So far in this series we’ve examined educational innovations that have resulted in outstanding successes in India and Great Britain. Not surprisingly, the innovation that occurred in India was the result of an Indian identifying an Indian problem. The success of the Studio School concept in Great Britain was possible because a British innovator identified a very different British problem. This may seem overly simplistic, but I would suggest that we begin to look toward an American innovator to at least identify our American problems. We’ll never find a solution if we don’t understand our unique problems.
I don’t think that teachers are the problem—remember that I taught high school English and I’m especially sensitive to criticism of teachers in general. When I taught, I was underpaid, underappreciated and worked very hard to engage my students every day. And I’d like to think that just having more good teachers could have the potential to turn our education model around. Offering online school alternatives and home schooling could help bridge the gap along with more great teachers in traditional public schools. But Bill Gates identifies problems that good teaching alone cannot solve.
The problem that we haven’t addressed adequately is that good teachers are doing a great job teaching. The problem is that they’re doing a great job teaching twenty percent of our students. The fact that eighty percent of students don’t really gain an educational advantage from good teaching is troubling. We’ve let children slip through the cracks for way too long. It’s astonishing to think that in spite of this, the students in the top twenty percent have gone on to contribute to all that’s great about the United States. Much of the explosion in technological progress and innovation that has propelled this country in the last few generations is a direct result of the education these twenty percent have received from great teachers.
But that steady margin is beginning to shrink. We’re facing an existential crisis. Reforming education is no longer something that we can let politicians use as a political football and for a convenient campaign issue. Education reform is a matter of economic survival. The economic clout of the United States is waning and the world of commerce is becoming a truly global arena. If we want any sort of competitive edge going forward we have to be able to introduce innovative education reform that will ensure an American seat at a global table in the long term. It’s time to quit using our education system as a cloak for hidden agendas. We don’t have the luxury of time anymore. And maybe we’ll have to quit worrying about hurt feelings or whose going to get credit. If Sugata Mitra can turn a village school in India around with just a computer and the collaboration of school children, American politicians, parents, teachers and administrators ought to be able to work together to find workable solutions as well.