Congratulations on your election as President of the United States. As I read and learned about the various candidates and issues during this election year, I was especially impressed by your campaign’s use of online technologies. Your website, your online presence including Facebook and MySpace, use of email, your use of Ustream and many other technology tools caused your campaign and message to be more accessible to more people – especially the younger generation. I look forward to watching your transition to the White House with your family and administration, and it will be fun to see a White House with children again. I realize there are some huge challenges ahead for you and your administration that will need your immediate attention. However, I would like to encourage you to keep education high on your list of priorities. I have been an educator for over 30 years in California and currently work in Fresno County in Central California, one of the poorest counties in the west. On this day following your election, I began thinking about a few areas of K-12 education that your administration may want to consider as you set the course for our future.
First, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has focused attention on the importance of student achievement in K-12 schools across the nation and this should continue. Having schools and states identify how well all groups of students are learning is important. One adjustment in NCLB should be the way students, schools and states are measured. Although the goal should be 100% of students meeting minimum standards and graduating from high school, this is not happening. The model should change to be a “continuous growth” model where schools should be rewarded for showing this achievement growth. Currently, the NCLB “deficit” model is not working – people who work in the school districts where I live identify their schools by whether they are in “Program Improvement” or not, instead of by student success stories. We should be building on school successes and highlighting the best practices in our schools. Research has shown that regardless of socioeconomic or ethnicity or native language, all students can learn if given enough time, resources and knowledgeable teachers.
Secondly, there is a drop out crisis in the United States. It is unimaginable to me that at this time in our history that we would be seeing 50% of various ethnic groups dropping out of high school without a diploma. In our generation, there was never any question as to whether we would earn a high school diploma or not. The Gates Foundation sponsored a very insightful report entitled “The Silent Epidemic” about high school drop outs and America’s Promise Alliance (supported by Colin and Alma Powell) have highlighted the issues and some of the potential solutions. Within the Department of Education, Secretary Spellings recently released a uniform way to count drop outs which has been needed. Additionally, the Office of Innovation and Improvement have helped to maintain several competitive grant programs such as the Teaching American History grant. Developing competitive grants to help stem the tide of high school dropouts would be one way to begin to resolve this issue.
Third, every child in our schools should have access to computers and the Internet for learning. And teachers should have the same access. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the International Society for Technology in Education have highlighted and researched the reasons why access to technology is so important. There have been grant programs in the past that not only support the purchase and maintenance of technology, but also in hiring the people to learn how best to use this technology and then to teach others how use it for teaching and learning.
Online learning is one of the fastest growing areas in high school education – last year there were over 1 million high school students who took an online course. There needs to be federal policies that encourage the development of this type of education because it promises to provide greater access to education – and a high school diploma – to more students. The North American Council for Online Learning is the leading organization that has provided much of the research regarding K-12 online learning. Two important books to read are Disrupting Class and Grown Up Digital, both published in 2008. These books discuss education, the importance of personalized education, and the type of education that can be provided to the digital generation.
Finally, school and public libraries are the places in schools and communities where any person at any age can freely access resources – both print and digital. Over the years, libraries have gone through a transition and expanded their services to include the digital resources that so many of us use every day in our work. Part of the reason that school and public libraries continue to expand their services is because of dedicated professional librarians who provide programs, interact with students/customers, and purchase needed resources based on local community needs. In order for this important work to continue, school and public libraries need the resources to make this happen. The federal Institute of Museum and Library Services has provided some of these resources, but these funds have not gone far enough to provide the needed professional personnel and resources to adequately educate the students in K-12 schools for the 21st century. One source of guidance in this direction is the American Association of School Librarians, who just released these Standards for the 21st Century Learners.
I appreciate the opportunity to freely write down these thoughts because of the freedoms set forth many years ago by our country’s founders. If there is any way I can help with these suggested directions, feel free to blog, email or call. This investment in education will provide all students in the United States what they need to become more competitive and successful in this world economy.