Sunday, February 05, 2006

Why innovation in education is critical

Editorialist Terry Plumb in The Rock Hill Herald was exasperated at what he believed was an incredible slight against public education in South Carolina by ABC's 20/20 program by John Stossel, "Stupid in America."

South Carolina is first in high school drop outs and last in SAT scores. So what evidence can Mr. Plumb offer Mr. Stossel that South Carolina public education has been unjustly defamed?
The next time [the producers of "20/20"] want to interview a South Carolina family about public schools, they can talk to the Plumbs of Rock Hill. We'll tell them about two daughters, their scholarships to prestigious colleges, their master's degrees and how they were launched on learning careers by dedicated public school teachers.
Ironically, Mr. Plumb has put his thumb on the problem with the debate about public education. For some children with supportive families in schools with dedicated teachers, the way we deliver public education today produces excellent results, as Mr. Plumb's children demonstrate. We often hear influential people, who themselves were successful in school, argue that if others would merely follow their example they could be successful too.

But our children are a diverse bunch, and they learn best in a variety of ways. For some children, the public school classroom is an extremely difficult environment. For them, a different way of delivering education would better match their learning styles, and they would be much more successful. Right now, we frustrate them, their parents, and their teachers by forcing them into a system not well suited to the way these children absorb information.

Our families also have different levels of capability to support children. We often hear those in public education say that if parents were more involved their children would be more successful. It is true that if every child had two affluent, educated parents at home we would be much better off. Last fall, we saw some families in New Orleans who either could not or would not get out of the way of a hurricane. These parents likely are not able to help their children with their Algebra homework.

Mr. Plumb said that his children had dedicated teachers. Indeed there are many, many excellent teachers in our public schools. But those of us who are parents of public schools students also know teachers who shouldn't be there.

Making a quantum leap in the quality of education we deliver requres empowering the excellent, dedicated teachers. We need a system where entrepreneurial educators can create innovative new models of delivering education to children currently not well served - where parents can then choose the best educational environment for their children.

Of we had a system that gave our best educators the freedom to do what only they can do best, we would be well on our way towards a world class system of universal, innovative, publicly funded education.

Isn't that what we want?


Ken Proudfoot said...

The continuing conversation about the need for innovation in the public education system is all talk and only rarely followed by some action.
The critical innovation needed at this point is a program that will equip every student in the system with a set of practical portable skills that both transcend and interface with the current changing needs of a technology and knowledge-driven world economy.
With less than 50% of high school graduates attending post-secondary college/tech schools. etc. and less than 50% of them receiving a degree, we must immediately begin the process of preparing ALL public school students to learn how to learn and know how to think so that they do not become one of the "unemployables" in this modern age.
Ken Proudfoot

Swamp Fox said...


There's no question that "we must immediately begin the process of preparing ALL public school students to learn how to learn." The issue is how to do that.

There is a wide variety of ways that students learn, and there is a wide variety of support that students receive outside of school. There is not "a program that will equip every student in the system." We try to deliver a one size fits all educational approach today, which is one key reason why our schools fail so many students.

If we are to reach all students in all of their diversity, then we need much greater variety in how education is delivered. That will only happen if innovative educators are allowed to develop and deliver creative approaches to meet the needs of students not well served today.

Ken Proudfoot said...


You are absolutely correct---people learn in different ways.

[I have always said that the Number One Thing Every Student Should Know Before Finishing Elementary School: They must Learn How To Learn.]

But----(here it comes...)---
EVERYONE needs some basic portable skills, what I call Portable Entrepreneurial Skills, because these skills apply to every form of learning (and to every activity from business, non-profits, to family household management), mostly because the results from equipping each student with these basic skills then allows each student to move at his/her own pace to better understanding and appreciating the learning opportunities that the world they live in offers. They can then better embrace and understand the world to become, if not more educated, then at least more knowledgeable about the thing/subject/specialty about which they are most passionate.

Here are the Portable Entrepreneurial Skills I am teaching to high school, middle school, and home-school elementary students:

Financial Literacy
The greatest skill is Thinking.

Best wishes-

Ken Proudfoot