Arthur RothKopf, senior VP of the US Chamber of Commerce, wrote a decent response to another question at Politico.com:
Jan Morrison of the Gates Foundation recently posed a rhetorical question that perfectly sums up the state of K-12 education: “Do our schools still look like they did in the 1950s – now ask yourself, do our companies still look like they did in the 1950s?”
Most of what comes out of the US Chamber of Commerce I’m at odds with. They are big supporters of the Bush administration, NCLB, big oil, etc. But this post was more neutral than most. (Perhaps he’s gearing down for the next president?) It was this comment that struck a cord:
Is NCLB perfect? Of course not, but thanks to the reforms of the Act, we can finally evaluate the shortcomings of our education system and ensure that appropriate action is taken on behalf of our students. Just as we expect our schools to change, improve, and evolve over time so, too, do we expect education policy to change, improve, and evolve.
He does, as another commenter pointed out, mention the need for “better teachers”. I know this is a contentious point. But I also know what working conditions teachers must contend with now and we need to give those that are ready for productive change a chance before throwing them out with the bath water.
Here’s my complete reply, posted as a comment:
There are volumes of research available and in progress that demonstrate effective teaching and learning. And yet, few, if any, public education institutions are in a position to implement the change necessary. Scrapping the whole thing and starting over is plausible, but not realistic.
Research tells us effective schooling is a broad endeavor involving multiple stakeholders at the community level. Systemic and sustainable change can only occur if all stakeholders have buy-in and play an active role in the process. Education is a community effort. But this does not entail a community that insist on finger pointing and threats of reduced funding. This means a community that must make every effort to insure the success of the children. It means a Professional Learning Community brought together by knowledgeable agents of change.
School boards could be insuring community resources are available to assist every aspect of the school. This should include not only repair and maintenance, but guest speakers, mentorship opportunities, staffing assistance, and access to workforce expertise. Local colleges and universities should play a role in insuring students are prepared for entering higher education. Learning needs to happen in the context of the community, bringing relevance and real-world examples into the classroom.
Administrators should be intimately aware of organizational change theory and action research. Administrators should be the bastions of research and data driven decision making. They should insure a shared vision and shared leadership is in place. Discipline needs to be left to other dedicated staff.
The National Academies’ call for 10,000 teachers is one piece of the puzzle that can help. Adequate instruction requires personalized attention provided in the way of mentors and facilitators. Ideally, there would be one teacher for every six students in primary grades and one teacher for every twelve students in secondary. But this also requires teachers have adequate time for collaboration, teamwork, planning, and professional development. Teachers need to model life-long learning, but must be given the time and resources to do so.
Students need to be engaged. Technology is fundamental, but it must be student-centered and used to bring authentic, real-world community-based issues to the classroom. Collaboration and problem-based learning should be the norm. Standardized testing needs to reflect the needs of business and industry today, where complex problem solving and soft skills have replaced encyclopedic knowledge.
So what are the barriers? Standardized tests based on memorization and out-of-context equation solving, lack of personnel, lack of systemic community-based support infrastructure, lack of research driven educational technology, and interference from politics.
This isn’t impossible. In fact, it is being accomplished in some research-based schools. Schools that were not scrapped, but chose to work with their communities to bring reform to the educational system. And for a fraction of our costs to engage the war on terror, we could be insuring our economic prosperity.