Education is the greatest economic development tool known to man. It is not social welfare and it is not political fodder. It is much more important than that. No country can stay at the forefront of the world's economy with an illiterate citizenry and yet our education system remains woefully inadequate to keep America at the forefront of the 21st century. In the words of Bill Gates; "we don't need to reform the system; we need to replace the system."
The fact is America ranks at the bottom (or unacceptable near it) on virtually every scale used to measure educational achievement. The status quo is simply not good enough for the United of America and, yet, our current way of educating young people simply isn't capable of leading the kind of rebirth necessary to bring about academic greatness in America. That isn't the teachers’ fault. It isn't our children's fault. It is our fault.
Unlike the 200-year-long organic renaissance, America must renaissance on purpose and quickly. To propel a full on renaissance in education, America must ask herself one question; are we measuring what we value? There is a universal human truth – we measure what we value and we value what we measure. Primarily, test scores, grade point averages and student discipline measure educators when in actuality those are simply snapshots in time of comprehension. The real end game, which we don't measure at all, should be: did that child grow successfully into a socially-adept, academically-capable, self-disciplined, and goal-oriented young adult who is prepared to capitalize fully on their opportunities?
Imagine an education system in which teachers understand that they are essential to the economic health of their communities and they infuse that into their classrooms every day. Elementary schools would be "graded" on igniting a blaze of curiosity in every mind. Elementary teachers are masters of experiential learning. Who else could prove to a child that physics really does live in the race between feather, paperclip and stone? Let's create a system that encourages not only foundational academic skills but also rewards the messiness of learning.
Middle school is a time when immature minds start playing with live ammo. It is an explosion of hormones, hierarchy and heartache. Essentially, the only job of middle school is to get students successfully into high school and there is no more risky transition for a kid to navigate. Success, the kind required to move a child from childhood to young adulthood, cannot just be measured in core academic skills. Imagine a middle school "graded" on not only knowledge but on how well it built empathy, self-advocacy, teamwork, and decision-making skills in their students?
High school is a place to bring it all together in a rigorous display of collaboration. The world needs more people who can work with their neighbor. It's not cheating, it's collaborating. That's how work gets done today millions of tidbits coming at you every second and our young people are actually better at it than we are. To ask them to unplug and sit still in a beige chair while staring at beige walls is cruel and unusual punishment. High school is about self and time management. It's about leadership. It's about learning how to stand out when every fiber of your being wants to blend in. In the end, the only definition of success for high schools is student success after graduation. Imagine an education system designed to encourage the principal to stop you at the grocery store and ask, "did your daughter pass that exam to get into the Marines?"
If we want diploma to signify the holder is truly ready to conquer a big, bold future we must demand that the people creating the criteria for earning such a document actually believe that education is best when it is engaging, exciting and everywhere. From the School Board to the president, it is time to vote for people who support year round school. Vote for people who understand "your kid isn't like other kids." Vote for people who think 16 is too young to dropout. Vote for people who think art, music and sports are education too. Vote for people who measure what we value in our own homes; smart, funny, curious, eager kids. If we want to reclaim our place as the world's smartest, most innovative people; it is time to stop electing people to office who hate public education.
There is no other way around it. If we want to position our children at the top of the global economy, we must create a renaissance on purpose.
Heather Beaven is the CEO of The Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida’s Graduates, an academic enrichment 501c3.