Steps To Foster An Education Rethink in the U.S.

The competitive and entrepreneurial spirit may be thriving in the U.S., but applying this spirit to overhaul education and teaching is a fragmented and daunting task. While there are those trying to tackle this space at many levels, this article covers some practical steps we can all take–businesses, parents, teachers, friends and neighbors–to make education change happen today.

The pivotal thing we must do is work together in our local communities, cities, counties and states to advance education and make sure our kids and our country stay competitive 10, 20, 30 years from now. Whether you are a parent, an aunt or uncle, a business person, a reporter, teach or student, we need to put our collective focus on making change happen.

“67% feel U.S. education is in crisis.”

According to a recent Time Magazine study, 67% of people in the U.S., the wealthiest nation in the world, feel education is in crisis. Hear what President Obama had to say about education during an interview with Matt Lauer on September 27th, 2010.

6 Frightening Education Statistics
  1. A third of U.S. students don’t graduate high school.
  2. Another third aren’t college-ready when they get their high school diploma.
  3. Only 35% of 12th-graders are proficient in reading.
  4. The only area U.S. children lead in is self confidence. Out of 25 nations, we are last in Math and 21 (at the bottom) in Science.
  5. This generation is growing up less literate than the one before for the first time in U.S. history.
  6. China is graduating around 5 million college students each year and increasing that, more than 3.5 times more graduates each year than the U.S. India is right behind China in the number of college graduates.

There is a lot of shocking information. Sometimes hearing from real people drives this home more than words on a page. Here are two movie trailers that bring it to life.

Waiting for “Superman”, in theaters now, speaks to kids desire for education and highlights how the education system is failing them, our communities and the nation. (Trailer is about 3 minutes.)

Two Million Minutes, it is the amount of time kids have during high school and a compelling documentary highlighting where US education is failing and how ready other countries are to seize the opportunity. (Trailer is about 2 minutes.)

Unite Parents, Teachers and Businesses To Make Change Happen
  1. Teachers: Share your plans with parents at least one month in advance. Include what information you’re covering, homework and tests on a day by day, or at least weekly, schedule. Empower parents to help you make sure children are focused, spending the time and on track. Use Google Docs if it saves time.
  2. Parents: Give your kids structure, a schedule and make sure they stick to it. Make learning their job and incorporate topics into conversations and things you do with them outside of school. Establish good habits. Review your child’s scores each week. Finding out a month or two after your child starts to under perform allows bad habits to become ingrained and makes it harder for you to improve the situation quickly.
  3. Teachers: Measure frequently and share often. Give parents and children feedback on progress (scores on homework, tests, etc.) and map it against progress-to-date. Think about intangibles that we can measure beyond that pop-quiz or test. Did they finish homework? Level of engagement? Kids love to earn points in video games. Can we engage them with scores that motivate and keep them focused on achieving? Let parents know if their child or the class is falling behind the school. Arm yourself and your parents with these metrics.
  4. Employers and Bosses: Make work/life balance and education a business imperative. Studies show that U.S. workers have become some of the most overworked in the developed world. This is a contributing factor to parents having time to mentor their children, and it is not helping us build sustainable competitive advantage for our companies or our country. Many business cultures need an overhaul because employees feel compelled to work more even when their manager does not expect it. Develop measures and make them directly tied to performance objectives and bonuses. The sooner we take this seriously, move beyond lip service and all the way to the board room, the better off the nation and our businesses will be long term.
  5. Everyone: Offer to help your neighbor or colleague. Don’t know your neighbors? Introduce yourself and get to know them. Better education improves local neighborhoods, can reduce crime and improve house values. Some families are hungry, others need help checking homework or planning a structure schedule for their children. Still others, may just need some information on how they can help their children do better in school.
4 Actions Anyone Can Take
  1. Actively participate in your child’s education and school. Do what is best for the kids, not the adults. If you don’t have kids, be a mentor and example to the kids in your life, community or an area you are passionate about.
  2. Put education on every agenda you can. Whether that is your friends on facebook, the PTA,  local community organizations, your business meetings, media outlets or with government officials, get education on the agenda.
  3. Partner with teachers, and give them a helping hand when you can.
  4. Hold your leaders accountable, throughout the year and at the polls.

Want to do or learn more about actions you can take? Check out these actions for parents, teachers or anyone else. Go see Waiting for “Superman” and rent the DVD when it comes out.

Now, more than anytime in history, we should be able to fix big issues like education. It starts with positive involvement, sharing information regularly, and holding each other and our leaders accountable. It is both a community and business imperative that education improve in the U.S. Will you do your part as a citizen to push for positive and competitive change?