Transforming the Culture of Education In the United States: Our Future Depends on It!
As we enter the new millennium, America’s future largely depends on our collective commitment to transform our educational system into a culture that values education and invests in all of its people to achieve excellence.
We are living in a global knowledge economy. Today’s emphasis is less on the machine and more on the workers, the software, and the “brainware”. Our challenge is to think, and more importantly, to rethink and initiate new solutions for old problems. Our educational system must be transformed from the industrial model into a digital model.
Our global competitors value education more than we do. Parents are more involved in their children’s education. To them, educational achievement is about hard work. When I was growing up in Beirut, Lebanon, my parents’ utmost priority was to invest in my education and the education of my siblings. The majority of earnings from my father’s modest grocery store went into paying for our education. To my parents and to many Lebanese families, education was about the family’s honor. Parental expectations for achievement were non-negotiable and high. In the minds of my parents, failure in schools was not an option; and in the few instances when it happened, it was the kids’ fault! The schools were not to be blamed for underachievement. Achievement was understood as an outcome of commitment, hard work, perseverance, and an abundance of homework and summer school time.
China, with over a billion people, values education more than wealth. The Chinese are confident that through education they will be number one. They are constantly thinking about it. They believe it, conceive it, and have no doubt that they will achieve it.
Elementary and secondary schooling in Lebanon and in many other cultures outside the U.S. represents the cornerstone of one’s education. It is the foundation on which a person’s future education and careers are built. My parents’ involvement in my schooling was stronger and more substantive than the parental involvement that I experience in our American culture. Our perception of P-12 education must substantially change to value and demand hard work and perseverance, and recognize the critical importance of commitment to educational excellence in those early years for our future generations, standards of living, economic viability, and national security. We in the United States do extremely well in higher education. Everybody flocks to America, the greatest country on earth, the land of opportunity, to pursue higher education. At the P-12 level, however, we don’t fair well, and that is evident in the results of international achievement comparisons.
In mathematics and science education, for example, the United States is losing the race according to the international studies. In these areas, the stakes are high. The demands of our changing economy and workplace, the need for educated citizenry, the connection of mathematics and science to our national security, and the importance of mathematical and scientific literacy, all necessitate that we place a national priority on improving mathematics and science education in our public schools.
According to the Glenn Commission Report Before It’s Too Late, “Our students’ performance in mathematics and science is unacceptable. We are losing ground.” The Report recommends three goals for the nation to address the problem:
- Establish an ongoing system to improve the quality of elementary and secondary mathematics and science teaching.
- Increase significantly the number of mathematics and science teachers and improve the quality of their preparation.
- Improve the working environment and make the teaching profession more attractive for P-12 mathematics and science teachers.
In order for our high school graduates to compete globally and function in a highly scientific and technological society, we must:
- Engage students in rigorous, interesting, and stimulating education programs early on beginning with the elementary and middle school levels.
- Reach students where they are and enhance their interest in learning by making schools relevant to their everyday life and future careers.
- Develop students’ communication,computation skills, and their ability to make connections.
- Emphasize the applications of mathematics, science, reading, and writing as they relate to technology, society, and decision making.
- Go beyond data collection to derivation of information from that data and most importantly to acting on that information to improve the system.
At the teacher level, we must:
- Provide our classroom teachers with sustained and high intensity professional development.
- Ensure that pre-service teacher preparation programs are aligned with and focus on what students must know and be able to do, and what teachers are expected to teach.
What Employers Want from Education
A recent study found that companies are looking for employees who:
- Have the ability to think critically and communicate effectively, both verbally and in writing.
- Have excellent interpersonal skills and are comfortable working in teams, in their own field and across disciplines.
- Have technical skills and the ability to learn new ones quickly.
- Have knowledge of the global environment and the cultural sensitivity required to operate in a global marketplace.
The development of these skills should be the rationale for what our schools teach in mathematics, science, reading, and writing. Achieving these skills is highly dependent on the support system that we provide to our nation’s teachers and educators.
The Challenge for Our Educational System
The culture of our educational system must:
- Value, serve, treasure, and reward its people.
- Develop and nurture in its people the essential attributes of personal development and professional growth such as expectations, commitment, determination, conviction, passion, enthusiasm, personal and shared vision, self-confidence, success, excellence, integrity, trust, and empowerment.
