Throughout my career, I have maintained one constant, overriding belief: Education is the ultimate equalizer, and the surest route out of poverty. Yet, our school system continues to fail students whose talents lie outside of the traditional academic sphere.
As an experienced teacher, principal, and CEO, I have had the pleasure of working with countless creative children, innovative learners, and great problem-solvers. But too often, these talents have been overlooked. So, many of our young people are leaving school, feeling as if they have failed, when, in a more appropriate environment, they would have stood a far better chance of realizing their full potential.
Today’s one-size-fits-all system is sorely lacking in cultural responsiveness. By establishing a classroom environment more focused on passing tests than developing real-world skills, the educational establishment is harming urban education.
Instead, schools should offer a varied curriculum, which caters to students who have a range of interests, including those whose needs are not met by a traditional academic program. As a starting point, we must seek to build broader character development into the curriculum by integrating entrepreneurial and leadership skills into day-to-day study.
Doing so would not require a significant overhaul of existing practices, nor would it demand additional resources. Math can be taught through practical accounting lessons, just as English can be studied by analyzing the speeches of CEOs and world leaders.
Prepare Students for Real Life
The choice of extracurricular activities available to students could be widened to include business clubs and internship programs, staffed by community volunteers. If educators are prepared to incorporate these practical considerations into the curriculum, tomorrow’s students will have a far better chance of creating successful businesses capable of competing globally in an era of hyperconnectivity.
Jumping through the academic hoops of one exam after another is not the hallmark of a successful education; rather, young people should be leaving school equipped with the lifelong skills needed to flourish in the real world. We have been failing urban and rural schools in this regard for decades, with untold consequences.
If we stand any chance of improving our schools, fighting inequality, and positioning young Americans at the forefront of the global business world, we must start by ensuring that we are delivering a practical and forward-looking education for all.
This article was written by Susan Lawyer Willis, an education policy thought leader and practitioner. She is the founder and CEO of TransformED Leadership, and Chair of Education for ALL.