Was Chicken Little Right? Is the Sky Falling?

Although he is cute, I have no desire to be Chicken Little! I do not  believe the sky is falling.

I am convinced, however, that storm clouds have formed on the horizon. Want to see what is in those storm clouds? Watch the first episode of the PBS special, Where We Stand: Echoes of Sputnik and a Call to Action.

Referencing this series, Mr. Thorpe writes in Education Week:

With the presidential candidates focused primarily on issues such as ... the 3E’s—economy, environment, and energy—this program will ask an important question: Why is the fourth E—education—not seen as worthy of equal attention?

It is the one systemic investment that ultimately fuels our success (or failure) in almost every national endeavor ... Most of us would probably agree that there is little evidence schools are doing any worse than they did 10, 20, or even 50 years ago. They are probably doing better, in fact.

But the problem lies—just as it did a half-century ago—not in what we are doing, but in what other countries are doing.

Our challenges involve the degree to which those other countries are investing in human capital, the priorities they set, and the results they are getting.

Pencil Chart with Call outThe United States once led the world in math, science, and other critical subjects, as well as in the number of students going on to higher education. Today we are well down in the pack ...

Let anyone dare to compare our education results with those of Finland, South Korea, or Singapore, for instance, and the excuses rain down.

We have a more diverse country! We try to educate all children! They can do that over there because, because, because.

Finally, he warns:

In today’s “flat world,” the geographical accident of where they are born no longer conveys to the children of the United States the advantage they have had for decades. Other countries have learned from us how important it is to invest in their people.

We give lip service to the cliché that “our children are our future,” but most people do not see a 2nd grader, or even a high school student, as having much to do with determining our future strength ... Few of us really look at Susie’s lack of interest in reading or Jose’s success in math as being either a threat to or the hope for the nation’s future. Yet, that is exactly what they are.

Is the sky falling? Maybe not but there is a storm brewing over the distant horizon. Unfortunately, most Americans are blissfully ignorant of the pending threat posed to our national well-being, to our national security, or to our children's futures.

Too many of us are like the Hobbits in Tolkien's classic, The Lord of the Rings. Danger is brewing in Mordor but like the merry Hobbits, too many of us go about running our schools largely ignorant of the rising danger or are unwilling or "too busy" to provide the leadership that is necessary to realign our schools, our standards, and our curriculum to meet the global challenge.

Everything may seem beautiful and peaceful in the village but the threat is real. By the time we are concerned enough to raise our standards to international levels it may be too little too late for many of our students.

As illustrated by the table below, American students rank very low in international imagecomparisons of science achievement. Click here for the Executive Summary of the 2006 PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) report. As pointed out in the report, the problem of low achievement by U.S. students is not restricted to science.

To put the problem in a more tangible form, consider two typical "man on the street interviews," which add a surreal exclamation point to the threat our nation faces from poor academic achievement.

Why People Think Americans are Stupid

How Much do American's Know about Europe?

If you have not done so already, I strongly recommend that you and your staff read The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. Here is one excerpt from the book to illustrate the international level of educational competition:

India is a country with virtually no natural resources that got very good at doing one thing--mining the brains of its own people ... In 1951, to his enduring credit, Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, setup the first of India's seven Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) in the eastern city of Kharagpur ...

The IITs became islands of excellence by not allowing the general debasement of the Indian system to lower their exacting standards ... You couldn't bribe your way to get into an IIT ... Arguably, it is harder to get into an IIT than into Harvard or the the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ...

IIT alumnus Vinrod Khosla, who co-founded Sun Microsystems, said: "When I finished IIT Delhi and went to Carnegie Mellon for my Masters, I thought I was cruising all the way because it was so easy relative to the education I got at IIT." pp. 104-5

So How Should We Respond?

  • Don't dismiss the problem or the challenge. It is real and is substantiated by a large body of research.
  • Don't assume that Christian schools are academically superior. As I have indicated in previous articles, even if our students score high on nationally normed assessments, we are comparing our students against a low standard relative to international achievement.
  • Have your teachers and administrators read The World is Flat and other articles that layout the problem.
  • Assess the quality of your teaching staff--are your teachers superior? How do you know? If they are not superior, what do you plan to do about it?
  • Substantially increase the level of your professional development activities and accountability.
  • Reassess your curriculum--is is broad enough, rigorous enough?
  • Leverage technology to deepen and enrich your curriculum and to enhance professional development
  • Remember that when grounded in God's word and motivated by His glory and a love others, the pursuit of academic excellence is a holy endeavor!

    What say you?

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