- Provide opportunities for its people to develop their leadership capacity and effective communication skills.
- Invest in people and their capacity to grow, short-term and long-term.
- Preach, practice, and apply the golden rule at the personal and professional levels.
The Challenge for Our Educational Leaders
Our educational leaders must transform themselves to become:
- Role models with inspirational energy, healthy attitudes, and high expectations.
- Acutely aware of the needs and the point-of-view of their customers (teachers and students).
- Strong believers in the human potential and diversity which enrich our schools.
- Outstanding educators and leaders with unwavering commitment to serving learners.
- Effective communicators and persuasive negotiators who are guided by the pursuit and achievement of mutual benefit, symbiotic relationships, and synergy.
- Driven by clear goals and personal vision to work with others toward the development and achievement of a shared vision through dialogue and collaboration in the service of students and teachers.
- Present in schools, not only via e-mails and memos, but physically communicating and listening to concerns face-to-face with staff, teachers, and students to ensure high morale and “customer” satisfaction.
Recognizing the critical role that educational leaders play in setting the agenda and direction of the educational system, our policy makers have a major responsibility to ensure that visionary educational leaders find their way into government positions that encourage, leverage, and support the transformation of the culture of our educational system.
The Challenge for Our Schools
Our schools must teach our children the fundamental principles on which this nation was built. In addition to academics, our schools must instill in our children a sense of love and compassion for others, a sense of belonging and purpose, good work ethics, mutual respect and understanding between and among individuals, open-mindedness and straightforwardness in dealing with issues, the humility to be big enough to say: “I was wrong,” the perseverance, the patience and ability to control anger and settle disagreements without violence.
The Challenge for Our Parents
Single-parent and two-parent families alike must rise to the challenge of getting more involved in their children’s education. This parental involvement represents the most noble and significant role of parents in the cultural and economic development of this great country. Parents must teach their children the fundamental principles outlined above for schools. Parents are the ideal role models for their children. It all begins at home. Schools cannot do it alone. The home and the school are the two most important pillars of our support system to the future generation.
The Challenge for Our Teachers
Competent teachers are the most indispensable component of quality education programs. High standards, quality curriculum and instructional materials, state-of-the-art facilities and technology can be effective only if knowledgeable, committed, enthusiastic, and compassionate teachers are delivering and guiding instruction. Excellent teachers need three very important qualities: knowledge of the subject matter, the communication skills to relate to students, and a positive attitude about teaching, learning, and life in general. In managing students, excellent teachers must have the three attributes of firmness, fairness, and consistency.
The teacher is the key. There is a tremendous urgency to invest in our teachers. The turnover in our nation’s teaching force is seriously high. According to the Glenn Commission Report, many science and math teachers leave teaching because of “dissatisfaction with working conditions, such as lack of leadership, lack of classroom autonomy, lack of respect from students, poor support from administrators, overly large classes, poorly equipped labs and classrooms.” The number one reason cited by leaving teachers is “poor salary.” This is a serious flaw in our culture. Our global competitors have higher respect for teachers. In Germany for example, the people most valued and respected are the mayor, the preacher, and the teacher! Not only do our global competitors value teachers more; they pay them more. The transformation of the culture of education in the United States cannot be achieved without a transformed commitment to investing in our nation’s teachers.
The Challenge for Our Business Leaders
Corporate America must be an integral part of the transformation of the culture of education in our nation. The commitment of business and industry to support education reform must be valued by educators across the land. Mutually beneficial partnerships between corporate America and educational institutions must be forged. After all, today’s education is preparing tomorrow’s workforce.
The leadership of our educational system and of corporate America must give the highest priority to achieving this very important transformation of the culture of education in the United States. Individual leadership, however, cannot do it alone because today’s leadership is not about one person leading. Today’s leadership requires teamwork, a shared vision, and commitment rather than compliance.
Great things are happening in American education! We have the brightest and the best! We are the first in the world in higher education. In P-12 education however, it is “the best of times and the worst of times.” In a democracy, we cannot afford to leave so many behind. In his inauguration address, President John F. Kennedy, said: “A nation that doesn’t help the many who are poor, cannot protect the few who are rich”.
