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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Up Front: What Works in Public Education

Together, we can save our schools.
By James Daly

How do we sleep while our beds are burning?

That is part of the chorus from a song released twenty years ago by the amazing Australian band Midnight Oil. Today, it could serve as the clarion call for public education.

Our educational system faces some of the toughest challenges it has met since America's first public school opened in Boston in 1635. Nearly 40 percent of students entering high school fail to graduate on time. More than 7,000 kids drop out of high school every day. Almost half of all beginning teachers leave the profession within five years. If that isn't exhausting enough, the No Child Left Behind Act has many educators feeling trapped in a test-driven system that stifles the individuality integral to great teaching.

Here's more: In our great but bedraggled state of California, where our editorial offices are based, we have an action-hero governor who has proposed cutting $4.5 billion from the state education budget (and this after declaring 2008 "The Year of Education.") The governor has also proposed cutting funding for programs like special education, child nutrition, and before-school and after-school programs. I live in the town of Alameda. In order to submit a balanced budget -- as required by state law -- the Alameda Unified School District has proposed cutting $4.5 million over the next two years. This will be done by eliminating high school sports, Advanced Placement programs, middle school guidance counselors, the jobs of several dozen teachers, and music for grades 1-3 -- as well as closing elementary, middle, and high schools. Multiply that by hundreds of communities across the state.

California is the state where 13 percent of the country's kids go to school. It's the largest public education system in the United States, and it's about to get pushed off a cliff. What does this fate foretell for the rest of the country? I believe that if we don't get our public education system in order, this country will disappear as an economic powerhouse within a decade. You're already starting to see that on multiple fronts. We're in a vortex, and it's spiraling down.

But there's hope. Each day, hundreds of thousands of educators fight the good fight, battling intractable bureaucracies with intellectual and technical innovation designed to create great schools and inspired students. These educators have awakened to two simple facts: The feds can't save them, and the state -- as has been proven time and again -- will abandon them. Only through a grassroots holistic effort of local improvement can America's educational system be repaired.

That's where we, at Edutopia, come in. Our main goal is to help the desperately needed campaign of local school improvement flourish. That ideal is best summated in our new tagline: What Works in Public Education. Good educators are passionate about what they do. They are drawn to teaching not for the need to make money but with the indescribable desire to take the nurturing gene we have in our head and apply it to the common good. They're there to educate minds and perhaps inspire lives.

We, too, want to be part of the solution rather than sink into the quicksand of the problem. That's why we have an increased emphasis on workable solutions for average educators and administrators in typical budget-crunched classrooms and school districts. We want to remind educators why they got into the profession, and we hope this increased focus on what works is both inspiring and useful.

Our schools are going to change more in the next ten years than they have in the last hundred. Everyone reading these words will be part of that change. Get ready.


James Daly
Editorial Director

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With the wolf at the door of public education, we're focusing on a new period of growth for Edutopia. Starting this month, we're launching a membership program designed to expand our audience, online and offline, and spread our message. Becoming a member of Edutopia affords some physical benefits -- the magazine, a DVD, and a best-of booklet come with the package -- but, more critically, it's about joining a cause. It's about pushing for innovation, and demanding that our kids deserve creative approaches to their education. Together, we can create that change. You can join here. Please consider becoming a member of Edutopia today.

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