“Learning Leadership” column, October 2012 edition of eSchool News—With the country approaching national elections, those involved in education wonder how the results might affect the educational landscape. The last four years have deeply affected schools systems, as the economic downturn has caused significant reductions in spending and the Obama administration has used stimulus dollars as the carrot to implement its policy initiatives. Here are some key points that we should bear in mind as we move forward.
In response to the education critics, there is substantial evidence that America’s public schools are the best they have ever been. Our graduation rates are at the highest levels, our dropout rates are at their lowest, NAEP achievement in reading and math is at its highest level, the achievement of minority students is at its highest levels. According to the latest Gallup Poll, parent satisfaction with the school their oldest child attends is at its highest level. The problem is that we are not satisfied with our performance, and we want it to be better.
There is a significant gap in achievement between children of color, children on free or reduced lunch, children who speak English as a second language, and white middle-class children. We have two educational systems: one in wealthy suburban communities that can compete with the rest of the world, and one in the impoverished urban and rural systems that has defined the American public school system as a failure. We want all of our public schools to be the best in the world.
Unfortunately, education is not our No. 1 national priority as it is for many of the countries that outperform us on international tests. Education accounts for barely 4 percent of the federal budget. To be the best, we’ll need transformation—and a much greater federal commitment to level the playing field between the haves and have-nots.
To date, reform efforts have merely tweaked the system. They are not transformational. Many reformers are in love with charter schools, but think about it: Charter schools are merely traditional schools that get exemptions from the rules and regulations everybody else has to abide by. If it’s such a good idea, than why not waive the rules and regulations for all schools?
The popular notion to weed out the bad teachers has led to the implementation of evaluation systems that use the same old standardized tests that have been labeled as unreliable and not valid as major criteria in the process. This is an unfortunate development that is proving to be time-consuming and costly and diverts attention from more productive approaches to teacher development. More rules and regulations are being heaped upon the very rules and regulations that stand in the way of transformational change.
True transformation would be providing each child with a personalized education plan; teaching to the standards, not the test; abandoning seat time in favor of performance; doing away with grade levels and the old agrarian calendar; and recognizing that, thanks to today’s technology, learning can occur anywhere.