It’s a highly under-discussed issue of our time, yet it also happens to have the greatest impact on this country’s future. And when it garners the attention of the media, it’s never for the progress that’s being made. Welcome to the world of education reform in the 21st century, when the story that grabs headlines and leads the evening news usually concerns cheating, teacher-student relationships, or sometimes even a combination of the two.
Working for the NYC Department of Education this past summer was nothing short of an eye-opening experience—one that gave me the opportunity to listen to lead policymakers and understand where education reform is headed. This isn’t to say that there is a panacea being developed within the halls of Tweed Courthouse, where the department’s central administration is located. Rather, reform is moving in a different direction—away from the notion that there is a cure-all to better educate the 1.1 million New York City schoolchildren in one fell swoop.
Charter schools alone aren’t the solution. Integrating technology into every classroom isn’t the be all and end all. Improving teacher effectiveness is but one step. Every tool and program that is implemented by the department represents one facet of a multi-pronged approach to tackle reform. Providing options at every level, empowering students and families, integrating the school into the larger community—these are all ways that have improved and will continue to improve education.
Despite all the best efforts of the department, government alone doesn’t have all the answers. There are important partnerships to be made between government and the private sector. Collaborating with art museums, for example, gives students the opportunity to showcase their work in the Met. Private citizens and philanthropic foundations can spearhead efforts to improve black and Latino male student achievement. Even professional sports teams can create extracurricular activities to keep students healthy and busy. These are all inventive solutions to existing problems that come at little cost to taxpayers.
There are still tremendous obstacles that lie ahead and a lot of work left to be done. But plenty of passionate and dedicated individuals—like the colleagues I worked with this summer—continue to make strides, devise creative and cost-effective plans, and attack these problems head on. We should also remember that this is a collaborative effort. Everyone has a stake. And the sooner that we all get on board with making education reform a real priority, the sooner we can move forward.