22 January 2008

Change is Commonality: USA K-12 education & USA economy

Nothing but the bad sate of the economy in the news today. I’m no expert there but listening to the facts, it sounds like us folks living in the USA will have to borrow money from another country to “stimulate” our own economy. Somehow that just doesn’t sound right at all.

Are you wondering why I’m talking about the economy in my blog that deals with K-12 education?

The economy and K-12 education both need change to benefit the citizens. For example, let’s look at the schedule and curriculum of K-12 education. The schedule today is the same as it was in the 1950’s. Students start school early in the morning and get out in the afternoon. Is that still the best structure? Has anything else changed in the last 60 years? Everything about cars has changed since the 1950’s; except they still ride on four wheels. Wardrobes have changed more than once. The power of the dollar has change many times. What is considered to be nutritious has changed and so has our idea of smoking.

Computers and iPods weren't even available 10 years ago. Why is it we can't fund some research on what schedule works best for young people to optimize their time tables? After all, their brain is still growing as research has already detailed. Perhaps, maybe, they might retain more and participate more in class if the schedule began later and ended later in the day?

Then there is the curriculum. Today, just like in the past, states are still driving their own Standards for what needs to be taught. Classes are still taught in segments; math in one class, reading in another, science in a different one, and so forth. What about cross curriculum schedules where students learn multiple content areas while working in a class or project? Here's a novel idea, what if students worked on a project team to build a robot that competed with other student teams; where the awards are based on demonstrating respect and gracious professionalism in your team and with other teams? We’re talking about science, math, reading, writing, and serious life skill building now. Cool idea – right? I think so. BTW, this already exists at FIRST.

Another perspective, are we teaching K-12 students what they need to know when they graduate? I’m not sure we can answer this question since we are busy focusing on getting them prepared to pass a test based on locally determined education priorities. What about the basics? Can they balance a checkbook? What about a profit and loss statement, can they understand the differences and plan accordingly? Based on recent research of small business failures I think not.

There's a long way to go on answering the questions here and I know there's no quick fix. Yet, we didn't know how to get to the moon and we did it in a relatively short period of time with a focused effort. For some background material on the state of education there are links to five key reports produced by leading education researchers available at the ERI web site.

I’m no pundit. I do think we deserve to give our K-12 students the best education possible. When we do that, the future for this great country will get brighter.

Here is a great read on the questions raised: Are Schools Failing Kids in 21st Century Skills?

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