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The challenges ahead

Public education has been crucial to the success of our nation, but how well will it serve America’s future? Ten challenges will be driving forces in education over the next decade.

1. Keeping current in a changing world. Academically, schools must prepare all students for jobs, cultural changes, and global influences, including those that may not yet even exist. They also must expose students to the common culture, values, and attributes of character that are relevant to the larger world in which they will be expected to function. 

2. Closing the achievement gap. Schools must raise achievement dramatically for students who live in poverty, have limited proficiency in English, have disabilities, or belong to racial minority groups. In communities with a weak tax base but a high concentration of students whose achievement requires high-cost services, this will require additional resources—plus concerted effort by the schools, the local community, and society at large. 

3. Educating a diverse population. By 2020, more than 37 percent of our population will be members of minority groups, and 12 percent will have been born in other countries. Schools must prepare these students for success in the broader American culture and prepare all students for life in an increasingly multicultural and diverse society.  

4. Funding equal and adequate educational opportunity. Districts will require additional funds to replace aging school buildings, integrate technology into the classroom, and support underfunded mandates—including providing extra education and social services so that all students will be academically proficient under the requirements of NCLB.  

5. Providing highly qualified teachers. Districts must respond to high retirement and turnover rates among current teachers, the need to ensure that all teachers are fully qualified to teach specific subjects, changes to state teacher certification requirements as a result of the NCLB, and the need for increased professional development and compensation to attract and retain highly effective teachers— especially in academically challenged schools.  

6. Ensuring students come to school ready to learn. NCLB’s emphasis on accountability for student achievement by third grade will challenge public schools to play a more significant role in ensuring high-quality early education programming—especially for children who need additional support due to developmental needs or educational limitations at home.  

7. Increasing parental involvement. Schools must draw in parents who are not involved in their children’s education. Lack of involvement can have a negative affect on student achievement—especially when parents work long hours, are not functionally literate, do not speak English, or do not have the resources to enrich their child’s education at home.  

8. Responding to parents’ preferences. Parents will continue to desire more choice in what their children are taught, how it is taught, and the quality of student achievement that is produced. Despite possible narrowing in curriculum due to high-stakes testing, schools will face demands for more options to meet specific interests and needs on the one hand, and increased competition from private-sector providers who are far less accountable for results, on the other.  

9. Keeping the nation focused on the importance and purpose of public schools. Given the expansion of private providers of education, the political pressure to use taxpayer dollars to fund them, and the close media scrutiny of public schools, public education advocates must actively communicate the importance and purpose of public education, its record of success, and its preeminent capacity to meet the challenges that lie ahead.  

10. Providing leadership for success. To meet these challenges, school systems must step up to change, hold themselves accountable for the success of all children, and aggressively pursue higher academic performance. 


This essay was written by Michael A. Resnick, associate executive director for advocacy and issues management at the National School Boards Association. It was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2004 issues of NSBA's Policy Research Brief series.

Posted: April 27, 2006

Home > Public education > An American imperative: Public education > The challenges ahead

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