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Fixing Education in America

The time is long overdue to take a very hard, critical look into how we approach & deliver Education in America. Let’s take a couple key statistics as a starter. We seemingly spend more money on education than any other country on the planet. We have one of the worst outcomes from education in developed nations on the planet. How can people look at our education model (how we do it) & see any version of tolerable success? How can we allow it to continue and think it will change itself? (Refer to Einstein’s definition of insanity) IF we fight budget battles with slogans that it is “All about the Kids”, then why aren’t we making substantial changes to all aspects of education? IF we want to keep using sound bites about “American competitiveness”, doesn’t that start with the classroom grooming future Generations into sharper individuals than other Countries?

But don’t worry “status quo fans”; it won’t change any time soon. The Educators won’t allow it. Period.

The single biggest issue involving the accountability in our Educational system is the fact that the inmates run the asylum. How can you get a better plan created, initiated, & impacting students when the Educators, Bureaucrats, & Union Leaders want nothing to do with serious real reforms because they would lose all that is important to them? Their money would become attached to performance. Their pensions would go away in part or completely. Their job security would come into question if they slept with a student, went to jail, got a DUI, or anything else that normally would cost a real employee to be held accountable by an employer. Their collective power base in career negotiations and political impact would be substantially decreased.

Why would they ever even consider a HUGE change to Education? For the Kids? Get Real.

But let’s play a game for entertainment sake. IF (and again, no way it happens) we could, what would we do? And more importantly, why would this make us more competitive as a people and collectively as a nation?

Charter School Mentality- I don’t believe that Charter schools (or privatization of education for that matter) are the answer. I absolutely believe that the “charter school mentality” is critical. In business, you must always pursue higher ground and upgrade or you will be passed by, fail to compete, sales will drop, and you will be out of business as your customers choose to go elsewhere to do what is in their best interest. In business, it’s either build sales or go out of business. In the end, there can be only one. So in the business of Education, America needs to choose to compete or go “out of business” meaning fail our kids in giving them the tools to succeed in this current environment.

Year Round School- my local school went to the “Princeton model” right after the Great Recession in an effort to save money and get more out of less. A “year round” school calendar, where all kids would go 9 months, but on an overlapping year round schedule) would allow for an extension of current facilities, possible closure of underused facilities, a normal work year for all educators, and/or lower class sizes.

Consolidation of District Administrations- The business infrastructure is all “unnecessary extras and support”, or said differently we can call it dead weight. Is that an overstatement? It is, yet that doesn’t make it untrue. The point is this, the less your administration costs- the more is leftover to use on what is important “The successful education of the kids”. Consolidation of smaller districts into mega-districts allow for a huge reduction in costs and a sizable systemization upgrade at the same time. In business, we call it efficiency or said differently Economy of Scale.

Higher & Revised Standards- Before we talk about raising the bar on education, can we have a candid moment? Can we talk about the fact that not ALL kids SHOULD go to college? Think about the one stop shopping of education currently. It’s a pipeline that ends in college or failure. WHY? There is no version of the world (previously, currently, or projecting out into the future) that all kids will qualify for college at a raised standard. All kids all built differently. All kids have different success levels of innate ability and learning curves. All kids want to grow up. All kids want to succeed. All kids DO NOT want to go to college, as they might dream of innovating, the military, opening a business, working in the trades, or other endeavors. So why do we mandate all kids go to College? Aren’t we investing resources into forcing kids to learn something they will never use, while we don’t set them specifically up for success in what path they are choosing to in life? IF we did that, the crop being groomed for college could be noticeably pushed further and higher without restraint of the rest of the kids who “just couldn’t keep up”.

Eliminate “No Child Left Behind” (dumped back to States in favor of Every Child Succeeds in 2015)- IF that means, all children need a quality education then we can all applaud it in theory. IF it means literally, all children advance regardless of competence or simply “being ready to succeed” then we all should be embarrassed that it even exists. How can we imagine success with a collective pipeline of forced individual failure being engrained into the very institution of education that is burdened with NOT failing us? But this also exposes the problem with the current education framework, it is only ONE pipeline. It starts at kindergarten and ends at college, which is a design flaw of the educational model. The watering down of education, so all kids can participate and get through it, will never end in success. In fact, this conscious predetermination defines the horrifically misguided (although well-intentioned) philosophy the makes up public education in America. 

