K-12 public education, already in crisis pre-COVID-19, is on a steep downward trajectory — with the severe lack of instruction time, staggering learning loss, alarming dropout numbers, and serious student disengagement. With half of the schools closed nationwide, just six weeks shy of a full year of no in-person instruction, it’s the perfect time for a K-12 redesign.
Before considering what a redesign might look like, we should first consider that implementing the needed changes will require bold leadership. After 65 years as an executive consultant and authoring nearly 40 books, Peter Drucker observed eight practices of effective executives:
They asked, “What needs to be done?”
They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?”
They developed action plans.
They took responsibility for decisions.
They took responsibility for communicating.
They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.
They ran productive meetings.
They thought and said “we” rather than “I.”
The first two practices gave them the knowledge they needed. The next four helped them convert this knowledge into effective action. The last two ensured that the whole organization felt responsible and accountable.Peter F. Drucker, Harvard Business Review
These practices are not restricted to the business sector. K-12 public education leaders must also effectively employ these principles in their leadership role, whether at the state, district, or school level. Then teachers should follow suit in their classrooms.
The current crisis requires skilled and courageous leadership. It demands that leaders ask what needs to be done for students and then develop associated action plans. It requires responsibility for decisions and communication, as well as for the productivity of meetings. It warrants working together with a “we” versus an “I” mindset. And, most importantly, it necessitates a focus on opportunities rather than problems.
Emphasizing problems can quickly become discouraging, overwhelming, and result in blame casting. Instead, we need to devote intense thought and energy to identifying and leveraging present opportunities that can open the door to a future, more successful K-12 education.
Pre-pandemic, a K-12 redesign was in order, as the existing system was outdated — the educational approaches were not producing robust student learning for the majority of students. Seventy percent of students did not receive the education required for success in the 21st Century. The U.S. placed pitifully among developed nations in the world for student achievement — 26th overall, 17th in reading, 23rd in science, and 33rd in math — despite leading the world in education spending (over $700 billion annually). Now ten and a half months after COVID-19 entered our country, our national K-12 public education system is in far worse shape.
The United States’ current education crisis could, and should, be viewed as a powerful opportunity rather than a massive problem to solve. A complete redesign is not only urgently needed but has more possibility of success than in decades past. The COVID-19 K-12 educational shake-up presents an opportunity we can’t afford to let pass us by without leveraging it to the fullest extent.
[Editor’s Note: Future articles will explore specifics regarding a K-12 educational redesign.]