Yes it is now a part of commercials for things like Exon Mobile how low a ranking our children receive on international standardized testing compared to other countries, despite spending the most on k-12 education than many other nations participating calling for raising standards, employing excellent teachers, so we can compete globally. That is exactly what the link bellow’s summit discussed couched in 5 dangers it poses to the U.S. national security including but not limited to physical safety, economic growth, global competitiveness, and while the panel hit accurately on several points, had several good ideas for making things better, touching on why can’t you blend 4 years of high school with a community college like setting creating programs in top fields that need jobs and have people in business certify the business students, people in computers certify the computer students and so on, then them be able to go out and get jobs. There was still a fair amount of the same old rhetoric present, arguments about content, making sure kids can do the basics of reading, writing and math well, how to achieve those goals, negative rhetoric about popular parenting and societal trends filtering into education today. It was both alarming and next to unconscionable how they related failings in the k-12 system to civil rights, threats of national security in the grain of truth found there coupled with the blatant lies extrapolated by the rest of the world as well as by people here at home more than sounding an alarm but contributing to the problem owing to still not being able to accurately identify it. In fact one of the key panel guests, former secretary of state Condolezza Rice’s comments were cutting, cruel and crass, not in a truth hurts sort of way but a she’s missing the forest for the trees sort of way.

Her opening remarks began with a startling statistic that 70% of applicants for the armed forces can’t pass the basic skills test to be admitted to the military, glossing over items like incarceration and obesity and going straight for what was supposed to be the jugular speaking of how late in life American children, students acquire languages, moving on to how few people can find something besides the United States on a map. Almost immediately smart, well educated, intuitive people can spot the problem with her argument or interpreted failing of the education system that has, according to her, produced that statistic. One, knowledge of a foreign language may be a basic skill for military service but it is not for functioning everyday life, in the U.S. economy where they are slated to be employed; further, English has been the serviceable language of upward mobility, opportunity and world commerce for decades. Only now is that beginning to change. Also let’s look for a moment at the social dynamic of those who join any branch of military; outside people with a family tradition, those who signed up after 9-11 wanting to fight for a cause, choosing to go into the military is an option utilized by individuals who usually didn’t do well in school, barely graduated, others hoping to take advantage of the 2 years of college, vocational training offered once they are through, those lower on the academic side are going specifically for the hands on, technical skills they know they will receive, truth that changes the tone of the conversation completely. Lastly on this portion of summit information, perhaps most importantly the apex of why we can’t find people to fill positions in the CIA, national security is the same apex of why we can’t find persons to fill roughly 300 million open job listings, not a standards error, not a lacking in expectations, not who we train as teachers, not how we train them and what people missed k-12, whether it was taught or not, the apex is a communication error. It is that no one told these young people foreign language was a requirement on the military’s basic skills test; it is that no one tells them the benefits of higher level math, science, advanced civics and history courses. We don’t tell them how to get into high level jobs then wonder why they’re not, worse blame it on poor education. Oh and if you’re expecting this generation to find something on an actual map, that’s your problem; hand them a GPS machine or a smart phone app and prepare to be amazed. 

Next on the highlight reel Ms. rice spoke indeed of expectations and having high ones no matter what we’re doing  talking about going to a number of  dance  recitals seeing a bunch of kids running around on stage and parents saying oh isn’t that cute; ahh actually it’s not cute let them practice. It would be better if they knew something. Likewise decrying the self-esteem movement, “everyone gets a trophy”  this idea where you have to build up their self-esteem to get them to perform co-panelist Joel Klein saying you need to reverse that that kids need to perform to have self-esteem. Ok first odds are she’s talking about a group of 5-8 year olds who are in a parks and rec dance class not a professional dance group; secondly parents are saying oh isn’t that cute because they’re running around on stage in their little ballerina outfit and yes it looks cute. Here’s another shocker, it’s supposed to; competitive dance may come later if they like it so much. Yet these programs exist for more than just perfection of a dance routine, who won first place; for now, at this age it makes them happy, gives them physical exercise, gives them a safe, structured activity to be a part of, gives them a way to express themselves. They may be in dance class because their best friend is or they think the outfits make them look pretty.  The reason everyone gets a trophy is because there is more to sportsmanship being number one; there are more lessons on a playing field than how to lose gracefully, things like teamwork, cooperation, building potential lifelong friendships. And there are competitive sports in schools, other places for those who want that “traditional” experience. To Mr. Klein’s point, yes and no; perhaps perfecting the self-esteem movement philosophy lies in finding something every kid is good at and using that to build their self-esteem regardless of if that’s academics, because the thing they got right about the self-esteem movement is self-esteem does have an effect on performance. When you have a kid who is struggling to read, to do math, who knows they aren’t good at it and it creates an anxiety around that subject, potentially psychologically scars that child for life. One of my college professors tutored an early grade school student who was pretty far who was terrified to read aloud, terrified of making a mistake, terrified of the humiliation of looking stupid, all of which hampered his progress even though he was receiving help. A 4th grade teacher made headlines at the end of 2012 for drawing on the faces of children who did not meet the class reading goals; one of the parents to a student known as a slow reader commented to the AP reporter humiliating her son wasn’t going to make him meet the reading goal that he already knows he is a slow reader. The tone of the comment being his parents are already aware, probably do reading practice with him and this humiliation is not going to improve his reading ability. Apparently kids had a choice to put up with the drawing on their face or stay in at recess; what makes this worse is the humiliation tactic may work with the kids who simply didn’t try to meet the goal, the ones who were lazy and just didn’t do it but it is going to do nothing but turn a child off to reading who does have a problem or who made their best effort and simply couldn’t get there.                   

