CONTEMPLATING EDUCATION REFORM IN TWO PARTS

Part 1: The Purpose of Education

Introduction. A group of state leaders led the efforts “to develop the Common Core State Standards … in 2009” (Common Core State Standards Initiative, n.d., p. 1), with the release of the final English language arts and mathematics standards in mid-2010. By 2015, “42 states, the Department of Defense Education Activity, Washington, D.C., Guam, the Northern Marianas Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands [adopt] the CCSS in ELA/literacy and math” (2015). In the summer of 2011, Achieve coordinated the development and work of the Next Generation Science Standards, with the final document released in April of 2013 (Achieve, n.d.) Standards guided instruction since the first classroom, and in the 17th century, religious concepts, such as morality, family, and community, rather than academic pursuits, dominated those guiding principles. Horace Mann, in 1837, changed education with his concept of “common schools” (Cremin, 2021) as a means of standardizing public education. Since then, the design, development, and delivery of curriculum, instruction, and assessments became a key tenet of education. However, have these efforts improved education and preparing students for their futures? The reasons behind why we educate our children drive the decisions regarding how we educate our children.

A historical perspective. The first school, Boston Latin School, opened in the Town of Boston in 1635 for the sons of the town’s ruling class (Lisa, 2021). With classroom teaching reserved for the male aristocracy, it might be appropriate to suppose education prepared these sons to assume control of the family business; a task the home might no longer be equipped to provide. By 1838, as indicated above, Mann advocated for public education for all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, and/or gender, through primary grades, which focused on six fundamental propositions: (1) an ignorant populace is unacceptable, (2) the public is educated for free, (3) diversity creates a better educational environment, (4) there should be a separation of church and state, (5) democracy should prevail in classrooms, and (6) well-trained, professional teachers must instruct (Cremin, 2021, p. 4). These principles suggest Mann’s purpose for education is a literate society. Then, throughout the 1850s and 1860s, when Darwin published On the Origin of Species and American’s fought in the Civil War, “geographic location largely determined whether students learned biblical creation or evolution in class and whether slavery was taught as the central cause of the Civil War instead of states’ rights and Northern aggression” ( (Lisa, 2021, p. 20), implying political power and propaganda propelling the purpose of education. Nearly a century later, when the Soviet Union beat America in reaching outer space, and again, now, since the turn of the century, America losing its dominance in the global economy forces education to address its literacy and numeracy competence, as well its lack of vocational training.

A personal perspective. My personal perspective on the purpose of education begins with the urgency of altering America’s position in the global technological competition. With regards to STEM competencies, “U.S. eighth graders continue to rank in the middle of advanced economies in international mathematics and science assessments … [and] foreign-born individuals account for a sizeable share of U.S. S&E employment, particularly among workers with graduate degrees” (Khan, Robbins, & Okrent, 2020, p. 2), indicating greater strides need to be made to improve America’s middle school mathematics and science knowledge, skills, and experiences and increasing the number of Americans enrolling and completing graduate programs. Should this national need drive the reasons for education and be used to navigate our educational landscape? Will responding to data and statistics bring the improvement necessary?

Our nation’s first response to these data and statistics was the Bush administration’s “No Child Left Behind” legislation, holding schools accountable for students’ performance on standardized tests, and essentially forcing teachers to “teach to the test.” This legislation led to the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” and “Every Student Succeeds Act” legislation, both which gave more control back to schools and school districts and allowing them to make administrative decisions that support the learning needs of their students. The Obama legislations move educational reform in the right direction and demonstrate a commitment to student learning by leaving the decisions in the hands of the people who work most closely with students.

There is great potential for meaningful change when school district leaders and school administrators are allowed to make decisions. Given the power to decide who they serve, why they serve them, and how they serve them, schools and school districts can change their educational landscape. Although I work at a private school, when determining the purpose for education, asking these questions become critical. I serve the students who attend Nā Hunaahi and their families. I serve them because they chose to attend Nā Hunaahi, and these students and their families trust me to prepare them for their futures, whatever that might be. I prepare these students for their futures by making them a vital piece of the educational decision making and allowing their goals to drive their curriculum. Based on these three tenets, my personal perspective on the purpose of education is to provide students with the necessary knowledge, skills, and experiences for them to achieve their goals through a culturally relevant and engaging curriculum.

Closing thoughts. The reasons we educate our students drive the decisions we make as school administrators. The content and context of these decisions run wide and deep, and the repercussions of these decisions leave an indelible mark on the students we serve. Our purpose drives the decisions we make regarding student curricula. Join me for part 2 to learn more about my approach to education.

References

Achieve. (n.d.). Developing the standards. Retrieved from Next Generation Science Standards: https://www.nextgenscience.org/developing-standards/developing-standards

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (n.d.). Development process. Retrieved from Common Core State Standards Initiative: http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/development-process/

Cremin, L. A. (2021, April 30). Horace Mann. Retrieved from Encyclopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Horace-Mann

Khan, B., Robbins, C., & Okrent, A. (2020). The state of U.S. science and engineering 2020. Washington, D. C.: National Science Board.

Lisa, A. (2021, May 10). History of the American education system. Retrieved from Stacker: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/history-of-the-american-education-system/ss-BB1gzoNK

 

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