Sandwiched between conversations about the weather, political parties, and the next presidential election, people will often turn to the topic of education. More specifically, they’ll agree that our students need to receive a quality education. If you dive into a school’s mission statement, the phrase quality education is either directly stated or alluded to. But, What Is A Quality Education-Do We Still Agree with Audrey?And, who is this Audrey being referred to?
While reading a state education journal, I came across the following quote by Audrey Hepburn, the late film star:
“A quality education has the power to transform societies in a single generation, provide children with the protection they need from the hazards of poverty, labor exploitation, and disease, and give them the knowledge, skills, and confidence to reach their full potential.”
The quote got me to thinking. Will a quality education today do everything Audrey suggested it could do? More importantly, what do people today believe a quality education is? Is there anything resembling consensus in answer to the question, “What Is A Quality Education?” Are there any markers that can help us recognize one when we see it? Let’s see what we can find.
As my students and I have done in my classroom for years, I began by looking it up on the internet. The first entry that pops up on Google is from the website “Unite For Quality Education.”
The entry on Google states: “Quality education is a human right and a public good. Governments and other public authorities should ensure that a quality education service is available freely to all citizens from early childhood into adulthood. Quality education provides the foundation for equality in society.”
This sounds great, except it doesn’t really answer my question. Maybe the site itself will give me more insight and my answer. Their page begins with a quote from the 1996 UNESCO statement by the Delors Commission.
In part, they offer that education’s “mission is to enable each of us, without exception, to develop all our talents to the full and to realize our creative potential, including responsibility for our own lives and achievement of our personal aims.”
Encouraging people to be responsible for their own lives, including their achievements is a good start, but not a satisfying answer. Time to move on.
The HuffPost ran an article about the UN Sustainable Development Goals from late 2016. In the article, they suggest that a quality education is “pedagogically and developmentally sound and educates the student in becoming an active and productive member of society.” But, what subjects will accomplish this goal?
The article briefly mentions that some contributors to the goals believe that literacy and numeracy should be the goal. Apparently, it was a short-lived idea since others dismissed the idea as being outdated and limited in scope.
As I continued reading, the article pointed out the problems that occur when words and phrases for well-meaning goals and intentions are appropriated and twisted into self-serving code-words.
For example, teachers today are well aware that the term accountability refers to teacher evaluations and the phrase data driven means someone is interested in your student’s test scores.
When you have goals that are so loosely phrased that intent is easily changed and the focus gets muddled, you could easily conclude that it’s impossible to describe a quality education.
Global Goals held out such promise. What I discovered was lots of great graphics about getting involved in the UN’s global goals. I found lots of ways to get students involved in demanding that countries get all of their students in school.
What I did not find was an answer to my question, What Is A Quality Education? To be fair, perhaps this is not a global question. One of the articles I read at Global Goals noted that 57 million children in developing countries are not in school.
While this is a problem worthy of attention, it didn’t bring me any closer to an answer.
Bringing my search back to American shores seems prudent.
Parents Across America
It was obvious by looking at their position paper that Parents Across America had spent a great deal of time forming their expectations. I expected this group to offer some sound ideas on how to spot the elusive what, not the why, of a quality education. In the end, however, I didn’t get a satisfying, direct answer. So, what did they say?
The short response can be wrapped up in three main points:
- Quality education is child centered
- Quality education requires skilled professionals
- Quality education promotes justice, equity, and democracy
This sounds wonderful, but brings up several concerns. Here are a couple of examples.
Included in the child centered category is the goal of providing individualized, diversified, board-based learning that meets the needs of all students. You’ll find similar statements in lots of other documents. And, in a perfect world this is a realistic goal. However, to work well, class sizes would need to be very small, along with making more than one adult available in the room to with the students. You already know that funding is the juggernaut in this plan. And writing out a plan and posting it where people can read it doesn’t make it so.
The second example was found under the third category. It states that quality schools are community-centered providing services and activities that benefit students and their families. This begs two questions.
- Where will the funding come from for this?
- How does it describe what a quality education is?
Where Do We Go From Here?
If a description of what a quality education is, is so elusive, does it exist?
Why do teachers get up Monday through Friday and report to their classrooms if no one has the answer to this question?
The education portion of state and federal budgets are huge! What are we taxpayers paying for?
Why do the experts seem so incapable of drawing up a working explanation?
Forget about the high-minded platitudes and sweet-sounding metaphors. If we expect students to exit our schools as recipients of a quality education, their parents should have been handed the plan of action on their child’s first day of elementary school. It should be a well-worn document covered with notes and comments by that child’s graduation day.
Instead, I’ve heard students comment on what a waste of their time most of their classes were.
- We have high school students who do not understand how the basic parts of speech work in the English language. They can’t put together a thoughtful, logical one-page paper. They struggle to understand what they’ve just read in grade-level documents.
- Algebra teachers lament the high number of students who never learned the multiplication table. Without this basic information, algebra becomes a torturous mystery they are forced to endure. Standardized tests become a nightmare for everyone involved.
- Students do know who has done what to whom on their favorite TV shows. Much of their mental energy is spent on text messages and who said what about them or their best friend. They live in a world where everything is OK and desires must be instantly gratified. Any sense of wonder or creativity left many of them years ago.
Everything Old Is New Again
Perhaps the place to start is exactly where those few brave souls in the HuffPost article suggested. Perhaps we need to spend the lion’s share of classroom time on reading good and great literature, understanding how sentences written in English work, and developing a real grasp of arithmetic.
Does this article ring true for you, or are you stunned that students would think a large chunk of their young lives have been wasted by the state?
Maybe you’re feeling a bit wasted in your current position, and long to be doing something different outside the classroom.
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