I struck up a conversation with a graduating senior. “What do you want in life?” I asked. “To be successful,” he replied. To which I asked the question: “What is success?” “I don’t know,” he said as he walked away. We all want to be successful. But how can you be successful if you cannot even define it?
The World Economic Forum estimates 65 percent of children today will end up in careers that don’t even exist yet and for which schools are not preparing them.
I recommend three steps for policymakers to consider at the state level that can create success for our schools in the future:
• Embrace Innovation. Governor Bill Lee said: “In order to improve, you have to be willing to innovate and challenge the status quo. That’s true whether it is in business or education.” This means at the state level the focus must be on providing the flexibility and freedom for educators and education leaders at all levels to try new things that will help improve student achievement and success. Our goal as a state should be to give every child the opportunity to receive a high-quality education, in order to build a skilled workforce for the 21st Century global economy.
• Update the Funding Formula. At the state level, the Basic Education Program (BEP), is how Tennessee funds our K-12 public schools. The BEP provides over $4.7 billion of state funding for education.
• End Social Promotion. We must ensure that all students will be able to read proficiently by the end of the third-grade. Children who do not read on grade level are more likely to drop out, use drugs or end up in prison. Research shows that reading abilities in the third-grade act as a tell-tale barometer for later school success. We cannot keep sending Tennessee students onto the next grade if they lack basic reading skills. Social promotion does more harm than good. We can no longer ignore the issue of social promotion. We must eliminate the practice of advancing students because of their age rather than their knowledge. We can change the path we are on, and give every child a better chance of success—even if they don’t know what it looks like at this point in their life. Success is not left to chance, it’s a matter of choice. We have tough choices to make in public education, and that will include changes.
We must make sure public education is viewed as a significant part of the choice that parents will make for their children moving forward. The best and brightest students in our communities should know that our public education system will work for them. The underserved and poor in our communities should know that our public education system can work for them.
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville.