Comments by Wendy Kopp
It's no secret that America's education debate is increasingly polarized and increasingly public. We see it every day on Twitter, in the headlines, and occasionally even on the picket line. The public discussion pits reformers who think that our education system is failing students against anti-reformers who think what's wrong with our schools is the people trying to fix them. I've been immersed in American education for more than 20 years and have led a global education network for the last seven, and to me there's no question that our school system must improve, and quickly. But today's debate has become a distraction that keeps us paralyzed in old divisions and false debates, rather than uniting against common problems.
Two recent bestselling books on education, Diane Ravitch's Reign of Error and Amanda Ripley's The Smartest Kids in the World, shine light on the conflict—and why taking a step back and embracing a global perspective is necessary to move forward.
…But while our education system hasn't changed, and the world we're living in has. So has the value of education. To Ripley, international standards are the relevant ones in a globalized information economy where higher education has become a virtual prerequisite for financial security.
Today, academic mediocrity comes at a much higher price. The U.S. used to lead the world in the percentage of students graduating from high school and earning college degrees. Now about 20 countries outpace us. Perspective is relative, and Ripley argues that standing still while the rest of the world pulls ahead is falling behind. America's marginal gains are not cutting it against a steep new learning curve. Sticking with schools that were designed for another era, as Ravitch suggests, would leave more of our citizens increasingly ill-equipped to compete for high-skill, high-paying jobs.
…Now when I come home to my own four kids in New York City, the education discussion I see on TV and Twitter seems woefully behind the times. The trumped-up debates that have stalled progress seem even more irresponsible because they are of our own making.