For years now, those in the education community have noted that education R&D just doesn’t get the love that R&D in other industries — particularly healthcare — receive. Yes, we throw a few pennies (in the global sense) at the issue through the Institute of Education Sciences and a few private sector interests, but investment in true education R&D is a pittance. It should come as no surprise, though, as attention to real, measurable, scientific education research is a relatively new issue (and we still haven’t figured out how to adequately focus on the D side of education R&D).
All of the talk and action around healthcare reform has Eduflack thinking. The Obama Administration is looking to offer a major shift in how we deliver healthcare in this nation, seeking to improve quality and access in one shift action. Like it or hate it, healthcare is moving. Stakeholders are seeing the need for change. We’ve outlined the action steps for improvement and, supposedly, innovation. And we are moving toward it. To help such a monumental effort continue to move forward, the Administration has gained the rhetorical support from major entities such as the pharmaceutical industry and the nation’s hospitals. More importantly, they’ve gotten these stakeholders to ante in, with the pharmaceutical industry offering $80 billion and hospitals throwing in $155 billion toward the effort. The thought is real reform cannot happen by government fiat alone.
Why doesn’t such thinking carry over into public education? When we look at national reforms in education — changes designed to boost student achievement, access, and quality — we look solely to the federal government for the dollars. Look to implement core standards in the 50 states, our SEAs will turn to the feds for the money to follow through. Call for an injection of innovation in the classroom, recognizing that following the status quo path all these many decades hasn’t gotten us very far, we provide an address where the federal government can send the check. Demand change, reform, improvement, or any of the above, and we look to the U.S. Treasury to make it all happen.
Yes, the US Department of Education is seeking a $5 billion commitment from the philanthropic community to match the $5 billion the feds are willing to invest in education innovation. Yes, groups like the Gates Foundation are now looking to throw in $500 million to dive deep into teacher quality in a select group of school districts. But in the grand scheme of things, are these significant investments to education improvement — on par with those PhRMA and the hospitals are providing to healthcare reform — or are they simply nibbles around the edges of the major issues at hand.
Ultimately, it falls on folks like the EdSec and other to utilize the bully pulpit to draw attention and commitment to the issue of education improvement. In recent years, we’ve done a damned fine job informing virtually every stakeholder audience of the problems in K-12 (or even P-16) education. We’ve even started building commitment for some of the changes that are needed to improve the quality and impact of education delivery in the United States. But we are still struggling to mobilize those audiences around those specific changes.
Why? We are still struggling to show those audiences what specifically they can do to deliver on those changes. What action steps can I take to improve the system? What do I prioritize? What do I do? What do I fund? To what do I hold my members accountable?
After much trial and error, we’ve learned these issues in healthcare, which is why we are now getting rhetorical and checkbook buy-in from the pharmaceutical industry and the hospital industry to move reform. But we still haven’t learned this in education. We are still looking for the ultimate Sugar Daddy — the federal government — to let us know what to do, how to do it, and then provide the dollars for it.
If we expect plans to improve public education to truly take hold and have the impact we all seek, we need to call on all stakeholders to play a specific role in the development, implementation, and funding of it. If the past eight years has taught us anything, it is that the feds can’t do it alone. We need the help of teachers, administrations, higher education, business leaders, community organizations, families, and students. We need their support. We need their advocacy. And we need their financial support. Each stakeholder may not play a starring role, but they play a role in improving our public schools. Now’s the time for all to step up and make that role their own.
It doesn’t matter if they’ve received a golden-gilded invitation to the game or if they are crashing the gates. You can’t complain about the final outcome if you aren’t ready to step up to the plate. The feds can get the ball rolling, but it is going to fall to all of those stakeholder audiences to sustain, build on, and cultivate additional improvements.