As NEA celebrates its 150th anniversary, we asked educators and experts what they see in the years ahead.
As we make our way through the first decade of the 21st century, it may seem that our schools still all too often “model 1950s architecture, use 1990s technology, and deliver 1960s curriculum.” So admits educator and architect Jeffery A. Lackney, but behind the bricks and mortar that make up our public schools, a ground swell is rising.
Technology promises to transform our classrooms. A global economy and a changing society force us to revisit long-held assumptions of who our students are—and who they might become. And while the current test-heavy regime weighs heavily on the minds of many, there’s hope that this, like so many other challenges that have faced educators over the past century and a half of constant change, will also pass.
On the pages that follow, we asked NEA members and leaders from many walks of life what they think the future holds for public education—a future they believe is bright. Perhaps Kentucky math teacher Kat Crawford puts it best: “While students are prepared for life,” she says, “we will also place value on what gives life meaning—values, arts, service to others.”
Gov. Janet Napolitano
Markos Moulitsas Zuniga
Gary Orfield & Susan Eaton
Educators will regain the ability to teach what’s important.
Businessman, author, and philanthropist Talking about schools of the future gives me the opportunity to dream big for educators. Teachers would be compensated in accordance with their stated value. I say “stated,” because people always give lip service to the importance of education—“my favorite teacher this and my favorite teacher that.” If educators are so important, compensate them for the incredibly hard job they do every day.
There would never be a cry of “We don’t have.” The resources educators need would always be available. Not wasted, but used wisely. The current crop of presidential candidates would actually stand by their promises and make public schools a genuine—not “conveniently stated while I’m trying to get your vote”—priority.
Education would have real value—and it couldn’t happen for me 10, 20, 30 years in the future. If it happened tomorrow, it would be a dream come true for the world.
Arizona Governor Our knowledge-based global economy is changing at a rapid pace, and the nations that produce the best innovators will lead it. In the United States, we are quickly finding that we have some fierce competition. To meet the challenge, we must ensure today’s education system meets the needs of tomorrow’s economy.
Nothing is more important to the future of public education than raising student achievement. Next to committed parents, the most important element in improving achievement is a qualified, experienced teacher in every classroom. In Arizona, we’ve made teachers a top priority, focusing on raising teacher pay and enhancing professional development. We are also working hand-in-hand with teachers to prepare our students for the 21st century workforce, focusing on skills needed to solve problems, experiment, and increase their awareness about the world around them.
Together, we’re insisting on and striving toward the highest possible standards for our children, from the first day of pre-school to the last day of college.
Blogger at “Daily Kos” and Activist My wife worries about the educational future of our 3-year-old and newborn. Are the schools good? Will they be properly stimulated? Will they be prepared for their future?
I may have had those worries in a different era, but today’s world is much different. The Internet alone is a dramatic shift. I’ve got the world at my laptop, and even my toddler has gotten used to instant gratification. He’ll sidle over as I’m working and say, “I want to see parasauralophus,” and two seconds later he’s admiring the dinosaur on my screen. No matter the topic, no matter the question, I can fire up the laptop and not just have a correct answer, but I can sit him next to me to look at pictures, diagrams, animations, and whatever else satiates his rabid demand to learn.
To me, the standardized education my child will get at school is foundational—a base upon which we can build using our wealth of access to educational materials. I won’t be sending my children to school just to learn a predetermined curriculum, but to learn how to learn.
U.S. Education Secretary As we look to the future, we know our country’s success depends on equipping all our students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed—something we’ve never really done before. To reach this goal, we must support teachers with the tools and resources they need to help every child reach his or her potential. We must share best practices, bring research-proven methods into the classroom, and leverage the power of technology to customize instruction.
In the last 50 years, American ingenuity has put a man on the moon, mapped the human genome, and developed life-extending drugs and treatment for AIDS. Having every child on grade level by 2014 is another great goal. With the right support for teachers, I know we can reach it.
Math Teacher I have to believe that the days of high-stakes accountability testing are coming to an end and a more thoughtful, reasonable approach will take its place. As that shift occurs, I believe we are going to see a focus on what is most important—learning. Public education can be a leader that looks to the future. I believe that will happen with a focus on preparing our students to be lifelong learners. At the same time, I believe that while students are prepared for life, we will also place value on what gives life meaning—values, arts, service to others.
