SHANNON QUINN, EDUCATION DIRECTOR
As the world continues to grow smaller and globalization advances at a rapid pace, all aspects of society are being transformed and rethought at fundamental levels. This holds true for the education system. Our current system of education was designed in an industrial age, based on an assembly line mentality that was necessary for the economy of the time. However, in the 21st century, this model for education should be reevaluated and changed to meet the demands of a globalized and culturally-diverse economy.
Built into the model of industrial education is the dependency on conformity. With the rise of standardization, children are increasingly put through a “one mold fits all” curriculum. Children have little choice in what they study from a young age and are forced into a curriculum that ultimately teaches to the test. Researchers such as Ken Robinson further point out that the model penalizes collaboration by calling it cheating, which discourages group work. Though this may have been relevant to the structure of the 19th century economy, this model may actually be harmful for children today.
In a study on divergent thinking, which is defined as the essential capacity for creativity and the ability to see more than one solution to a problem, researchers showed that the more “educated” children were, the less able they were to think flexibly about solutions to problems. In a longitudinal study, 98% of Kindergarteners scored at “genius” level for divergent thinking. After five years, the rate decreased to 50%. It further declined after another five years. Considering a standardized education enforces the idea of one answer, these results make sense. In the context of the 21st century, however, the results are troubling, as we have shifted to a world where problem solving skills are paramount and technology makes it easier to share ideas and collaborate across the world.
So how can we change school curriculum to ensure that our children are receiving the most comprehensive and in-depth education possible? It certainly won’t be an easy task, as it will require a restructuring of an entire entrenched system, not to mention a significant shift in the way people think about education. One approach that is being increasingly tested in schools is project-based learning (PBL). PBL is an approach that challenges students’ problem solving skills by engaging them in an extensive investigative project that has an application in the real world. This model emphasizes group work and collaboration, in contrast with the individually centered approach of the current system. Elements of PBL include mastering 21st century competencies, such as technology, working with a driving question, and presenting work to a public audience.
Although it is not yet widely used, a nonprofit organization called New Tech Network works with schools, districts, and communities to develop effective education strategies. New Tech schools include 115 district public schools, 18 charter schools, and two independent schools; all of these schools use PBL. According to their yearly outcome report, their students graduate at a rate of 14% higher than the national average, enroll in college 9% more than the national average, and persist in college at a total rate of 83%. These numbers may reflect a deeper engagement with the subject matter and, perhaps more importantly, an increased drive to learn and succeed in education.
In another study done on PBL, researchers analyzed a project-based high school economics class. According to the outcomes of the study, students that participated in a project-based curriculum outscored their peers that followed a more traditionally designed plan. This shows the real potential impact of PBL on student performance. Although this model seems divergent from what the US typically subscribes to in education, reassessing our standards and the approach to learning is becoming increasingly necessary for innovative reform and preparation of our children for the world’s economy today.
Adopting PBL as an alternative to traditional education is one effort that can be made to reorient the education conversation and provide opportunities to struggling schools to engage their student body in a meaningful way. By doing this, the depth at which students are learning will increase, driving their curiosity and transforming them into more well-rounded individuals overall. This is economically important and is more telling about a student’s proficiency than test scores. Low-income schools can especially benefit from this model, but standardization must first be eased in order to transition to a model conducive to PBL.
The world looks different than it did when our system of public education was formed. As the world is shrinking due to the forces of globalization, we need to think of innovative ways to restructure our education system in a way that fits with the economic and cultural needs of our time. Concepts such as project-based learning should be further explored, refined, and experimented with to increase the quality of education for low-income and high-income communities alike. An overhaul of our current education system certainly will not be easy, but it must be done if we’re going to offer equitable and valuable education to this generation of students, who are being launched head first into globalized economy.
SHANNON QUINN, EDUCATION DIRECTOR
In his recent State of the Union Address, President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to expanding early childhood education, stating that, “Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every 4-year-old. And as a parent as well as a president, I repeat that request tonight.” Some cities, such as New York City, have recently begun efforts in tackling the challenge of expanding and ultimately universalizing Pre-Kindergarten programs.
For years, research in early childhood education has shown that early exposure to education, especially among at-risk youth, reaps substantial benefit by both the individual and the community. However, implementing policy that capitalizes upon these benefits is the tricky part. Programs involving early childhood education that have sprung to life more often than not ignore research that is vital for successful implementation.
One of the most prominent long-term studies of the benefits of early childhood education, The HighScope Perry Preschool Project, surveys a group of individuals at various stages in their life through age 40. The annual study tracks participants placed in an early program versus a control group of individuals that were not. The findings from the study were significant. For example, the incidence of arrest in the Pre-K group was only 36% of participants, compared to the 55% of the non-program group. As shown in Figure 1, participants in the early education programs had higher IQs, were more likely to graduate from high school, and earned higher incomes as adults.
These studies show the strong promise of universal Pre-K programs. The problems lie within the existing traditional government-sponsored early education programs. Head Start and Early Head Start (EHS) both receive significant funding from the government to increase access of early education to low-income families; on January 17th, programs under the Head Start Act were allocated $8,598,095,000. This points to a continuous backing of a program that may not be living up to expectations.
