Learning to Learn: The Best Strategy for Overall Student Achievement
Education is at both a crisis and a crossroads. Federal demands for accountability, diminished state and local funding, and declining student academic success have converged to create an education crisis in the United States. Calling education a "national responsibility and a local responsibility," President George W. Bush's bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act highlights academic achievement for all students, placing accountability on the school, district and state in which they reside.
State and local funding for schools is decreasing. And according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, budget projections for 2004 are dismal, with more than 30 states projecting education cutbacks for the 2003-2004 school year. These cutbacks will result in increased class sizes and eliminated teacher positions. According to the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 82% of our nation's 12th-graders performed below the proficient level on the science test. It also showed that only a third of our fourth-graders are able to read at a proficient level, with minority students lagging even further behind.
There are many solutions vying for attention and funding during this crisis. The challenge is to focus resources on the most effective strategies; to choose what will really make a difference. Learning to learn - helping students develop thinking skills, learning skills and, most importantly, a passion for learning - is the solution that will have the most long-term and widespread impact. To implement this strategy, students need appropriate resources and tools. In addition, teachers must have access to excellent training and ongoing professional development to ensure that they are equipped with content knowledge, as well as great instruction and communication skills.
Students must graduate from high school with a core knowledge of facts, figures and formulas. However, the most important skill that we can teach students is how to think, learn and be engaged in learning. To effectively capitalize on teaching resources and maximize the investment in learning resources and technology, schools need to invest in software, as well as in other learning tools and methodologies that can be used across the curriculum and applied to multiple subjects.
Education delivery systems must take into consideration the various learning styles of students and individually help them determine the ways in which they best learn. Visual thinking and learning techniques must be employed to help students clarify thinking, learn difficult concepts, assimilate information and communicate what they have learned. Organizing and planning tools and techniques must be available to help students structure their work and evaluate information. These are the skills and tools for teaching students to learn. Not only will they help students build the important skills that they need to be academically successful, but they will also serve students as they move into the workforce and into a society that requires continuous learning in order to be successful.
To create an environment for learning success, we must also support our schools' most valuable resource: classroom teachers. Without qualified, technology proficient, innovative teachers in the classroom, our investment in other educational resources (e.g., computers, productivity software, textbooks, school buildings) has little value. Resources must be allocated to ensure that instructional staff members are fully qualified in the subject areas they teach, and are knowledgeable and skilled in today's most effective teaching strategies. We need to guarantee that they have sufficient resources and release time for ongoing professional development. In addition, we must assure that their class sizes are manageable, and that they have the time and support to individualize learning for their students.
The current crisis puts us at a crossroads that will determine whether we, as a society, support our education system by investing its limited resources in ways that will create academic achievement for all students, as well as prepare students for work and life in the 21st century. When I talk with educators, it is obvious that they support NCLB from a philosophical standpoint. They are committed to making sure that all students graduate with the skills they need to be successful, including the ability to think critically and evaluate information.
As a nation, we must fund the primary objective of education by focusing available resources on the most effective strategies. We must invest in qualified teachers and in classroom learning tools that help students build lifelong skills for thinking and learning, as well as a love for that learning. That is the only way that we will ensure that no child is left behind.
This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.