Education Activist and Author We will see a return to celebrating childhood, enjoying those immensely useful childlike qualities instead of squashing them. Instead of making 3-year-olds do “academic” worksheets, I imagine K—12th grade will look more like the kinder (children’s) gardens of yesteryear, with everyone involved in serious activities. Playfulness, after all, is at the core of what strong intellectual work is all about.
We will also create schools that foster the democratic spirit. At the schools I’ve been most involved in, the faculty was small enough to meet regularly and sustain open discussions of disagreements about pedagogy, curriculum, discipline, and about what counted as evidence of our success at producing well-educated kids.
Democracy isn’t intuitive, or even natural. So I picture schools where adults and kids examine it, practice it, weigh its trade-offs—schools that take democracy seriously, rather than as an afterthought for Civics 101.
Author When I ask teachers what their long-term goals are for students, one response I hear almost everywhere is “lifelong learner.” It’s not just that we want them to know certain things but that we want them to keep wanting to know, not just that they’re able to read but that they do read . . . and think, and question.
If we took this objective seriously, every educational practice and policy — from whether to assign homework to how to assess learning, from the size of classes and schools to the length of school days and years — would be evaluated primarily on the basis of how it affected kids’ excitement about ideas. Higher achievement (let alone higher test scores) would never constitute a sufficient basis for doing something. If a proposal might well turn students off to a given topic, let alone to intellectual inquiry itself, it wouldn’t stand a chance. And of course intrinsic motivation to learn would be the principal outcome variable used by educational researchers.
I believe that schools should and can make student interest their primary criterion, but I can’t say whether they will. The likelihood of this transformation will depend on how willing we are to align our practices with our goals.
Musician and Music Advocate As Americans, it’s more important than ever that we have a sense of our identity. We need a generation of diplomats who understand and take pride in our culture and can share it with others. Jazz tells us more about who we are, where we’ve been, and where we could be going, than any of our indigenous art forms. It is a music of communication that, from the beginning, has transported people across the divides of age, race, and geography.
We’re sending our kids into the world with their skills and talents underdeveloped, and our nation is really much poorer for it. We’ve got a tough challenge ahead of us. But I know that working together, we can make a difference in our children’s lives, and we can replace cultural bankruptcy with a full pocket of good music. Lord knows we need it.
Marsalis’ Jazz for Young People Curriculum offers a free Web-based curriculum for high school teachers that places jazz at the center of a discussion of American history, through NEA Jazz in the Schools: http://www.neajazzintheschools.org/ .
Educator/Rethinking SchoolsEducation is at a dangerous crossroads. While the federal government urges schools to close the achievement gap and work for equity, it endorses programs that teach compliance and rote answers. School districts write mission statements about creating citizens of the world, but more and more, they turn teachers into robotic hands to deliver education programs designed and shipped from sites outside of our classrooms.
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation has pushed administrators to grab quick solutions to get a fast bump in their test scores. Instead of taking the time to build teacher capacity to improve instruction or creating schools as learning communities, more administrators opt for "boxed" professional development— from fill-in-the-blank writing curricula to stick-the-kid-on-the-computer reading and math programs.
But against this tide of top-down reform, a counter movement of resistance is surfacing. Many teachers are insisting that the real world must be at the heart of the curriculum, inspiring students to acquire the academic skills that help them understand self and society.
My vision for the future of education is that as teachers, as union members, we have the nerve, the audacity to struggle to nurture a curriculum that simultaneously responds to urgent social demands as well as the academic needs of our students.
Educator and Author In spite of the discouraging effects of high-stakes testing and the cold winds blowing down from Washington, I believe that a rebirth of public education—of the joy that teachers take in it and the benefits it brings to children—is ahead of us.
I’m meeting tens of thousands of the best and brightest students in our universities and colleges who are determined to come in and work with us in public schools, not voucher schools, not boutique schools, not semi-private charter schools run by the business sector. They represent a burst of idealistic energy, a love for children, and a thirst for justice, which will reinforce the passions of those in the classroom now.
The tide of discontent with punitive, test-driven, and fear-driven methods of instruction is rising to the point at which I am convinced that we will see, within the next five years, a militant revival of enlightened opposition to these practices among our rank-and-file teachers. These teachers know they are in a battle for the soul of public education. Many feel intimidated by the sword of threats and sanctions under which they are obliged to teach today. But, sooner or later, these teachers will rise up and make their voices heard.
The Civil Rights Project, Harvard University After years of progress following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate public schools, segregation rates in our schools have been rising across the country. Incredibly enough, the Bush Administration is asking the Supreme Court this year to forbid school districts to take voluntary action to foster desegregation.