Open & Teach ALL Avenues- Business, Ag, Tech, Trades, Internships, Apprenticeships, Innovation, Military, Arts, etc. It seems that at some point we took a weird turn in American Education. We went away from certain aspects of life as we didn’t prioritize them. We chose to make easier budgetary decisions as opposed to rein in costs and make balanced tougher decisions. This also goes back to an earlier point that not all kids should go to college. We should set the table for ALL kids success, so opening doors for Business, Ag, Tech, Trades, Internships, Apprenticeships, Innovation, Military, Arts, etc is critical. And if you truly want to impact America’s global competitiveness, this needs to start early in the educational process. We should open a multitude of doors for kids early on in their educational life and let them walk through the one that works for them. Education isn’t there to do what is in its own best interest, agenda, or a mass pipeline of convenience geared only for college at any price. It is there for one purpose- getting our kids able to compete in Life, whatever that might mean and whatever the child’s path is. Kids should have an ability to slide into the educational path the works for them, not the only one available as a ‘one size fits all’ solution.

“Prior to School” Parenting Classes- Educators in America are burdened with being not just teachers- but also shrinks, social workers, babysitters, replacement parents, mentors, motivators, disciplinarians, etc. The job hasn’t and isn’t meant to do that. Teachers should spend much more time teaching, and have a lot of these additional roles removed from burdening their success. How? We need to start a series of pre-educational online modules, video conference calls, and in-person workshops designed on crafting new parents into more well rounded parts of the solution. Knowledge is power, and most new parents are clueless of how to parent a child through education successfully. The school of hard knocks puts children in a position to fail, and we can affect that. However, the window is very short, as it birth until approximately 3 years old. It could overlap, but the foundation needs to be instilled prior to their child going into the public system. Parents need to provide structure, positive motivation about school, focused energy in coordination with the educators, safe environment of learning without fear of failure/success, and the mindset of “why school is important”. In this day of single parenting and real world demands of life on parents, this is a huge undertaking- but any movement of this needle can only help with relationships, involvement, commitment, understanding, & cohesiveness applied toward the only focus- success for their child.

Eliminate Non-Mainstream Students/Faculty- This is NOT an attack on diversity. It is actually the opposite. We tend to through the baby out and keep the bath water currently. If children misbehave badly, the process is followed but it ends up with “this child has a right to an education” and is back in the mainstream of public schools. But if a child wears a shirt with the wrong logo on it, they are sent home. What is that about and how does that make sense? We need to make a very strong stand to include diversity and free speech, while we eliminate distractions that destroy the environment needed to educate successfully. Kids should focus on learning and taking cautious amounts of risk, but that takes an environment safe from harm, ridicule, physical attack, crime, or quite simply that “their view” isn’t encouraged. Diversity is not taking a broad group of individuals and forcing them into one way of talking, thinking, or doing. It is the opposite of that. Diversity is the ability to take people of all walks and assimilate them into an inclusive group to learn about & from each other. Distraction is taking the main group off topic in some significant way, whether malicious or not, which is a highly destructive act. This needs to be eliminated, although I am not saying that those kids are bad or don’t deserve an education. They should get an education, but outside the framework of the mainstream population. Why don’t we create a parallel path where take all the distraction children and place them in a much more controlled hands-on environment with smaller class sizes? This allows them to get a more targeted education, while giving a much higher ability to teach away the distractive influences they bring to the life. After all, they need to curb this behavior or odds are it will harm their overall path through their real world life down the road. Don’t educators have an obligation to help affect that change for a child’s greater success? Wouldn’t the removal of the “distractive” kids allow for a safer & more consistent environment for all the kids in the educational masses? And therefore, wouldn’t this new environment allow for a higher degree of learning and success?

