Monday, October 14, 2013

Shortcomings in US Education Policy and Why We Don't Compare to Other Nations

In the Op-Ed page of today's Trenton Times, Mary Sanchez laments that "(this) elite has made war against any policy that aims to produce equality of outcomes." Her insinuation is that there has been a conscious effort by policy makers to construct an education policy that essentially keeps the poor from developing the requisite skills for higher level thinking. By focusing policy on quantitative metrics and basic skills, and with our political leaders seemingly trying to micro-manage education, our system of education is failing to provide that “lift” so desperately needed in our inner cities.

She points to the correlation between poor education and poverty and points to a very real concern that the traditional belief in attainable upward mobility among the poor is no longer the case, and that educational outcomes are serving to perpetuate a cycle of poverty destined to trap this and future generations.

Now there is some hope that the new Common Core, with its emphasis on skill development, will contribute to an improvement in the quality of education provided to those in our urban centers. And Ms. Sanchez is absolutely correct that there is a huge chasm between the quality of education in our suburbs and inner cities.
The problem is that the issues impacting our inner city schools go way beyond the schools themselves. They are impacted by the concentration of poverty among minorities, something not seen with the white urban poor. They are impacted by the high rate of single mothers. They are impacted by the lack of role models and middle class values in poor communities. They are impacted by the lack of participation by stakeholders in the business community and by the lack of enrichment programs and resources available to poor minorities. They are impacted by the lack of “content expertise” among educators and by the absence of a salary structure that rewards exemplary work.

These deficiencies require money, but not the “throwing more money at schools” type money. Financial resources must be strategically allocated. And though this is a sensitive and touchy subject, social and economic policies must be constructed that make poverty more diffuse in minority communities.

As for our schools, besides the obvious need to improve the quality of our next generation of teachers through more clinical supervision and through policies that attract college graduates with “specialized degrees,” there is a real need to rethink how we view the teaching profession and rethink the relationship between urban schools and our political leaders. And finally, we need to rethink this obsessive belief that college is the essential need and goal for all high school students, that a college degree is the only real path to upward economic mobility. The purpose of high school is much more than simply preparing kids for college; we are preparing these students to be citizens that can achieve the skills and taught the content that is necessary for them to be independent, healthy, literate (in many areas), civic minded, and able to self-advocate.
The education puzzle has so many pieces that must fit together I question how much of it we can complete. Part of the problem is that some solutions, such as giving schools (ideally led by visionary rather than bureaucratic administrators) more, not less autonomy, seem counter intuitive. I will try to be optimistic, but given the apparent lack of sincerity and will among our leaders, I doubt it.

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