The 5 Myths Encompassing American Public Education Reform

For over 30 years America has been trying to “reform” our Public Educational system. Yet, was it ever broken to begin with? It has in fact functioned well wherever possible despite some missing pieces and occasional mission drift. We can back track this terrific sham to 5 main premises never adequately questioned or disputed. Was it, and is it, fair or in our interests to compare this nation to nations such as China, India, Russia or other European countries academically? And, did we ever fully digest the drastic differences in national values, lifestyles, and overall accomplishments between the U.S. and those nations? We did not.

Since the 1980’s to present and in reaction to the Reagan Administration’s, A Nation at Risk commission on “our failing public education system,” education reformers have fully invested in 5 mythical premises:

1. We are to compare our national educational statistics to that of our international economic competitors

2. We are to align our educational standards to meet the needs of a future global workforce

3. We are to rely heavily on standardized test scores to measure student performance for international comparison

4. We are to blame teacher quality, or lack thereof, for this proposed failure of our national education performance output

5. We are to tinker heavily in the privatization of education throughout the nation

First, as mentioned in previous articles, how could we ever compare nations with different governmental structures, differing values, differing statistical integrity standards, and differing societal/class distinctions, etc.? For example, China is a communist country which imposes national educational standards upon its students, ignoring the uniqueness and intricacies of locales. They do this because they embrace communism and “the state” decides what, which, and where their industries are to be established. Their workforce is selected, tracked, and groomed from the elementary stage into adulthood. The absence of individual choice is trumped by a fierce utilitarian function embedded into their political system. This is not an American value and we have learned of the historical dangers of practicing such ideologies.

We are compared to India with its middleclass growing exponentially along with growth in software engineering, manufacturing, and medical industries. Their results at face value, is impressive. However, we overlook their impasse with issues of gender discrimination, class/caste distinctions, and racial barriers. While the US is no stranger to these issues, and certainly not innocent of them, we have put mechanisms in place to confront them, (though steadily losing their potency). Women are more likely to be educated and valued in the US presently. America still professes to value the combination of individuality and equality. Another historical lesson we have already embraced and implemented through our ideal of providing Public Education.

The globalized workforce affecting our educational priorities is a sketchy assertion at best. Why? Because it relies wholly on political agendas and policy decisions made during each US election cycle. Industry travels wherever corporate taxes are lowest and to where labor is cheapest. Since economic policy changes can be made within a single election cycle, does this mean we are to change our educational priorities along with time each time? Are we to focus on mathematics more simply because China and/or India are producing more engineers? Is quantity the issue or quality? And, are those nations producing more because of their quality, or because of their larger populations and more exploitable workforce? There was a time when America took pride in its citizenry and their quality of life, (or we at least professed this). Education rooted firmly materialism cannot thrive. The globalized workforce is a concept embracing the value of production, but ignoring our historical embrace of domestic innovation and citizens’ quality of life.

Standardized test scores may only make sense when attempting to justify funding from an outside source (a legislator) that is not present in the classroom, having no knowledge of a particular locale’s economic engine, and is a stranger to a community’s resources, challenges and cultural makeup. It is a one-size fits all suit, where a tailor made one is obviously best. Just as there may be multiple learning styles, there are multiple assessment tools to demonstrate learning and understanding. In America, we value individuality, individual growth, the uniqueness of community, and the benefits to diversity. Did we sensationalize test standardization to address educational quality, or to justify punishment and prepare for hostile takeover of school districts? This issue is linked to teacher quality. A teacher may only be as good as the resources made available, the support they receive, the development made ready, and the quality of life this professional may enjoy as a result of their commitment.

Lastly, privatization has been the cure all presented to the public at large. However, it subtly eludes the murky question of accountability. There is no guarantee to every citizen in the private domain. The private institution tackles admission as it pleases, administers discipline as it wishes, pays employees however it wants, and the bottom line is its ultimate concern. The private institution runs itself as a monarchy making decisions from the top down, appointing its nobles rather than collectively considering merit, and selling us convenience and speed while ignoring the necessary time to debate, analyze, compromise, and collectively agree. Democratic practices are lost.

