Friday, June 24, 2016

The Purpose of Education: Truing the Balance Wheel

The following post presents research or analyses from outside KASB and is presented for information purposes.  KASB neither endorses nor refutes the conclusions or recommendations contained herein.
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This month, the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) released a policy brief entitled "The Purpose of Education: Truing the Balance Wheel" The report gives a brief explanation of the Center's view of the purpose for education in the U.S. You can read it here.

Citing Thomas Jefferson's assertion that people must be educated in order to be able to govern themselves, and Horace Mann's assertion that education is "the Great Equalizer," NEPC states that the purpose of education is "to build, sustain, and strengthen the society."

The author notes that though great progress has been made in areas such as graduation rates, disparities within the student population are a major concern.

The following are areas that NEPC feels deserve particular attention:
  • Effective teachers and principals: Teachers are the most important “within the school” factor. Sound leadership is essential, most especially in high-poverty and low-performing schools.
  • Appropriate class size: The research evidence is clear that smaller classes yield the greatest gains for poor and minority students.
  • Challenging and culturally relevant curriculum and supportive instructional resources: Tracking and inconsistent access to advanced courses generates unequal educational opportunities.
  • Sufficient quality time for learning and development: Although school days are somewhat uniform, instructional time is considerably less for lower socioeconomic children.
  • Up-to-date facilities and a safe environment: Facilities affect learning, and the neediest children currently endure the most inadequate facilities.

In order to focus on the needs of disadvantaged students, NEPC recommends the following changes to the scope of education:
  • Extended time for learning and development: The summer academic loss of less affluent children is a clear indicator of the difference in the quality of informal learning experiences. “Students from more affluent backgrounds are exposed to learning resources including books, computers, museum visits, and other social, cultural, and academic experiences.”
  • High quality early childhood education and services: Perhaps the highest return on investment in education comes from universal, publicly funded, high-quality preschool.
  • Community schools and wrap-around services: “School-based programs that offer medical and dental care, psychological support, recreational activities, and social services for all children have long been shown to significantly impact students’ ability to benefit from educational offerings.”

Finally, NEPC recommends the following for policymakers:
  • Embrace the broad goals of education, including civic responsibility, democratic values, economic self-sufficiency, cultural competency and awareness, and social and economic opportunity.
  • Ensure that all schools have the fundamental educational resources they need to promote student success: effective teachers and principals, appropriate class sizes, challenging and culturally relevant curriculum and supportive instructional resources, sufficient quality time for learning and development, up-to-date facilities and a safe environment.
  • Expand the scope of schools in high-poverty neighborhoods to provide wrap-around services including nutritional supports, health clinics, parental education, extended learning time, recreational programs, and other services needed to meet the social, physical, cognitive, and economic needs of both students and families.
  • Promote a policy context that is supportive of equal opportunity: focus testing on formative rather than high-stakes purposes, prevent or repeal policies that allow for school resegregation, and renew the public commitment to public education.
The author concludes with the following quote from John Dewey in 1912:

"What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon it destroys our democracy."

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