President George W. Bush said in his first inauguration address: “It is the American story—a story of a slave-holding society that became a servant of freedom—united across the generations by grand and enduring ideals. The grandest of these ideals is an unfolding American promise that everyone belongs, that everyone deserves a chance, that no insignificant person was ever born.”
Our collective challenge is to invest in the vision of ownership and commitment to achieving the transformation of our educational system in pursuit of excellence and equity. Achieving excellence and equity in our educational system is good for our people, for our economy, and for our future. It is good for America!
We need a learning community with the courage to create change rather than tolerate change. Change is tough. Timely change is even tougher. We are at a crossroads. Transforming the culture of our educational system is the most important change that we must initiate and execute if we are to survive as a viable country in a highly competitive twenty-first century global community.
Transforming the culture of education in the United States is absolutely essential and long overdue. Working together, we can make American education the best it can be for our students, our people, and our nation!
Characteristics of Successful Science and Mathematics Programs
Successful Programs HAVE:
- Clear and understandable goals
- High standards and high expectations for ALL students
- A curriculum based on real world requirements, workforce demands, and students’ needs with strong alignment with the objectives and standards
- A strong and involved individual and shared leadership at the school, policy makers, and community levels
- Qualified, committed, hard working, compassionate, enthusiastic, and dedicated faculty and staff who are focused on performance and results
- Strong and substantive parental involvement and community support
- Sustained and high-intensity professional development at the campus and district levels
Successful Programs COMMIT To:
- Giving students opportunities to learn and apply science and mathematics in the early years of their schooling. Students must have opportunities to learn the foundations of rigorous mathematics and science in the early grades. We must have high expectations that ALL students can and will learn rigorous math and science early in their schooling at the elementary and middle school levels. We cannot wait high school to introduce students to rigorous math and science courses. If we wait until high school, many students will have developed chemistry, physics, geometry, and calculus “phobia”.
- Early intervention with both difficult students and students having difficulty learning. These two groups of students must be given extra attention immediately.
- Team work across classrooms, campuses, and throughout the district and the community.
- Vertical and longitudinal alignment through ongoing communication, collaboration, and dialogue.
- Two non-negotiables:
- the learners and
- what we want the learners to know and be able to do.
- Innovative programs linked to scientific research with proven student results.
- Exemplary standards-based instructional materials and technology.
- Training teachers to use the materials.
- Maximum time for instruction and frequent reviews, and ample time for collaboration and reflection.
- Building consensus among school personnel and parents about the importance and benefits of maximizing homework and out-of-school activities to increase student achievement.
- Nurturing ownership and cultivating responsibility of schools and parents for student achievement and underachievement.
- To the fact that good programs take time and effort and investment of everybody. There are no quick fixes!
Successful Programs ENSURE That:
- Student progress is assessed throughout the year.
- A variety of assessment tools (local, state, national, and international tests) are used on ongoing basis.
- Students are provided instruction, tutoring, and time management techniques related to assessment and test-taking.
- Quantitative (test grades and graduation rates) and qualitative (student progress, positive consequence for positive performance, increased instruction and homework) measurement are used to gauge gains in student achievement.
- Decisions about program improvement are based on data-driven information that lead to action.
- A merit and promotion system guides recognition and rewards, and holds students, faculty, staff, and parents accountable.
- Continuous administrative monitoring is driven by achieving professional excellence and higher student achievement rather than by complying with bureaucratic guidelines and procedures.
- Administrators have ample opportunities to participate in leadership and management professional development.
- Teacher and educator training is driven by the needs of teachers and educators on campuses and aligned with high standards, relevant curriculum, purposeful instruction, and effective assessment.
High Quality Mathematics & Science Education: What Is It? Why Must We Have It? And How Can We Achieve It?
What is High Quality Education?
- Engages students in hands-on, inquiry, and experiential learning.
- Is connected to other disciplines.
- Is a balance of acquisition of critical knowledge and application of concepts.
- Commits to high standards that have real-world relevance and significance.
- Effectively uses technology for instructional and networking purposes.
- Uses assessment as an instructional and diagnostic tool rather than only an end.
- Uses a variety of assessment tools and indicators.
- Is equitable and accessible to ALL students.
- Values and supports the teacher.
Why Must We Have It?
- Our changing economy and workplace depend on it.
- Global competition and our national security interests are strengthened by it.
- Science, mathematics, and technology are all around us.
- Scientific and mathematical knowledge and skills are valuable for our democracy.