These are the values in which we should be proud of and should celebrate: 1) we do not track our students, we facilitate them, 2) we do not compete our students against each other, but rather against their own circumstances, 3) we strive to value ALL of our citizens and their quality of life, 4) we embrace diversity, because we are proudly a diverse nation, and 5) we value our natural environment, our multilingual, multi-racial, multi religious and non-religious differences and recognize that citizenship in our nation requires advanced citizenship. We educate to create societal citizen engineers. America suffers from an education equality problem in distribution, NOT an educational quality problem.

A Parents Guide – How To Improve Your Children’s Education And Grades

A primary responsibility for all parents and guardians is to ensure their children get the best education possible, thereby increasing their children’s chances of leading successful, independent, adult lives. Regardless of what grade level your children are in now, Elementary through High School Graduation, there are important steps all parents must take in order to help their children do well in school. Unfortunately, many parents expect school teachers and school systems to carry the entire responsibility of educating their children, allowing other activities and family matters to supersede this vital area of children’s lives. So, what steps can you take, as the parent or guardian, to better improve your children’s education?

Priorities And Setting Goals-

Communicate to your children the value and importance of working hard each and every day, setting achievable and attainable goals, being sure to lovingly encourage and praise your children for each goal achieved. Some parents have a tendency to criticize and berate their children for grades received, labeling their children as “Stupid”, “Lazy”, and other demeaning names which only create poor self-esteem. Having high expectations for your children to “do their best in school” can only be accomplished by taking steps to build up your children’s self-confidence. While your son or daughter may be very good in math or spelling, but struggle with reading or biology, be consistent in your praise for their good education skills. Remind yourself of the old adage, “If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all”.

Identify Problem Areas-

If your children exhibit poor performance in studies, observe your children closely and ask them questions to identify problem areas and offer helpful solutions. A few examples of common problems some children have are:

  • Spending too much time on extra-curricular activities
  • Waiting until the last minute to work on homework assignments
  • Difficulty in understanding study material and teacher objectives
  • Slow reading skills or undiagnosed health issues
  • Poor diet and sleep patterns – tired and irritable
  • Difficulty interacting with other children – being bullied at school

Family Routines-

Studies show that parents who create and maintain family routines raise successful students, versus parents that don’t. The study environment is an extremely important aspect of providing your children optimal opportunities for success in school. Where do your children study and complete homework assignments? Consider having your children study and do their homework at a table or desk, rather than curled up on the couch where they are likely to fall asleep. Provide a calm and quiet atmosphere to read or study, without the distractions of a radio or television playing in the background. Make it your family routine that homework assignments must be completed before play time with friends, chores, or other activities.

Provide A Tutor-

There are many benefits to providing your children a Tutor. Providing your child/children a Tutor is an excellent way of showing your children that their education is of vital importance to you, especially if you did not receive optimal education yourself, or you have forgotten portions of subjects your children are currently studying. Opportunities for your children to receive direct, 1-on-1 tutoring, helps alleviates stress and worry for many children, and has been proven to greatly increase grade scores.

Maintain Parent/Teacher Relationship-

When was the last time you attended your children’s P.T.A meeting, or the Parent/Teacher Conference held at your children’s school? Waiting for your children’s school to inform you of how your children are performing or behaving in school, rather than your actively seeking consistent involvement, quickly teaches your children the wrong message. Spend ample time with your child’s teacher, through face-to-face meetings, telephone conversations and email exchanges, keeping yourself informed of your children’s progress at school. Set the right example, get involved.

What Else Does Family Involvement Include?-

Family involvement takes into account many things. Read to your child. Have your child read to you. Have your child see you reading. Limit time spent viewing television or playing video games. Take time to do activities together, such as playing cards or board games, gardening, going to the park or zoo. Find opportunities to use fun times as an educational tool for your children’s benefit, as well as your own. It’s never too late to improve your grades.

Take Responsibility For Your Child’s Education and Move On!

For parents of children with special needs, it’s essential to let go of issues in special education that you cannot change. Every child in the school system will have good years and not-so-good years. Special Education is not any different. However, you are your child’s essential advocate, you must take responsibility for the current situation and MOVE ON!

