Accountability is a big word in educational reform. Now it needs to be applied to those responsible for creating reform that is ineffective and discriminatory.
For more than five decades, business leaders, politicians, colleges and universities sold Americans the idea that academic test-score proficiency is the key to developing our workforce. They continually emphasized the higher earnings of college graduates and the prestige of going to top-rated colleges. This put colleges in a key position to influence the curriculum and quality of the system.
Now, coming out of a major recession, there is evidence the ideas of this business-political-college triumvirate didn't work:
- 57.5 million native-born Americans, ages 16-65, were not working in the second quarter of 2013, up 17 million from the second quarter of year 2000.
- 53.6 percent of college bachelor holders under age 25 in 2012 were jobless or underemployed.
- Only 66.8 percent of American males are currently working, the lowest figure on record.
This last figure indicates a troubling bias: boys are a year to a year and a half behind girls in reading and writing; they record 80 percent of the discipline problems and drop outs in our schools and then make up less than 44 percent of our college population, per The Minds of Boys by authors Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens.
In addition, no real progress has been made on the Black, Hispanic and Native American achievement gaps with Whites, while Asian students continue to outperform Whites. These statistics suggest the educational system these "reformers" designed favors certain types of kids.
Further, the system helped create disturbing social changes -- the rich continually get richer and the poor, poorer. From 1979 to 2007 for example, the top 1 percent wage earners in the U.S. increased earnings by 275 percent, while the bottom 20 percent increased earnings by only 18 percent. The wealthiest 20 percent of Americans now own 93 percent of the nation's wealth, with the bottom 40 percent owning significantly less, per, "Wealth, Income and Power," by Professor G. William Domhoff, UCSC.
To make matters worse, compare the progress of the students and society with that of the system's architects. Consider:
- Colleges and universities built palatial facilities and amassed mammoth endowments. Their pride was blatantly tied to how many students they were able to reject, with the curricula often more connected to faculty and student wants than to what students need to be prepared for life.
- Tuitions increased more than 2,000 percent over 50 years for an education of more questionable value, particularly with graduates stuck with a trillion dollars in loans to pay back.
- Business leaders: Since 1978, CEOs increased their pay by more than 725 percent, while their average workers increased their pay by less than six percent. The average CEO of an S&P 500 company brings home almost $13 million a year. Since the competitive educational system they designed fosters cheating and bullying, greed and fraud have become an integral part of our economy.
- Politicians are supposed to be watchdogs for the people. Yet they were fully supportive of these self-serving reform plans that proved to be only marginally beneficial for most Americans.
Education today is a terrible violation of every student's individuality and spirit. They are all cast in a formulaic worker-bee system designed to increase their value to the nation's workforce.
Each student is unique; our goal should be helping all youngsters -- rich, poor, boy,girl, black, white -- realize their best. This means not only helping each student achieve one's best in classrooms, on athletic fields, in community service and other activities, but in one's personal life -- behaviors, attitudes, problems, sense of purpose, peers, family, etc.
People may have trouble visualizing this new approach. But children are America's future. When we stop asking them to live up to an achievement model and instead, make a commitment to challenge and support each one to live up to one's own unique personal best, the vast majority will begin to trust our schools at a deeper level and experience a dramatic transformation. I've seen it work over the past 47 years with thousands of kids.
This is exciting education -- helping youngsters discover a best they never knew they had: an education that reaches their spirit, motivation, deeper potentials and sense of purpose, not a system designed by a self-serving trio of business, political and college/university interests.
It's time to hold those architects of "reform" accountable, and change the educational system. As revolutionary as this appears to be, it reflects an American heritage that would transform both our schools and our society.