“Your ability to act on your imagination is going to be so decisive in driving your future and the standard of living of your country. So the school, the state, the country that empowers and nurture, enables imagination among its students and citizens, that’s who’s going to be the winner.”
– Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times columnist
Education is the process by which society passes on knowledge. This knowledge can be passed through formal teaching in school, or informal teaching in the home. Learning is acquiring new skills, knowledge, and values through experience with the ability to transfer the knowledge to new situations.
The U.S. Needs Educational Reform to Raise The Bar to a Proper Level
President Obama’s “Race to the Top” initiative has set standards for educational programs in order to receive federal funding. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which have been enacted in over 45 states, define a minimum academic skill set in Mathematics and English Language Arts that all children should achieve in order to move through the educational system.
“The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”
– Common Core State Standards Initiative
Success in this case is predicated on the ability to memorize and recall facts, and master test-taking skills.
Learning in the CCSS format does not require an in-depth understanding of the principles in question – a true understanding or learning. What will become of the teachers who choose to engage students in innovative ways, embracing a diversity of learning styles, promoting an understanding that is relevant to life circumstances? Who will have the courage (and finances) to employ the educators that let kids creatively think and open-mindedly question?
The Gates Foundation and Education Secretary, Arne Duncan have supported the CCSS approach with the belief that by setting certain standards, students will achieve higher test scores and be more successful, thus better positioning themselves and our society to compete globally. The CCSS approach, however, does not address the root of many of the problems in our educational system. A more diversified, integrative approach is needed to reinforce the Core classes with a plan for the 21st century, as outlined by Partnership for 21st Century Skills.
Standardized Learning Will Fail Without Providing These Skills Needed To Succeed As Active Citizens
The National Academy of Sciences news release titled Transferable Knowledge and Skills Key to Success in Education and Work; Report Calls for Efforts to Incorporate ‘Deeper Learning’ Into Curriculum, supports the Common Core Standards, but goes further to emphasize inclusion of the 21st century skill sets defined by the National Research Council’s. In 21st Century Skills, Education & Competitiveness, A Resource and Policy Guide, the NAS summarizes the challenges and opportunities, which if left unadressed, “will curtail our competitiveness and diminish our standing in the world.” The guide also states that for the United States to compete as a nation, it must develop a fresh approach to education.
This framework includes the core subjects, as well as themes of global awareness, business, health, financial and entrepreneurial literacy. Also included are information, media, and technology skills; learning and innovation skills including such things as creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration; and lastly life and career skills. Important in this construct is the ability to be flexible, adapt, take initiative and self-direct.
An integrative approach combining the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and Common Core Standards will only be successful, however, if it takes into account the demographic disparity that exists in our society. We must level the educational playing field by providing advanced courses, effective teachers, and resources to all school-aged children. This combination must specifically address those who are of greatest need: students of color and of low-income; those with disabilities and those who may not utilize English as their primary language at home.
The Direction We Must Take to Complete These Goals
Education needs to be reformed in a way that creates a multi-track approach, with success based on the ability to do more than achieve high scores on standardized testing. These reforms will require a curriculum that allows for diversification in learning techniques, emphasizing learning based on the ability to question concepts, develop alternative solutions, and collaborate with peers. Students should be challenged, but should also be provided with constructive guidance and feedback. Real life scenarios should be used to connect students to subject matter to which they can relate. Only by creating an enriched learning environment can we develop an equitable educational system to prepare our youths for their future.