The New Normal

The United States is undergoing a “new normal.” A global economy, ever-increasing access to information, communications at the speed of light, and a major population transition are all part of changing our world forever. Nowhere is a purposeful reaction to this seismic shift more important than in our schools.

The industrial model that fashioned today’s schools no longer exists. Our current structures were put in place so the nation’s public schools could produce the expected, consistent results they have since the 1960’s: 60-70 percent of students graduating from high school, a third of those graduates continuing in post-secondary education. The system was designed as a sorting mechanism and served the public and the country’s economy well. But the world has changed. We hear our current public schools are failing but in reality they are doing exactly what they were designed to do. The truth is, we need a new design to meet the new normal.

We also hear that the United States is falling behind the rest of the world in educating our children. The more complex truth is that we have stood still while the rest of the world caught on to this great invention created in the U.S. – public school for all. The rest of the world began to understand the value of education – for succeeding in a global economy – while we continued with a system that is designed to leave too many of our next generation behind.

Now that the New Normal has changed our expectations for our public school system we need to work to transform this valued, critical component of our democracy to adapt to this new reality. The increased competitiveness of the global economy, the need for a more skilled workforce, and an aging and increasingly diverse populace demand that one hundred percent of our public school graduates be “post-secondary ready” – ready for college, vocational/technical training or certification programs. And these graduates must be the most vibrant and well-prepared thinkers and innovators possible.

It is our responsibility to be the midwives of this new model, a model that teaches children to address the needs and circumstances of this new world. Our public schools – and our public – must see bilingualism as an asset, not a deficit; must understand that artists and musicians are the ones who now put shuttles on Mars; must recognize that students can use gaming to create simulations and test theories for climate change. This is already happening in the real world and we need to help children increase their skill level to parallel these changes.

A change this massive will not happen overnight, but the transition is happening already, through a series of “silver bullet” reforms that miss the complexities of building the transformed system that public education requires. No one person, no one group, no one party is to blame for this muddle. We all are, and we all are responsible for strategically pulling the necessary transitional levers for public schools that will best serve Minnesota in the New Normal.


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