Just like the noisy cart we desperately try to steer in the grocery store, an imbalanced approach to education reform makes lots of noise but hardly gets us anywhere!

Have you ever tried to push a shopping cart with only one working wheel? The noisy, cumbersome, thing attracts unwanted attention and requires too much energy to maneuver! We secretly abandon the cart in the middle of the store and search for another, only to discover that it too, is no better!

Just like those carts, our approach to education has been lop-sided, and cumbersome.  We take up one reform du jour, and then ditch it to adopt another. We expend so much time, and energy for short-lived results; and every year our children suffer the bumps of each trendy educational reform.

Through the media and the Web, our children exhibit a global awareness as well as digital literacies we can only envy. And while we try to expand their world, they lack the necessary skills of human interaction and survival: how to think critically and communicate their ideas effectively.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a leading advocate for redefining “rigor” in education, recently reported that more that 40% of all high school graduates who enter college must take remedial courses. Also, over 70% of employers, in their survey found high school graduates deficient in critical thinking/problem solving and in the ability to clearly communicate their ideas–both written and oral.

The meaning we should glean from this research is not that our children are unable to perform, but rather that they’ve not been adequately prepared to pursue college nor a career. If we reflect on the young people we know, we find this difficult to believe. Many are socially conscious and intelligent. As an educator, I have the greatest privilege to spend the better part of my day with such individuals.

Our problem goes beyond intelligence, to equipping our children with the skills they need to be successful.  Many are admitted to college but unprepared for the rigor, responsibility, and rapport required to graduate. Or, they apply for jobs, only to be disillusioned because employers are not looking for just knowledgeable applicants, they need people who possess the seven survival skills for the 21st century.

A manager with a Fortune 500 company explained how he wades through the hundreds applications he receives on a weekly basis.  “I simply scan the applications and set aside those with expansive answers.  That brings the number down by 85 percent.  In the remaining 15 percent, I look for well-written, clearly expressed ideas. I usually end up with a handful to call for interviews.”

Who’s to blame for this deficiency? Well, some policy makers behave as if teachers are the culprits. As a National Board Certified teacher, I understand the significant role an accomplished teacher plays in students’ learning. But I believe that similar to shopping with a balanced cart, we can go farther with an approach that values four wheels working in conjunction with each other.

The four wheels, or stakeholders, who need to share equally in education reform, are: business/community leaders, parents, educators, and students.  Not necessarily in that order.  But the important thing to understand is that it takes all four, not just one, to create the kind of rich educational experience we truly want for our children.

In order for this occur, here are some dispositions and behaviors we need to consider:

  • Business & Community Leaders- value educators, give them room to be creative and reward their efforts; view testing as part of the process instead of the product of education; establish partnerships with your local school district(s)
  • Educators- promote and pursue rigorous professional learning such as National Board certification; model and foster the habits of advocacy, collaboration, and professionalism; engage students’ families in their education
  • Students- develop your particular talent(s); embrace the most rigorous courses you can handle- those that make you think deeply, creatively and communicate effectively; learn to self-advocate; engage in community service
  •  Parents- participate in deep, thoughtful conversation with your children; encourage their emerging self-advocacy; support a course of study that expands their thinking and communication skills; let them dream big!

New processes and programs may come and go; we may even achieve short-lived improvements. But for sustainable growth and development that empowers our children to compete in a global economy, we need the collaborative efforts of all four stakeholders. For our children’s sake, let’s balance the cart of education.

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