AI is not the Education Revolution we need

AI is not the Education Revolution we need

Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, recently wrote With AI, Teachers Can Finally Revolutionize Education. Kopp argues that AI can bring about educational equity by relieving teachers of the more mechanical aspects of the job. Thus freed, the teacher can build meaningful relationships, coach, provide feedback, and think big picture. Kopp lists a few examples of AI - Education Technology ventures to bolster her case. She does not disclose whether and to what extent she has any relationships with these businesses.

I am a Teach for America alum and a software developer. I've used LLM's nearly everyday for at least six months. And no, these tools will not revolutionize education, at least not in the ways that Kopp proposes.

I use AI in my day to day for things I don't care about. I don't care enough to pay a graphic designer to make an image of a robot eating a school for my blog, so I use Dalle. I don't care to respond that email, so I ask ChatGPT to do it. I have to figure out the mechanics of a piece of code, I'll ask Copilot. If I want to summarize a document that I'm barely interested in, I'll paste it into ChatGPT. If AI has a Kevin Roose hiccup and demands that I leave my wife, so be it. I don't care.

I do not use AI for things I care about. I don't ask AI to make a marathon training plan for me. I don't ask AI to speak to my wife after we put our kids to bed. I don't tell my kids to ask ChatGPT when they have a weird question (usually). I don't pipe my group texts into ChatGPT for witty responses.

Education falls squarely into the "I care about this so I don't trust AI" bucket. My kids go to a school where they share a classroom with 24 other students. Each classroom also has three teachers. Each teacher has a strong relationship with my children and deep pedagogical expertise.

I believe per pupil expenditure in my kids school is about 2.5x that of the public school down the street. I have friends who send their kids to schools that are 2.5x the price of my kids' school.

We pay a premium for things we care about. For everything else there is AI at $20 per month to Sam Altman.

To be fair, Kopp is not saying that AI can replace teachers or that teachers can offload non trivial work onto AI. My issue with her piece is the opportunity cost of not addressing the real issue in education, which in my opinion has been her modus operandi for thirty years.

That opportunity cost also comes with the hard truth that certain kids, typically kids living in poverty and kids with parents who are not effective educational advocates, get the Teach for America style brand new teachers. Other more privileged kids get the teachers with actual expertise.

Kopp has built her career on the idea that experienced teachers can be substituted for recent college grads, at least when it comes to poor kids. I'm sure she would also agree that AI generated content will suffice for them as well.

The real issue in education is that it is woefully underfunded. We've just gone through a decade of interest free money. We could have turned every school into a palace. We could pay our teachers enough to thrive in our communities. But, the rich don't care enough to pay their fare share. And the rest of us don't have enough to materially impact education at a macro scale.

Kopp is a very successful fundraiser. She has raised hundreds of millions of dollars. But with it she has debased the teaching profession. Like the selling of indulgences by the Catholic Church in the middle ages, she has sold the rich the story that by funding her organizations, they have fulfilled their obligation to public education. After all, they shouldn't have to pay taxes for public schools - look how big their donations to Teach for America are!

When given the choice of paying a fair tax rate to adequately fund public schools or pay far less to Teach for America or AI-built teaching resources, we know how the mega-wealthy have chosen. It will likely be no different when it comes to AI ed-tech. The results will be worse quality materials, a lower price point, a clear conscious for the greedy, and the continued dismantling of quality public education for the rest of us.