Is American Education Obsolete

, Lindalyn Kakadelis, Leave a comment

Is American education becoming obsolete? According to two new reports, the answer is an emphatic “yes.” While these studies critique different flaws in our education system, they emphasize the same overarching message: Focus on the consumer.

Last week, the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce released their report, Tough Choices or Tough Times, calling for changes to almost every area of American education. Headed by a bipartisan roster of leaders from business, government, and education fields, the commission lamented our education system’s inability to keep pace with
an increasingly competitive and high-tech world.

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, commissioner and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg compared our outmoded education system to the U.S. auto industry in the 1970s. According to Bloomberg, American education is “stuck in a flabby, inefficient, outdated production model driven by the needs of employees rather than consumers.”

Clearly, we need change, and soon. Focusing on the needs of consumers (e.g., parents and students) rather than the bureaucracy is a great place to start. However, some parts of the report’s prescription for reform sound a lot like the European method of tracking and training students for a labor market. If this proves true (and the devil is always in the details), it will take us still further away from a necessary and intensive focus on a well-rounded liberal arts education.

The Cato Education Market Index, from the Washington, D.C.-based Cato Institute, was also released last week and offered yet another indictment of American education, this time for its lack of meaningful market reforms. The report evaluated competition and market-based policies in American school systems, asking the questions: do school systems resemble free markets, and are state education policy proposals conducive to a competitive marketplace? In other words, are parents permitted to make educational choices for children, and do local school leaders have the freedom to innovate?

The findings were not encouraging. According to report author Andrew Coulson, “No U.S. state currently has anything resembling a free education marketplace.” Closer to home, the index gave North Carolina a score well below the national average, saying, “The state is dominated by conventional public schools that are among the least free, least competitive, and most intrusively regulated in the country.”

Obviously, we have a long way to go before parents – or consumers – are calling the shots. But in many ways, these reports affirm what we already know to be true: As 2007 approaches there is much still to do to improve educational opportunities for every child in North Carolina. In the coming year, as in the past, we at the Alliance promise to keep you apprised of the latest ground-breaking innovations and news, equipping you with the informational tools and resources to solve our state’s education problems.

Lindalyn Kakadelis heads the North Carolina Education Alliance.