Tying into that is an outburst, again from Secretary Rice, exclaiming kids in Korea are learning in grade 3 what our kids are learning in grade 5; why does that have to be? An answer that is at least two fold, one, without preschool programs available to every child nationwide we are going to have kids who start out behind and stay that way even without drastic changes to curriculum encompassing two grade levels, no matter how incremental our former secretary of state would find the change. Secondly and most importantly education is for everyone, not just future Rhodes, national merit and bright flight scholarship winners, not just potential Nobel prize winners, the next Picasso or someone with the next great idea, but everyone. Meaning in every classroom of say 20 first graders you may have 2-3 who are blow average IQ or academic wise, 1-2 who are exceptionally bright even to the point of being board, a majority who are average, and a teacher charged with teaching them all. It’s a larger issue than just including mainstreamed children with a plethora of disabilities; it has to do with children like my friend’s 7 year old son who is classified as learning disabled is under and individual education plan (IEP) yet is not delayed enough to need a fully special ed. classroom. When they finally got him on a program addressing the problem 90% of his behavior issues went away and he shows every sign of eventually not needing specialized services; his case does highlight something worth delving into being he is more between grade levels than he is incapable, unable or unwilling to learn, than he is stupid or lower on an IQ scale. And this is with his mother helping him prepare for kindergarten, helping him with his work during school, both placing him in the offered summer school program along with working with him at home to insure he retained what he learned. Contrary to the nonwestern world perspective brought to the summit by a British man having studied the issue, regardless of the equality debate, we do educate all of our citizens without an Islamic state, without overemphasizing the standardized tests national or international; every child is required to attend school be that public, private, home schooling or private tutoring and for the latter two categories there are parameters that must be met to insure the child is progressing properly. Unlike the Arab world we don’t shoot young women and girls for demanding the right to an education, we don’t think it religiously proper not to educate them, we aren’t like the limited Arab countries allowing girls to attend school but only permitting study of certain subjects. Unlike Asian nations there is life after flunking a huge state exam and it isn’t one of family shame and medial labor; equally paramount we don’t shove children with disabilities into closets and try to forget they exist, dump them in an orphanage solely for the prospect of saving face. Instead they are required to receive an education too making them as educated and functional as they can be in life and society, simultaneously accommodating for their disability.          

Another member of our gathered group was struck by how many Asian, non-American  students knew about the federalist papers, the foundations of American government vs. American students, was unpleasantly surprised a young that a young man can graduate from a place as great as Stanford University with a degree in computer science without ever having taken a history course, an economics course  bringing out that redundant debate over content in classrooms and the things he would like to see covered, overall see the material in classrooms increase. But again there is misunderstanding flying in the face of the variety they were praising only moments before; said owner of that comment ignorant of the reality Stanford is a research and teaching school not a 4 year liberal arts college where there would be general education requirements in a set of core subjects similar to high school, the latter allowing attendees to specialize in a field of study, sharpen their focus toward an employment goal. Fallacy aside, following his argument an easy counterargument can be made for interchanging, replacing a word in that concept, context content; how do Brice, de Tocqueville and the federalists relate to events now, shape things happening now, shape the benchmarks of American history all kids are taught. At the same time I don’t need my cable repair man to spout Shakespeare; I don’t need my computer tech to be able to give me an economics lesson unless it relates to a less expensive way to keep my PC operational. Some of the most in demand jobs right now are for skilled labor journeymen, carpenters, plumbers and electricians, to name a few. Not discussed is why non-American students know so much more about American government; it couldn’t be because all countries, even established democracies, look up to the American model, it couldn’t be because Asian students drool over the American experiment wishing things were the same in their own country, it couldn’t be because the U.S. plays a key role in foreign policy and with a home field advantage American students have less need of such intricate knowledge, it couldn’t because U.S. students have such drastically different career goals apart from government, foreign policy, national security? Enter a comment by Mr. Klein stating in part other countries come here for our colleges no one comes here for our k-12 education system; actually that’s not entirely true, more and more Asian students are trying to come to this country for both high school and college, presumably for the variety not found in the Asian equivalent obvious at the high school level. More Asian people are immigrating to the United States to find jobs, to raise children here for the freedom to exercise their cultural, family values and goals. Blatantly ignored is what people do with all that extra history knowledge or perhaps this guy didn’t see Newt Gingrich deny the existence of the Palestinian people, saying their argument on the right of return was based on a misreading of a decades old document. While he may well be historically accurate, he only managed to inflame tensions in an already bad situation; not so much as mentioned is the greater embarrassment of people operating in their chosen field who don’t know what they need to know a-la inaccurate statements by Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin.    

