Disclaimer: I’ll apologize in advance to any educator or individual already familiar with the following: I know I’m preaching to the choir… And, I’m certainly no specialist.
On September 29th, 2005, a hearing was held in front of the Committee on Education and the Workforce entitled “Closing the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools: The No Child Left Behind Act.” John A. Boehner, then acting Chairman of the Committee, introduced then Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, with the following:
“No Child Left Behind [NCLB] is not a rigid, one-size-fits-all approach to improving our schools. The law is grounded in flexibility and local control. No one has demonstrated that more effectively than Secretary Spellings.”
During the ensuing seven years, 24 states have repealed many of the accountability-minded measures detailed in the NCLB via “waivers.”
The results of these waivers, otherwise known as “ESEA Flexibility Requests,” have essentially released the respective states of the federal strings-attached approach indoctrinated by the very objective of the program.
Of course, to apply and be awarded such a waiver, “…states must have teacher evaluation systems that include at least three performance levels and factor in student progress,” which are otherwise known as AMO’s (Annual Measurable Objectives) or also referred to by another vernacular, AYP (Adequately Yearly Progress).
But why are states applying?
Utah Governor Gary Herbert provided an interesting perspective regarding the relationship between federal and state educational assistance. During the 104th Annual Meeting of the National Governors Association he stated the following:
“What we have a hard time with is the [federal] one-size fits all approach… Those strings that are put with the money, gives us some frustration… Why not then, come up with a formula based on the [state] student population and just block grant the money to us?”
The Federal response, as explained by acting Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, is the current system actually promotes the “dummying down” of standards:
“Looking at history… under NCLB about 20 states actually dummied-down their standards, including the state I’m from, Illinois. So they didn’t act in the best interests of their state or their young people or their economy; they acted in their political best interests, and this was Republicans and Democrats.”
With federal educational funding now tied to state-specific waivers and grant programs, like Race to the Top, much of the responsibility falls on state governments to track, employ and catalyze educational progress.
However, when addressing where the solution must come from in respects to the mounting urgency of US education, an insightful point was delivered by Gov. Herbert:
“Is it better to come from Washington that tells me what to do? Or is it better to come from the local people, the school districts, the parents and the people and a bottom-up approach that needs to be done, instead of this one size fits all.”
A similar sentiment was shared by Sec. Duncan just a few weeks earlier:
“…increased flexibility with federal funds and relief from NCLB’s mandates, [will allow the individual states] to develop locally tailored solutions to meet their unique educational challenges.”#
But what does this all mean? I think the crisis can be best understood in just one statistic:
“We have a 25% dropout rate in this country.”#
That’s a high school dropout once every nine seconds. Relating this to education expenditures and the dollars add up quickly. For instance, the cost per pupil per year in K-12 schools, averaged with inflation, has increased from $8,634 in 1988–89 to $12,643 in 2008–09, a 46 percent increase.# And that’s just the annual cost of a K-12 education—let’s consider the dropout’s future implications:
“The one million students who drop out of high school each year cost our nation more than $260 billion in lost wages, lost taxes, and lost productivity over their lifetimes.”#
Simultaneously, here in California we’re witnessing schools close left and right—to the point that parents are protesting. Paired with the recession, a $3.6 billion cut to the state’s education general fund has resulted in over 32,000 K-12 teacher layoffs since 2007-2008.# Furthermore, how is an educator supposed to improve the schools when they are recognized for their efforts one day and out of a job the next?
According to EdSource.org’s Schools Under Stress, in addition to California’s loss of teachers, there are less instructional days, larger class sizes, fewer counselors, declining student enrollment, growing child poverty and high unemployment all gnawing away at a competitive education.#
With so many factors undermining educational success, there seems to be a grave disconnect from any responsibility. The real question, in addition to the already engaged educators fighting the honorable fight, is:
Who else is going to step up and chip away at the problem?
We believe there is an answer—it just might take some old-fashioned hard work paired with a fresh perspective.
As former Sec. Spellings said during the Congressional hearing back in 2005:
“High school reform is not just an education issue. It is an economic issue, a civic issue, a social issue, and a national security issue, and of course, it is all of our issue. America’s report card has shown no progress for high school students in 30 years.”#
She’s right: The education problem is everyone’s problem. It relates to unemployment, the economy, social mobility and national security.
Flash-forward several years to the Governor’s 104th meeting: current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is sitting next to former Secretary Spellings and Duncan brings up the following assertion: “A generation ago we led the world in college graduation rates and today we’re 16th. I’m convinced we have to educate our way to a better economy.”#
But how do you educate “better?”
At ClassConnect.com, we believe the answer is to innovate: Do something to change the status quo. And be results-oriented. Isn’t that what is at the very root of the educational problem: How exactly does one gauge and assess the results of the instruction? It seems like the testing model is failing, so maybe a different solution is required.
Down the street from our start-up sits a plaque that says the following:
“This garage is the birthplace of the world’s first high-technology region, ‘Silicon Valley.’ The idea for such a region originated with Dr. Frederick Terman, a Stanford University Professor who encouraged his students to start up their own electronics equipment companies in the area instead of joining established firms in the east. The first two students to follow his advice were William R. Hewlett and David Packard, who in 1938 began developing their first product, an audio oscillator, in this garage.”
With this kind of inspiration, ClassConnect.com is attempting to attack the problem from a new angle. Perhaps best conveyed through a quote by Adam Bellow over the course of the ISTE 2012 San Diego conference, we think education reform must start from the bottom-up:
“Teachers should use ‘?’ not ‘.’ to encourage learning.”
I think one of the growing disconnects is literally the medium of education, with instruction being the primary model:
“Among 27 member nations tracked by the OECD, U.S. primary-school educators spent 1,097 hours a year teaching despite only spending 36 weeks a year in the classroom— among the lowest among the countries tracked…”
Who was the next closest country in hours utilizing a similar instruction model?
“…NewZealand, in second place at 985 hours, despite students in that country going to school for 39 weeks. The OECD average is 786 hours.”#
Meanwhile, as evidenced by the Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) report, Getting Down to the Facts: Five Years Later: “California needs a comprehensive education data system to help guide long-term improvement in educational performance.” We’re hoping our platform will help solve just that: the missing indicators and assessments that both Secretary Duncan and former Secretary Spellings seek. And not just for California, but for everyone, everywhere. After all, just a small tick up in school performance goes a long, long, way…
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Scott is a 29-year-old working at the education technology start up, ClassConnect.com. After graduating from UCLA in 2008, he eventually made his way back up to Palo Alto, where he met the “AOL squatter,” Eric Simons. With an idealist hope to change the world, Scott, Eric and ClassConnect.com are hoping to disrupt education from the ground up.