In urban America educational reform is littered with failures. If you take a look at the various reform efforts over the years and see the same results you will find that our children are doing no better than their global competitors.
What is never discussed openly are the barriers to educational reform. These barriers include size and demographics. Presently,the U.S. school system includes nearly 3 million teachers and 50 million students. The sheer size of the system makes reform exceedingly difficult. Now consider the following demographics:
- Only 20 percent of U.S. adults have children in school.
- There are more people over age 65 than teenagers.
- The fastest growing population group in the U.S. is people over 85.
But what people do not understand is that education is a national security issue. The lack of quality education for all children jeopardizes the fundamental American belief that every citizen has the opportunity for success, no matter their background or place of origin. When you have a bad education system, we're going to lose jobs and lose small businesses and lose our ability to compete. When we lose the fundamental core of our economic prosperity, we will be become weak and we will become more vulnerable to attack.
If these size and demographic barriers are as intractable as they seem, then how is it possible to reform urban education in the 21st century? I will attempt to answer this question without going into the school governance issue.
The heart of the problem lies in the socio-economic revolution that society is currently undergoing. After the agricultural and industrial revolutions, information is the third great socio-economic revolution. Like the others, it will reshape where and how we live and work and that will reshape how we educate. In the past 100 years, reform of our educational system moved at a snail's pace. Teachers started the century with books and chalkboards and ended it with the same tools. Some school districts like Inkster, Pontiac and Highland Park, MI still use chalkboards as a form of teaching.
What are the implications of this educational revolution for reform? Instead of tackling existing educational policies and practices directly (such as with broad governmental efforts like No Child Left Behind or more limited policies such as school vouchers or standardized testing), the most effective reform strategy is to support the development of information technologies that are consistent with life and work in the 21st century.
The information revolution have sped up the pace of reform in the 21st century. For example, the Internet is infiltrating society faster than any other technology in the history of civilization. The transistor radio was in existence thirty-eight years before fifty million people tuned in; TV took thirteen years to reach that benchmark; the PC took sixteen years. Once it was opened to the general public, the Internet crossed that line in four years. The bottom line is that the Internet is not a fad, but rather the most obvious manifestation of the information revolution.
It would be nice for education reformers to lobby for a free, ubiquitous, high-speed information infrastructure that would give all Americans instant access to infinite resources including the world's great libraries, museums and universities. Education reformers should also lobby for free, multi-media, interactive, Internet-based information databases, repositories, communication devices, and training programs available at any time and any place to every citizen. They should support efforts that are creating new learning environments that harness the power of information technology to improve the quality of teaching and learning, contain or reduce rising costs, and provide greater access to education. These lobbying activities, if successful, will do more to advance reform of education than any direct attempt to reform the educational system itself.
If you are an educational practitioner interested in reform, then you should lobby your state lawmakers to support rigorous information technology requirements for certification requirements.