I’m not the best web programmer, but I know the vernacular. I know enough to understand modern website typically have a front end, and a back end. The front end is what is actually loaded up into a browser for a client. The back end is the work that is done on the server(s) before hand. So if i’m going to a link on amazon, the back end will look up the request parameters in the link and be able to match that to information that they have in the database about the product linked. Some back ends just literally present you a page that matches the url, but Amazon’s back end is probably so smart and efficient, it will pull up images that you can click through, products that you can compare this against, other products that aren’t related to this, but you probably would want to know about them anyways. Compare this with a site like Jumprope, Jumprope loads all of the work into the front end, the site takes a long time to pull up a fully functioning app onto your browser screen. If your browser doesn’t have up-to-date flash, it doesn’t’ work. It also has a different relationship with the back end. If you click some links on amazon, you get routed to another page, and you get all of the information from the backend related to that link. For Jumprope, once you get in, you start downloading additional information one at a time from the back end into the page you already have loaded. This dynamic uploading seems cool, but if there is a big update, the jumprope page could pull in contradictory information, because it is not refreshing everything from the back end, it is only pulling what it needs, which can change.
So what does this have to do with schools?
Well, it seems like schools in a lot of ways have a similar relationship. A school with a well-functioning backend has a support network that is going to be utilized whenever things are needed. Bear with me, as these connections may be a little dicey. Let’s say opening up a link on a web page is like doing any kind of transaction at a school. Let’s say you want to go to class. In a school with a well-functioning back end, when you go in your class, you are getting not just the class from this teacher, but connections to the other teachers in that same subject area, you are seeing connections to the previous grade, to the future grades. You’re seeing extra-curricular activities that could be related, and there is an opportunity to do some independent things that relate to only you. In a school with a heavy front-end support, you’ll go to class, and that class will be wholly the environment of that teacher. Thing will run differently in there than in the other classes, from the way that papers are handed in, to the actual paper (i.e. the teacher had to go make copies themselves or didn’t have those resources at all). The connections to things that are supposed to work are there, but they are inconsistent, and everyone knows not to trust them.
Does this make sense?
Sites that have a really good backend appear fast and responsive to the user, as with schools. Sites that have a really heavy front end drain a lot of resources from the front-end machine, and the users patience, as with schools.
A lot of front-end heavy computers look fancy, because fancy looking is the realm of the front end. It is easy for schools to look good, especially for a dog-and-pony show. A lot of back-end heavy sites look almost mechanical and unadorned. This makes sense, as their artistry is in how the little things coordinate.
I thought about this today as I thought about the teachers who work really hard quarter-backing school initiatives at schools like New Day and city-as, while the people in the offices sort of wait around to do basic work, or not much work at all. In that situation there is a lot of stuff going on, that could be crashed at any moment. The front end websites are trouble because they can crash at any moment and you’ll lose your work. They could be stuck having to start from scratch. There isn’t any machine learning processes with front end heavy sites. These schools that have this front-end heaviness end up stressing out teachers who are forced to act like saviors while the support staff disappears behind the scenes carrying out tasks that are necessary, but not dynamic.
For a school to be backend heavy, there would need to be systems that push into the front-end reliably and automatically. The schools would have support staff that can be called into the room to quickly deal with things that they are supposed to deal with and can do so with speed and efficiency because that is what they are specializing in. They can not only take tasks on, but they can take feedback and ideas from what is happening on the front end and bring it in to the back-end or in to the system as a whole. If someone has an idea and they tell someone, that person takes that idea into account and directs towards the appropriate system for addressing it. Just as how my clicking on a keyboard ad tells amazon to address my possible need for keyboard with the right ads on the ensuing pages.
How do we make a school like this?