George Lucas Educational Foundation

Editor's Note: Does Public Education Need Saving?

Striving to keep public education fresh.
By James Daly
Related Tags: Assessment, All Grades
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Credit: Veer

That's the question at the heart of our cover package, which details dozens of ways, both small and sprawling, to keep education vibrant. Our "Sage Advice" question for the month asked subscribers, "What five things would you do to save public education?" Within days we received more than 500 suggestions, many of which helped create the issue you're holding.

The provocative question fired the imagination of many but struck a discordant note with others. Wrote one reader, "Save public education from what? Is there some danger?" A vice principal penned, "I am not sure that's the right question. Isn't public education working quite well?" Often, clearly, it is. Public education is in no danger of disappearing, but like anything worth having and loving -- free speech, civil rights, a good marriage -- it has to be nurtured continually in order to survive and thrive.

Today, 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. Almost half of all beginning teachers leave the profession within five years. And the No Child Left Behind Act has many educators feeling trapped in a test-driven system that stifles the individuality integral to great teaching. One result: Many students shift to private schools, not because their parents enjoy paying $10,000 and more per child for the annual tuition, but because they want something better for their kids.

Yet each day, thousands of educators fight the good fight, combining intellectual and technical innovation to create great schools and inspired students. That's what this special issue is all about. It's absurd to expect any single package in any given issue of a magazine to be the defining template for saving a venerable but troubled institution like public education. Instead, we hope we've gathered good ideas that prove instructive and empowering, making it possible to strengthen education, one day -- and one young mind -- at a time.

The George Lucas Educational Foundation will continue to support, recognize, and celebrate the best in public education, as it has for the past fourteen years. But we won't turn away from the problems that must be addressed in order to make our schools better. This issue's series of articles is just the beginning of a complex and crucial discussion. You can link to more of our readers' ideas (including the five ideas we heard the most often) at What Works, a page dedicated to providing you with additional links and resources related to this issue. We hope you'll join the conversation.