Why should we care? For one thing, desegregated schooling has clear educational benefits—reduced prejudice, improved cross-racial cooperation, increased life chances for African-American students, and in some cases, higher achievement, especially among younger children. Despite it not being a priority of our elected leaders, teachers can play a vital role in promoting desegregation. If they are lucky enough to teach in diverse classrooms, they can engage students in discussions about race and inequality and speak publicly about the benefits of racial diversity. Teachers must be leaders in the struggle for an integrated society. The future of a healthy multiracial society is at stake.
Distance learning, individual computers, and the global classroom are all on their way.
Founder and Chairman; Executive Director, George Lucas Educational Foundation “The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be.” With apologies to educators who justifiably prize correct grammar, this quote from Yogi Berra captures how the future keeps changing. We can all clearly see how technology keeps changing the future—every few years, it seems—and the future for which our schools need to prepare. Technology has transformed every field of endeavor into a global field, where colleagues collaborate across borders using the Internet. Great benefits would come to our students and, indeed, the world’s students, if they could communicate with their peers in other nations.
Simply put, school life should become more like real life, with school work organized around projects rather than textbooks, and students working in teams rather than alone. Schools should break down the two enemies of learning: isolation and abstraction. We should work to ensure schools derive the same benefits that technology has brought to the rest of society—health care, manufacturing, agriculture, architecture, the military, publishing, and entertainment.
Eventually, and hopefully sooner rather than later, every student and teacher should have a mobile computer with wireless Internet access to enable them to communicate and access curricula 24/7. All this, from creating new educational simulations to providing hardware and software, will require a much higher level of investment in our schools than we have seen. As a nation, we can afford it, especially if we view these expenditures not as a cost, but as an investment in the future of our democracy.
Education Support Professional Our schools will have to commit to investing in training teachers on the effective use of technology and in how to truly integrate that technology into the curriculum. Without that knowledge, providing access to the “tools” will accomplish little. Many of our nation’s schools do not have the latest technology that my Chicago suburban district enjoys. Many students do not come from homes where computers are as common as televisions. Looking ahead, I think schools will provide equitable access to the tools that will ensure our students’ success in the 21st century.
Chairman and CEO, Cisco Education and the Internet are two great equalizers in life. Networking connects us to voice, data, and video, allowing us to communicate across borders, eliminate hurdles, and accomplish tasks previously unattainable.
Imagine a school where teachers and counselors have more time to spend with students because technology tackles administrative tasks, saves money, and enables more individualized education. Imagine hearing the class bell ring and knowing that a system alerts administrators and parents if students are absent; teachers communicate with students and parents on secure Web sites; and video broadcasts televise activities and classes throughout the district—and around the globe. The future of education will see technology creating a new classroom experience, where all students will find learning an engaging, interactive way of life.
High School Teacher As a teacher, I feel that lecturing in a classroom within a brick and mortar schoolhouse is coming to an end. Instead, distance education will become a more common tool and students will have a more customized education based on their talents, abilities, and passions in life. However, I often worry that I am still thinking “in the box” and my ideas and vision for the future are not great enough. The world is changing at a very rapid pace, and I want to ensure that I am doing all that I can to meet the needs of my 21st century learners.
How schools of the future look matters far less than how they’ll work.
Educator and Architect One might argue that today’s 21st century schools model 1950s architecture, use 1990s technology, and deliver 1960s curriculum. For many well-intentioned reasons, public education has coped with a confusing mix of Agricultural and Industrial Age models, making it difficult to conceive of what a school of the new age might look and feel like.
However, there is reason to be optimistic. School designers are rapidly innovating to not only support, but also encourage change in teaching practices to accommodate collaborative, project-based learning and personalized, self-directed learning.
President and CEO, American Architectural Foundation The United States is spending over $30 billion each year on the renovation and construction of K—12 schools—more than ever before in our history—just as we are entering an exciting period of change in the way school buildings look and support learning.
The spread of technology, the demand for smaller schools, independent and experiential learning, a more diverse student population, and the growing importance of sustainability are all part of this new mix of forces influencing the design of educational facilities.
To maximize the opportunity to design schools that support student achievement, we must seek greater involvement in the design process by those who actually use our schools.
Architect Education is the social glue of our diverse society. I believe that architecture can engage deeply in the act of education both by providing an environment that engenders freedom of thought, creativity, and curiosity, and as a subject of study in its own right.
