Dell Computer has sponsored four education Think Tanks over the last year, or so, and I have been fortunate to participate in three of them. At each get-together educators, education related organizers, education industry executives, and most recently students, were brought together in an open discussion on the weighty topics of education and education reform. All of the discussions were video-taped, and live-streamed, and even animated on a mural to a viewing audience. The final production was archived to a special website maintained by Dell. During these discussions the participants were even tweeting out discussion ideas in real-time, which reflected out to the growing community of connected educators on Twitter. Transparency abounds at these Dell Computer think tanks.
Each of the groups is given four to six general topics of concern in education to discuss for about forty-five minutes to an hour. Since the members are all invited guests, they are usually intelligent, passionate, and well-versed in aspects of education specific to their profession.
What I love most about this latest group, and others similar to it, is that if you put a number of intelligent and reasonable people together in a room to come up with a goal for the common good, the results are usually positive and helpful. This is a real teachable-moment lesson for all of our politicians in Congress today.
Dell has provided a great platform for getting to the heart and identifying some of the pressing problems of education through the eyes of these educators, but it doesn’t provide a means of enacting solutions to those problems. If it were a question of educational problems being identified and solved by educators within the education system, there would be far less a problem. But, like all complex problems, there is more to it than that. Progress is being stymied by the 6 “P’s”. By this I am not referring to the military expression “Proper Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Performance”. I am talking about Poverty, Profit, Politics, Parents, Professional development, and Priorities preventing progress in Public Education.
Profit is a big deterrent for change in the system. Most educators agree that high stakes, standardized testing is one of the leading problems with the system today. The idea of changing that anytime soon is remote however. The leading education publishing companies are making a BILLION dollars a year alone on creating and maintaining standardized tests. The profits are even higher in the area of textbooks, so progress in that area, even with the advent of the Internet and endless sources for free information, will show little change soon. Of course these companies all have lobbyists working on the next “P” Politicians.
Politicians are very much influenced by money. Some may even distort the facts to support the interests of their financial backers. Since education itself is a multi-billion dollar industry, that until recently was not, for the most part, in the private sector, it has become the goal of some politicians to put more schools into the private sector. This has made public education a political football. Education for Profit is the new frontier. Along with that comes an initiative to publicly praise teachers, while privately and politically demonizing them. For too many individuals the words Education Reform are code words for Labor, or Tax reform, or both.
Business people and politicians are quick to solicit the help of Parents. Parents, who are familiar with the education system of the 19th and 20th Centuries, the very system under which most of us were educated, are easily duped into trusting the lies of standardized testing. The belief that test results are an indication of learning, and that if the scores are low, it is the fault of the teachers, is a concept delivered by politicians and profit conscious business people. This is a concept that is easily believed by those who are less educated about education. We need to educate parents that although it is true that the teacher can be the biggest influence in a child’s life, the teacher is not the only influence. This less emphasized fact, that the teacher is not the sole influence in a child’s life, brings us to another “P”, Poverty.
If we factored out all of the schools in our education systems which are affected by poverty, we would have a great education system. Poverty however, represents people. Children in poverty have many things acting upon them and probably the least influential is the school system. A child who is hungry cannot learn. A child who is sleep-deprived cannot learn. A child who is fearful cannot learn. A child who is not healthy cannot learn. A child who is not in class cannot learn. What does a standardized test mean to these children? How can we hold the child responsible for those test results? How can we hold the teacher responsible for that child’s test results?
And finally, we arrive at the last “P”, Professional development. To be better educators we need to be better learners. We live in a technology-driven culture that moves faster than any we have ever known. We need to educate our educators on how to keep up to be relevant. Professional Development must be part of the work week. Skills have changed in the 21st Century, but many who are responsible for teaching those skills have not changed themselves. They need education and not condemnation.
My final “P” is for Priority. If education was more than a lip-service commitment from the American people, we would not be having these discussions. We tied education to taxes and that will never bring us together on needed solutions. That is the very reason National Defense has less of a problem. If we are determined to fix education, than we will need to fund it differently. Public education is our National Defense. It is too important to privatize for political gain or profiteering. Educators need to educate Parents, Politicians and Business People about education and not the other way around. Educators must also educate themselves on what education is, as we move forward, because it is, and from now on will always be a moving target.
As always this is just my humble opinion.