We’re Still a Nation at Risk

The upheaval of the 1960’s with the civil rights and anit-war movements preceded a decade ushering in a recession.  All of which exposed two endemic concerns for the United States: Structural educational inequality which disproportionately impacted people of color. Students being unprepared to contribute to a rapidly changing, more competitive economy.  The fear that these problems were only getting worse prompted the landmark report:  “A Nation at Risk.”

The report detailed for the American public that its schools were in crisis. Without major educational reform, our economy would falter and most likely spiral downward. It foresaw dire societal consequences eroding the overall welfare of our nation. Fifty years later the overarching question remains: have we improved the educational opportunities for all students?

It Just Isn’t Working: PISA Test Scores Cast Doubt on U.S. Education Efforts was recently published in the New York Times. Dan Goldstein asserted that despite billions of dollars in spending, two-thirds of American students are not proficient in reading. This illustrates the need for a different, more comprehensive and effective approach to help all children succeed. The chart above provides insight into a broken system — although some would argue that the system (as created by/for the White majority) is producing the intended results. 

Too often, the response from educators and politicians when confronted with these alarming statistics have been to deflect the issue. However, the numbers don’t lie. Further dis-aggregation of the data from the chart above highlights persistent inequalities. For example, only 79% of Black students and 74% of American Indians will graduate from high school this year. That is approximately 10% to 15% below the graduation rate of White students.

Numerous attempts have been made to reinvent our schools with the goal of achieving new levels of systemic excellence.  Unfortunately, these efforts — however well intentioned — have not produced the desired results. They clearly have fallen short of being sustainable, replicable, or scalable.  Although a few isolated improvements in student achievement have been documented, the vast majority of schools have not significantly changed. As a result, too many students still don’t graduate. Or they graduate with inadequate 21st Century skills to prepare them for future success.   

Blaming the victim or offering various tired excuses will no longer work. We must build a better “New Normal.”  

Our Students Deserve Better

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has been described as a pandemic layered on top of several epidemics. This includes structural economic racism rooted in poverty and the resulting inadequate educational opportunities at school, or in the home. As a former School Counselor/ Psychologist, I’ve seen firsthand the impact of this ongoing crisis.  My training emphasized preventing these problems by addressing the social-emotional needs of all students. With early intervention, learning can become more engaging and relevant. 

Many reforms are needed including better tools/systems to focus on the learners — rather than the adults in the system. The foundation for this remedy is personalized counseling/guidance services. Since I left this rewarding profession (to start an EdTech Company), the problem has gotten even worse. The national average currently is one counselor to eight hundred-eighty students. This results in only thirty-eight minutes of “counseling” per student during their four years of High School. That’s a paltry less than 10 minutes per year.

Consequently, the EdTech marketplace is full of “transactional systems” designed to reduce administrative functions (e.g. completing the college application process).  Uncovering each student’s unique purpose/passion becomes the means of connecting their schoolwork to the world-of-work.  By taking this first critical step, the educational process will become more relevant and engaging to give all students the opportunity to optimize their full potential.  This will also help close the skills gap we are currently facing, which is imperative.  

Trying to educate without a holistic/personalized approach is like throwing seeds onto the concrete and hoping something will grow.  It’s been too easy for some educators to focus solely on “teaching” the curricula without knowing if students are actually learning. We must take advantage of apps/systems and other state-of-the-art technologies to improve educational efficacy by measuring learning outcomes. Measuring access to education (funding solely based on attendance) is no longer acceptable. Rather, we must commit to personalizing the learning process centered on each student’s unique attributes and measuring the outcomes

Our students deserve better. This is a critical issue that must be addressed. It begins by personalizing the educational process and learning opportunities for all students.

Personalizing Education is Overdue

The case supporting personalized learning is strong with research spanning at least four decades.  The benefit of offering students learning opportunities at an instructionally “ideal” pace (on a learning path that builds new knowledge on prior knowledge) compatible with an individual’s learning attributes is widely accepted. It is imperative to maximize the learning potential of each individual as a means of sustaining fairness, equality, and equity in society.

Personalized learning is more critical now than ever. To be “learner-centric” as a means of optimizing the potential of all students, the educational process must first identify the social-emotional attributes of each individual. Then effectively incorporate these into every aspect of the educational process.  Additionally, personalized learning can increase academic success and college or career readiness when:

  1. Students are actively (and interactively) engaged in planning their own learning experiences
  2. Students have the flexibility to pursue individual academic and career interests
  3. Students can learn and progress through content at their own pace
  4. Students are supported at home and in the broader community in reaching their goals”

It’s ridiculous to think of giving every student the same sized shoes to wear each school year, resulting in only a few having the right fit. But that’s exactly what we attempt to do with the learning process: Teaching to the middle and assuming that all have the same learning style, rather than allowing each learner to proceed at their own pace and take their own path to maximize their learning.     

Journeys Map is a learner-centric platform. It is designed to create personalized and highly relevant pathways/ journeys based on individual interests, strengths and skills. This information allows educators to put the learner at the center of the educational process. The personalization process allows educators to gain insight into their students to build on “what’s strong, not what’s wrong”. This approach will help optimize the full potential of every child — that starts with identifying their purpose and passion.  As a result, the academic focus can be directed toward what problems they want to solve, building on their strengths and ultimately cultivating their calling


Clayton Hoyle

D. Clayton Hoyle currently serves on a number of Advisory Boards, including DreamSmart Academy, with responsibilities primarily focused on growth and value-add strategies. Clayton received his bachelor’s degree from California State University, Chico (CSUC) and earned School Counseling credential as well as completed their School Psychology practicum.  After graduating, he accepted a professorship position at National University, San Diego. During his tenure at National University, Clayton completed their MBA program while holding a wide range of administrative positions. Responding to the urgent need to improve K-12 education, Clayton created EDmin Open Systems and served as Co-Founder and President. His leadership and vision of providing better tools/ systems for educators in general and counseling/ guidance professionals in particular was instrumental in the creation of Journeys to ensure that every learner is college AND career ready.

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