“World Class Public Education?”

It seems like schools are constantly buried under reminders that we’re in a competition with developing nations like China and India to produce tomorrow’s workforce, doesn’t it?  That is, after all, how Friedman made some serious cabbage!

And let’s not forget Compton’s Two Million Minutes?

Poke through articles on the “crisis,” and you’ll find quotes like these:

U.S. students spend too little time and effort on academics in high school, compared with harder-working young people in China and India. (Ed Week)

China’s efforts to develop entrepreneurship among its young is no less than scary for many in the US. The US is also in awe with the education system India. (The Business Standard)

Stating that parents both in China and India contribute their might to shape their children’s career keenly, Mr Compton said this was, however, gradually dwindling in U.S. (Web India)

“The Indian education system is more rigorous than the US and students and their family are more dedicated towards an academic pursuit than in the US,” said Compton. (India Info)

In our sports-crazed society, Compton uses a sports analogy to drive home his point. The U.S., he says, ranks 23rd or 24th in global academic performance. “If our Olympic team finished 24th, the president and Congress would mobilize our country and never allow it to happen again.”  (The Memphis Flyer)

While their peers in China and India study longer hours to sharpen their math and science skills, top students from one of the best high schools in the U.S. are playing video games and watching Greys Anatomy during a group study session.  (US News and World Report)

Now that we’ve firmly established that the sky is indeed falling, that American schools are failures and that the time for change is now, I guess it’s time to ask one simple question:  What, exactly, would students be doing in a school that was delivering a world class education?

I mean, aren’t we just spinning our wheels until we can describe the kinds of learning experiences that can prepare our kids for this “competition” that everyone keeps talking about?  Heck, I’m willing to listen:  What does a ‘world class public education‘ look like?

Is it grounded in basic skills?  Does it promote math, science and engineering above all else?  Would it put creativity and innovation at the center of the school experience?  Should it be globally centered, designed to build awareness of the world?  Must it prepare kids to create, communicate, collaborate and manage information?

And don’t tell me that it must do all of these things!

I’ve only got 2 million minutes to spend.

9 comments

  1. Sam

    K., thanks. Great description. It sounds like a world class education to me.
    And going back to Bill’s question, it illustrates why its so hard to characterize what a world class education looks like. It will be different for different children. Your daughter’s model sounds perfect, because your guidance is so responsive to her needs and interests, but of course it would look different for another child in another context.
    Bill, I am totally on board with the idea of considering all educational options as part of the same system. Let’s think about a world class education system, period.

  2. K. Borden

    Mr. Ferriter:
    You said, “And my liberal bent has changed on this one over the years: I’d like us to consider homeschooling, private schooling, charter schools all as a part of the same system—-instead of as competing entities.” Later you said, “And “embracing” means providing equal funding for students who choose to attend these schools.”
    It took a bit of courage to admit above, commenting on a blog read world wide by professional educators, that I allowed a damp cotton ball tossed by a ten year old to set the course for our curriculum, daily activities and objectives. I will confess some fear about the prospect of being “embraced” by the public system. Mutual respect and cooperation I eagerly engage.
    Homeschool, charter schools, private schools…..do not compete with public education. They serve different purposes. Could I compete against the lobbying and organization of unions? Will I be able to go toe to toe with the spending and taxation power of a school district, state government, federal government, PTA’s plus education foundations?
    We all share some goals. At the end of each year we all must test our student(s) using a normed tests. We all must comply with instructional hour and calendar requirements. We all should be preparing student(s) for a changing world with ever increasing demands to effectively participate as workers, consumers and citizens.
    Homeschoolers discussing public funding for what they do often note the money may not be worth what would likely happen, given the strings attached. Charter schools have already found those issues problematic.
    I have met former public school teachers who now homeschool. I have talked with current teachers who see it as a viable alternative (and some who see it as “disaster perpetrated by untrained/nonprofessionals”). I have met homeschoolers who actively contribute to and support public schools in their community. The foundations of cooperation and mutual respect are there.

  3. K. Borden

    Sam:
    Two weeks ago we withdrew our daughter (5th grade) from public school. Thus, we started learning from home earlier than we had planned. Fortunately, we researched and considered many options as we looked toward the transition to middle school. In our area various options exist to varying degrees (traditional calendar public schools, year round public schools, magnet schools with various themes, charter schools, various private schools and homeschool.)
    The extensive thought and background work we undertook to plan ahead made the transition we made a couple of weeks ago smoother. It is obviously very early yet to make conclusions, but she loves her new way of learning and the early more quantifiable results are very encouraging.
    She threw a bit of a curveball when she asked to begin “school” within 48 hours of withdrawal from school. That gave me one weekend hit the ground running. Fortunately all the research, planning, reading, and thought we had done to prepare for a middle school transition made it a far more doable proposition.
    She jumped in with some great ideas as well. For example, she suggested we approach social studies/history and geography by allowing her to toss a damp cotton ball at a huge laminated world map my parents had given her to track their trip to Europe a few months ago. Wherever the cotton ball sticks on the map we dig in and learn.
    We thus let the fiber fly and Greenland prevailed as target number one. Taking that lead, I constructed a unit plan that included reading Scott O’Dell’s “The Island of the Blue Dolphins”. Whether it is comparing and contrasting the myths and legends developed by the Intuits and those of the Indians of Ghalas-at or biome differences between the Channel Islands and the island that is Greenland, the opportunities to learn have been immense. We have explored the rich opportunities of character development, plot creation and descriptive writing Mr. O’Dell so graciously provides. Frankly, we have been able to cover so much from this opportunity it is amazing as I reflect. (A relatively new government unit compared with one that met extinction, survival in extreme conditions, flora and fauna and on and on.) The first person perspective of Karana’s story allows for a great platform discussing point of view and even lead to a nice way to discuss pronouns, objective, subjective and possessive concepts. And what a great way to make simple machines come alive as you consider how you would use them surviving alone on an island. You can only imagine when the cotton ball next found it’s way to Chile how many doors opened (Patagonia, Easter Island, the Atacama).
    She also offered up that she had always really wanted to do a pie graph. A pair red and yellow jumbo dice in hand we have worked our way through creating tables, discussing probability, plotting coordinates, and presenting data in various graphs. We even found a website with graphing software that allowed her to take her pencil/paper work and make spiffy graphs. By Wednesday of next week she will have her pie graph and we will have covered in two weeks far more math and technology objectives than I can begin to list.
    She has long wanted me to teach her the Spanish I spent so many years learning, but time constrained it before. Now we are having a wonderful time exploring the world in another language.
    Each day we have a word of the day, a quote of the day and some tidbit from history. She can’t decide whether her favorite so far has been the day we looked at Glenn Miller’s “The Chattanooga Choo Choo” or our consideration of the contributions of Ida B. Wells related to the anniversary of the creation of the NAACP. Writing prompts are not hard to come by.
    Yes, we are now learning from home and it rocks for us. She continues to take piano and voice lessons, learn to draw in from a comic artist, and take ballet, jazz and tap.
    This has been a long response to what seems a simple enough question, but Sam you said you would like to hear more.

