Saturday, December 16, 2006

Education 2.0

This week's must read comes from the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. While I'm wary of business interests helping shape education policy (Chambers of Commerce come to mind) I am certainly willing to at least give their POV a listen/read. I do frame their comments with the fact that their interest is in obtaining worker bees and consumers. Yes, that's a very narrow description but this study group's own site states something similar:

The final report proposes a restructuring that America’s economic preeminence hinges on the preeminence of our educational system. Skills
There are certainly some things in this report that I can support and would encourage others to seriously consider. The first being to dump what I call 'time in seat'. Too often the educrats are appalled at the mere mention of the fact that it is possible for a child to obtain a normal K-12 education in less than 13 years. I've advocated for years that these children be allowed to take the appropriate tests to prove their skill level and then be released to go on and get the skills/education they and their parents determine is best for them. There are many children out there that consider K-12 a jail sentence. If they knew that it was possible to shorten the jail term I believe they'd be energized and encouraged to pass those tests in exchange for their freedom. This report echoes my thoughts this way:
One of the biggest proposed changes - the state board examinations that would allow qualified 10th graders to move on to college - would eventually add up to $67 billion in savings that could be reallocated elsewhere, the report estimates. Christian Science Monitor
Further they suggest:
Improve school salaries in exchange for reducing secure pension benefits, and pay teachers more to work with at-risk kids, for longer hours, or for high performance.
I've always advocated for paying great teachers great wages. And I'm all behind allowing people to handle their own pensions. I certainly think that some sort of 'combat' pay to reward teachers for successfully taking on the really hard jobs is right.

The article on this study goes on--
"We've squeezed everything we can out of a system that was designed a century ago," says Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, and vice chairman of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, which produced the report. "We've not only put in lots more money and not gotten significantly better results, we've also tried every program we can think of and not gotten significantly better results at scale. This is the sign of a system that has reached its limits."
He's right. It's been some 100 years since those industrial giants created our current education system for an economy that hardly exists anymore. The trick will be to persuade those whose livelihood or political power depend on the current system continuing as is to put the needs of the children at the forefront.

I do not agree with their recommendation to scrap local school funding for state-wide funding. I am a firm believer in local control of schools. See "Local Control is a Must" regarding our own Tennessee Comptroller's reach.

You can order the entire study here for about $20.

We've got some Nashville mayoral candidates who've already made the education of the children here part of their political platforms--let's hope they're willing to use that bully pulpit to encourage some legitimate reform.

Update: This was done before.
The commission is the second of the same name. In 1990 the first commission released a report similarly detailing the failings of American education, and its influence helped advance the standards movement that culminated in the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which became law in 2002.


Tom said...

This proposal is exciting. These kinds of proposals won’t only shorten a “jail sentence” by 2 years, but can transform the educational system to one that students find more relevant and meaningful. This is a great plan in many ways.

Here’s a take from Time magazine’s article about the report:

For the past five years, the national conversation on education has focused on reading scores, math tests, and closing the “achievement gap” between social classes. This is not a story about that conversation. This is a story about how the big public conversation the nation is not having about education, the one that will ultimately determine not merely whether some fraction of our children get “left behind” but about whether an entire generation of kids will fail to make the grade in the global economy because they can’t think their way through abstract problems, work in teams, distinguish good information from bad or speak another language than English…. While that report includes some controversial proposals, there is nonetheless a remarkable consensus among educators and business and policy leaders on one key conclusion: we need to bring what we teach and how we teach into the 21st Century.

It is all thinking outside the box… and that box at the top of your entry, while relevant, becomes part of the problem with the hyper focus on standardized, minimal skills testing. The measures have their place, to be sure, but when the measurement itself becomes the goal as it has in the last decade, (and when the measurement itself is an easily manipulated, poorly constructed minimal skills assessment), I can understand why many students feel like they are in a jail sentence.

This report, if heeded, will get educators to focus on authentic learning, which includes reading, but much more, and can be more individualized, so fewer students get bored waiting for the laggards. We need to prepare students for the rest of their lives, not merely for a multiple choice test. This group gets that. These reforms are going to be tough for those who get their understanding of public education from the boxes in The Tennessean, but if more educators can start thinking outside the box, shouldn’t we be able to expect the rest of the public to as well?

This is what many of us have been waiting for, and it reminds me of something I read recently:

in insisting that achievement not be gained at the cost of real learning: learning that is both challenging, lasting, and fun. School should be a positive and nurturing environment where children learn to love learning, and where teachers are given the resources and the freedom they need to foster that kind of environment. 1

I’d tell you why I disagree with my national union’s president on pensions being the only retirement package option, but I’ve got to go write some test questions. Maybe you’ll blog specifically on that sometime and I’ll get a chance to respond.

Anonymous said...

The cost per pupil is rising, but that is due to inflation. Reading scores are rising slightly; there is progress. So, what's the problem?

Most of the problems that educators and parents face are the negative media influence upon the lives of students. Although parents are responsible for their child's media intake, many parents are also negatively influenced by media. Therefore, there children continue the cycle of juvenile delinquency while media giants such as Viacom make money.