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An education revolution is surely coming

The American public school system and university system have been the model for the world.

Long before other nations America educated its population, achieving a literacy rate far above other countries.

Today things have changed; our literacy rate has fallen as has our achievement on comparative topical testing, while other nations have excelled in improving the standards of their public education.

The public school system is now in a maturity stage that all human organizations undergo.

Organizational maturity simply means that the basic elements of the organizational structure must be re-evaluated and situated organizationally to be responsive, creative and resilient in the face of change.

In recent weeks the focus upon change has been teachers.

With a Rhode Island district firing all their teachers and President Obama hailing the decision as positive, the impetus is underway to assign blame on teachers for the failings of the public education system. But is this the only solution to attaining excellence? Is it the sole problem in regaining educational excellence?

Three years ago, a retailer, Circuit City, fired all of its most experienced and knowledgeable sales people, citing the higher cost of employing these individuals.

Apparently the company felt they added no intrinsic value to the stores. Within 18 months the company failed and closed all its stores.

They had discovered that, in an age of rapid change in technical knowledge, having ill-informed salespeople mattered a great deal. Perhaps more importantly Circuit City provides an example that simple solutions are often just simple…and are not solutions at all.

For those who really want to re-invigorate our public schools there is a need for a more thoughtful approach; simple is just not good enough.

Yes, we should have only the best teachers, and that should not make tenure the Gold standard.

Teachers would respond equally well to contracts that guaranteed base wages and offered performance incentives, as long as the base pay did not make it impossible for our best minds to consider education as a career.

Further, we need additional leadership training for teachers, to enhance their ability to be creative and decisive in their roles. And we need to provide teachers the technical support they need.

Schools should use real time data to evaluate student performance, not test results that happen all too infrequently to catch poor performance.

And, when performance falls, there must be additional tutoring available immediately.

There should also be universal student access to current textbooks, with students having e-readers or laptops to maintain access to current ideas and expressions.

Our school days must be longer, with late afternoon programs encouraging creative and physical activities, free of the budget constraints that have reduced these important programs.

Tutoring should happen daily for those who need it. We should require all students to accept the reading requirement of 50 books a year.

The curriculum must include critical thinking skills as well as math and science and reading and writing and the creative arts.

Students should be required to undertake some form of community service during their high school years and should learn the history and importance of social justice through critical thinking skills.

And our schools must be safe. We must provide not minimum security, but excellent safety systems and staff. We must make sure health care personnel are always on site and bullying and sexual harassment are eliminated in every school.

Our public schools can excel again, but to do so we must see them for what they are…one of the most central locations for skills, creativity, and citizenship in any democracy.

Jim Crawford is a contributing columnist for The Tribune and a former educator at Ohio University Southern.