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Education In America After No Child Left Behind: Where Do We Go From Here?

Jun 5, 2008
Public schools play a vital role in shaping this nation's future. As I write this article, we are about to elect a new President. It is probable that a change in administration will result in a new policy effecting education. The direction and quality of this policy will have a lasting effect on our public schools and on our nation as a whole. So where do we go from here?

At this moment, sitting in a classroom somewhere in America is a future Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet, and Martha Stewart. Will these students have the necessary tools to rise to the top of their profession or will we become dependent on other countries to provide leadership in this global economy? Education may be the determining factor.

"The economy of the future will be dominated by industries in microelectronics, telecommunications, robotics and biotechnology - not to mention new fields that haven't even been predicted." - NEA TODAY, March 2008

The essential focus in education must be to prepare American students for the challenge of the twenty-first century workplace. It is abundantly clear that our drop-out rate is too high and student performance levels are too low. Identifying these problems may be the first step toward a solution but current solutions simply don't work. Under NCLB, academic testing has become the main focus for education reform. An emphasis on test results has forced educators to direct their energy and resources directly toward teaching to these tests. The irony is that some career-related courses and arts programs that clearly motivate students to stay in school and perform have been weakened, or even eliminated, in the process. The pressure that this type of reform has placed on educators can negate innovation and creativity in the classroom. Current policy hinders the teacher's ability to inspire students.

Future planning for education must include a focus on changing technology and introduce the student to the necessity of lifelong learning. Programs like Tech-Prep, School-to-Work and Career Academies have successfully introduced these ideas to some high school students but have not gone far enough. No plan is complete without a delivery system that motivates and inspires students to learn. Such a plan must be implemented long before high school and have the potential to impact every student. When students are motivated to learn, test scores will rise. So where do we go from here?

A successful plan for education will include structured partnerships. As described in the book Facing the Future Together, educators should never plan or implement a program in isolation. Through structured partnerships with those who are stakeholders in education (business, industry and other agencies in the community) every program becomes stronger and every student benefits. Business and industry have an enormous stake in student achievement. Where will future customers, clients and skilled employees come from if not from the school system? Partnerships bring us closer as a community to address our common concerns and everyone benefits. Since we all have a stake in the student who exits our school system, the number of potential partners is almost limitless.

A successful school-business partnership is well structured, sustainable and clearly designed to show students the connection between education and the world beyond the school's walls. This approach brings relevance to learning and helps to keep students motivated and in school. As previously stated, students will perform better in class and score higher on tests if they understand the relevance of subject matter they are expected to learn.

Taking that first step toward building a successful partnership can be a challenge but the result is that everyone wins. As a new administration takes office in Washington D.C. and a new education policy is formulated we have an opportunity to gain some of the ground we have lost in recent years. Facing the future of education together as partners gives us a strong foundation to build upon.
About the Author
Jim Leatherwood is the author of Facing the Future Together: Forming Successful School-Business Partnerships. Website: Successful School Business; E-mail: thebrookepress@aol.com.
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