U.S. Education = Growing Concerns

The drumbeat for improvements to American education — especially PK-12 grows louder.  From the halls of academia to op ed pages to business leaders, American citizens of all stripes and political persuasions are quite concerned about the state of education.  These concerns range from quality as measured by test-driven curriculum and schedules to lack of workforce preparation to school funding.  As a professional educator and curriculum architect, my concerns lie in the millions of missed opportunities for student learning and the loss of excellent educators.

A couple of articles that have caught my attention are a January 2011 piece by George F. Will and an article by Diane Ravitch in the March 28/April 4, 2011, edition of Newsweek.  Will generally opines from a conservative perspective and his op-ed “Getting American Students to  Find the Goal Posts of Success” certainly aligns with a such a stance.  For example, even as he describes the dismal performance of American students when compared to their international counterparts, he supports the United States model of states rights as related to education.  Will posits such a logical solution for the 50-states high-stakes tests vs national/international measures:  maintain state flexibility but reward according to national goals.  This sounds quite simple but it is far from it on numerous levels:  type of exams, big business of high-stakes testing that has mushroomed since the early 1990’s, transitioning a massive system, etc.  Nevertheless, if the United States embraced a widely-recognized, psychometrically sound measure, e.g., the  National Assessment of Education Progress , as the one measure of student progress:   one clear goal post would be established as both Will and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recommend.

In Obama’s War on Schools, Ravitch, usually on the opposite end of the political spectrum from Will,  describes the downward spiral of American student performance due to high-stakes testing.   When student performance on such tests becomes the one measure of teacher and school performance, the pressure explodes through the roof to “drill baby drill” — borrowing a phrase from a well-known politician.  In this case, the drilling is repeated exercises in test-taking throughout every school year.  This use of time is not only wasteful for many students but it greatly reduces resources for the heart of the matter:  learning.

Unfortunately, leaders are not looking to experts in education, measurement, child growth and development, social factors and economics.  These experts, teachers, administrators and parents are on the sidelines of problem-solving unless they espouse politically popular recommendations:  labeling schools as failures based on a house of cards model.

America has thousands of successful public schools.   We must showcase these success stories and find ways to replicate.  Citizens and elected leaders also must understand that education is extremely complex.  It involves multiple factors outside the control of the teacher and the school.  Yet public education for every American citizen — regardless of gender, race, ability or socio-economic status — is the bedrock of our democracy.

America desperately needs an education blueprint for today and tomorrow.  Such a blueprint is not a static document but one that is designed to educate internationally competitive young people who will be America’s future entrepreneurs, business executives, teachers and parents.

We need a strong non-profit organization or coalition of the willing to step forward.  This group must not be beholden to either political party; it must be inclusive and committed to the long-haul of transformative thinking, problem-identification and finally problem-solving.  Can your association take on this life-changing, life-sustaining mission?  Call me, I am ready to help.