School Cuts Leave Students Woefully Unprepared

Welcome to the new EdFocus blog site!  This is a source for all things that are related to the need for, journey to, and successes in educational change.  To begin, let me share with you a guest opinion piece I wrote to the Statesman Journal, the newspaper of record in Marion County, Oregon.  And be sure to check in often for more research, news, calls to action, and stories to keep on top of the ongoing endeavor to revive our youth’s economic, academic, and global competitiveness.

School Cuts Leave Students Woefully Unprepared    June 14, 2011

Kris Nielsen

“Many teachers in Salem-Keizer School District continue to wait to hear of their fates. But this letter is about something more socially impacting: student achievement and the future we are creating for America and, even more pressing, for Salem and Keizer.

In the wake of the “Great Recession,” it’s easy to see how taking a few bucks off the teachers and students over the next two years will ensure a more balanced budget in the short term. But what of the longer term, when our graduating classes of 2014 and beyond have only limited skills, which will prevent them from competing locally, much less globally?

To make that point a little more relevant, let me share my biggest concern: technology. As a math teacher in middle school, I am charged with making sure that all my students have the foundations for algebra and geometry conceptually mastered before they enter the high schools. This means our students must move beyond the basic skills and become increasingly proficient in analysis and evaluation (also called “critical thinking”).

In high school, students master the application of these concepts and are then, in theory, ready for employment or college.

Unfortunately, they’re not. Most students in Salem-Keizer have limited access to technology in math and science classes, and that technology is generally limited to the slow, outdated PCs that are shared by the entire school.

The reason this is damaging is that no globally competitive company uses this technology anymore, and our students’ limited access actually hinders their competence in the post-K-12 world.

In fact, most schools still are stuck requiring their math students to use graph paper and pencils — which is a monumental waste of time when we could have technology do the busy work for them, thus opening up opportunities for analysis, change and application. Colleges and employers alike speak to the frustrations of receiving high school graduates who are not ready to begin college or work, because no company uses graph paper and pencils — or even Excel 2003.

The reality is that we are in a downward spiral as we become less and less competitive. The state of Oregon has cut education budgets to bare bones. We are nervous about our economy now, but it’s nothing compared to what the economy will look like in the future as we move our kids through a strangled education system that has few resources to maximize their potential in an increasingly global and technological economy.

Copyright © 2011 http://www.statesmanjournal.com. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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About Kris Nielsen
Kris L. Nielsen has been a middle grades educator and instructional leader for ten years in New Mexico, Oregon, and North Carolina. He is a graduate of Western Governors University’s Master of Science Education program, with emphasis on child development and instructional technology. Kris is an activist against corporate education reforms and has had his writing featured in several online magazines and blogs, including those of the Washington Post and Diane Ravitch. Kris currently lives in New Mexico with his young son and beautiful wife.

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