Academic journal article Education

There Is a Crisis! and Failure Is Not an Option

Academic journal article Education

There Is a Crisis! and Failure Is Not an Option

Article excerpt

"Houston, we have a problem," reports Apollo 13 Commander from space.

NASA's Flight Director in Mission Control Center turns to his engineers and commands, "I suggest you gentleman invent a way to put a square peg into a round hole rapidly" to fix the problem.

The NASA engineers pour three boxes of materials--hoses, spacesuit, plastic bags, duct tape--onto a table. One engineer explains, "Okay, people listen up. The people upstairs handed us this one and we've got to come through."

Like Apollo 13, American schools are in a crisis! The Third International Mathematics and Science Study reveals that many United States students are not academically achieving at a high level as compared with students in other developing nations (Committee on Science Education K-12 & the Mathematical Sciences Education Board, 1999). The study shows "U.S. fourth graders performing poorly, middle school students worse, and high school students unable to compete" (Forgione, 2000). Millions of Americans reach their senior year unable to do basic mathematics; millions reach the twelfth grade unable to read at a basic level (Allen, 1998). College remediation rates are at unprecedented levels (Allen, 1998).

In our highly complex, global and informational age, we need our schools more than ever, yet educational practices and procedures have remained constant for the last fifty years. America's educational system is failing too many people. When and how are we going to face the crisis?

Since a "A Nation at Risk"(1983), our nation has been committed to reform our educational system but "no meaningful change has taken place on a national level" (Paige, 2001). Numerous efforts and innovations to improve schools--back to basics, outcome-based education, standards-based education, whole language, whole mathematics--have brought about little significant change. "Too many problems still exist" (Paige, 2001). After four presidents, millions of dollars spent, many laws and standards passed, we still have what we had in 1983--a crisis. What other business could maintain doing the same thing year after year in light of how the world has dramatically changed? The United States can put a man in space but not improve schools. Why?

There are numerous reasons why schools do not improve. Schools do not sufficiently implement what works. Schools hear about a new idea or new program--open classroom, block scheduling, looping, cooperative learning, Reading Recovery, new math--and eagerly embrace the idea without laying the groundwork for successful implementation. Schools do not provide essential support, time and resources to bring about meaningful change. Schools leap from one new idea to the next--last meeting's new idea to this meeting's new idea to next meeting's new idea (Rutherford, 1997). Schools do not maintain high expectations for all students. Students are sorted into ability groups or tracked into separate classes because "many U.S. teachers believe that individual differences are an obstacle to effective teaching" (Stigler and Hiebert, 1999, p. 4). Yet our world demands that all children succeed. As Vollmer (1994) reports, "the system of education that we have today must change from the rigid factory-like selecting and sorting system that wastes human potential to a flexible high expectation learning organization that helps all students and staff develop their potential."

There are ways, however, to stop the crisis and to bring about successful systemic change and long lasting, meaningful, school improvement.

School Improvement

School improvement does not begin with one-shot teacher inservice activities, new and revised curricula, raised standards or state mandated proficiency tests. These ideas have minimal effect if the school culture does not embrace, engage in and support meaningful change.

School improvement begins with development--development of people and the school culture to keep the organization vibrant and prepared to meet new needs and challenges. …

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