There is no shortage of articles and reports to describe the many issues we face daily as Americans: immigration, natural disasters, wars, racism, sexism, and shootings. It’s easy to get lost in the sheer number of crises, paralyzing even contemplating what to do next. Worse, we can fall into the trap of negativity, overwhelmed by all that needs to be done to fix our problems.
However, there is one challenge that is not talked about enough: education. “It’s a huge problem in the United States,” Learning Ovations Founder and CEO Jay Connor told my co-author Neil Sahota and I during an interview for our upcoming book, Uber yourself before you get kodak: A modern introduction to AI for the modern business. “Less than 50% of our children are reading at the grade level, and if you’re dealing with needy or very poor populations, in some places, like our schools in New York, it’s less than 20%.”
Before you continue, let those numbers sink in for a moment. Less than 50% of our children read at grade level — and in some places it’s as low as 20%. How can this be true in America, a country with the largest economy in the world? According to Scientific journal, “Reading and writing are among the most important skills in today’s information world. Yet, according to the National Progress Assessment, more than a third of children in the United States lack foundational reading skills.
Like many of today’s challenges, fixing our education system seems insurmountable, in large part because it’s often seen as a political problem. For many, the recent tension between left and right over the Supreme Court nominee points to our country’s struggles to find nonpartisan solutions to our many problems. What if the answer to our education problem had nothing to do with politics? What if the answer was as simple as changing our mindset from “It can’t be solved” to “It can be solved?” What if artificial intelligence could help us do it?
Before we discuss how revolutionary AI can change the way we raise our children, let’s talk about how illiteracy harms life. “The third year is the benchmark. If you fail to read by the end of third grade, you are doomed to be late for the rest of your life,” Connor said. “You are six times more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system, to have poor health outcomes and obviously poor economic outcomes.”
I have personally witnessed the evils of illiteracy. A few years ago I taught at the Los Angeles Public Library. My pupil was a former convict. Not much younger than my father, this man had no interest in hurting anyone or committing crimes now that he was out. What he wanted was to be a truck driver so he could pay his rent and marry his girlfriend. However, to get the job he wanted, he had to pass the written driving test. The problem was that he couldn’t understand most of the questions, let alone study them. To make his goal a reality, he and I worked together for months to sound out words, write them down, and develop his comprehension skills.
I am happy to report that my student was successful. He got the job. He got the girl and things went well. What if he didn’t? This man was one of the working poor of Los Angeles. Without a mechanism such as the public library to help him acquire reading/writing skills, where would he be? By the time we started working together, he already had health issues, likely exacerbated by spending most of his adult life behind bars. If he couldn’t find a job, if he couldn’t improve his situation, there’s every reason to believe he’d return to crime to survive – and likely end up in jail.
With a better understanding of the dangers illiteracy poses to our society and our children, it’s time to examine how Learning Ovations is committed to solving this problem through technology. Years ago, the group partnered with the Department of Education (ED) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support and expand research by observing children play in classrooms. His goal was to find What types of instruction enable students to read at the appropriate grade level. “It allowed us to support teachers and make curriculum recommendations,” Connor said. “Where AI comes in is that our approach is extremely human-specific. We needed a lot of human hours and large amounts of data to make our decisions.
For years, our country’s educational approach has been generalized with an emphasis on standardizing education for every child. What is revolutionary about the Learning Ovations approach is that it uses abundant data that no human being – or even a group of humans – could ever amass, let alone study, to determine an approach individualist of every student in the classroom. “The main starting point for us was previous research that indicated that you have to adapt to a child’s needs to be successful,” Connor said.
A good way to understand Connor’s approach is to consider a scenario where you have five third-graders in a classroom. An advanced child may be reading Harry Potter, another three children may have average reading skills, and the fifth child may not be familiar with books at all. This child may not even know his letters, much less how to read. According to Connor, “The current classroom structure, by and large, would teach all of these kids the same thing. What individualized instruction offers to the child who does not even know his letters is a set of support activities and program choices which would be useful to him, but which are not necessary for the reading of the ‘child. Harry Potter.”
Interestingly, although many dystopian sci-fi fantasies foreshadow a world in which humans abandon their individualism to become slaves to robot masters, the real value of AI technology in the Learning Ovations project is its ability to support many teachers so that they can respond individually to students. through indexing. “Indexing takes what’s in a school’s existing curriculum and links it to the recommended curriculum,” Connor said. “The power of AI is its ability to determine the right amount of individualized activities, materials and instruction to get each child reading at their grade level. As we know, there is a huge difference between the skills of each child, so you must meet their individual needs.
Of course, individualization does not begin and end only with children. The curriculum for each public school district varies from county to county and school to school. In addition, each teacher in each school has their own lesson plans and teaching models. With the help of AI, that’s not a problem. AI-enhanced indexing uses algorithms to marry idiosyncratic teaching materials from these disparate schools, districts, and teachers to create an individualized approach for each child based on their needs.
So how does Connor know this method works? “The way we know it works is a bit like going to test an artificial heart implant. To do this, the FDA would insist that you go through a number of randomized trials. Our work with the ED and NIH has undergone the same level of rigor and research. More importantly, the data speaks for itself. In these same at-risk populations, the new literacy success rate is 94%! »
The research is very clear, according to Connor; knowing the right type of instruction and the duration of that instruction is essential for individualizing general education classes. However, knowing that your method works and getting buy-in do not necessarily go hand in hand. Our toxic political landscape provides daily proof of this. However, Connor is not a politician and has no intention of obtaining political memberships. His organization focuses on working with teachers; not to convince them that it works, but to work with them to improve it.
“Last week I was in upstate New York and we had about 40 teachers together,” Connor said. “In the past, what officials were trying to do was discourage teachers from using their own materials. It only creates resistance. Instead, what we can do now with AI is say, “Let IBM Watson examine it.” Watson will tell us what the rigors are, what the standards are, what it will accomplish, and then you can choose whether you want to include it in your curriculum or make it available to other teachers across the country.
Connor happily recounted that the energy level in the room could not have been higher as he and his team rolled out their program to those 40 educators that day. The teachers were delighted. Why? At that time, no one was thinking about politics or educational philosophies. Everyone focused on the one thing that matters: one solution: learning what it takes to get all of our kids to read.