After seeing the large sum of money recently doled out by the government as part of the education stimulus plan, again putting "the cart before the horse" so to speak, I began to become more certain than ever about what we need to do to fundamentally transform our nation's education system. It probably goes to the heart of the foundation of our constitution and the philosophy of "federalism" versus state-centered. Technically, my idea, while certainly not new, should fit inside both philosphies although I am sure that some of my readers might think this idea is a movement towards a more controlling central entity at the expense of state sovereignty. I hope that is not the case.
In just about every civilized nation in the world, there is one set of education standards that the system is held accountable to. I believe that before we make investments of the magnitute of what we have already agreed to, the states should ratify a set of federal curriculum standards so that every citizen of the United States is learning the same set of skills and are assessed under these criteria. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has done some very interesting work in this area, but their maps, while forward-thinking to some degree, have not been universally adopted. If our education system has any realistic chance of being globally competitive five, ten years, twenty years from now, we need one common roadmap. To the best of my knowledge, we don't have that.
The states do not lose control in this process. States can maintain whatever flexibility is needed to adhere to and meet the performance measures defined by the roadmap. They control spending, specific pedagogical mechanisms and all other operational areas. It doesn't matter how big or how small a state's budget is, the system can be scaled up or down to meet the specific needs of any one state. As a strategist for many years, even though I have not worked extensiviely within the education system, I see no realistic chance of the stimulus being successful in the long term. I don't think the architects of the package have read Michael Raynor's management book, The Strategy Paradox. I suggest they read it today, because the current plans are devoid of all strategic flexibility, contrary to what the advocates might be saying.
Before we squander this exciting, critical opportunity which is to ensure our children's future in a rapidly evolving, technologically driven, globally connected world, shouldn't we ensure that everyone is following the same playbook?
Just a thought.