I'm pretty much in favor of the Common Core curriculum that will soon be saturating our schools. I'm as dubious about its outcomes as I was when No Child Left Behind became the dominating dogma in American educational institutions a generation ago, but considering the general state of public education in the country, a concentrated effort at making some substantive system- and nationwide-wide changes is a worthy effort. A recent WaPo piece that's loaded up with plenty of data lays it out pretty clearly: "U.S. schools seem to do as badly teaching those from better-educated families as they do teaching those from less well educated families." On the proof-is-in-the-pudding front, U.S. Citizen And Immigration Services this year has received nearly 200,000 H1-B visa petitions from American employers seeking technical workers from overseas. Apparently those slots can't be filled by Americans, a situation that should be met with embarrassment and concern in a country that spends more educating its children than any other country in the world.
It's indeed time for a change, folks. Resistance to it is natural and welcome, as it should be when it comes to any public policy initiatives that demand questions and analysis. Me? I'm convinced that Common Core is okay and that it's focused on outcomes, not content. But disbelievers aren't as satisfied and continue their harping, generally to no avail, as the program has been adopted by 43 states, including South Dakota. Okay as I am with the critics, though, I continue to wonder why they support a status quo that pretty clearly seems to be inadequate to modern needs. Tradition has its merits, but supporting tradition for tradition's sake doesn't make much sense to me, especially now when global dynamics demand lightning-fast responses to challenges that can easily convert entire countries from pack leaders to also-rans. Look at what has happened to Japan, where traditionalism is perhaps the most esteemed cultural value, in the course of a generation. The country is barely holding its own against competitors like South Korea, China and India--and don't forget those "tigers" from Southeast Asia
Given that the United States has had a long and prosperous history as a land where innovation and experimentation have driven us to world leadership, none of our institutions should be exempt from constant re-evaluations of basic assumptions and standards. To me, that goes double for public education, which has to be ready to absorb and dispense to our students all the knowledge that is constantly being generated by advances in the sciences and industry.
Which brings me back to Governor Daugaard's recent utterances about South Dakota-educated youngsters pursuing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)-focused educational opportunities on graduating from high school. As I note in my last blog post, this is sound practical advice. But as my reader Douglas notes in his comment below the piece, the focus should start at grade school, not at graduation. I agree, which begs the question: Considering that Daugaard presides over a state that has the lowest paid teachers in the nation, I wonder how he expects to get qualified STEM-instructors into our K-12 schools to pass on the knowledge that he deems ultra-important. Can we expect teachers in those fields to forsake the salaries they can get in the private sector in order to make that whopping $39 thousand a year that SD teachers are being paid, on average? Please. We need leadership here, Governor Daugaard, not rhetoric.