Do you know what Microsoft, Google, Apple, Ford, Coke, GE, and Michael Jackson all have in common? Of course, they were all made in America. The United States of America has the best of everything. Yet, when it comes to our education system, we continuously rank low on international comparisons. Educational pundits across the country and beyond contend that the American educational system just does not measure up. How can this be? How can the United States have so many good things going for it and a lousy educational system at the same time?
The problem is that the United States does not only have great things going for us. We also have terrible things working against us: our deep poverty in urban centers and elsewhere, our high rates of crime (including murder), and irresponsible parenting across some segments of the population.
In reality, it is a misnomer to speak of an American educational system. We have thousands of discrete educational systems, not one. While some districts have tremendous resources, others have tremendous needs.
Unlike many other countries, the United States of America has an egalitarian ideal. Regardless of the socio-economic status into which one is born, Americans want to believe that everybody has the opportunity for upward mobility and ultimate success. Americans do not segregate students into different academic tracks at an early age, unlike so many other countries. Consequently, while our test scores represent an inclusive average, the test scores of others represent an exclusive average. Of course, the exclusive will beat the inclusive.
So the simple answer to the apparent substandard American educational system is to recognize that the system isn’t really substandard at all. Rather it encourages academic development in a high percentage of eligible participants. When compared to many other countries, that it is truly extraordinary. Instead of worrying about those from disadvantaged communities who might not have the same academic potential, as others, we could simply celebrate our top achieving students.
Unfortunately, such an answer is simply not acceptable to us. Rather, it is a form of racism. A moral individual simply cannot accept the proposition that students should attain different levels of academic achievement simply because of the socio-economic status of the family into which they were born. Of course, this means that there is no easy solution to the biggest problem with American education.
I will never forget a discussion that took place in one of my classes during my first year of graduate school. I made the point that it is amazing that Americans have still not been able to ensure a quality education for all, considering the fact that we have been able to do some very complicated things, like get to the moon. One of my classmates responded that maybe it is harder to provide all Americans access to high quality education than it is to fly to the moon. Maybe, just maybe, it is.
Given the incredible importance and complexity of providing high quality education for all students one thing is clear–every stakeholder within the educational system must think deeply about how to spread the highest quality educational resources to all students within all schools. This includes educational publishing companies. Those of us who work within educational publishing must develop learning resources that reach as many discrete populations as possible. In order to accomplish this goal we must engage in rich investigation and discourse considering how to accomplish this goal. A Pass Educational Group recently developed a series of seven questions to guide the development of high quality content. To see this list:
One thing is certain–if the United States of America has the intellectual resources needed to give birth to the companies identified in the first paragraph, we also have the resources to ensure a high quality education for all students. This is not simple but it is achievable.