Education is the one topic that never seems to be at the top of the list of issues during each election cycle. It’s always a blip on the screen, barely mentioned at all. Yet, during each Presidency since at least Clinton, there has been a major education bill passed and signed into law. Most recently, the very unpopular No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 was replaced by the Every Child Succeeds Act (ECSA) of 2015, much of the most unfavorable parts, including the massive testing requirements, of the NCLB was carried over into the ECSA. All of these new laws expanded the current system in some way, but none of them fundamentally changed the way we educate.
George Wood once stated, “The broad goal of NCLB is to raise the achievement levels of all students, especially underperforming groups, and to close the achievement gap that parallels race and class distinctions.” He points out that the legislation’s purpose was to address the failing school epidemic by forcing schools to focus on “improving test scores for all groups of students” and that this would give parents “more educational choices” and ensure “better-qualified teachers.”
So instead of actually improving the system, legislators chose to test kids into a coma, only pointing out the degree to which they were behind, and offering no real solutions to the problem. Of course, federal dollars were attached to the bill, but again there were no solutions attached to those dollars. So for 14 years, educators, parents, and teachers continued on the path of testing, testing, testing but never creating a real solution.
Then came ECSA. When you read the description of the law on the Department of Education’s website (linked in the first paragraph above), it seems like a great attempt at changing education for the better. But, there were two words that consistently popped out at me: Accountability and Grants. Accountability is achieved by continuing the rigorous testing and using those scores as part of teacher evaluations. And now, stories of teachers intimidating students by telling them they will fail if they don’t pass the tests. Grants were provided as the reward, providing money for those schools with acceptable test scores, and holding “failing” schools accountable by withholding money.
MONEY! MONEY! MONEY! No meaningful strategies, no meaningful solutions, just money.
In 2009, a bunch of bureaucrats and lawmakers agreed upon a new set of standards, The Common Core State Standards Initiative, “real-life learning goals,” as the CCSSI claims. Not a fundamental change, but it was, at the very least, an attempt to establish milestones, regardless of where the child was being educated.
Many parents and states are firmly against the new standards; it was new and different than anything they learned in school and it’s perceived by some as federal government oversight on a state issue. We all know people do not like change. So, under pressure from parents, elected school boards rejected the change, as did many elected governors and legislators who backed them up. But, again, federal dollars were attached to the adoption of the new standards. If a “failing” school failed to implement the standards as prescribed by the DOE, federal dollars would be withheld. Again, MONEY! This didn’t sit well with many states because, after all, that’s their tax dollars being dangled in front of them. So instead of opting out of the new standards altogether, states began to rename the new standards, thinking parents wouldn’t realize.
We can all debate the efficacy and educational worth of Common Core. What doesn’t seem debatable is the implementation of such a massive change. We took 5th graders and introduced a building block model, where they had no foundation. We basically threw them into the swimming pool and said “sink or swim” without ever teaching them how to float first. Maybe a better analogy is giving your child a lego set to build the Empire State Building and telling him to start on the 5th floor.
Arne Duncan, United States Secretary of Education
Then, we gave them a series of tests, but instead of giving the teachers the tools and resources to help complete the set, we told (ok, actually Arne Duncan told) parents, “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were!” And still, no solutions have been offered to fill the obvious gap that Common Core created…except summer school as punishment to failing these arbitrary tests.
Common Core and the new ECSA have a common theme repeated throughout: “College and Career Ready.” We are telling parents of kindergartners that their child must know x,y, to be “College and Career Ready,” never once taking into consideration that not all kids will want, need, or are even capable of going directly on to college. A prediction that couldn’t possibly be known in Kindergarten and in many, if not most, cases it’s not even predictable until High School. Requiring kids to be “College and Career Ready” really is only beneficial to those who go on to college because the current standards fail to address the “career” part. Even more importantly, the standards fail to address “Life Ready” skills.
What solutions can we implement? Should we open the system up to competition and support the right of parents to opt-out of the system and take their tax dollars elsewhere, whether that means private school, charter, or homeschool? Should we give kids an alternative path to being career ready? Should we implement a completely different education model that is tailored to the educational needs of the individual instead of the collective “one-size-fits-all” model? America is no longer in the industrial revolution and the current system is no longer effective or efficient for the 21st century. Fundamental change is not only needed, it is imperative to being “Life Ready.”
Every Child Succeeds…WITH OPTIONS! (Continued) – children creative learning center
Options. To better prepare kids for the future, we must create and provide them and their parents with options.
Option #1 : Bust-up the education monopoly. Create Competition!
ChangeThere is great public interest in the state providing a K-12 public education system to ensure that the residents within their community are provided the opportunity to gain, at minimum, a basic education. The community is a stake holder and because of this “stakeholder” relationship, communities play a necessary role. But, parents should then have the option to place their child in the school of their choice, the one that best meets their child’s needs. They should not be forced against their will to enroll their child based solely on their address, wealthy parents shouldn’t be the only ones who have access to private schools, and parents who homeschool also shouldn’t have to forego the benefit of their tax dollars if they chose to opt-out of the “system.”
Competition in the market is necessary to remain relevant and productive, otherwise we risk complacency and apathy. In the article, Competition in Education, John Martin Rich argued that competition “promotes full use of one’s abilities, ensures that benefits and burdens are more fairly allocated, dispels apathy and stagnation, leads to higher standards, protects consumers and others from monopolistic practices, promotes progress, and stimulates advancements in science and other fields.”
