Once a world leader in educational performance, the U.S. was the first country to offer free public secondary education to all young people and led the world in number of people earning post-secondary degrees after World War II.
Recently, however, there is growing awareness that the U.S. faces a national crisis in education and that our schools must improve dramatically in order to maintain our position in the competitive world economy. As a whole, the U.S. public education system does not produce students who are ready for college or competition in the global marketplace. In fact, students in the U.S. perform significantly less well academically than their peers from other industrialized nations – the United States now scores 17th in reading, 31st in math, and 23rd in science, as measured by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). This is despite the fact that we spend more per student on education than any other developed country. In addition, there is a persistent student achievement gap along income and ethnic lines. The broader social costs of this educational decline could be significant. A 2010 study conducted by the Hoover Institute and the OECD concluded that if the U.S. could boost average PISA scores by 25 points over 20 years, it could result in a $41 trillion gain for the U.S. economy over the lifetime of youth born in 2010.
Over the last decade, a number of results-oriented leaders in states, districts, charter management organizations, and nonprofits have led the reform of U.S. public education. These leaders bring new urgency, new ideas, and new strategies to address current challenges and drive higher and more equitable outcomes for students. Some of the new ideas prove to be critical levers for change, others face significant resistance or political challenges, and others have not delivered expected results. All hold lessons for how future educational leaders can contribute to solving one of the most important issues facing our nation.
This course will provide an overview of the critical issues facing K-12 public education in the United States and innovative reform strategies designed to drive higher academic achievement for all students. Students will examine the complexities of the existing education system, entrepreneurial strategies to address core challenges, and leadership styles and approaches to bring about systemic change. Students will learn about efforts underway by the federal government, state education departments, school districts, charter management organizations, and nonprofits.
The course has four modules:
- Understand the Context of Public Education – This module will set the stage to understand the current issues facing public education in the U.S. We will discuss the achievement gap and economic impact and then explore opportunities and challenges to improve our schools.
- Get, Grow, and Keep the Best Talent – This module will explore the human capital challenge facing public education. We will examine innovative strategies to prepare, recruit, evaluate, and retain effective teachers and school leaders. Sessions will focus on teacher preparation, measuring teacher effectiveness, and principals as instructional leaders and CEOs.
- Focus on Performance – This module will examine various theories of action to improve student outcomes as well as strategies to raise standards and hold people accountable. Sessions will focus on accountability and empowerment as well as new initiatives (such as the Common Core State Standards) to raise the bar for students.
- Create Systems of Great Schools – This module will focus on how to move beyond pockets of excellence in individual classrooms and schools to create systems of great schools so that every student receives an excellent education. Building on strategies explored in the talent and performance modules, sessions will focus on different public school models (e.g., district, charter), a portfolio approach that includes launching new schools and closing underperforming schools, and transformative reform at the district and state level.
Tracy Breslin was a Columbia Business School faculty member from to 2016.