The Billion Dollar Drop-out

 

It is widely recognized that the U.S. and the world have moved towards a knowledge-based economy—one where knowledge and technology are vital to economic growth.   Knowledge, of course, is embodied in human beings and thus the use of the term “human capital,” which seems to hold the key to our nation’s future success and its ability to compete in a rapidly changing global landscape. Social observers in fact agree that a city’s prosperity depends on finding, attracting and retaining the nations most skilled and creative knowledge workers.

How will Houston or any other city be able to accomplish such a feat when our education system continues to fail the very students it is supposed to help?

Much discourse of late including articles and editorials in the Houston Chronicle and other publications through out the United States extol the efforts of public educational institutions to find better ways to help our children learn. Acts mandates, and initiatives abound all designed to help “each child reach their full potential.”   But, student outcomes do not improve by spending more dollars or by adding more bricks and mortar. Instead, teachers must be empowered to bring out the best in all students.

Teacher accountability in Texas began in 1983. Now, 23 years later, “student achievement in the U.S. remains effectively flat even as the demands of a 21st century stiffen,” according to the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.   The report indicates a national average grade of D for student achievement.  And, there are more mandates, acts, and initiatives than ever.  Another recent study, Quality Counts at 10; A Decade of Standards-Based Education, reports that the Texas education system received a grade of C with only 18 states receiving a score above that mark.

Billions have been spent on these studies, all of which urge change. The real issue is not that we need to change, but what are we going to do to initiate change. With so many accountability issues facing schools today, we often forget that the real key to student achievement -- not to mention our most important resource -- is the teacher.

Of the 10 recommendations made by the National Center on Education and Economy’s 2006 study Tough Choices, Tough Times, not one actually addresses the real problem. How are we helping our teachers teach? 

Perhaps the issue is that our education system fails to come to grips with the actual definition of the word “teach.”  According to Webster, teach means “to cause to know.” There are no excuses or extenuating circumstances. Webster does not even mention the student in the definition. What is the basic goal of education? To cause all students to know—plain and simple.

The Department of Education cites that the greatest single influence on student achievement is the teacher.   Yet, there is not one recommendation related to teacher training in a quick review of the 10 recommendations made in the Tough Choices study.

The “Six Big Goals” outlined in HISD’s five-year plan are certainly lofty and needed. In essence, they reflect many such educational plans throughout the US.  However, not one of the goals focuses on teacher training.

In the end, the solution may be to ask some simple questions. How are we preparing our teachers to teach? Not how can we spend more money? Not, will new technology help? Will more police help? Will branding help or more community involvement?

Maybe the real question is how can we help our teachers to inspire a student to learn?  What techniques can be used that will help with the critical issue of transference of knowledge?  What is our current teaching process?

Perhaps there is a simple solution.

What would happen if…

  • Teachers were given effective tools to help students learn.
  • If students were not allowed to go forward until they had mastered the subject matter to an acceptable (high) standard.
    • Not just to the next grade
    • but to the next unit or concept

What would happen if…

  • Our focus was on insuring success in the teaching process
  • Our teachers were able to inspire students to learn

I suspect that if we spent more time focused on preparing our teachers for the classroom rather than on the next act or mandate we might not require marketing campaigns and programs which are costing our nation billions of dollars a year. It is beyond disheartening to know that the U.S. spends $268 billion a year on high school dropouts. And, those figures do not include marketing plans, safety programs, management efficiency studies, acts, mandates, and the litany of initiatives. Congress could certainly find a good use for $286 billion dollars.

Failure should not be an option.   Because in the end we all lose. We pride ourselves as a world power, but we are letting our children down by not helping the people who can make the most difference in their lives on a daily basis. Their teachers.

If our global economy and future do in fact lie in a knowledge-based economy, it seems incumbent upon our education system to insure that our students can learn. And, that our teachers are more empowered to teach.

Don Hutson
(281) 732-4963
Author: Don Hutson
Phone: (281) 732-4963
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