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Education sector in the United States… system going hollow from the inside

April 15, 2013 Leave a comment

I have had different touch points that got me really curious to learn about the education sector here in the United States…
1. My business school work with companies serving in this space offering tools and resources
2. My discussions with people from work (consultants doing pro-bono work in this space, family/ friends working in this sector)
3. My own decision process as a parent of a soon-to-be-schooled kid

My inquiry process started with a simple question on – “How do I find which school district is the best performing in my area?”

Three fundamental problems surfaced…

A. Defining the school district boundary is arbitrary… it changes every few years based on the “subjective judgment” of the education administrators in the government. One prime example: the city of Chicago has one of the largest school districts in the US with a wide range of school performance and demographics. A few years earlier, some of the high-income neighborhoods worked out something whereby there are these pockets of school districts geographically within the large Chicago school district to ensure their high performance is not lost in the averages.

B. Funding and performance is a vicious never-ending cycle… Schools perform better with high funding, funding is high when the property taxes are high, taxes are high when the real estate is high, real estate is high when people are willing to pay more to buy/ rent a property because of the school district, school district is attractive since the school(s) within are better performing. And so the vicious cycle continues. Once a bad school, always a bad school is how it turns out to be.

C. Using technology to improve assessments and align them with the learning development goals… two sub-problems here include schools taking unethical routes to show higher scores (read the recent news article on how the education administrator in Atlanta city colluded with schools to alter student responses to increase scores) and then technology capabilities not sufficient to provide a timely feedback on student performance even though the level of data gathered is the most advanced it can get (e.g., schools collect some amazing level of data on assessments but then it takes almost a year to document that data, analyze it and understand potential implications for student learning plans by when the student has already graduated to the next class).

During my conversations, all that I have heard of work happening in this sector is on problem C which is an enabler problem… but no attention is given to even acknowledge the other two problems (A and B) and then go about solving it. It’s a matter of will I suppose… where there’s a will, there’s a way!

More on what tactical lessons I learnt in choosing a school in one of my future posts.