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#education and American Dream: Are we failing the test?

October 26, 2014
Village

“It takes a village to raise a child.” African Proverb

Nicholas Kristof wrote a piece for today’s New York Times, The American Dream is Leaving America, that puts into perspective the challenges we face in American education if we intend to provide a bright future for every child.

He writes:

In effect, the United States has become 19th-century Britain: We provide superb education for elites, but we falter at mass education.

In particular, we fail at early education. Across the O.E.C.D., an average of 70 percent of 3-year-olds are enrolled in education programs. In the United States, it’s 38 percent.

I wrote a series of posts a few months back about early childhood education in the United States.

In these pieces, I try to make the case that our investment in early childhood education is a game changer.  However, it will take great courage on our part as a country to invest resources into the programs that work, innovate programs that are not making a difference, and create new programs that will help all children discover their potential and follow their dreams.

We have to transform a society that has lost respect for the teaching profession.  We scapegoat teachers for the problems in education and we build elaborate hierarchies that remove the decision-making further and further from educators in the classroom.  Politicians and educational policy makers have never been very good at solving complex problems, like those that exist in our public educate system.  We have to invest more in school leaders and teachers designing solutions to problems.  A model for this work is being implemented in Atlanta K12 Design Challenge.  See a recent post that highlights how design teams of teachers are using design thinking to solve for complex challenges in their schools.  This project is a public-private partnership between Fulton County Schools and private schools in Atlanta (click here).

Kristof lays out the challenge before us when he shares this observation of the data.

In some quarters, there’s a perception that American teachers are lazy. But the O.E.C.D. report indicates that American teachers work far longer hours than their counterparts abroad. Yet American teachers earn 68 percent as much as the average American college-educated worker, while the O.E.C.D. average is 88 percent.

Are we going to continue to invest valuable resources and energy into discussing value-added measurements for teacher evaluation, on boarding national high-stakes assessments, or whether charter schools are a good investment.  All of these are issues are mostly politically motivated and not concerned about the quality of learning available to each American child.  Let’s cut out the distractions and get down to the real issues of why our educational system is failing at least 25% of our children (those who don’t graduate from high school).

Again Kristof points to one of those challenges when he writes:

A new Pew survey finds that Americans consider the greatest threat to our country to be the growing gap between the rich and poor. Yet we have constructed an education system, dependent on local property taxes, that provides great schools for the rich kids in the suburbs who need the least help, and broken, dangerous schools for inner-city children who desperately need a helping hand. Too often, America’s education system amplifies not opportunity but inequality.

I for one am tired of our politicians doing little to address the growing gap between rich and poor or the inequity in our education system.  It is a story we have been reading about for the past 20, 30, or 40 years.  When will all of us get tired of this story being told?  I hope soon.  At least Kristof is trying to combat the tide.  Good for him!

At the Center for Teaching, we are trying to build public-private partnerships, like those in AK12DC, so that our schools are sharing best practices, learning from one another, and investing in the teachers’ creative talents.  This is our way of making a difference.

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