A Broader Vision for Public Education

An interesting report came out of the The Campaign for Educational Equity at  Teachers College and the Economic Policy Institute. It seeks to add a new dimension to the analysis of the achievement gap. Instead of simply and narrowly focusing on just basic academic skills, it broadens the lens to include a more holistic vision for successful children (including, but not limited to, critical thinking and problem-solving, social skills and work ethic, and physical health).

Amen.

In our current NCLB daze/haze, it’s so refreshing to hear an argument for widening our definition of what makes a successful student (and, by the associative property, a successful school).

I am all for the idea that no child should be left behind and that no one should slip through the cracks. However, by narrowly defining what gets measured (and therefore taught) we are doing a huge disservice and injustice to our children (and not to mention our nation’s future). We will not adequately prepare anyone for college, participation in the workforce, or a meaningful life by limiting our instruction to multiple-choice reading and math.

Surprisingly, the argument for more holistic education isn’t new. As the report discusses, the likes of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, as well as more modern state constitutions and supreme court cases in many states, actually support a broader view of public education.

Although I agree with the eight broad goals delineated in the article, I do take issue with the relative importance assigned to each goal. “Basic Academic Skills” still come out on top (at 21%), nearly three times as important as “Emotional Health” (8%) and still more important than critical thinking and problem-solving (16%).

Don’t get me wrong; I am a staunch supporter of “basic academic skills,” but I am aghast that anyone would place critical thinking and problem-solving below the basic skills (or that they would neglect to acknowledge the important role that emotional health plays in college, workplace, and personal success).

Here’s the breakdown:

“The weights we recommend, and which this Report Card employs, are:”

Basic Academic Skills in Core Subjects: 21
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: 16
Social Skills and Work Ethic: 14
Citizenship and Community Responsibility: 14
Physical Health: 9
Emotional Health: 8
Appreciation of the Arts and Literature: 7
Preparation for Skilled Work: 11

Total: 100

When you really stop to think about what makes a successful person, it’s alarming that these weights aren’t more evenly distributed. What difference will basic academic skills make if you can’t apply your knowledge to novel situations because you are deficient in critical-thinking and problem-solving? What difference will those basic academic skills make if you lack interpersonal skills and can’t successfully interview for a job?

If we truly want our country to be a meritocracy, then we have to equip all citizens with the well-rounded skills they need to succeed. It starts by creating a broader vision for public education.

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