Thursday, October 18, 2007

What IS Wrong with Our Education System?

Albert Einstein once said, “The formulation of the problem is often more essential than the problem.” That may be the case with our education system.

Ever since the historic Nation at Risk was published in 1983, everyone from business leaders, politicians, and the media has debated about “what’s wrong” with our schools. Despite all that debate, however, no one can agree on what exactly is wrong with our schools. As I have said before, the business community blames our schools for not churning out a skilled workforce; politicians blame our schools for low test scores and lackluster student performance; and, at least nationally, media pundits and cultural warriors blame schools for the breakdown of society and traditional family values.

Much of this confusion over what exactly is wrong with our schools stems from confusing expectations of schools. Business leaders expect schools to produce a workforce. Political leaders expect schools to produce students that are smarter than other students. And many media voices from the right and the left expect schools to produce morally upright, culturally literate citizens.

These divergent expectations don’t necessarily lead to the same result. For example, to succeed in business one need not score that well on standardized tests and one need not know Shakespeare. Conversely, someone who scores perfectly on the SAT and can quote Shakespeare from memory may not be the best candidate for a corporate job.

Some might argue that we can and should fulfill all of the above expectations by producing well-rounded students. I actually agree with that liberal arts approach. And in the best of all words, that would be great. But, in the real world, budget and time constraints limit us from doing all of the above. That said, it then becomes a matter of prioritizing our goals and expectations.

But we haven’t done that. Instead, all of these conflicting expectations have only confused teachers and students. Any teacher can tell you that if expectations are not made clear to students, you doom them to failure. After all, how can you tell if you’ve achieved your goals, if you don’t know what those goals are in the first place? As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you end up going nowhere.”

I, for one, don’t want our students to go nowhere.

So, I believe the first step towards going somewhere is to engage all stakeholders—parents, students, teachers, business leaders, politicians, and the media—in an open and honest discussion about what we want from our schools. That kind of discussion is going to require mutual respect, a willingness to work together, and a focus on the most important part of the education equation: our children.

Ultimately, it means developing and casting a shared vision for our education system, which I must warn you is going to be very, very hard work. But, the work will be worth it, for nothing less than the future of our islands is at stake.

1 comment:

Lucy said...

I agree with your all-encompassing principle. We need to adopt the shared-collaborative leadership if we are to succeed, especially during these dire times. Top-down management doesn't work anymore when we have to address problems using a multi-disciplinary approach. We have to be team players, especially in education where a student learning is affected by so elements surrounding the child.