Although there have been no long-term studies, like the Perry Project, done on Head Start, research on short-term effects show disappointing results. Figure 2 depicts the significant favorable impact on the child in differing areas of learning. The measurable impact that this program appears to have lasts barely longer than a year—in some cases, studied variables, such as spelling and oral comprehension, even fall short in the year that the child is enrolled in the program.
Studies have shown the inefficiencies of both Head Start and Early Head Start programs. Where the Perry Preschool Project used verified scientific methods in teaching young children, Head Start programs often lack structured implementation that produces positively-measured outcomes. Evidence shows that the curricula used in EHS programs has no significant impact on poor children in skills such as reading or math by the time they reach Kindergarten.
Many of these programs do not rely on stable, trained leadership and teachers, an essential factor in the success of previous Pre-K research projects. Despite this necessity, the lack coordination of funds, resources, and qualified teachers seriously inhibits the success of many Head Start programs. Although some modest short-term improvement has been seen, ample amount of evidence points to little impact in the long run. Despite these shortcomings, these programs are still propped up without any serious contemplation of improvements. This is troubling when coupled with the push of Head Start programs as one of the primary means expanding early childhood education.
If we are to change the state of our stagnant education in this country, we must look seriously at the outcome deficits of our existing funded programs with an eye towards strengthening them. A successful early education program will implement curricula that have been verified by research. Prioritizing the training and retaining strong teachers is key. Sweeping under the rug inefficiencies with the hopes that they’ll simply disappear will only keep a platform with much potential in the working stages. Constantly re-evaluating and critiquing the progress of education programs such as Head Start will allow new, innovative improvements to these programs critical to the success of our nation’s children.
Simply doling out money to programs that don’t have the highest impact possible will no longer cut it if we really want to make progress in education to get the projected returns on investment. Improvement should be made on coordination of allotted funds in order to more efficiently to reach the areas that are in most desperate need of early education intervention. New or stronger initiatives will be refreshing in an arena where the same ideas—ideas that don’t seem to quite be getting the job done—resurface again and again.
Our members watched the State of the Union last night together. Here are some of their thoughts:
"While I was pleased to hear the announcement of an increase in minimum wage for federally contracted workers through an executive order, President Obama must also put in place limitations on the payrolls of corporate executives, which will hold them accountable for funneling taxpayer money into their own pockets. That sort of change will not come from the corporate-controlled White House, so progressives must shift their focus to the grassroots, bottom-up approach."
--Yasemin Ayarci, Chapter President (@DCyasemin)
"Watching the webcast with the corresponding graphs and diagrams, I was glad to see more substantive policy and slightly less rhetoric than past addresses, but some statements on progressive causes still felt shallow. On education, I was very happy to see the backing of a pre-K expansion, but dismayed at the few new ideas presented on improving college affordability."
--David Meni, Vice President (@TheDavidMeni)
"Any congressional action this year on issues progressives care about will depend on passage in the Republican-controlled House. Last night’s speech sought important solutions to our upward mobility crisis once popular with conservatives: education reform, job training, infrastructure, and a tax overhaul. Despite many important issues left unmentioned, the solutions proposed to reduce inequality may have the support necessary get through the lower chamber--and a chance at helping alleviate the many structural economic challenges too many Americans face."
--Zach Komes, Policy Director (@ZachKomes)
"Another beautifully crafted address by President Obama but as a Progressive, I found alarming the lack of any mention about unchallenged rape endemic in the military & his comments on foreign policy were largely anodyne. In fact, the 'Pivot to Asia' was notably absent, unless this is effectively his apparent support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. On that note, I wonder when Obama will elucidate the opaque contents of the TPP treaty."
--Francisco Alvarez, Energy and Environment Policy Center Member (@F_J_Alvarez)
"I felt that the President's agenda was too broad and scattered to achieve all, or even most, of the goals that he put forth. If he devoted more effort to a single issue and made that the single crusade of the year, it would have a better chance of actually leading to real, measurable good."
--Matthew Kasturas, Freshman Representative
"While I enjoyed President Obama’s encouraging overall tone about the importance of increasing opportunities for all Americans, I found some of his policy suggestions to be a little vague. For example, although the broad idea of gun control was mentioned, specifics about his gun control platform weren't present, which is disappointing considering the amount of school shootings that have taken place in the last month alone."
--Kinjo Kiema, Freshman Representative (@Captain_Kinj)
"I thought President Obama’s speech had several strong, substantive policy proposals. However, I sincerely hope that his 'All of the Above' energy policy prioritizes renewable sources such as solar and wind, and does not include the Keystone XL Pipeline."
--Eric Wolfert, Outreach Director (@EricWolfert93)
What did you think of the #SOTU? Comment below and let us know your perspective!
OUR OFFICIAL BLOG
The Roosevelt Reader is a space where RI@GW members discuss innovative policy solutions to the pressing political issues facing the District, the nation, and the world.
WRITE FOR US
Your ideas matter. And we want to help broadcast them to the world. Learn more how to become a blog contributor.