Every few weeks we read stories about the failure of our schools and colleges. They point to our poor international rankings, low tests scores and graduation rates, high tuition, and the problems businesses have in finding skilled employees.
The stories are accurate: In a world where education is critical to personal, professional and civic success, too few of our students are receiving the education they need and deserve.
The stories also reflect public opinion: According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Group, two thirds of the public say that our education system needs to be completely rebuilt or that it requires major changes.
Unfortunately, many of these stories fall short in two important respects.
One, they fail to mention many schools and colleges are going great work: run by great educators producing great students. A case in point: Our colleges and universities are the envy of the rest of the world. In 2012, more than 800,000 foreign students were registered in our higher education institutions, a 7 percent increase over 2011. Why is it important to point to examples of this kind? Because it shows that we have the models upon which to base real school reform.
Two, they too seldom delve into the complexity of the problems or the kinds of commitment required to remedy the situation. And without these added components, we fall into the blame game: Our schools' problems would be solved if only teachers or students or parents or school administrators would try harder, be smarter or be less selfish.
So let's broaden the conversation. Let's describe parts of the educational landscape.
• The sheer size of the system makes movement a daunting process. In K-12, we have 132,000 schools, 55 million students, and 3.2 million teachers. In higher education, we have 7,000 colleges and universities, 29 million students, and 1.7 million instructional staff.