Editor in Chief
James Daly

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Cy Lencio's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Five things, eh? Five things to save the American educational system. Five... Cinco... a Nickel's worth of knowledge. OK, I'll bite.
Let's start at the beginning. Kindergarten is number one for me. Nap time and snack time are great, but how about listening and behavioral skills. A little kid colors outside the lines and it's cute. If they do it when they are 18? Not so cute. I say make Kindergarten our first line of defense against behavior problems. Parents sign a waiver that the Kindergarten teacher has the right to be the parent outside the home. Put a psychologist, behavioral therapist, exorcist, Nanny 911, and bleeding heart in the room and let them loose on the little ruggers. We aren't going to change surly teenagers into angels if they are allowed to do what they want, when they want in Kindergarten. One teacher and an aide with 25 five-year-olds is ridiculous. Get the young'uns the help they need early. Seriously, put the professionals in the room now... don't make them wait until they are 35 to get therapy.
That continues into my second fix. Discipline is sorely needed in America. I don't think we should beat our kids into submission, but any of the "older" generation will tell you that you received double trouble coming home with a bad report. Now, you are more likely to get a parent blaming you for their child's inability to stop running around the room swearing like a sailor after he failed your last test. Consequences and rewards work. This is nothing new. Tell your child that you will buy him that new video game if he gets an "A" on that next assignment and he'll do it, or at least try. Tell your child that he's going to be grounded for a week if he isn't home on time, then follow through.
Teachers are not their parents. This is especially true when the teacher is not allowed to touch a kid, not allowed to single them out, not allowed to sit them in the hall, and not allowed to send them to the office in some schools. There have to be consequences that make sense. Suspension is a day off and tends to disconnect the act with the punishment. If a student doesn't do his work, take him out of the mainstream for more than a minute. Force a little work on him in order to get back to "society". Take away the audience and see what the class clown becomes.
Third on my list is Grade School. Elementary teachers have it the worst! I can't even imagine 30 kids that can't tie their shoes in one room. Elementary teachers should be given medals of honor when they make it through the year. Middle school starts the whole puberty thing and the hormones turn even "normal" kids crazy. High school? It's seriously become more of a social club then a school. What do kids miss about high school? Meeting and talking with their friends all the time. I think Grade School is a totally antiquated idea. Why do we say that a kid is in eighth grade when he reads like a third grader? Because it's bad for his self-esteem? Because we can't imagine not passing a kid to the next grade because he's big? RIDICULOUS! We're so worried about embarrassing the kid with learning disabilities that we put him in a regular classroom to "include" him in what everyone else is doing. Guess what? He's not like everyone else... and that's OK! We don't want to embarrass him, so we handicap him for life by telling him to do things where he has NO CHANCE for success. AND we handicap the rest of the students because the class can only move as fast as the slowest learners.
Throw out Grade School as a concept! Throw it away!!! Kids can progress through school to the teachers that can help them. English language learners work with Bi-lingual teachers. Highly motivated and intelligent students go with the advanced group to be pushed to achieve. Interested in a specific career in agriculture, welding, electricity, or any other trade? Work out an apprenticeship to foster what the kid is good at. Good with computers? Go with the teacher that understands the technical stuff best. Not everyone needs advanced algebra. Kids will tell you who the best teachers are. Believe me... they won't just choose the "fun" or "easy" teacher and shun the "strict" or "hard" ones. Some need the structure, some don't. Kids want to learn when they are little... when do they lose that??? I think it's either when they first run into that situation where they don't really need to try to succeed or when they find that they don't understand and are not given the help they need. Lack of challenge or paralyzing frustration can and will cause a student to shut down. First through twelfth grade is a farce anyway. Want a kid to achieve... challenge him. Want to be done with school when you are 16... great! Four years of college and you're 20. Six years of med school and your a 26 year old doctor. Where's the problem there? Are we worried about maturity?
That brings me to step four. Young people grow up quickly these days. Fourteen is the new sixteen. I don't necessarily like it; a kid should be a kid. However, some young people are ready for challenges before others. Your kid's not mature enough for the traditional dorm life of college? Community college. Let's make the system what it should be, not the dumping ground for "sorta smart" kids and kids without enough money for traditional 4 year universities. It makes me crazy to see very intelligent students go to community college because the "don't have the money" to go away to school. I'm 35 years old and still paying for my college 12 years later. I didn't have the money to go to the private college that I liked, but I went anyway. Thanks to the great education I was able to receive, now I do. If we are worried about their mental age, stop it. Maturity isn't the college kid's strong suit anyway. (Point: Why do we allow underage students to drink alcohol on campuses? Isn't this against the law? Yet we turn the other cheek for the most part and allow it. SHENANIGANS!) Reorganize... If the student is accepted into the school, they get the education for FREE! If they screw it up... they pay fees to stay until they can fix their mess. I don't have the answer to where the money comes from, but why do we force kids to deal with scholarships, financial aid, after school jobs, mafia payoffs, and unbelievable debt when we should just be able to say, "You've done well in school... here's a chance to continue and become something." This is the reward part that comes with the previously mentioned consequence and reward model of discipline. Kids will jump all over each other for a 2 cent piece of candy. How will they respond for a $40,000 piece? And better yet, how will the parents respond to a "D" on a report card knowing that this takes money out of their pocket?
Number 5. Technology is great. Fund the schools so they have the latest and greatest and let's see what they'll do with it. I remember hearing about a student that learned about sound waves and then created a device to use sound waves to kill mosquito larvae and stall the mosquito problem in his area. I also remember reading about students that created a device that allowed a person with a broken leg to walk without crutches. It's a simple fact that young people understand technology... they were born with it. Let's get all the technology we can into schools and let the kids facilitate some of their own learning. Why should teachers leave exhausted every day and kids come bouncing out of school? Let's exhaust the students instead.
Finally, I have only one thing left to say. Priority. Priority means it's important. Until the education of our young people is of the highest priority to the people in position to do something about it, we will have a broken system that needs to be fixed. Fix it.

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