Bill Gates Unplugged

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Beyond the Crisis in Education: Part 1

By Eddie Griffin

Having been a volunteer with the school system for a number of years, I always find myself returning to the same point: What is wrong with our school system? It makes no difference that we have answered the question over and over again, we somehow seem never to get past asking to actually implementing solutions.

In order to break this endless cycle of defining and redefining the problem, we need to break the paradigm of cyclical thinking and jump straight to where we need to be and how education can get us there.

There are three relative benchmarks: (1) The Crisis Point, i.e. the point of failure and dropping out of school; (2) The Minimum Achievement, i.e. reaching the graduation finish line; and (3) The Ultimate Goal, i.e. catching up with Finland, the most educated country in the world.

If it takes all our time, energy, and effort to get our school children to reach the finish line, then it would take an overkill strategy to get them beyond. In Texas, we are consumed by TAKS state testing. In years to come, the standard will be End-of-Course assessment. But in either case, when the academic standards are low, global achievement will continue to decline, relative to the more advanced nations.

This is why it is necessary to look beyond our borders to see why countries like Finland, Japan, and Canada are leaving the United States behind.

The first thing to note about Finland is its commitment to and great appreciation for education. Once primarily an agricultural society, it focused upon becoming a high tech industrial society. To achieve this goal in one generation, it set a tough national curriculum standard and required all teachers have a Masters degree, and drew from the top 10% of college students to teach in the classroom.

There are three teachers per classroom, and many students stay with the same teachers over a number of years. The average student speaks four different languages, including English. And, the dropout rate is only 2%. Per capita cost is about $3,000 less annually than the cost per student in the United States.

See: Education Finland on NBC Nightly News

Promethean Board demonstration