California Needs a New Education Vision

The iconic Helen Keller once famously stated, “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision.” With respect to solving our education crisis, politicians and policy experts call for all sorts of accountability measures and rating metrics. But no one is asking the really big question, “What is our mission?”

Aren’t we supposed to begin with the end in mind? The main problem quite simply is that we have no guiding blueprint for education. Quick, ask anyone in the system from the superintendent to principal to a teacher, “What is the purpose of k-12 education in California?” It’s likely you’ll get a blank stare followed by how well their school is doing on the AYP or API or CAHSEE, all acronyms for various state or federally mandated multiple choice tests, mostly in just two subjects, Reading and Math.

However, if you were to ask a parent, student or business person, you’d likely get a different answer. Former national and California state PTA president, Jan Harp Domene, said this about what’s needed for education, “More than ever, parents want their children to graduate with the knowledge and skills that will prepare them for an extremely competitive global job market. Unfortunately, we find too many schools focused on the two subjects that are tested, and are consequently teaching kids strategies for success on standardized tests and not for success in the workforce or university. At the end of the day, parents want a whole curriculum, a relevant curriculum, and an assessment system that supports writing, thinking, real-world problem solving and innovation. Isn’t that what made America great?”

The American Management Association (AMA) would agree. According to a recent survey conducted by the AMA, national business executives say they need a workforce fully equipped with skills beyond just the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic (the three Rs) in order to grow their businesses. Skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation (the four Cs) will become even more important to organizations in the future.

Proficiency in reading, writing, and arithmetic has traditionally been the entry-level threshold to the job market, but the new workplace requires more from its employees. They also need the content knowledge that goes beyond Reading and Math and includes: science, social studies, visual and performing arts, career education that integrates Science Technology Engineering Math and world languages. This balanced and relevant curriculum will help students make interconnections leading to innovation and be prepared to solve some of the biggest problems and challenges facing our great nation.

In June, 2010, a group of educational leaders met in Long Beach, California to talk about the future of education. Although these folks participated as private citizens, many were affiliated with educational organizations such as the California Council for the Social Studies, the California Math Council, the California Science Teachers Association, the National PTA, the Association of California School Administrators, the California School Boards Association, Californians Together, California Community Colleges, the Latino School Board Association, International Studies Project, California State Strategic Language Initiative, the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the California Federation of Teachers and the state legislature. In an inspirational two hour meeting, the participants agreed that California is sorely in need of a mission and purpose that will truly prepare students for success in a globally connected and competitive world. The group examined the national Partnership for 21st Century Skills (p21.org) which is a framework developed by education leaders in partnership with forward thinking innovative corporations that will help states and local districts implement 21st century curriculum, instruction and assessments.

We agreed that this framework must be implemented from both a top-down and bottom-up strategic effort. One important goal is to work with state elected leaders on legislation for 2011 that calls for integration of P21 into state frameworks, textbook adoption processes, assessments, teacher credentialing, compliance monitoring etc. as funding cycles allow. We also believe it vital for local school districts, community organizations, higher education leaders, and parent groups to take immediate action in joining our effort by passing resolutions and spreading the word.

On January 13th, the second stakeholder meeting was held at Fullerton College. National P21 States Director Helen Soule flew in from Washington DC to support a growing P21 California movement that included leaders from business, PTA, Association of School Administrators, school board members, superintendents, labor, community organizations, higher education, and educational non-profits. Senator Lou Correa and Assembly Education Chair Julia Brownley (represented by Chief Consultant Gerry Shelton out of Sacramento) announced their joint efforts to produce ground-breaking legislation which for the first time will steer California towards the future, embracing the vision of P21 while at the same time preparing students for the new “Common Core” assessments rolling out nationally in 2014.

No less than the future of California’s six million k-12 children is at stake and so proactive, passionate action is needed now.  To get involved or for more information, please visit www.p21california.com).

Michael Matsuda is a Trustee for the North Orange County Community College District and member of the newly formed California Coalition for P21

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