Revamp Curriculum from Reading, Writing, & Arithmetic- Back in the dark ages (when I went to school), this simplistic thought of content was tolerable- although not accurate. In today’s world, it would be the educational equivalent of referring the “four food groups” at a time when we think VERY differently about what makes up all things about nutrition. And again, it goes back to the path for each type of individual outcome. Want an easy embarrassing fact? The high tech firms NEED to hire STEM candidates from overseas because we cannot produce them. These are incredibly rich in salary, and the demand for these jobs will only grow as our world goes down the evolutionary path of innovating, leveraging, and using technology to disrupt what was, while replacing that “was” with a better version of what is on a path toward developing what will be- then repeating that disruption on a repetitive basis. So WHY then aren’t we kicking out a whole bunch of talented Americans to meet this demand? Are our kids stupid and can’t do it? Or are they not pushed hard enough, early enough, and with the innovative methods it would take to not just raise this STEM-prep bar, but to shatter that ceiling of boundless possibilities? If we don’t get ahead of this particular curve, we are literally educating our way out of rewarding jobs of the future and relegating our kids to an underlying level of success with a rigidly hard barrier to this success because we failed them. We MUST choose differently for the kid’s (and for that matter all of our) sake and benefit.

Upgrade Competition, Reward Excellence, Teamwork, Sportsmanship- OK- time for a mini rant, but please bear with me. We are actually in a world considering the removal of the “Valedictorian” achievement? Seriously? On whose planet does that make sense? In whose world does that removal of an achievement mirror the real world? In what way do setting people up with inclusion and not setting people apart prepare them for a working world that ONLY does that? (End rant) We should absolutely inspire competition and WANT to pick winners/losers- it’s reflective of society and allows kids to grow up getting ready for the world ahead. Isn’t that the point of education at its finest? We should increase and expand competition, then groom children to handle success with humility and defeat with dignity. We should find a way to reward all types of achievement like teamwork, work ethic, sportsmanship, integrity, etc. We should find a way to “single out” and reward each kid's greatness- and yes, they all have greatness. The only question about each kid is WHAT their greatness will be and can we identify/unleash it for their (and our) gain. It also brings up the prior discussion about more options than college & what we teach/expose our children to as a way of broadening their knowledge and given them every possibility of identifying what their greatness is & fearlessly exploring ways to unleash it.

Eliminate Pensions- This is strictly a mathematical point. The single biggest expense in education is labor. The sad fact is the most burdensome aspect of the labor budget is the pension expense on past employees. In a "Ponzi-like" growth curve (where each generation has an ever expanding amount of people to take on past commitments), this might work. In today’s world of low birth rates, higher longevity, & overtaxed budget demands based on people who contribute nothing to current education (since be definition they are retired and no longer participate), it is mathematically impossible to give a quality education to the kids while funneling off the bulk of the labor cost to a prior generation of educators. To compete, this must end. We can reward current teachers. We can adjust compensation in real terms. We can make the value of teaching a VERY clear priority. But simply put, we cannot mortgage the future of education by making easy decisions now at the price of necessary resources down the road. It is harmful to future families, destroys the ability of future educational success/resources, & destroys America’s ability to compete on the global stage. This doesn’t mean in ANY WAY that educators are at fault for having pensions, but is absolutely means that this gravy train of benefits have outlived their usefulness & have become one of the biggest stumbling blocks to fixing the broken model of American education.

Eliminate ALL Unfunded Mandates (only Federal Suggestion list unless Funding attached)- I have never understood this. Given the fact that we revolted again “taxation without representation”, how did we end up with a Federal Government telling us we had to do something BUT THEN not supplying the very monies it would take to achieve that very thing? It is, and always has been, a ludicrous situation. It should simply be “Put Up or Shut Up”. And this isn’t to say that what is being mandated isn’t a great or horrible idea, it is simply a matter of fairness. If a boss expands your job role, wouldn’t you ask for additional compensation in some way? If someone asks you to pay for anything, wouldn’t you expect to have a voice in that (in the least) or maybe even a VETO vote (in the extreme)? The entire mess of unfunded mandates forces educators to “teach for the test”, do things which are possibly not in sync with a locality, and take time/resources away from what the educator might be doing to help their particular group of students.

