Dispatch by Wendy Swire, Swire Solutions for Better Brains!
…90 Days and Counting and What’s Missing from Our Candidates
It is late August in Washington, DC, a season of humid, hot weather with our attention focused on the next 90 days and the Presidential election. It is a four year cycle to which we Washingtonians are well accustomed, with anticipation mounting as November 5th grows closer.
Republican nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama both have plans and well crafted speeches on their respective education policies. Romney focuses on “tying federal funds directly to dramatic reforms that expand parental choice, invest in innovation, and reward teachers for their results instead of their tenure.” While Obama emphasizes reducing teacher layoffs that lead to larger class sizes.
The backdrop of the candidates’ campaign stump speeches on education policy and reform comes amidst growing evidence and worry that our economic growth and future prosperity depend upon what takes place in front of the blackboards or computer in classrooms throughout the country. Here are some sobering examples:
- 7 in 10 US eighth graders still are not considered proficient in science, according to the Department of Education’s latest report card.
- According to CBS News of 39 comparable countries and educational achievement, the United States ranks near the bottom in most subjects. In math, Finland is first followed by South Korea. The United States ranks 25.
William Schweke, of the non-partisan Economic Policy Institute, writes in his book Smart Money: Education and Economic Development, there is a “compelling body of research that links primary and secondary education to economic development and growth. This research … shows that increased investment in health, skills, and knowledge provides future returns to the economy through increases in labor productivity.”
Sure, recent studies from EPI show that “education spending can have a direct, positive impact on the business climate and are critical for achieving a high-value/high-wage economy in the 21st century.” But aren’t both of our Presidential candidates and human capital economists missing the real point? Is it only about school choice and how much money is spent on teachers or classroom size, as our politicians discuss? Don’t the country’s education policy experts (who brief our candidates) need to look at how — in addition to what -- our children are really learning?
With only three months until voting day, I would like to really hear more from neuroscientists and how their work can be incorporated in education policy and campaign rhetoric. What happens to young brains in the classrooms when they are engaged in learning? What are progressive neuroeducators learning from EEG and FMRI research on attention, memory retention and creativity in children? Perhaps when neuroscience knowledge and wisdom on education is incorporated into our politicians’ speeches instead of ROI calculations, we will know that real change is coming.
In the meantime, consider the following neuro-educational trending from applied neuroscience think tank GGI:
“The latest research in cognitive, affective and developmental neuroscience and related ed/psych studies have a lot to tell us about young brain development, learning, creativity and memory retention. For instance, researchers from Northwestern U offer the first “credible review” of studies focus in on spatial memory interventions. (Spatial memory skills are implicated in math, design, engineering and basic navigation of geographic space.) From coast to coast event planners, conference producers and US funding organizations like NSF and NIH bring neuroscientists, neurospsychologists and educators together to recognize the key directions, findings, and applications of neuroscience research.”