A large part of President Obama’s 2008 campaign centered around goals for changing the U.S. education system to better prepare graduates to find jobs in our tight job climate and compete with knowledge workers worldwide. The president has outlined changes and goals that affect grades K-12, community colleges, and four-year institutions. However, the U.S. education system continues to fall further and further behind other countries with no end to its freefall in sight. We are the wealthiest nation in the world with an education system on life support. But how can we fix it? Since education competes for attention and budget with an interminable war, a broken health care system, dwindling social security, soaring unemployment, and a dismal U.S. economy, will changes ever take place? Some think time might be the answer.
President Obama’s education plans for K-12 include recruiting new teachers, rewarding teaching excellence, and revising and renaming the No Child Left Behind program, as well as eliminating the lowest-performing teachers and schools. In this way, our education system is beginning to resemble our business climate, with layoffs and facility closings in the name of streamlining and consolidation. Is this a good thing? Businesses need to compete globally, so it stands to reason that our school system must also. But can it? President Obama states, “The nation that out-educates us today, will out-compete us tomorrow.”
What about more time in the classroom? In a recent interview with Matt Lauer on Education Nation, President Obama discussed another change to primary education aimed at enabling students to compete with students in other countries with higher educational standards – lengthening the school year by a month. He claims that more days in the classroom equals greater learning retention – something that is sorely needed, especially in school districts with low test scores and high dropout rates, where students have less access to books and learning opportunities during the summer months. However, keeping facilities open more days of the year requires a financial investment that is only justifiable if it is time well spent. Critics claim that more time in the classroom will not do any good unless we concentrate on fixing what’s wrong with our educational system first. How should we fix our system, and what should schools, and students, do with that extra time?
With the benefit of a longer school year, could schools could meet testing and educational requirements and have time to go further? Could they work toward developing more interest in math and science, as well as encouraging more girls to pursue careers in computers and technology? Despite our students growing up with access to cutting-edge technology, these subjects continue to be unpopular and show low test scores. Now, more than ever, the U.S. needs to be competitive in these areas.
Better education is an important step toward strengthening our economy and creating more jobs (affordability is another discussion). Lengthening the school year is just one change that could make a difference, but only if there are fundamental changes in curriculum and a determination to put that time to good use. The President acknowledges that our educational system is “in crisis.” If it doesn’t improve, what will that mean for the next generation of American workers, our economy, and our ability to compete in a global business environment that now, more than ever, needs innovation?