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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bumpy Road

Once a leader in education, the U.S. now ranks 21st in science, and 25th in math according to recent studies of 30 industrialized nations. Our students reportedly spend 40 fewer days in school each year than kids in China, and seem to be losing 22 percent of what they learn during summer vacation. Fewer than 8 out of 10 U.S. kids graduate high school: a rate much below that of some European countries with equivalent rates of 95 percent and higher.

So, is the system irreparably broken? Not according to the Obama administration (if it has its way)--by targeting reforms in early education, teacher tenure, merit-based pay, and the addition of more charter schools found in The Race to the Top initiative.

However, true education reform takes place once the classroom door closes. A recent report by the National Council on Teacher Quality (“Human Capital in Seattle Public Schools”) reinforces this point. The most effective education reform begins and ends in the classroom. Nothing can replace the value of a superior teacher.

This sentiment is echoed by the number one school in New York: Harlem Village Academies. They have thoughtfully designed every aspect of their schools to support, develop, respect, and empower teachers. They are people-driven, not program-driven; and, apparently, the difference is profound. They chose not to replicate any of the multitude “silver bullet” programs (e.g. GEAR-UP) or invest heavily in technology. Instead, they deliberately and carefully set out to create an ideal environment and rich intellectual life for “great” teachers—teachers who believe that every child can learn and that that belief was contagious. They wanted an atmosphere where teachers were open and approachable, able to relate to all as individuals. In essence, they wanted a mind-set in all teachers that they were catalysts incarnate, capable of sparking learning and ensuring a world-class education for every child.

So, in the ensuing days, start the school busses, hold tight (it may be a bumpy ride), embrace the “great” teachers—the Race to the Top has begun!

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