It Will Take a “Brave Heart” to Rebuild a Failed Education System

While in Graduate School, I was a lead volunteer for the local Habit for Humanity. During those weekends I had the wonderful opportunity to work with some very disadvantaged families who were willing to investing time, talent and energy to make a better life for themselves. The program was a clear success. Families that were interested in moving out of the slums and purchasing homes or condos at below market value could put “money” toward the down payment in the form of sweat equity. These great families would show up every weekend cutting wood, framing walls, and hanging sheet-rock, painting trim. They might not be working on their own home, but they were investing in the neighborhood around them. After an “investment” of several hundred man hours, the families where then eligible to participate in the program to purchase one of the homes with a no-interest loan. (The financing was done completely in the private sector with donations from individuals and companies)

The system worked great, but there was one catch. The only buildings that Habitat had access to in Newark NJ were those buildings that had sustained substantial damage and were being sold for back taxes. I was the lead for the beginning of the rehab of those buildings. The first step was to remove the rotten portions of the building, so that any future work would not be compromised by the moldy and fire damaged sections remaining within the structure. This demolition was a important first step if we wanted to have a solid foundation to construct the new building on.

So it is with our education system. The US has a education system that has failed and needs to be rebuilt. Our education system that is no longer set up for success, but actually is set up for failure. The local school boards are bound by decisions that are made in Concord or DC, the teachers no longer have control of what is taught in their classrooms. There are edicts from the US Department of Education in every area of the school system, the teachers spend much time preparing for and administering tests, yet we wonder why our academic achievement is continuing to fall further and further behind.

In December 2010, the US secretary of Education stated: “The mediocre performance of America’s students is a problem we cannot afford to accept and yet cannot afford to ignore” after discussing the international OECD’s latest PISA survey of education performance, which placed the US at 25th in math and 14th in reading.
He further went on to say: “The hard truth,” Secretary Duncan said at Tuesday’s PISA announcement, “is that other high-performing nations have passed us by during the last two decades…In a highly competitive knowledge economy, maintaining the educational status quo means America’s students are effectively losing ground.”

Currently the NEA has the following posted on their website about NCLB: “No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is the current incarnation of President Lyndon Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), whose purpose was to raise achievement and close achievement gaps. NEA strongly supports these goals and is working to give all children great public schools. But educators know that NCLB as currently written can’t get us there. “ “…can’t get us there”. That is a pretty strong statement about the in-effectiveness of this program.

Going further, in 2009, the NEA stated the following: “For seven years, educators have been living and working with the unintended and harmful consequences of No Child Left Behind, which judges schools and children based solely on standardized test scores at the expense of preparing them with 21st century skills.”

Ironically, the local lobbyist for the NH schooling association is the first to go after the education committee when we are willing to take a hard look at the education system as a whole and re-consider whether NH should participate in NCLB.

Our committee realizes that all the pieces for an effective system exist, We have teachers that want to invest in the lives of the children, students that want to learn, and parents that want to get involved, yet the current structure fails to take advantage of the components of this system in an effective manner. Maybe it is time to take a hard look at the underpinnings of the current structure and look to develop a system that rewards: progress, not failure, academic achievement over attendance, successful teachers over education bureaucrats. Now is the time.

In the late 1200’s William Wallace fought for freedom for Scotland and gave his life in the process. More recently, Thomas Jefferson stated: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Sometimes in life, there is great cost to making fundamental changes, but in the end many prosper for the investment and effort of a few. It will take a brave heart to make the required changes to correct the broken system.

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