November 2008 Index
Home Page

New Challenges for Public Education in the USA

Donald G. Perrin

There are five steps in decision making. 1) define the problem, 2) determine alternative solutions, 3) set criteria, 4) evaluate alternatives, 5) choose “best” alternative. If there is only one way to do something, there is no decision to be made. In traditional systems of education, there is often only one way, or only one “right” way. This kind of linear thinking has enabled education to survive for the past century with only minor changes. However, results tell us that our tools and methods and educational products are less and less relevant for the needs of the 21st century. Public schools in the United States now perform lower than most industrialized countries, especially in science and math. There is a shortage of credentialed teachers, shortage of textbooks, reduced attendance, a lower percentage of students graduating from high school, and low literacy rates. With the economic downturn, public education is suffering substantial budget cuts, and some privately funded colleges and universities are talking about bankruptcy.

When businesses do not respond to market changes, they fail. Successful businesses need to constantly reinvent, or even transform themselves to maintain or grow their market share. Large and successful corporations have lost relevance and faced bankruptcy even in good economic times. Successful transformation requires reinvention, innovation, and even paradigm shifts to adapt to the changing world.

This is true for education also. The century-old industrial model is threatened by social and economic changes, and by technologies that have revolutionized the way in which people communicate and live. In response to these changes, education must constantly 1) redefine needs and opportunities, 2) research available solutions, 3) rigorously evaluate alternatives, and 4) find multiple solutions and 5) select the best alternatives, probably more than one, to support a wide range of educational needs.

Problem solving requires two steps beyond decision making: 6) implement the decision and 7) evaluate results. By continuous exploration and evaluation of new methods and technologies, we can generate a learning community focused on continuous quality improvement.

With the new economic pressures, it is time for serious examination of alternative ways to achieve local and national education objectives in two major categories:

  • Child learners in preschool and in kindergarten through twelfth grade. Schools and auxiliary organizations are also responsible for child supervision while parents are at work.

  • Adult learners in universities, colleges, adult education programs, and organizations with internal training programs. Adult learners are responsible for managing their time, their learning, and their lives. They have other responsibilities such as jobs and families.

Options for Child Learners: Budget cuts are eliminating teachers and administrators. This compromises an already lean system for child education. However, the problem may define the solution. With many adults out of work, including persons with higher degrees and professional skills, the educational setting could be reorganized to make productive use of parents and the skill-sets they bring. This could enhance all aspects of education, training and supervision. The question is how to pay them, or how many could afford to volunteer their services.

Volunteers may not be suited – or qualified - for traditional delivery from the front of the classroom, but they can perform tasks under the direction of a teacher: prepare materials, lead or participate with children in small group activities, and provide logistical support. Some parents might elect to take courses in teacher training. In American classrooms, persons with Bachelor degrees and six weeks of teacher training can teach. In other words, there is already in place a mechanism to rapidly advance the most qualified people into a classroom setting.

This does not provide the needed paradigm shift to make teaching and learning relevant to 21st century needs, but is does bring in new people and ideas to continue operation while educational leaders prepare for change.

Options for Adult Learners: Education is no longer bound by the walls of the classroom and traditional methods of teaching. Distance learning via television and/or computers is a logical way to serve the deluge of persons requiring education and training for available jobs and jobs that will come available in the foreseeable future. On-campus classes would focus on jobs and professions that require special equipment or close supervision. This would extend the footprint of education and training into homes and businesses throughout the community.

Distance learning may solve the problem of learning spaces, but it requires budgets for teachers, technology, and tuition support. Also, it is important to match trainees and students to real jobs as the economy recovers.

What about Transformation? The above are stop-gap measures. Public education should not be a victim of economic collapse, but part of the solution. As industries reinvent themselves to be relevant, so must education. The solution begins in teacher training institutions - a bastion of conservatism in a world that changes at an ever increasing rate. There is a spark of genius in Charter Schools and Innovative Schools of various kinds, but a model has yet to emerge that is distinctly superior, affordable, and replicable on a large scale.

Business and industry have attempted to transform education through a large scale infusion of funds and technology and by managing education as a business. Hopefully the pages of this journal will be a window to share innovations and new learning sciences that will transform education as an engine of growth and prosperity. Here are the 10 most read articles during 2008:


Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age
George Siemens


Tips and Tricks for Teaching Online: How to Teach Like a Pro!
Kaye Shelton and George Saltsman


Brain-Based Learning: Possible Implications for Online Instruction
Stephanie A. Clemons


Wikis and Wikipedia as a Teaching Tool
Piotr Konieczny


Time Management Strategies for Online Teaching
Min Shi, Curtis J. Bonk, Richard J. Magjuka


Comparing Weblogs to Threaded Discussion Tools in Online Educational Contexts
Donna Cameron, Terry Anderson


Learning Objects: A Practical Definition  
Rory McGreal


Critical Thinking in Asynchronous Discussions
Greg Walker


The Open University Malaysia Learning Management System:
A Study of Interaction in the Asynchronous Forum Board

Syed Abdullah Syed Othman, Hanafi Atan, Cheah Kooi Guan


Creating Concept Maps: Integrating Constructivism Principles into Online Classes
Brent Muirhead


You are invited to submit articles related to innovations that will support the transformation of education..

go top
November 2008 Index
Home Page