Aworld-class education system lies at the heart of the American dream. So says opinion analyst Daniel Yankelovich (2011), who explains, “The nation’s implicit social contract is that Americans can improve their lot in life through their own hard work and education. This is the promise that holds us together” (p. ix).
Delivering on this promise is the paramount mission of school leaders
today. It isn’t enough to competently manage the schools we currently have.
Teachers, principals, and district administrators are now charged with finding
effective ways to teach all students to high levels—including students from
economically disadvantaged homes, those with special needs, and those with
limited English skills.
It’s a tall order for K– 12 education. In response to these heightened
demands, we’ve seen tantalizing signs of progress in some schools and
districts. But unless leaders do more to help teachers, students, parents,
taxpayers, and others grasp the need for change and participate in it,
improvement will be spotty and nearly impossible to sustain. That’s why
the crucial next step in improving K– 12 education is unleashing the human
factor—transforming these pivotal groups into allies and partners, rather than
passive audiences or constituencies to be managed. To take that step, school
leaders may need to consider some fresh thinking about the art of propelling
Where We Are: Questions and Concerns
We can develop better, more
practical, more long-lasting education
reform if we widen the circle of
dialogue to include students, teachers,
parents, and community members.
Surveys and focus groups have repeatedly shown that many Americans still
have concerns and questions about education reform as it has unfolded over
the last decade. Different groups come at education issues from markedly
different perspectives. Some are angered and alienated. Here are a few of the
most worrying examples.
Boosting academic standards. Many educators see the new, more challenging
Common Core standards as a remarkable breakthrough in U.S. education.
But are parents fully on board? Not according to a recent Public Agenda
survey. Just 50 percent of parents with children now in public schools want
their child to take harder classes; 47 percent say their own child works hard
enough as it is, and the school does not need to make classes more difficult
(Public Agenda, 2011a).