By: Nina Cunningham, EdD
For decades, the U.S. has invested money, time, and effort in some type of public education reform. Fueling this reform movement was and is the various agendas of business and government. The results of which have been a continuous failure at multiple levels. Elementary students fail compulsory standardized tests year after year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016), high schools fail to graduate young people who can matriculate to four-year colleges (69.7 percent while 48 percent of these attend community colleges). In 2016, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that 58 percent of college students either drop out or take up to six years to earn their degree. In the past 15 years, the federal, state, and big-business powers-that-be have failed to achieve educational reform and continue to pass the blame buck. So, how do we help our children succeed academically after decades of reform failure due to the blind, turtle’s-pace changes made while society moved forward at warp speed? Covered here are some suggestions to transform instead of reform education.
Along Came a Pandemic
In 2020, along came the COVID-19 pandemic, and completely blew the lids off the education pots of preparedness. In March of 2020, World Bank Blogs suggested that the pandemic could have an immediate impact on children and youth in three ways – losses of learning, increase dropout rates, and children missing their most important meal of the day. This impact has been seen not only in the U.S. but across the globe. Not only are children heavily impacted by this global crisis, but parents, teachers, educators, and businesses have all suffered at the hands of this virus. However, this crisis has but pulled the cover completely off the disproportionately higher number of inequalities that have for years existed among poor communities in the U.S. and poorer countries around the world. It allowed all members of our society to see just how unprepared our systems of education are to educate a digital generation of students. The educational reforms in place seem not to have facilitated an effective response to this unexpected disruption of the status quo.
Transform Rather than Reform
How do you reform an education system that was never conscientiously nor systematically formed in the first place? It is no secret that many of our students of color, who also tend to be the most economically disadvantaged, struggle to achieve good quality education. Those who do graduate high school and achieved some college education enter the workforce only to be employed in more low-paying jobs than their white counterparts. Changing this education climate requires measures to eliminate these disparities across all systems of learning. It requires abolishing reformation for complete transformation – a change in nature, structure, and character of these systems. Transformation in education could occur if…
the process of training teachers changes. Teachers must not only be trained how to teach students based on current characteristics and social circumstances, but educators must be prepared how to teach students for what is coming. In this age of constant changing information and processes, students need to know how to maneuver (live, work, and think) within these changes for the benefit of themselves and society. Teachers at every level should have the goal to prepare students to assimilate into a constantly changing world as productive contributors. This all must take place in a nurturing environment because teachers will have as much at stake in the outcomes as students and all of society.
the culture and operation of “formal education” changes. The way we educate students today should not be about providing them loads of information; they have information literally at their fingertips (cell phone). Rather, education should promote and construct an atmosphere where students search, acquire, analyze, and utilize any amount of information for a specific reason. Knowledge will be gained in the process. The curricular focus in classrooms should not be content, rather specific skills. Three important skills that can transfer to any level, content, job, profession, or industry are communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Imagine your school transformed into a mini well-structured and protected Pentagon, complete with all necessary offices, eating and exercising places, as well as rooms for meditation and prayer. Classrooms would be conducted on the line of the White House situation room where students are presented with a problem and must utilize these skills to find a solution, while teachers facilitate and evaluate the process.
the business/industry sectors become equal general partners with the education sector. Industry leaders should collaborate to convey their workforce needs, facilitate student development to meet those needs, and provide inroads to the fulfillment of those needs. These sectors of society are as much a stakeholder as are educators and parents. Imagine Business and Education partnering in decision-making for the equal benefit of all society. Company professionals become involved with the education process by volunteering to mentor, making presentations, and providing internships/apprenticeships to local students interested in various jobs or careers. Each sector member has a stake in seeing the whole community thrive, and therefore invest, nurture, and support the development of all students, no matter their racial/ethnic group or socioeconomic level.
Societal shifts/changes will happen; whether they come in the form of a pandemic or an industrial revolution. Unless we transform education in this country, we will increase the divide academically, economically, and socially. We cannot continue to put a bandage (reform) on a deep laceration (education) in need of surgery (transformation). These transformations have been attempted as patchwork efforts in various segments of education. However, a massive systemwide, societal approach is required for effective change.
Dr. Nina Cunningham is an experienced educator, children's book author, and entrepreneur. See and read more about some of her life's work at this link https:/ Home | Millennium Education Consulting Courses