I have an old and dusty television in my garage. It’s not HD or 3D, doesn’t have a flat screen, and doesn’t get any reception. But it is not broken; it is perfectly functional. Even though it doesn’t receive channels anymore, I hold onto it. Maybe because it is still in good shape or maybe I am too sentimental to throw something away that was once an expensive purchase and was top of the line. So it sits, collecting dust with the hope that it will once again be useful. It worked fine until a few years ago broadcasters and cable companies switched to digital signals and my old analog TV just doesn’t work anymore. But it isn’t broken – it is just obsolete.
    Just like that TV, the American educational system needs to be thrown away and a new model needs to take its place. We have a system that has served us well for many decades. The United States has consistently produced top-notch graduates, but has shown a steady decline in global standings, including ranking 26th in math and 17th in reading according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In the years following World War II, the U.S. was the global leader in high school graduates and now sits at 22nd. These numbers certainly fan the flames of calls to reform education and give credence to claims that our system is broken and needs to be fixed. I have held this opinion in the past and believed we had to address the deficiencies in our education system. I believed system was broken and must be fixed.
    But I keep thinking about that TV. If my old television cannot work as well as a new one and not be broken, can the same idea be applied to the public school system? What if the system just needs to be to be reinvented – made to adapt to an ever-changing world and increasing demands on the knowledge and skills of graduating high school students.
    This is not to say that education needs to become this magical new utopian realm where students are free to study what they want and at the pace they desire. However, education can no longer be a one-size-fits-all proposition where all students come out the end of the pipeline all with the same knowledge and skill sets. The 19th-century industrial model of education does not meet the needs of the 21st. The needs of colleges, business, and industry are outpacing the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the average American graduate. This disparity is not a result of students leaving high school with fewer skills and less knowledge, but of a change in the needs of an ever-advancing society. The gap between the United States and other nations is also not necessarily a drop in standards in the U.S., but a stagnation of the skills and knowledge of our graduates caused by a lack of innovation in the educational system and a failure to anticipate the needs of industry and adapt instruction to match.
    That is not to say that attempts have not been made to address these issues. National initiatives such as No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, the movement toward STEM and “STEAM” initiatives, and a host of other programs including the latest broad sweeping change, the Common Core. The purpose here is not to pass judgment on the merits or outcomes of the programs and initiatives, but to look at the larger picture of education and reform, keeping in mind what has been attempted and why. Many well-meaning programs fall victim to political rhetoric and the facts, when viewed by the general public, become unclear.
    What is clear is the need for a goal-driven educational system with a singular focus – the education of our children and the future of not just The United States, but the world. The goal of K-12 education needs to be the preparation of school-aged students for careers, higher education, and real life. Students need to perform at grade level in both reading and math, have fundamental critical thinking skills, and be self-reliant. Schools cannot leave it to universities, vocational schools, community colleges and on-the-job training to give graduating high school students the skills necessary to perform in the 21st-century workplace.
    That being said, adding more and more standards to an already overloaded system is the current trend and is not adding value to the students or the schools. How do we add more content and skills that industry is screaming they are lacking from recent graduates without adding untenable goals to an overburdened teaching workforce?
Again, I look to the television. When it was made there were dozens of channels, now there are hundreds. Adding more content does not make it work better, it makes it more obsolete with each new service. Education is functioning in the same way. Adding more to it in an effort to “fix” it does little more than push our current methods further and further towards obsolescence. We need a ground-up approach and a new way of going about education. We need to start viewing schools as obsolete and in need of a complete revamp instead of in a state of disrepair in which a new coat of paint and some upgraded technology will make it function like new again.
       Education is not broken; it is obsolete. It is time to throw away my television…

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