small schoolchildren with colorful school bags and backpacks run to school. Back to schoo
small schoolchildren with colorful school bags and backpacks run to school. Back to school, education, elementary school.
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The Bottom Line Back to School

As children head back to school, it’s a good time to assess the current state of education in America. Over the decades, we have expanded the number of voters and we have expanded the access to education. How are we doing in producing an “educated electorate?” Don Nielsen, program chair of ACTE says, “Not well. In fact, we are putting our way of life at risk by our continuing failure to effectively educate our citizens. For decades, our education system has failed at its mission. We have consistently seen 20-25 percent of our students drop out of school prior to graduation and of those who do graduate, more than half have not achieved a level of learning to allow them to effectively live in a 21st Century society.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau from September 2018, we have 12.3 percent of Americans that are living in poverty. More than 17 percent of children fall under the poverty line. That is roughly 12.8 million American children.

This demands the attention of all stakeholders and drastic changes to our educational system Nielsen states, “we have continued to support a 19th Century school system in a 21st Century world. In fact, we keep spending more money on this obsolete system hoping it will get better. However, it does not get better, it only gets more expensive.” Despite massive increases in spending, test scores remain flat, dropout rates show minor improvement, and children living in poverty persists. We keep turning out an under-educated electorate in a time where we need a workforce to be the best educated it has ever been.

Transforming our schools to operate in a manner that effectively educates all our children cannot happen with the current system, as it has proven it cannot achieve that goal. This is where Nielsen’s book, Every School, comes in. His multi-year “Game Plan” “release[s] the handcuffs under which educators now operate and provide[s] the opportunity for educators to create the schools our children need, not the schools that the law dictates.”

The change has to occur at the state level, as states control most of the money, who is allowed to teach, and who is allowed to lead. In addition, they control compensation, curriculum, the school calendar, and graduation requirements. In short, they control. For meaningful change to occur, changes to state laws and creating new acts. These changes cannot occur overnight–since schools and the school calendar are such a fixture in our society and embedded in our culture, changes should be made gradually.  But it’s time to start the changes now. In time our students will be able to go back to a new type of school that fulfills what Don describes as the true mission of a school: “to serve as the primary partner, with parents, in the total development of their child into a responsible citizen.”

Bailey Takacs

Development Program Coordinator, American Center for Transforming Education
Bailey Takacs served as development program coordinator to Discovery Institutes' American Center for Transforming Education and Development team. Bailey has experiences which also include: campaign management and administrative roles with elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels of the government. He holds a B.A. in Politics and Government from Pacific Lutheran University.
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