Control of Ed back to State Level, with 110 Fed Advisory Council (10 Fed officials with 50 State reps- 2 each) that meets Quarterly- In the end, the greatest changes to education are forced by the sheer math of it all. We spend enough (or some say too much) money, but we don’t get enough bangs for our buck. The Federal Government model of Education is broken in America. We have way too many layers of Bureaucrats (and costs overall at the Fed level) to have any type of education success potential. Distance makes for many bad decisions, and sabotages all types of innovative and creative solutions. One size fits all is our past. Our future needs to be a State level, local driven, cost efficient, child betterment focused one. If we had this in place and empowered states/localities to be creative educational-style Petri dishes, we would grow our own solutions quickly and often- and these new “wheels” of educational success wouldn’t need to be reinvent- simply replicated. It would cut costs, reduce mandates and regulation, save money, & unleash local educators passionate commitment on excellence to what they do best- teach our youth to be the best they could be.
Now that we have finished with the utterly fanciful discussion of “how to fix” education even though we will never truly be allowed to, we should talk about how success in education is measured. I would have thought it would be the X’s and O’s of outcome, you know- math scores, reading tests, writing ability, etc. And yet, I wasn’t even close. What follows is an example of some international criteria for what and how they grade “Educational Success”. Let’s see if YOU get as frustrated as I did… 

Adventure (3.24 percent): friendly, fun, pleasant climate, scenic, sexy
 (16.95 percent)
: cares about human rights, cares about the environment, gender equality, progressive, religious freedom, respects property rights, trustworthy, well-distributed political power
(12.93 percent)
: culturally significant in terms of entertainment, fashionable, happy, has an influential culture, modern, prestigious, trendy
 (17.42 percent)
: connected to the rest of the world, educated population, entrepreneurial, innovative, provides easy access to capital, skilled labor force, technological expertise, transparent business
practices, well-developed infrastructure, well-developed legal framework
 (3.17 percent)
: culturally accessible, has a rich history, has great food, many cultural attractions
 (10.00 percent)
: different, distinctive, dynamic, unique
(11.99 percent)
: bureaucratic, cheap manufacturing costs, corrupt, favorable tax environment, transparent government practices
 (7.42 percent)
: a leader, economically influential, politically influential, strong international alliances, strong military
(16.89 percent)
: a good job market, affordable, economically stable, family friendly, income equality, politically stable, safe, well-developed public education system, well-developed public health system”

**Source is the US News Educational Rankings
This is NOT about this particular ranking, but more broadly about what makes up HOW we measure Educational success.
How do words like “pleasant climate, scenic, sexy, has great food, economically influential, politically influential, strong military” type issues become necessary for a quality education? Again, this isn’t about this particular measure. This brings up an even more frustrating thought…

How do we even know if (or not) we are successful if the very metrics that grade us aren’t really targeting what is real and impactful? Maybe we are worse off than we think, maybe not. The point is to identify where you truly stand, and then make significant adjustments to be better at hitting the target.

Life demands we perform well, or it gets quite difficult rather quickly. Education should be held to a similar standard, and judged/adjusted accordingly.

Great educators should be celebrated & rewarded. Poor educators should be addressed & corrected, or rooted out of the system.

Broken educational models should be upgraded, partially revamped, or completely reinvented. Any failure to do this destroys a children’s ability to compete, which is something we should never silently condone for any reason.

Our educational model in America is failing all of us, and in that is a whole bunch of various frustrations and blame. It isn’t enough to howl at the moon that it doesn’t work. It isn’t productive to protect the status quo because it works for you specifically, at the very cost of the kids future you are supposed to empower and unleash. It isn’t nearly enough to embrace current methods and habits because we have always done it that way. It is brutally destructive to continue on course because it serves a specific agenda or power base.

Enough is enough, we all need to look in the mirror about the success and failures about education in America, and ask oneself if we are doing all that we could do to ensure the best success of America’s most prized national resource- Our Children. Any collective constructive civil discourse needs to keep that in mind.

After all, it is all about the kids- isn’t it?

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