplace.”

Teach For America corps members at summer institute.

Over the last 22 years, Teach For America has conducted its own intense introductory training for its corps members: summer institute, which consists of five action-packed weeks split between teaching and soaking up classes ranging from classroom management to lesson planning. The environment is nonstop, with the aim to start optimistic corps members—many with no prior teaching experience—on a lifelong journey of becoming effective educators. The hours are long, hard and, given the stakes, completely warranted.

Summer institute has been on my mind as I recently went through the latest “Pre-Institute Work” for 2012 corps members and found myself pleasantly surprised, but still wanting more. While Teach For America’s training and development of corps members is light years ahead of what I experienced when I was at Philadelphia institute many years ago, we have yet to fully embrace the use—and reap the benefits of—education technology (“ed tech”).

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