How Can We Achieve It?
- Communication is the cornerstone.
- Collaboration within and across disciplines, departments, and institutions is important.
- Effective professional development is essential.
- Sound reform must be systemic.
Effective Professional Development
- Focuses on teachers and respects and nurtures the capacity of teachers.
- Reflects best available research and practice.
- Is planned collaboratively with teachers.
- Develops content and pedagogy; and enhances leadership.
- Is long-term, sustained, and of high intensity. Makes a positive impact on teacher performance and student achievement.
- Requires ample time.
- Promotes commitment to continue inquiry and improvement.
- Is driven by a coherent long-term plan.
- Is evaluated on the basis of its impact on teachers and students, and this assessment guides subsequent effort.
Sound Systemic Reform Must:
- Have clearly defined goals.
- Align all components of the system to create a reform culture so that risks taken by individual stakeholders, especially teachers, in pursuit of reform will be supported by policies and practices throughout the system.
- Provide for collaboration among stakeholders to facilitate achieving these goals.
- Develop dynamic infrastructure which can support ongoing change.
Business and Education Partnerships In Support of Systemic Reform
Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Based on fifteen years of experience in founding and directing an award-winning, statewide network of business and education partnerships to support systemic reform, the following is a list of lessons learned and recommendations:
Leadership at every level—campus, district, region and state—we must have leaders with strong commitment to a shared vision of the partnership. At the state level, the leadership must ensure that the partnerships are provided with the highest level of financial, administrative, political, and professional support; and that the partnerships are kept on the cutting edge of information and practice. At the regional level, the leadership must continuously communicate with all partners, relentlessly pursue regional resources, aggressively procure administrative and community support, hold the collaborative together, promote teamwork and remove barriers, and strategically balance pressure points and incentives for all participants. At the campus/district level, a shared leadership must promote the goals of the partnership in support of higher student achievement.
Stakeholders: Every member of the partnership must have a stake in its success. The broker of collaboration must always listen to people’s point of view and ask himself the important question: what is the reward system/return on investment/incentive for the teachers, the administrators, the professors of science, the professors of education, the business and industry partners, and the public at large? We must ensure that the relationship among all of the stakeholders a symbiotic and synergistic relationship in support of systemic reform? The partnership must be sustained and systemic reform must be institutionalized.
Time: Systemic reform requires considerable investment of time to design, implement, and evaluate. Creative and flexible scheduling must be used to meet the needs of teachers and educators. These professional growth activities could take place during the school day, after school, on Saturdays, and in the summer. The frequency should be weekly, biweekly, and/or monthly. Time must be invested to focus on results, i.e. impact of professional development on teachers’ knowledge and skills, on their performance in the classroom, and on student achievement.
Resources: Leveraging federal, state, corporate, and local resources and funds through cost-sharing and in-kind contributions is key Working together to achieve synergy will help everybody to be a winner.
Communication: Effectively communicating information, carefully listening to concerns, freely exchanging ideas and sharing resources, and engaging in dialogue to tackle problems and remove barriers are among the essential pillars of successful collaboration. This can be accomplished through state, regional, and local meetings; through electronic networking; through town meetings; through special events to recognize teachers and administrators and celebrate partnership achievements; as well as through ongoing informal communication.
Administrative Support: In order for the partnership to successfully achieve systemic reform that will have a positive impact on student achievement, teachers must be supported by their principals.
Reward Systems to maximize the impact of P-16 partnerships, the merit and promotion system at colleges and universities must reward science professors as well as education professors for working with teachers in support of education reform. Furthermore, teachers must have access to incentives including leadership capacity building, stipends, tuition fees for courses tied to graduate degree plans, travel expenses, books, supplies, child care, certificates of recognition and achievement, attendance and presentations at professional meetings, connections with university professors and business and industry professionals, internships, and many others. Administrators must see and value the connection between their teachers’ professional development and student achievement. Likewise, corporate and community partners must see the value and return on their investment and support.
Barriers and stumbling blocks must be viewed as challenges and carefully managed with strong determination and commitment to transforming them into stepping stones. Barriers include: discomfort with change, reluctance to collaborate due to the momentum of old paradigms of individualistic initiatives and competition, teachers’ perceptions and negative views of traditional in-service programs, and recruitment in the absence of incentives.