Blaming staff members for not being accountable for your child’s education is pointless. You can’t change anyone else’s actions, but you can become accountable yourself for not letting irresponsible staff members effect your child’s progress. Yes, you may be angry that they did not fulfill their job obligations, but admit it… you are also angry at yourself for not catching it sooner. Your child will benefit much more when you can take inventory of where their learning is currently at and what positive steps can be made for change.

Three ways to move on and improve your child’s education:

  1. Review your child’s education and pick 5 priorities for the next 30 days for your child to work on.
  2. Talk with staff members at the school to discuss your new-found priorities.
  3. Share your priorities with your spouse and the child’s siblings to assure everyone is focused.

By including all members of your child’s life in on the new game plan, you are creating a team of inspiration and energy that can help you move forward from the not-so-great decisions that may have been made in the past. Remember, education is a journey and all experiences lead us to the people we are, your special needs children will appreciate the wide ranges of experiences, perfect or not.

Educational Leadership in the 21st Century

Education plays a unique role right from the birth of humanity in its onward journey. In the background of the emerging global country of 21st century, education has incomparably challenging roles to play. The ‘global family’ becomes a close -knit community, minimizing and eliminating geographic, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and all other barriers and the role of education has to undergo a conspicuous change. At this era of reconstruction and redefining, the very concept of education has to be reconstructed, redefined and modified assimilating the good elements of the past and discarding the bad ones. In fact, the basic concept of education remains intact in its mission but pedagogy and methodology have to be reviewed. That is what T.S Eliot said, “It is in fact a part of the function of education to help us escape, not from our own time — for we are bound by that — but from the intellectual and emotional limitations of our time.”The educational leadership in this century is endowed with the noble role of managing these changes in an effective and appropriate manner.

The most important challenge of education is to keep pace with the knowledge society. The knowledge and information evolve, develop and are acquired at an alarming speed. The educational leadership has to help the institution encompass the exploding growth of knowledge lest it would remain obsolete. This emphasizes the education being technologically up to date and scientifically exploring. This paradigm shift is due to the giant leaps in communication and information technology that can be manipulated as an asset rather than a challenge. Thus, the real concern in education today lies in the effective management of this complex phenomenon. Therefore, the academicians need to be dynamically ultra paced in the pedagogic process.

The highest edge of competition is the talisman of 21st century. This quest for excellence prioritises the need for competitiveness in all fields. The quiescent knowledge imparted through conventional methods may leave the principal and the agent in the education far behind the signs of the time. The product of an alma mater needs to be equipped with the best to face the world ahead of it. Unless the institution succeeds in this noble mission, it will merely be added up as just one among the others in the list of the so-called millions of schools. Thus, leading innovation in education ensuring uncompromising quality in the minutest of details and at the same time being effective, the educational leadership makes an institution a pace-setting one.

An effective education is life education. Advancing one’s knowledge and imbibing competence become worthwhile only when it contributes to the emotional intelligence and quality of life of the individual. John Dewey defines,” Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself”. 21st century has the biggest chaos in its values and priorities. Along with achieving professional growth in life, the overall development of the individual needs a special stress. Education should equip an individual to re-define and re-discover the culture and values for oneself. How an individual takes decisions and allots priorities depend on how well the education has expanded his/her horizons. To dedicate oneself to the service of the nation and his/her fellowmen, one needs to be reinforced by the quality of education he/she receives. The question is whether the modern education leads a learner forward along a path where he is enriched academically, culturally, emotionally, physically and spiritually or not. “The main part of intellectual education is not the acquisition of facts but learning how to make facts live.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes

The education is a vision, mission and a passion. The field of education thus needs visionaries, missionaries and people with zest and zeal. When it comes to Indian educational scenario, a country with human capital as the greatest strength finds, at the same time, its enormously growing population as one of the hurdles in its path to greater heights. Benjamin Distraeli states, ‘in the education of the people of this country, the fate of this country depends’. Provided the population becomes equipped with quality skills and education, the country will have a strong edge over the other nations in the emerging world. Specifically for India, its future lies in how the young generations bring forth favorable changes in all the realms of political, economic, social, spiritual so on and so forth. As the education moulds the generations, so will be the future of the society. To conclude, G.K Chestertson rightly said, “Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another”.