Like film and the other arts, the conceptual, artistic realm of architecture deals with a broad range of disciplines and integrates multiple levels of logic. This act of interpretation and synthesis-of political, cultural, technical, biological, and ecological issues-enriches the educational experience of the student.
Inspiring inquiry is at the heart of our responsibility in educating our young people, and architecture has the enormous potential to encourage inquiry and provoke curiosity. As architects, we must address the pragmatic territories at the highest level; but if we fail to capture the virtual territory-that is the territory of the mind of the student-then we risk constructing another mediocre building that will not spark the creativity, imagination, and optimism that are the birthright of our young citizens.
Schools will set the example for an integrated, multicultural society.
NEA president Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once said, “All education springs from some image of the future. If the image of the future held by a society is grossly inaccurate, its education system will betray its youth.”
The image of tomorrow’s classroom will be more diverse than ever. Multiculturalism is unquestionably merging its way into today’s classroom curriculum. For teachers living in major metropolitan areas, multiculturalism is no longer an issue for debate. Multiculturalism is now an everyday fact of life.
As a 30-year classroom veteran, I’ve seen firsthand the benefits for students who work with others of different ethnic backgrounds. Racial diversity in classrooms helps all students gain skills that are useful in the workplace and in life, such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and understanding different points of view.
Yet as public schools become more diverse, demands will increase to find the most effective ways to help all students succeed academically. This means that teachers will be faced with the challenge of making lesson plans culturally relevant, and all educators will be faced with the challenge of integrating diverse cultures into the curriculum and school programs.
NEA fully welcomes, values, and will adapt to this transformation of America’s public school classrooms. In our view, diversity is our greatest strength, and it is a power we must use to face a changing world.
Special Education Teacher As a 30-year veteran teacher, I view the future of special education with mixed feelings. No Child Left Behind and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act have helped and hindered students with disabilities at the same time. More scrutiny has been given to decreasing the achievement gap among students with disabilities because of requirements under the laws, which for some students has been a blessing. Yet the stringent rules for accountability for testing special education students and the manner in which the regulations for highly qualified special education teachers have been implemented are causing stressors upon public education that will take years to recover from.
Many of my special education colleagues are frustrated by one-size-fits-all testing requirements that do not meet the needs of their students. General educators in inclusion classes are equally frustrated as they focus more on the data that we need to meet test requirements rather than the enriched curriculum that would be more beneficial to all students.
We must continue to fight for the students we teach, and for future teachers to have a professional career that is rewarding and satisfying.
Professor/Activist In coming years, the achievement gap—the predictable disparities in student achievement that correspond closely with the race and class backgrounds of students—will continue to present one of the greatest challenges to the public education system. Although these disparities in test scores, grades, graduation rates, and college attendance rates (typically explained by racist notions of Black inferiority) have been common for a long time, we are nonetheless seeing a small number of schools where poor children of color are achieving at very high levels. These schools benefit from high levels of parental involvement, high academic standards, and strong leadership from the staff.
Of all factors motivating students of color, teacher efficacy ranks the highest. The importance of teachers in reducing racial disparities in achievement, in encouraging a greater number of students to stay in school and become motivated to learn cannot be overstated. Large numbers of students currently have teachers they don’t understand, don’t identify with, don’t trust, and therefore won’t learn from.
Finding high-quality teachers who are willing to work in high-poverty, high-minority communities—never easy—should be one of the public education system’s highest priorities. The belief that we can reduce the historic linkage between race, class, and achievement, with a growing sense of urgency, will help us meet this formidable challenge.
Professor/Author At present, over 40% of all students in our public schools are Latino, African American, Asian American, Native American, and immigrants of other backgrounds. One in five children is from an immigrant family, and most speak a language other than English at home. By 2050, half of our entire population will be people of color, with substantially higher numbers in our schools. Yet while our population is growing in diversity, roughly 89% of teachers are White, monolingual English speakers. Given this reality, we can safely say that multicultural education must be the future of public education in the United States.
Critics still try to dismiss multicultural education as “political correctness,” shallow celebrations of ethnic holidays, or activities to boost students’ self-esteem. Even well-intentioned teachers often limit multicultural education in their classrooms to little more than a “holidays and heroes” approach. Multicultural education should challenge structural inequality, including racism and other biases, through a serious consideration of how school policies and practices, as well as institutional practices such as inequitable school financing and high-stakes testing, get in the way of learning. A comprehensive multicultural education means providing all students with an equitable, high quality education that affirms their identities, creates community with others different from them, and prepares them for lives as productive citizens in a democracy. What could be more essential than this?