Overcoming the Education Establishment in Order to Fix Schools

Overcoming the Education Establishment in Order to Fix Schools
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"How can we, through a variety of efforts, whether it's through technology, innovation or policy, have an equal opportunity for everyone to participate in the future?" Those were the words of Silicon Valley entrepreneur Michael Moe, and it was the central question addressed by Moe and the nation's leading education innovators and thought leaders on the occasion of the Center for Education Reform's 24th anniversary last week. These individuals, diverse in race and ideology, are unified in their focus and their work.

Their conclusion? Education must be rooted in rigor assuring high levels of literacy and numeracy, be broad in scope, personalized, and accessible beyond ZIP codes and traditional schooling lines. "The way to have better outcomes for all kids is to meet them where they are and inspire them," said former D.C. City Councilman and author Kevin Chavous, rather than the current system that requires them to sit still, be directed by teachers still trained the way they were 50 years ago, and not provide them with an education that truly meets their own way and interests in learning.

Former Gov. John Engler, R-Mich., who this month took over the reins as chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which conducts national assessments and publishes "The Nation's Report Card," kicked off the evening's discussion. Engler's biggest concern is with the nation's inadequate reading scores and its multiplier effect on an individual student's long-term growth.

According to its latest assessment of reading levels, only 9 percent of fourth graders reached the level of "advanced" in reading, only 27 percent are proficient, and a combined 64 percent are basic or below basic. That's in fourth grade.

These troubling figures nearly mirror the NAEP scores from two years prior, and they're almost identical when U.S. students are measured in eighth grade (4 percent advanced, 31 percent proficient and 64 percent basic or below basic). In other words, the U.S. education system has flat-lined from year to year and between grades.

Consider that an estimated 40 percent of students will enroll in a two- or four-year college, but more than 60 percent of those students will need remedial courses, and only 59 percent of first-time college students will graduate within six years.

Engler encouraged the education reform community to eliminate the stigma attached to skilled technical and manufacturing jobs, and the pathways to those careers.

For years, the mantra in education was preparing and ensuring every student would enroll in college, but the evidence is clear, both in terms of student debt, remedial rates, and college dropout rates that the nation is failing to ensure that a majority of students will be prepared for education and for life. While we must work to resolve these issues for young students, we must also address the single biggest issue facing our economy – millions of jobs that don't have workers and workers without the skills and lacking basic literacy necessary for many jobs. The fastest growing sectors in the U.S. economy are technical and manufacturing jobs that require high technological literacy, not to mention a wholly different approach to schooling.

A study by Deloitte estimated the U.S. economy will create 3.5 million manufacturing jobs in the next 10 years.

Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta told a gathering at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week that an estimated 6.2 million unfilled jobs include a high percentage of skilled manufacturing positions that rely on employees having advanced training and technological know-how that yesterday's manufacturing positions did not require.

As our conversation at CER made evident, more needs to challenge the status quo in order to improve our nation's education system. Doing so requires a relentless pursuit of ensuring that innovation and education opportunity are infused throughout all of education, and that we must provide diverse offerings for students to pursue multiple pathways to master basic subjects and become college or career ready.

Chris Whittle, an education entrepreneur who started the first public-private partnership in education, founded the internationally recognized Avenues Schools and now has launched Whittle School & Studios, said the modern school should help every student master the basics and identify the area(s) every student is good at.

Whittle impressed the importance of helping students achieve their unique long-term goal, and more importantly, the vital role a school can play in enabling a student to succeed for the rest of their life. Whittle added, "If a school can help you find that, that school helps you find something else that's even more important, which is confidence…"

Today, the education system silos students throughout their schooling lives to the detriment to students and our nation's success. Those silos are supported and protected by hundreds of separately regulated and restricted funding streams, processes and rules that mandate arcane behaviors that no longer recognize how students learn, how teachers might better teach, how schools may be constructed, and how technology and knowledge might be better utilized and transmitted.

In the next 24 years, we need to break down these silos. We must move away from the us-versus-them mentality perpetuated by the education establishment (namely, teachers' unions, school board associations, and other entities that profit off the antiquated one-size-fits-all approach to education). The need to eradicate silos doesn't end there. As a country we must also eliminate the mentality that education should be delivered by fixed grade levels, that 8th grade or 12th grade has an objective definition, that primary and secondary education should be separate from post-secondary.

The Center for Education Reform is committed to a future for education that centers on the individual needs of the student, from kindergarten through adult life. This nation must ensure that learners at all levels have what they need to access the American dream. That doesn't require more funding; it requires different approaches that embrace the truly American idea of freedom at the core.

The full discussion referenced in this piece is available here.

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