We have choices in almost every facet of our lives; countless smartphones, hundreds of brands of televisions, and entire grocery aisle dedicated to toilet paper. The one product we have little-to-no choice? Education…at least not for the majority of Americans. We have boxed them out of the market place, created a government run monopoly, and the consumer is increasingly unhappy. More importantly, the low-income families are being cheated out of a quality education.
The national average spent per year on education per student is around $12,401, based on the latest available data, which covers expenditures for instruction, student support, instructional staff services, operation and maintenance, administration, transportation, and food. If every parent were able to use that money to place their child in the best available educational environment, wouldn’t every student be given a much greater opportunity to succeed? Low-income families would be given similar, if not equal, opportunity to their higher income counterparts. It would close the education-economic gap by creating competition between public, private, charter, and other alternative schooling. Parents would have greater access to much needed resources, even tutors or specialized instruction, that otherwise would never be available.
The argument made by many teachers’ unions (see NEA’s position here) and public school “advocates” is that only the good students will leave and the school will be stuck with only the under- or low-performers. They claim “vouchers” would “encourage economic, racial, ethnic, and religious stratification”. This is an understandable argument against school-choice, if it were true. Currently, schools are very divided by race and socio-economic status. Most low-income families self-segregate based on housing affordability and cost of living. This tends to create schools with mostly low-income families, where the tax base is relatively low. If parents of low-performing, low-income schools were given the school-choice option, diversity would shift into middle-to higher income, higher performing schools, where the tax base is larger and resources are more easily available. It would also give lower-income parents a private school option, one that is generally given only to those families who can independently afford private school. The competition created by school choice also forces these low-income, low-performing schools to address the educational gap, make adjustments, or risk getting shut down.
Option #2: Transition public schools to University Model-type system!
What is the University-Model? It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a model of education that allows students and parents control over what, when, and how they learn. Currently, the University-Model schools are private, Christian schools (see the NAUMS for more information), but what if public schools had the opportunity to adopt such a flexible, student- and parent-driven, model.
The one thing that is completely absent from our current system is student control, and parental control is often limited to non-existent. We have this idea that our children should have no control over themselves and no decision-making power until they reach some arbitrary age, 18. What’s the best way to learn self-discipline, self-control, independence, and responsibility? It’s not by being told what do to do. It’s not by force or strong-arming.
According to a recent study published in the ICCTE Journal, “students follow a university-style schedule, attending classes either Monday-Wednesday-Friday or Tuesday-Thursday. Students enroll in rigorous academic courses on a semester basis, taking only the courses they desire. They develop a strong work ethic that will serve them well in college.” This flexible, student-driven schedule empowers them to TAKE CONTROL of their Optionseducation. The student is responsible for their choices and the parents will be empowered to become more involved in the decision-making, rather than giving all that away to administrators and teachers. The study showed that students’ scored 32 points higher than their peers at other Christian private schools. This could be an indicator that when students are given control of their academic development and given choices in their self-selected learning path, they perform better. (Note: This study only compared UMS schools to other Christian private schools and did not include traditional, public, brick-and-mortar schools.)
It is viewed by proponents “as a balanced approach; teachers and parents are true partners in the educational process.” The teacher is a facilitator in the early years and eventually transitions to course guide by the time the student reaches high school, promoting more self-directed learning. The parents make sure their children are engaged, learning and achieving their own personal goals.
While not all children and parents will be interested in such a nuanced model, and not all administrators and teachers will want that level of change, it is a fundamental change in the way we currently educate our children; one that has a record of success and is growing in the private school market. One that some, maybe many, public schools and their students would enjoy huge benefits.
Option #3 : Revamp the High School Experience: Give students the opportunity to become “Career” and “Life” Ready!
SuccessOnly about 45% of low-income high school graduates are enrolling in college. What about the ones who gave up and dropped out, or did graduate but didn’t enroll? For those students who decide to either postpone or forego college, what options are they being given? Why are we not partnering with vocational and technical schools to provide them with the opportunity to earn a certificate or degree to prepare them for entering the workforce at the time they graduate high school?
The state of Virginia is currently considering a bill to revamp the entire high school experience. According to a recent Washington Post article, Sen. John C. Miller (D – Newport News) is the sponsor of the Senate version of the bill which “would focus on core academic courses in the first two years,” and the students’ remaining years would be used “to decide whether they would like to go to college and continue on with education courses or if they would prefer the flexibility to try and come up with the skills needed for a career.” Miller stated that this new option would give the students the ability to “earn credits for an array of out-of-classroom activities, such as internships and apprenticeships.”
This bill should go even further by providing these children the option to use their tax dollars to pay for these technical or vocational classes. Technical and vocational schools of higher education should also be required to partner with local or regional high schools to provide the necessary programs for these students to earn the appropriate credits and requirements to, not only fill any graduation requirements, but also any certification or licensing requirements.
These measures, none of which are mutually exclusive, will help further drive down the drop-out rate and will give students the necessary skills applicable to the job market, further reducing the unemployment rate, as well as helping to drive down the poverty rate. Most low-income students have little to no options outside of seeking a college education, but feel they are often faced with too many hurdles to accomplish that. An alternative path and the ability to utilize tax dollars already allotted to their education will give them more options and give them greater control over their education.