We are living in an ever more competitive global economy. Well-paying, life-long blue collar jobs have nearly disappeared. There is no escaping that the students in our schools today must graduate at higher levels and with better skills than their parents. Are the No Child Left Behind tests the best way to measure such academic achievement? I don’t think so.
We don’t live and work in an assembly line world for which standardized tests might have been an adequate measure of academic preparation. Today we need graduates that can process a vast amount of information, analyze and synthesize that information, and communicate what they have put together in clear, creative communication, while, at the same time, having learned to live and work in a world of racial, ethnic, and religious diversity. Yes, students need to learn how to read, write, and I emphasize ‘write,’ and to perform mathematical calculations. But, there is so much more that needs to be done: art, music, speech, drama, and athletics. And, what about learning at least one other language, so that students can speak it and write it by the time they graduate. What a disservice it is to our students to put them at such a disadvantage in the global economy, because they only know one language. We also should not forget that old standard that was called by variations of the term ‘comportment,’ which described how well you behaved at school and got along with your school mates. This is more and more important in our increasingly diverse state. However, the measure cannot just be how well all students conform to some assumed Euro-American standard of behavior. Students need to learn how to behave in the diversity of cultures that make up today’s global economy. Students need to work with their teachers, parents, and their school’s administrators to create that school’s unique culture and norms of behavior.
K-12 schools and our state’s post-secondary institutions should sit down with business leaders in the for-profit and the non-profit sectors to come up with graduation standards and the means to measure adequate progress. Each state should be free to develop its own standards. There is self-interest for a state that wants to compete in the global economy to set and to achieve the highest standards. A national standard will be too watered down and simplistic to do what needs doing today. And, let’s be honest about what needs to be done.
If students need more education than their parents and their schools are more diverse racially and linguistically and more of the students live in homes and neighborhoods that are suffering from poverty, then we need to pay for a longer school year, longer school days that provide opportunities for children living in poverty to have access to educational enrichment experiences that more well-off students have, and we need to provide summer school for all students. What I am saying is, if schools, such as, the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) schools, which provide this enriched educational experience and demonstrate success with their students, then let’s provide this kind of education for all our students. The questions to me are: Are we willing to pay for the kind of education our children need? Are the schools, the teachers, the parents, the students, and the communities in which the schools are located willing to be held accountable to standards of progress the community has developed? We do not have any more time to fool around with the educational crisis. The rest of the world is not going to wait for the United States or Minnesota to improve its educational system. The global race is on, and we are losing. What good will “victory” in Iraq be if we do not have a workforce that can compete globally?