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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Disruptive Thinking for the U.S. Educational System




Currently, the US educational system is run like a government entity. In reality, it resembles the services industry. In a business that provides services, there is a deliverable for the customer. In public schools, the customer is the student and teachers are the front line workers who provide the service.  If schools adopted business practices, they would ask the customer: what would you like? In business, when clients do not believe they received what they paid for, they take their dollars elsewhere. As taxpayers, we pay for a service from the school districts. Therefore, we should ask: what is the deliverable for our children?

The deliverable is
success, not retention of information. The teacher’s number one job is to make students successful. In a business, teachers would be responsible for understanding what resources are needed to ensure they make customers happy. However, in today’s schools, the politicians say what resources are needed to make students successful. In fact, politicians even tell school districts what subjects to teach and when certain subjects should no longer be taught. For example, in the state of Florida, English grammar is no longer taught after the fifth grade. Is the fifth grade sufficient time for a student to have command of their native language?

As you can imagine, as in business, the front line workers become frustrated when leadership does not listen to their requests for appropriate resources to service clients. In school districts throughout the nation, the frustration continues to escalate.

While teachers may temporarily have their hands tied because of government policies, there are a number of effective tactics that can be introduced to the classroom to ensure the success of their students/clients. Changing the approach of forcing students to memorize other people’s ideas. Instead, help them bridge the gap between book knowledge and practical application. This will force them to think through problems and situations, instead of choosing multiple choice. One way to do that is to organize students in roundtable discussions. Create case studies from examples in books and have them apply what they learn to real time situations. More importantly, the teacher should only facilitate the discussions. Empower the students to take turns leading the conversations. It would be the teacher’s job to prepare each student the day before for the lesson. If the students lead, they will have to read. And their peers will pay attention. This approach fosters innovation and leadership.

In addition, bring professionals to the classroom. They should not be motivational speakers. They should talk to the students about how to bridge the gap between what they learn in school and how that knowledge is utilized in the workforce. This helps students become better decision makers for career choices.

In well-run businesses, leadership creates the direction and the vision. From there, they get out of the way and allow employees to do their job. As conditions change and requests for different resources are made, leadership makes it available. To enhance success, leadership brings all stakeholders together to discuss how to increase the value proposition. In schools, that would mean teachers, students, parents, legislators, and suppliers of educational materials would come together and talk about how to make students more successful. 

For those schools that are already taking this approach, thumbs up to you. For the rest, it is purely a matter of changing the mindset for why schools exist.

As other countries become developed, they will make it increasingly difficult for nations to compete without citizens with a world-class education. To avoid this dilemma, it is time to have a single-minded commitment that focuses on making students successful.

What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know.

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