Executive Perspective                                 Page 48


Reinvention Rooted in the

Modern Era  


 Daniel Domenech

I finally got around to reading Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum’s book That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back. I have enjoyed Friedman’s previous books, as I find him to be an intelligent and articulate writer. His books are chock-full of interesting facts.

Although the work was published two years ago, its premise is even more relevant today. Our system of government does not seem to be working, and the paralysis affecting Congress and our political parties has become more entrenched. We cannot resolve our economic woes nor can we effectively deal with the challenges posed by globalization, the revolution in information technology, the environment nor the changes needed by our system of education. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act remains a goal rather than a reality.

I appreciate how Friedman and Mandelbaum acknowledge the key role our educational system must play in the reinventing of America. They see education as pivotal in maintaining our competitive edge against other countries around the world. They believe we must prepare our workforce to meet the challenges of the 21st century by turning out individuals who are creative, analytical thinkers and problem solvers capable of the collaboration necessary to thrive in the new work environments. What used to be us was a country that led the world in innovation. But as the world has gotten flatter, other countries have caught up and are passing us in some areas.

A Traditional Fix
I found it disappointing that Friedman and Mandelbaum toot the 21st-century skills and innovation horn for solutions to our business, environmental and economic problems, but when it comes to their ideas for education, they are back in the 20th century. They are proponents of charter schools and programs like Teach For America, which may well be patches that can be applied to systems in need of repair, but are in essence a traditional school fix, not a reinvention.

Urban settings that have difficulty hiring teachers welcome Teach For America because it fulfills a real need, a teacher in the classroom. But bright college graduates who have received just months of preparation are hardly the long-term solution for closing the achievement gap in our most challenged schools, where high-quality instruction is most essential.

Similarly, a charter school not run by the school district may be an attractive alternative to a school that is failing, but by being an exception to the rules it raises the question, why not get rid of the rules for all schools?

The slightest reference is made to the Common Core, probably because when the book was written, the standards were just taking shape. Here we have the potential to make some true innovative changes to education, but, as with other real solutions to the challenges we confront today, politics and self-serving interests threaten to derail the process.

To produce the creative creators and creative servers that Friedman and Mandelbaum talk about, we have to move education up Bloom’s Taxonomy to go beyond recall, recognition and knowledge and into analysis, evaluation and synthesis. That, in essence, is what the Common Core State Standards propose to do.

Those who till the education field on a regular basis understand that this is a huge lift for many of our schools. Classroom practitioners understand that it is virtually impossible to accomplish this if we are going to hold teachers accountable for training students to be critical and creative problem solvers at the same pace and at the same time while ensuring that all the students pass the required state tests to meet adequate yearly progress.

Personal Pacing
The most recent PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools found that 60 percent of Americans support allowing students to progress through school at their own pace without regard to the usual grade levels. Innovation in education would be getting rid of the grade levels. If we allowed students to progress at their own pace, there would be no need to have remedial programs, summer school and repetition of grade levels.

The Common Core State Standards would establish what every child needs to know in order to earn a high school diploma, and each student would advance toward that goal without the expectation he or she would have to reach it at the same time as every other classmate. That would be a major step toward reinventing our schools.

Daniel Domenech is AASA executive director. E-mail: ddomenech@aasa.org


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