Monday, December 15, 2008

WSJ Article Calls for National Standards, Complete Overhaul of Public Education

If you haven't had a chance to read Louis Gerstner's compelling piece from the Dec 1 Wall Street Journal, entitled Lessons from 40 Years of Education 'Reform,' here is the link. Mr. Gerstner is the former CEO of IBM and Chairman of the Teaching Commission from 2003-2006.

I'll leave it to the readers of this blog to decide if some of Mr. Gerstner's major suggestions echo the positions taken by this blog for the past two years.

Mr. Gerstner's article is not just another set of opinions -- it is a call for drastic change and immediate action. It will surely be controversial. I do not necessarily agree with all of his statements and/or recommendations but I agree with the 'core.'

Perhaps, the time for change has come to American Education...

Here are some excerpts -- I strongly urge you to read the entire piece:

I believe the problem lies with the structure and corporate governance of our public schools. We have over 15,000 school districts in America; each of them, in its own way, is involved in standards, curriculum, teacher selection, classroom rules and so on. This unbelievably unwieldy structure is incapable of executing a program of fundamental change. While we have islands of excellence as a result of great reform programs, we continually fail to scale up systemic change.

This is a complex problem, but countless experiments and analyses have clearly indicated we need to do four straightforward things to bring fundamental changes to K-12 education:

1) Set high academic standards for all of our kids, supported by a rigorous curriculum.

2) Greatly improve the quality of teaching in our classrooms, supported by substantially higher compensation for our best teachers.

3) Measure student and teacher performance on a systematic basis, supported by tests and assessments.

4) Increase "time on task" for all students; this means more time in school each day, and a longer school year.

Therefore, I recommend that President-elect Barack Obama convene a meeting of our nation's governors and seek agreement to the following:

- Abolish all local school districts, save 70 (50 states; 20 largest cities). Some states may choose to leave some of the rest as community service organizations, but they would have no direct involvement in the critical task of establishing standards, selecting teachers, and developing curricula.

- Establish a set of national standards for a core curriculum. I would suggest we start with four subjects: reading, math, science and social studies.

- Establish a National Skills Day on which every third, sixth, ninth and 12th-grader would be tested against the national standards. Results would be published nationwide for every school in America.

- Establish national standards for teacher certification and require regular re-evaluations of teacher skills. Increase teacher compensation to permit the best teachers (as measured by advances in student learning) to earn well in excess of $100,000 per year, and allow school leaders to remove underperforming teachers.

- Extend the school day and the school year to effectively add 20 more days of schooling for all K-12 students.


Anonymous said...


I cannot help but wonder how yet another experienced, intelligent person can think that throwing more money at a broken system can possibly address the cause of the breakdown. Public education in America is out of step with what we now know to be human learning patterns, is not in synch with our transition from the information age to the connected economy, and furthers the institutional treatment of children.

I will spend some time on your site to better understand your perspective, and invite you to do the same with mine:

Thanks for bringing this article to my attention!

Stephen Dill

Dave Marain said...

Fascinating stuff, Stephen. I'd like to believe I am as forward thinking as you are and I know I am quite the opposite of a technophobe.

For some time I've been thinking about a new modelof education which utilizes the internet and e-learning. I certainly need to do more than give a cursory glance at your site. I need to digest it and think about it. My initial reactions are:
(1) My primary concern in writing my blog was to emphasize content first, then pedagogy. I still believe there is a core of knowledge to which all children need to be exposed and there needs to be some expectation of proficiency although not all children will get there at the same time. While learning and brain development can come about in a myriad of ways, via the arts for example, I still feel strongly that there needs to be more of a focus on higher-order thinking than has been traditional in mass education.
(2) If you got the impression that I believe there is a simple way to fix public education (a la Mr. Gerstner), then let me correct this. I do not believe there are usually simplistic answers to exceptionally complex problems. Part of the problem is certainly the resistance of bureaucracies and institutions to accept change never mind acknowledging that their existence may have become obsolete!
(3) I believe e-learning has great potential but I believe it will work better for some children than others. I feel there is still a need for human interaction and exchange of ideas face-to-face. Children need the motivation that comes from the tone of voice and the look in the eye. Of course I may be misunderstanding your vision and I will need to learn much more. But please do not get the impression that I am not open to a sea change, a radical paradigm shift, in how education is delivered. Remember I did not say that I accepted all of Mr. Gerstner's mandate. But when it comes to national standards, well, don't get me started!