  4. Bill Ferriter

    @Sam wrote: I have a question to add to your questions: What is the significance of “public” in this conversation about a world class education? In other words, why is a world class public education different than a world class private education?
    Great points, Sam—-Public is only in the quote because it was a quote from a business group here in our county that supports the public school system.
    I think “public” is only important in that our public school system educates the vast majority of the students in our country. The impact of a world class public education system would spread across all demographics in all corners of our country.
    What I hear in your comments—and in the comments of Bob and K—that is interesting, though, is that when we talk about “systems” of education, we tend to get into either/or thinking.
    And my liberal bent has changed on this one over the years: I’d like us to consider homeschooling, private schooling, charter schools all as a part of the same system—-instead of as competing entities.
    Rather than fighting against these other options and seeing them as outside the “system,” let’s embrace them as valuable partners serving groups of students in the “system.”
    And “embracing” means providing equal funding for students who choose to attend these schools.
    Obviously, I can’t detail all my thinking in this comment, but I’m more open to charters and vouchers than many of my colleagues.
    More later….It’s Friday and I’m still at school!
    Bill

  5. Bob Heiny

    Hi, Sam. I like your website.
    As I understand it, it’s the focus on learning what the most informed people know that defines world class education.
    It’s these results, not the venue that identifies a world class education.
    An aside: Burlingame High, San Mateo High, and Roosevelt Elementary are examples of public schools that draw students from surrounding neighborhoods. Such public schools, have prepared graduates for decades with a background to succeed in Tier One and Highly Select public and private higher ed.
    Does this respond to your point?

  6. Sam

    K., I’d like to hear more. Am I making this up, or do I recall that you home school your children?
    Bob, I am surprised that you cite schools that only admit selected students as a model for public education. Is that part of your model for world class public education?

  7. K. Borden

    Sam,
    Perspective is a funny thing….the word that stuck out to me in addition to “public” was “school”.

  8. Bob Heiny

    Bingo, Bill, you asked perhaps the crucial question about schooling: What does a world class public education look like?
    In general, it looks like the opposite of criticisms you quote.
    And, yes, U.S. K12 public schools, for example in CA, CT, and NY, offered world class learning during most of the 20th century.
    You can see it in operation today at schools like UNC-CH, Duke, Cal, Brandeis, UIUC, Stanford, Princeton and other Ivys, Swarthmore and other Little Ivys, Menlo School, Boston Latin, Bellerman, Lawrenceville, Peddie, Emma Willard, St. Pauls, Mercersburg, Kent, Sidwell Friends, and their feeder schools such as Roosevelt Elementary, Burlingame and San Mateo High schools, as well as Universiy Charter School in Modesto.
    These schools are to world class education what Coach K is to Duke basketball. They make it happen.
    Their graduates are among the most informed people in the world.
    These Tier One and Highly Selective private schools as well as public schools give priority to learning, not to teaching. (That distinction is a separate discussion.)
    They accept that all students can learn what faculty know, when each learner accepts the discipline to learn it.
    They admit those who will likely exercise such personal discipline.
    Students prepare and attend their classes and take part in their activities to learn what the faculty know, so they can extend use and it.
    They compete to enter and to continue attending. For example, fifth graders at UCS-Modesto read a book a week in addition to a couple of hours of subject matter homework five nights a week.
    Their faculty write the books and documents teachers use and produce research data that describe principles of life and organizations.
    And, Yes, they offer the liberal arts and science subjects in regimented schedules, so their graduates can talk and compete fluently with people around the world.
    Check out the web pages of these institutions and their faculty for descriptions of what parents read to think their children earn a world class diploma. For example, high school freshmen at Peddie learn mathematics based physics, so they can understand other science classes in their next three years.
    Does this address your question and provide references to use while planning tomorrows’ world class assignments for your students?

  9. Sam

    Hi Bill,
    I have a question to add to your questions: What is the significance of “public” in this conversation about a world class education? In other words, why is a world class public education different than a world class private education?
    My immediate reaction to the question is that I don’t see why world class for public school students is different than world class for private school students. I’m interested to find out what the “public” is doing there. And then I’m interested in answering the question, “What does a world class EDUCATION look like?”