Similarly addressing a comment on introducing foreign languages and the response that our most outspoken person of the group would like to see students who could write and speak well in English first, because too many can’t do that; please stop saying kids can’t write because you found text speak in a term paper. Yes there is a place and time for letting them know it doesn’t belong there but it holds no bearing on whether or not the idea they were trying to communicate was original, their point of view well thought out, backed up by facts discussed in class, from the reading text be it in a science class or literature, government. You have to know you’re on shaky ground when you assert kids can’t speak well and you could very well be talking about immigrant’s children where English is not the primary language spoken in the home and for a black women to say something like that is very dangerous in more than the arena of is this politically correct, when you know she is bashing regional, accented, colloquial or slang English, having a multitude of variations. But we all know she’s not talking about word pronunciations in Concord or Boston Massachusetts, the California twang; she is talking about the language used in the ghetto, the language used stereotypically by poor, black, youth, she’s talking about the southern drawl, the things, primarily white people, associate with the uneducated, sending the horrible message the only way to get ahead, the only way to be successful is to deny your culture and act white. Relatedly stop saying kids can’t read because they don’t read the type of material we deem age, grade appropriate; please stop saying kids can’t read because they have no interest in, do not read the classic literature assigned in junior high and high school English classes, because many of those same people find reading or writing enjoyable when it is not foisted upon them, when they are allowed to choose reading and writing material that interests, inspires them. An ability to write a term paper is not the same as the ability to write a greeting card, t-shirt slogan or advertisement. It also goes back to the argument of k-12 ed. being there to provide a basic foundation, knowledge of the world and what is considered basic; basic math is not algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus. Basic math is what you use to balance your checkbook, cook; even as a CPA you’re not going to use algebra, neither is a teacher teaching language arts, television anchors. Long story short, there are a multitude of non-math intensive careers. Should children be exposed to everything and have a chance to discover their talent and potential, should children showing a talent for any subject have the opportunity to take more advanced classes in it, should children be advised that for careers X,Y and Z they need higher math, engineering, science, language arts? Of course on all counts, but for the kid who stands up in class asking why he is studying algebra, where in life he will use this information he’s probably struggling with, their answer seems it would fall along the lines of because we have to compete with China, so this country can raise it’s national standards, so you don’t look stupid, not the cool job they could get at NASA if they stick with it, not the fact they can help build airplanes, design the next generation fuel efficient car, defend our country from cyber threat, proving summit members still don’t get it.      

Everyone there seemed to acknowledge the unlikelihood of elongating the school day or the academic school year not hesitating on the jibe we have the shortest of both contrasting the rest of the developed world, forgotten is the reason; yes it was once about an agrarian calendar, kids having to help their family harvest crops. Now one of the chief motivations for my local school district to adjust start time for elementary school kids from 8:00-3:00 to 8:45 3:45, 9:00-4:00 in some parts of the country was complaints by parents their kindergarten and first grade students were getting up at 6:00 and 6:30 to get on a bus standing in the dark to catch said bus. Schools that have had to switch to a 4 weeks to accommodate budget constraints got a pleasant surprise; absenteeism decreased in both students and staff while focus and test scores increased. After inserting the jibe clearly implying we should extend both school day and school year former secretary Rice went on to extoled the virtues of the 3 hour intensive after school program she is affiliated with where they get the art, music language; problem, this 3 hour program either goes for 3-6 or 4-7 pm. My friend puts her 7 year old to bed at 7:00; let’s say the program ended at 6:00, he has time to go home eat, take a bath and go to bed. What kind of life is that for a kid; where is their chance to play, a child’s form of stress management, relaxation? It is the same concept parents in other parts of the country employ when resisting the 9 weeks on 3 weeks off, year round school format done in the northeast; kids need that break they say and they are correct. Without that opportunity to play after school, to pursue a hobby where does a kid get the opportunity to read all the books on zoo animals or become an amateur expert on dinosaurs like the boy in the video above? M. NightShyamalan famous movie director talked about his first camera and videos made in his back yard, things Chinese and Korean students don’t have time to do.  Adjacently we don’t want our kids in kindergarten through 3rd grade pulling wheeled backpacks behind them because they can’t lift it owing to the weight of books, the amount of work required; we don’t want our kids practicing ancient acupuncture like stress relief at their desks because they are there so long, asked to sit like drones for hours on end.  We want our kids to have a childhood; we want our kids to be free to experience the imagination of childhood like only they can.

