George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Whether you are a fan or a cynic, the film, "Waiting for Superman" has shone a welcome spotlight on the long time crisis in our public education system. What I believe is really at stake when considering that crisis is whether or not we give a generation of kids the opportunity to move out of poverty. Our work as educators is about giving young people access to the opportunities and choices that can move them beyond the struggles of their parents and into a life of their own making.

If we agree that our goal in reforming the education system is to end the cycle of poverty, then reform and redesign must focus on attainment of a college degree.

But what sort of education are we talking about here? What enables students, all students, to find success in college and beyond? The "basics," including reading, writing, and arithmetic, are necessary but not sufficient to succeed in today's world. What will determine a young person's success in college and life in the 21st century is the extent to which they possess a critical and creative mind and are capable of using, applying, and communicating knowledge. They must be inclined to collaborate, be technologically adept, and be experts in their own intellectual strengths and areas of growth. Mastering content knowledge and applying that learning is the key to success in today's interconnected, global, digitally-driven economy.

The next question becomes, how do we do this? How do we democratize the best practices that have evolved over forty years of education reform and make an excellent, college preparatory educational experience accessible to all? How do we turn around the education system? By expanding the number of charter schools? Firing bad teachers and leaders? Adopting common standards? Ending tenure? Enriching the curriculum with technology and project-based learning? It is a daunting question. Remaining focused on the goal of college success aides us in unraveling the answer. For this generation of students, a high school diploma is just not enough.

While such films like "Waiting for Superman" have stirred people's passions -- both in favor and against the film, it is engaging the nation in these difficult but crucial questions. I believe we're at a tipping point and that this is the decade various efforts will coalesce into a unified education reform movement.

Whether you like "Waiting for Superman" or not, it is a call to action for all of us. The time is now.

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Marcia Tanner's picture

I agree with most of what's in the article, but I think the focus needs to shift a bit. A college or university education is not necessarily what all people want or need. Access to good continuing education -- trade schools, skill upgrades and development, college, retooling, etc. -- is what's really needed. Not a one size fits all, but access to what is needed for each. This, too, would help break the poverty cycle.

Jenni Wright's picture
Jenni Wright
International speaker on changing brains without the need for surgery

I too agree with most of the article. However I disagree with the second half of this statement: "If we agree that our goal in reforming the education system is to end the cycle of poverty, then reform and redesign must focus on attainment of a college degree." A college degree is not a sign of a reform of the education system. Many of the inventors and entrepreneurs in the world did not have a college degree, including Steve Jobs, Andre Agassi, Julie Andrews, Andrew Carnegie among many others.

What we need is to find a way to keep the "genius" in a child through school. At four and five, children have wonderful ideas, thoughts, hopes and dreams. By the time they hit high school most fit well into the boxes designed for them, the rest are dropouts and not wanted by mainstream. I know, I teach some of them. They are highly intelligent, curious, and innovative. They question the "always been done that way rule" - well most rules actually... Sir Ken Robinson has some wonderful ideas about education. Look him up. Another to look up is Sugata Mitra on

However, IF (and it's a big IF) schools and colleges are the answer, then "Student Success in College: creating conditions that matter" by George D Kuh et al is the way they should be. Student centred, collaborative, enriching and challenging. Otherwise our students (most of the bright ones at least) will fall by the wayside as they have always done.

Jenni Wright

Howard McCoy's picture

While I agree with most of the article, the "attainment to a college degree" as a fix all cure is unrealistic. The fact of the matter is not every is suited for or needs to got to a four year college or university to be equipped for the 21st century. Access to continuing education, i.e. trade schools, online courses, etc., is part of the solution; more importantly, we need motivated educators and parents to take more of an active role in the future of their children.

Sheena Abraham's picture

So true that "basics" (academics) are not enough. Students need life skills, creative thinking and a sense of ownership of their future to succeed. The success of youth depends on all us - schools can't do it alone.

That's why next month, major national education/youth organizations, educators, youth and community leaders will gather at the national BigTent Conference in Houston Nov. 18-20. Search Institute, United Way Worldwide, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, AASA and others. Their aim is bring together EVERYONE who works for youth to form a shared vision and start making a plan to ensure youth are prepared for college, work and life.

Check out We need viewpoints from folks like you!

Eileen's picture

It sounds nice, but are you hoping that someone with a college degree will be bagging your groceries and pumping your gas in 20 years? Do you think someone with an IQ of 80 will be able to obtain a college degree? Is it realistic to expect EVERYONE to get a college degree? IS having ALL of our schools be college preparatory going to prepare students for the future or set them up for disappointment and failure? Are you sending them the message that if you do pump gas for a living you're not worthy? Instead of trying to create a world full of disgruntled service workers, maybe we need to expand our vocational programs and have them include rigorous and RELEVANT academics. What happened to auto shop and woodworking? Those were valuable classes preparing students for family wage jobs. If you talk to people in the construction industry, they will tell you how hard it is to find skilled woodworkers. You will not be able to ship the jobs for, construction workers, waitresses, auto mechanics, and housecleaners overseas.

You are right that everyone deserves to have a job that makes a decent wage. The person who cleans your house should be able to feed her family without needing food stamps. You are right that we need a paradigm shift, but not the one you are talking about. We need to recognize that all of these jobs are important and worthy and foster an attitude of respect for the person who serves your burgers instead of disdain. We need to adequately prepare those workers to be adept at what they do with relevant lessons and give them the background knowledge and critical thinking skills to lead productive lives and be active citizens.

We also need to stop expecting cheap labor. Companies that complain about labor costs cutting into their profit margins are paying their CEOs millions of dollars. Therein lies the problem with poverty in our country.

Our current education system, as a result of cutbacks, is offering pretty much exclusively a college prep curriculum. I'm sure with the shipping of manufacturing jobs overseas and the increase of high tech jobs at home, the ratio of workers needing college degrees has changed, but it will never be 100% and expecting 100% is not only not realistic but not sustainable. It's almost like a ponzi scheme in it's mentality.

By the way, if we are in this international race, name the competing country that sends 100% (or even 50%) of its citizens to college. Most other countries have rich vocational programs starting at the high school level. Why don't we?

Amy's picture


I work with The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS for short), a non-profit with more than 300 member schools in both North America and abroad. I read your post about college prep being key and thought you might be interested in checking out TABS at Although Eileen pointed out that it may not be realistic or sustainable to expect every person to obtain a college degree, at TABS we believe it is a good goal to strive for. Back to Bob's point about college prep, a great way to prep for college is to attend a top-notch high school, such as a boarding school. One of the best ways to check out different boarding schools is to use TABS School Browser. You can enter the school name if you have a particular school in mind, or search by zip code, and even view an A-Z listing of nearly 300 member schools. Each school has its own page and profile with lots of key information, and you can request info from multiple schools at once. It's quite the time-saver!

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