It Takes a Village to Educate a Child

jim brazell's picture
The economy is the single most important issue for a sizable majority of voters in the 2012 presidential race according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll. Similarly, U.S. competitiveness, entrepreneurship, and innovation are the hot topics in politics and business. On Wednesday, January 18, 2012, Harvard released a survey of approximately 10,000 alumni, from the  Harvard Competitiveness project, indicating American competitiveness will decline over the next three years, according to 71% of those surveyed. The "greatest current or emerging weaknesses [were perceived] to be in America's tax code, political system, K-12 education system, macroeconomic policies, legal framework, regulations, infrastructure, and workforce skills."


The reports authors indicate, there is "no single silver bullet that will fix" the nation's competitiveness problem and "it will be hard for America to tackle its competitiveness problem if leaders in the country lack a shared perspective on the issue and a common sense of urgency."


Paradoxically, the report calls for firms "to stop taking actions that benefit one's own firm but, collectively, weaken America's business environment." Therefore, collaboration is one of the keys to American competitiveness. Though Harvard's report calls on American business and labor to take action, in addition to government, the report falls short on highlighting what schools can do to strengthen competitiveness, entrepreneurship, and innovation. 


How can K-12 schools contribute to U.S goals related to economic competitiveness and raising living standards? A few steps K-12 schools can take include (1) opening the doors to collaboration with business and industry, (2) expanding the definition of educational excellence, and (3) transforming educational practice from fact-based education to process-centered learning.


Opening the doors to collaboration with business and industry 


First, related to business-education partnership, many educators and administrators have long maintained that business and industry influence in education is non-productive. Business is most often accepted in education circles as the "sponsor" and "financial benefactor" of school scholarships and fund raising initiatives; however, when it comes to curricula, this is sacrosanct.


Beyond the accepted role of business as a financial contributor to schools, businesses can provide  professional development to faculty and staff in key topics related to technology use, technology planning, technology accountability, and technology process improvement. Peer mentoring, job shadowing, student internships, entrepreneurial development, marketing and other areas of development are also fruitful opportunities for business-school partnership. 


For example, nationally cyber security is a burgeoning area of collaboration where industry is able to provide schools with professional development for faculty to cultivate basic and advanced teaching skills related to computer science, information technology and cyber security. 
At the university level in New York, HackNY aims to federate the next generation of hackers for the New York innovation community. Co-organized by faculty from NYU and Columbia, and with a board of advisors which includes educators, technologists, and entrepreneurs, hackNY organizes the summer Fellows program and student 'hackathons' during the school year in order to create and empower a community of student-technologists. To learn more about high school-business partnerships in cyber, read, "Alamo Cyber Patriot and Cyber-STEM" at San Antonio Heart of Innovation online.


DeHavilland Associates is a company specializing in community/school partnerships. DaHavilland offers a free newsletter named the K-12 Partnership Report to support strong and sustainable partnership programs. Learn more online at DaHavilland Associates.  


The Center for Occupational Research and Development acts as a clearinghouses of best practices, convening practitioner groups, and building partnerships between educational and business entities. Among those most notable are CORD's establishment of two national networks for educational improvement and innovation: The National Career Pathways Network (formerly the National Tech Prep Network) and the National Coalition of Advanced Technology Centers, a network of colleges whose collective goal is to enhance economic and workforce development programs and services through technology applications.  


Expanding the definition of educational excellence


Second, expanding the definition of educational excellence requires that we shed the perception and the incentives that only reward educational systems that produce students ready for a university education. Academics are fundamental and important; however, categorizing students who fail to pursue university education as failures undermines American productivity, economic competitiveness and civil development. 


Today, entry-level work requires at least two years of education beyond high school, equivalent work experience, and/or industry certification for approximately 60% of the workforce. In the past a high school degree was enough for a job and a livable-wage, today, it is not. By the same token, not all students need a university degree.


According to 2008-2018 workforce projections that factor in educational attainment, which were produced by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University and included in the Harvard Graduate School of Education Pathways to Prosperity report, 36% of jobs are forecast to require a high school degree or less, 30% of jobs will require two years of post secondary education, and 33% of jobs are expected to be held by people with a Bachelor's degree or higher. To learn more, read, "STEM 1957-2012," at The Art of the Future online.


It is time to balance educational opportunities for students to include topics such as career studies in areas such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), entrepreneurship, and the knowledge-intensive jobs of today and the future. This means preparing "vocational and academic" students for both 2-year and 4-year college entrance readiness--rather than the university path only. 


Today, both 2-year and 4-year entrance requirements dictate the same level of language and mathematics education to earn credit toward a degree. The preparation for college and university entrance requires the same level of rigor. Therefore, this is not tracking toward one or the other type of degree, rather, it is preparing students for life, work and education beyond high school necessary for success in today's economy.    


Transforming educational practice from fact-based education to process-centered learning


Third, transforming educational practice from fact-based education exclusively to a balanced approach that includes facts and process-centered learning will enhance educational performance and student engagement. In this shift we find the necessity to shift the paradigm from an almost exclusive focus on educating young people to fostering self-motivated learning. 


This is a major paradigm shift from teachers and schools focused on information delivery and summative assessment to teachers and schools balancing information delivery and inquiry (discovery) and balancing summative and formative assessment. This strategy worked in the  1960's as a platform for the reform of teaching physics as a national priority in response to the launch of Sputnik I and the need for more students and workers in science and technology related studies and jobs. 


MIT's Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC) developed a new approach to physics to stimulate students' interest in the subject and to teach students to think like physicists. PSSC's first edition of the new high school textbook, Physics, appeared in 1960, and the PSSC Teacher's Guide  explains the shift in pedagogy engendered by this new approach as a shift from "axiomatic" (self-evident truth) to "inductive" (using observation to move from specific to broader conclusions) presentation of the curriculum. 


The shift in pedagogy engendered both process improvements to education by modeling the way experts work and think affording students the opportunity to approach the content knowledge in the same way that experts approach problems in the field. This contextual-, inquiry- and process-oriented approach is now taking hold today as an emerging K-12 and even college approach to enhancing educational performance, engagement and recruitment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.


CORD's HI-TECis a national conference on advanced technological education where technical educators, counselors, industry professionals, and technicians convene to share best practices related to high-technology education that mirrors this authentic learning practice. HI-TEC is supported by a consortium of NSF Advanced Technological Education centers and projects and supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and contributions from corporate and industry partners.


To learn more about high schools who model expert practice, read, Rocket Boys and Girls of the 21st Century or view a 1 hour video of the speech The Role of Career Pathways in U.S. Competitiveness, at the Art of the Future online.




The acceptance and pursuit of a culture of innovation within the nation's schools, will in part depend on (1) opening the doors to collaboration with business and industry, (2) expanding the definition of educational excellence, and (3) transforming educational practice from fact-based education to process-centered learning. 


The economy is the hot topic for Americans this political season; however, education and economy go hand-in hand. Education is fundamental to the "multidimensional, holistic, and sustained" strategy called for by Harvard required to transform the U.S economy. Though U.S. education is often criticized for a lack of innovation, there are pockets of educational innovation from coast-to-coast. The places that have transformed K-12 schools into centers of community innovation are often models of collaboration. This transformational practice often involves business and industry, government, and even higher education working together proving that it takes a village to educate a child.