Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Public Education -- Alive & Evolving

Rumors about the death and malingering of public education are largely exaggerated. Great things going on in many public schools.* I'm fortunate to be able to visit classrooms around Colorado, and observe teachers and administrators working and learning from each other. What I see is an amazing amount of professionalism, creativity and innovation. (Admittedly, there's mediocrity and bureaucratic fumbling at certain levels too, but that's for another post.)

For all the hand-wringing about education, the U.S. education system overall is doing better than ever — graduating more students, sending more to college, and ramping up the sheer volume of content learned in pre-K through grade 12. To be sure, we can do better, especially with marginalized or disadvantaged students. The industrial model we have been using to organize education is outdated. The shift to a newer, more individualized delivery system is a massive undertaking. District and school change is a slow and poorly understood process, but it is happening. C21L is cataloguing some of that change through the Promising Practices video work.

Recent media coverage about home schooling prompted a reporter recently to ask me if "people are fed up with public education." Some people are indeed, but I am very optimistic about the future of public education, and most Americans feel the same way. In a national survey by Education Next, 43 percent of adults surveyed give the schools in their own community an A or a B, 38 percent assign a C, and 18 percent give a D or F. The ratings are somewhat less favorable among African Americans and Latinos, for good reason — schools are less successful with those students. Even so, most people tend to think the schools their kids attend are good to great. It's those 'other' schools that are doing a poor job.

The media are quick to sound the alarm that schools are doing miserably. In large part, it comes from the politician's playbook -- loudly lament the poor quality of one of government's most important investments and promise to do something about it. For all its flaws, education is the single most important lifeline to pull people out of poverty, and it's our greatest economic engine.

I'm definitely in favor of transforming education organizations toward being more responsive to the needs of individual learners (see Digital Game Changers). I'd be thrilled to see a greater focus on helping students acquire relevant skills for 21st century life, and less emphasis on content coverage. And I'm confident we are moving in the right direction, v-e-r-y slowly.

* For more on this, look at the post by Nancy Flanagan in "The Answer Sheet" blog of the Washington Post.

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