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December 10, 2011 / compassioninpolitics

How to improve our nations broken public schools system: Effective education reform for the 21st century.

I was raised in a family of teachers, so questions like this were common dinner table conversations.

After school programs have a proven scientific record of increasing test scores. To learn more you can check out insights at http://www.sedl.org/ as well as http://www.afterschool.gov/

Teacher education combined with counseling and coaching. Teacher education is a large gap in the system, and the teacher education that is done in K-12 is largely a) micro-waved style versus recursive b) often doesn’t model the teaching behavior its trying to encourage. Given the turnover and burnout in the system its critical that both quality teacher education along with coaching and counseling are taken seriously as policy objectives. (This Edutopia article speaks to the turnover and burnout issues: http://www.edutopia.org/schools-out )

The economic case for early childhood education is pretty compelling. A 2005 MIT report on early childhood education pointed out: “High-quality early childhood education helps prepare young children to succeed in school and become better citizens; they earn more, pay more taxes, and commit fewer crimes….Every dollar invested in quality early care and education saves taxpayers up to $13.00 in future costs.” Thats a very real and significant return on investment. One reason why that return is so huge is that according to Massachusetts Early Education for All, “85 percent of who you are—your intellect, your personality, your social skills—is developed by age 5. Let’s invest where it makes the most difference.” Even if that only partially describes reality, it certainly emphasizes a sizable gap in the system which doesn’t pay focused attention on our nations 4 year olds. And these are programs are particularly important for working mothers who may not have the time or developmental knowledge to invest in teaching their young ones.

Focus on the skills kids actually need. Recalibrating curriculums toward problem-solving, creativity, along with a dose of character development, social and emotional learning, and grit (its a education policy wonk term actually) would go a long way toward. You can learn more about social and emotional learning here: http://casel.org/why-it-matters/

Funding non-profits to serve as boundary spanners (or live change coaches and sherpas) between the world of high school and college can be incredibly helpful. Often kids of parents who could go to college don’t simply because they haven’t been given the encouragement and guidance to do so. My guess is guidance counselors are overwhelmed with the day to day of other issues, and so these issues get back-burnered.

As an aside, it would be nice for the department of education to figure out an effective process of change, which included elimination of newly duplicative tasks, paperwork, or objectives. The recent controversy over the Race to the Top funds and their respective accountability seems to be based around miscommunication and not preparing teachers for the change that was coming down. Adopting a systemic model of change which had proven to work would be wise. This would also include eliminating the old testing and bureaucracy so that unneeded redundancy was eliminated from the life and limited bandwidth of our nations teachers and education leaders.

In short I suggest a multi-pronged public policy approach to solving what ails our schools and puts our nations kids at risk:
1. After school programs
2. Quality teacher education (with coaching, counseling, and accountability)
3. Early childhood education
4. 21st Century Skills along with Social and Emotional Learning (and Grit)
5. College counseling for underpriviledged youth (via NGO incentives and funding)
6. Systemic process of change which doesn’t blindside stakeholders and eliminates unneeded duplication in the system.

The full report on early Childhood education referenced above from MIT is available here: web.mit.edu/workplacecenter/docs/Full%20Report.pdf The report is based on “Economic research—by Nobel Prize-winners and Federal Reserve economists, in economic studies in dozens of states and counties, and in longitudinal studies spanning 40 years—demonstrate that the return on public investment in high quality childhood education is substantial.

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