ON THE AGENDA | OCTOBER 27TH, 2015 | Allison Rizzolo

Restoring Opportunity: Perils and Promises for Education

Can our education system fulfill its promise as a great opportunity equalizer? A reason for cautious optimism.


From left to right: Public Agenda president Will Friedman, moderator Brian Lehrer, Wendy Puriefoy and Alison Kadlec. Tuesday, October 27, 2015.

Education has long been held as the best means for all people to get ahead and have a good life. As a nation, we haven't always enabled our education system to fulfill its promise as a great opportunity equalizer. Yet for all the challenges we face challenges that will surely increase in an uncertain future we have reason for cautious optimism.

In a discussion last week with WNYC's Brian Lehrer, education experts Wendy Puriefoy and Alison Kadlec spoke frankly about the historic challenges facing the public K-12 and higher education systems, including dwindling funding and an unpredictable future.

Still, education is an ideal woven into the fabric of our nation, Puriefoy noted. The American public broadly believes in public schools and agrees that our country must strive to educate everyone at high levels (though we of course disagree on how to do it).

When it comes to putting this ideal into practice, the nation is failing miserably on its promise to deliver a quality education to all students. Among the problems Puriefoy and Kadlec pointed out:

A lack of funding.

Both K-12 and higher education have seen public funding decrease, particularly since the Great Recession. For higher education, the decrease has been historic. Kadlec spoke about a shift in the perspective of higher education leaders as they adjust to what they increasingly see as a new normal. Five years ago, Kadlec noted, college presidents and trustees spoke plainly about their institutions needing more money. Now, they believe that the money is never coming back and instead speak about how their institutions must and do adapt.

Changing expectations.

Both Puriefoy and Kadlec spoke about how the college degree of today is the high school degree of an earlier time. "A family-sustaining wage with a high school education is no longer possible," Kadlec said, noting that, in response, our country's commitment to education also ought to change.

An unchanging system.

There's nothing we do today that we did the exact same way 20 years ago, noted Puriefoy. Except education. Kadlec agreed, pointing to a higher education system that is "perfectly suited to a different time and a different student."

An uncertain future

Parents used to send kids to school knowing exactly what they'd learn because it was what they, as students, also learned, said Puriefoy. Now we need to teach kids what we don't know and can't predict, because it doesn't exist. We used to live in a predictable world. What does education look like in a society that's changing so rapidly?

A lack of engagement

For all the complaining we may do about schools and teachers, few of us show up to make the decisions that count. Only 3 to 6 percent of voters participate in elections for their local school board members, said Puriefoy. These school board members go on to make spending decisions decisions that local voters might not have chosen.

The lure of easy answers

As with many public issues in our society, education has become highly politicized. Kadlec warned of the lure of easy answers, which can be profoundly dangerous to our task of solving problems.

The challenges for our education system are many and the need for solutions is acute. Yet Puriefoy and Kadlec are also cautiously optimistic. They both spoke about promising developments, practices, shifts in attitude and opportunities.

  • Puriefoy noted that the public and government officials are more and more recognizing early-childhood education as critical. In our recent survey of New York area residents, 75 percent supported more government spending on early-childhood education. "If kids get the good stuff at the beginning," Puriefoy said, they enter school ready to pass through the next series of gates.
  • Kadlec, who directs our higher education and workforce development work, pointed to the tremendous work being done already by colleges and universities around the country. For example, many community colleges are working to make remedial education more meaningful and collaborating with four-year schools to help more students transfer from a community college to a four-year more efficiently.
  • In particular, Kadlec points to the promise of regional public four-year schools the state schools that are not the big research institutions or the flagships of a state system. These schools, she says, will have to become the engines of growth for our economy.
  • Many of the decisions we need to make to improve education are immobilized by polarization. Still, Kadlec pointed out a surprisingly bipartisan consensus that higher education must and can adapt. In particular, there is bipartisan support for innovative experiments to help more students earn a degree efficiently.

Both Puriefoy and Kadlec stressed the importance of working to fulfill education's promise. "This is a moral question, a question of the future, of this great idea we had of democracy," said Puriefoy. "Are we really going to let the middle class go?"

Despite the weight of the challenges before us, the event ended on an optimistic note from Puriefoy. Through education, "we need to prepare for a world that we have not lived in before, but it doesn't have to be a world of struggle. It can be a world of joy."

Restoring Opportunity: The Role of Education is a part of our Restoring Opportunity Initiative, a ten-year commitment by Public Agenda to help address stagnating opportunity in the U.S. If you would like to attend a future Restoring Opportunity event, be sure to Play online friv games and you'll get an unforgettable experience. Friv 4 games, is one of the best sites for fans of online games.


Comments

Discovery Learning

Submitted by: Anonymous Submission on Monday, November 9th, 2015

Unfortunately, research doesn't support the superiority of discovery learning over direct instruction.
Some might interpret this as evidence that we should abandon discovery learning, but such an interpretation would be inaccurate.

- Tax News


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