Juan Williams: Fixing Our Schools — Here are Solutions That Work

By Juan Williams
Juan Williams is an American journalist and political analyst for Fox News Channel. He also writes for several newspapers including The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal

“Waiting for Superman,” “The Cartel,” and “The Lottery” are among the best known of documentaries, books and news stories sounding the alarm about the failures of America’s public schools.

But where are the stories, the documentaries about the solutions?

On August 19. 2012, I hosted the documentary, “Fox News Reporting: Fixing Our Schools”, on Fox News Channel. For more information, visit foxnews.com/specials.

As a new school year begins, this documentary featured happy students and inspired teachers. The students are learning, getting good test scores and look ready to take the next step forward in their lives. The teachers are excited by their success with students.

The documentary reveals how the answer to troubled schools is allowing teachers to teach to one child, catering to the student’s strengths and weakness with the help of computers.

Watch the latest video at video.latino.foxnews.com. The results are evident in dramatic improvements in student performance in several schools nationwide. From the “Carpe Diem” school in Yuma, Arizona to the “School of One” in New York City and the Mooresville school district in North Carolina, pilot programs using “Digital Learning” have reported a marked increase in student performance and sharp decline in drop-outs.

FNC Special – “Fixing Our Schools” from iNACOL on Vimeo.

The key is making learning materials from texts, tests and even assignments available electronically. That allows the students, their parents and teachers to track a student’s performance in real time.

It enables teachers and parents to identify a student who is falling behind and give that young person extra help, specifically tailored to get them back on track and moving up.

It also allows teachers to reward the best students. Top students no longer have to wait for students who are struggling before the class can move ahead. Instead, with customized or “Digital Learning”, teachers can challenge the best students to achieve their full potential with advanced coursework.

But more importantly, in each of the schools we visited, I noticed high student morale. I saw happy children with a positive attitude towards learning who seemed genuinely glad to be at their schools. In some cases the infamous ‘Achievement Gap,’ between minority students and white students was eliminated with the help of “Digital Learning.”

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has been one of the leading intellectual architects of education reform. He made digital learning a cornerstone of the “Florida Formula,” his educational policy during his time as governor.

“There are new technologies to make it easier, perhaps, to have an accurate assessment. There’s movement to make it so one test won’t be the end-all and be-all. There’s a way to test now that if you’ve mastered the information, you can move on to the next information, so we’re not holding kids back” he said.

“Given the technological advancements, [opposition to] testing, I think, will be less of a political tool by those that resist change” he added.

In an interview for “Fixing Our Schools,” Michael Horn, co-author of the book “Disrupting Class,” points to the large number of remedial classes in even the best colleges for students that have graduated from high school but failed to learn the basics of writing and math.
The answer, Horn argues, is the combination of good teachers and technology – “Digital Learning.”

“It’s the Swiss Cheese problem – that’s what we call it in education,” said Horn. “They [students] move on even though they have big holes in their understanding. If you customize [curriculums for each student by using computers] and allow them only to move on once they’ve actually mastered something…whether it is through projects, lectures [computer programs] you give them a chance to actually succeed…this is what every child needs so they can succeed in the 21st century economy.”

Out of 65 countries around the world measured by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), students in the United States ranked 30th in Math, 23rd in Science, and 17th in Literacy.

Civic and political leaders — most recently former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York City Public Schools Chancellor Joel Klein — are pointing to the decline of public education as a threat to America’s national security – with so many students failing to qualify for the military or diplomatic corps. And schools that fail to prepare students to be capable works as well as innovative thinkers are also challenge to America’s global economic competitiveness.

Talk of the need for overhauling our school—“No Child Left Behind” to “Race to the Top,” — has gone on for too long with too little result. Generations of American children have grown up and lost their way while unions, politicians and foundations have talked, thrown around money and failed to make any big change.

One million students drop out of American public schools every year. Thirty percent of all American high school students drop out and never graduate. For black and Hispanic students, the number is above fifty percent.

When the tragic scale of damage to minority communities is considered, the education crisis has rightly been called the “greatest civil rights challenge of the 21st century.”

My main take-away from reporting for this documentary is that “Digital Learning” shows tremendous promise as an immediate solution for helping American students to succeed immediately.

And it helps America’s teachers, parents, students, employers and political leaders regain their trust and enthusiasm for our public schools.

As Joel Klein, the former Chancellor of New York City Public Schools who now works for News Corp. [the parent company of Fox News Channel] told me, the computer revolution has touched every part of our lives but our schools.

“I think about how different the world is today in terms of the media, in terms of medicine, in terms of the way people really experience their lives,” Klein said. “But education is stuck in a 19th-century model. So I’m convinced that we can change the way we educate our kids.
“Use technology not [just] by giving a kid a computer but by really improving instruction, by helping teachers do their work in a much more effective way” he added.

3 thoughts on “Juan Williams: Fixing Our Schools — Here are Solutions That Work

  1. Digital learning or customizing education to minimize achievement gaps is very effective and very ideal, but given the situation in the Philippines such solution is too far-fetched.

    • Given the enormous expense of adding two more years of secondary education under K to 12, why don’t we instead just improve the current K to 10 by investing in the technological infrastructure that will make it possible to implement blended/digital learning as in the Carpe Diem example. The government should take the money that would otherwise be used for the additional 2 years of high school and invest it in (1) a speedy delivery system for digital learning, (2) retraining and/or reorienting teachers in the transition to digital learning to ensure that the goal of mastery learning is attained with built-in assessment methods, and (3) guarantee a low-interest micro-financing program through established and reputable banks that would make it possible for needy parents to lease or purchase the needed laptop computers or tablets for their children under K to 10. With the glut in intuitive educational apps–most of them with built-in assessment schemes to ensure subject mastery–now available for tablets such as iPads, as well as laptops, children from kindergarten to high school will find it easy to make the adjustment to digital learning. And as touted in most of the studies, such as richly described in Lee Sheldon’s book, “The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game”, children who go through the new blended/digital learning program are “engaged” learners motivated to raise their grades and even improve their attendance.

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