Our Inherited Education System

Hans and I just released a new thought piece on education that highlights where we’ve been, where we are now, and what we need to do in order to successfully move into the future. As you might imagine, the focus is on the importance of Career Connected Learning as a critical strategy for engaging and preparing students.

One of the issues we address is the fact that no one is really responsible for the current state of education. We add ideas and programs on top of the existing system, which means that change is incremental at best, and that we’re boxed in by parameters and programs that no longer meet our needs, but that will be with us forever simply because that’s how we’ve been doing things.

From the paper:

“Our current education system is a legacy creation, built on the decisions made by those who came before us in the past 150+ years of public schooling. Our “factory” model of education was borrowed from the 19th century, as were our summer breaks, which were established to accommodate children who work on farms. And on that foundation we laid hundreds of other decisions that gave us the modern schools, a system not so much designed as inherited.

Not one of us intentionally asked for an education system that is built around narrowly defined curriculum, that is devoid of meaning and context, that leaves some or most students increasingly disconnected from education as each year passes, and that leaves them utterly unprepared for life as the adults they will inevitably become.

But that is the system we have. And as we face the challenges of today, we can choose to do so within the framework of the current system, or step back and ask if that legacy system is the best solution to prepare our children for their futures. And, if not, how that system can be transformed to produce the results we seek.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could take a “zero-based budgeting” approach instead? In zero-based budgeting you start from scratch, identifying your goals and deciding what you need to do to achieve them. You don’t just automatically renew previous goals, and you don’t just add on to what’s already in place. You question every program and practice, and if it’s not the best way of achieving your goals then you revise or discard them in favor of new strategies.

Admittedly, that approach is too radical for our education system. It would be too disruptive in a system that needs to be at least somewhat stable, and that requires you to be able to do at least some long-term planning. (If you have a three-year sequence of classes, for example, you can’t change the sequence every year.) It’s the spirit that’s important: Think about where we really want to go, think about the best ways to get there, and think about how the system can be modified in both small and large ways to start moving in that direction. We hope our new paper will help people to start thinking in these terms and begin moving in a direction that truly prepares every one of our students for their futures.

Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com). NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.

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