We also need to reject this idea from the panelists and those who think like them painting an educational world where we’re still teaching information from the 1950’s, the 1970’s that curriculums have not been updated, that new subjects, new terms, new concepts in science and so forth have not been added, because they have. Schools across the country are implementing homework workshops for parents so they can help their kids complete their homework, and the parents interviewed for the GMA piece all successful, employed parents in different careers definitely thought the homework was harder than when they attended school. Looking at the video concepts liketorque, heat convection were things I never learned in k-12 anywhere and it’s not because I attended an inner city school suffering from urban blight where no one cared to teach; it is because they didn’t teach it and certainly not in the 6th grade. We also need to stop falling for the falsehood that there are no computers in classrooms, no schools teaching from an integrated technology format; not only is there what is happening with the Harlem Children’s Zone schools, the number of charter schools across the country, there is the school in the Bronx that saw 90% attendance when they changed their format and put technology into every classroom. There are junior high and high schools all over the country teaching only with computers, schools trading in textbooks for i-pads. At the same time we need to stop letting people like this lie to us projecting the attitude the only obstacle to putting technology into classrooms, particularly inner city ones with problems, is a resistance to doing so, not buildings that are literally falling down, not just budget constraints trying to keep the lights on, bus kids to school and pay the teacher teaching the class. Oh no, it has nothing to do with little things like that.      

Returning to the idea mentioned in the opening paragraph of blending a community college with a 4 year high school to provide employable training highlights a whole other section of sidestepped conversation and contradictions; chiefly we are suddenly making huge demands on the education system it was never meant to meet. Interestingly enough panel members expecting the education system to turn itself inside out in order to meet the career ready, success potential needs of students without ever expecting the employment system to take part in anything other than certifying qualified persons who managed to complete a program. Totally unrecognized is what’s making college degrees less and less serviceable is not the content in the classroom but the lack of capstone experiences that include internships, apprenticeships that give a biology student the practical experience to complete needed certifications to get a job, the forensic science major the internship that will keep them from working as a barista with thousands of dollars in student loan debt, glaringly pointing to an utter lack of cooperating businesses willing to provide those experiences. Because the difference between college and career ready, that question no one any of the panelists spoke with wanted to answer, is that practical experience businesses feel they no longer need to bother to provide. Mr. Klein’s model is wonderful, should be implemented in every high school across the country in a variety of not only tech and business fields but social work, healthcare as well as mechanics, trades, cooking, but it contradicts the idea they kept coming back to that k-12 is there to provide basic, foundational education.    Exposed too are the problems with STEM (science, technology engineering and math); it isn’t just that summit participants want to insure a common core of information taught, because a loose one of those already exists, they want to expand it. Most schools have added another year of math, science and English to graduation requirements along with financial literacy and foreign language; however, let’s say they did 4 years of the core subjects; a kid on track in math in junior high would be in calculus as a senior. Maybe they did ok in algebra 1, 2, 3, struggled through geometry glad to see it behind them but cannot get calculus; it is unfair for them not to be able to graduate because of this. In science it’s 9th grade physical science 10 grade biology, throw in chemistry for junior year and an engineering or tech course elective senior year and it’s that they fail or chemistry, when they want to open their own business, a community center when they get out of school. Not only is it not fair it only sets up a scenario for more high school drop outs. And while you’re chasing all these core requirements you really don’t have time to take a theater class and realize you hate it, a wood shop class and discover you love it, a photography class and discover a hidden talent, a cooking class and realize it’s something practical you like and will insure you have a job. Is it acceptable that kids can’t read, is it ok for kids to graduate high school with a second grade reading level, of course not, do we need to do something about urban blight, yes. But this is not it; it is a unique a problem in specific areas where attitudes, management need to change. But to foist that on the whole system, announcing that as the whole systems problem is inaccurate and unhelpful to the students they claim to want to do better for which is why, they not the American education system, should receive an F.