It all starts with Literacy.

Gallup leader: To improve schools, build on strengths


Most of the talk about American education has it backwards.

We are way spending too much time and attention focusing on the negative.  If we want to move our schools forward, we have to start playing to our strengths.

So says the head of Gallup’s education work, Brandon Busteed.

“Gallup has spent decades studying the behaviors of the most successful Americans,” Busteed writes in the Huffington Post.

“Among our biggest findings is this: No one ever became successful trying to fix his or her weaknesses. In fact, successful people do the exact opposite; they spend their time building their strengths, trying to become great where they are already good.”

Gallup has found that confidence in America’s public schools is at an all-time low of 29 percent in 2012, a plunge from the high of 58 percent in 1973.

Americans used to talk about their schools as the best in the world, and with good reason, Busteed writes. But now we focus more on the system’s weaknesses, criticizing teachers, pointing to gaps in test scores, complaining about scant resources.

It’s gotten so bad that we have popularized a term for what we’re doing right now, calling it an “education reform movement.” Reform may be one of the least inspiring and least motivating words in the English language. And we’ve attached it to our education system.

What should we do instead?

We need to spend every moment of our time focusing on — and replicating — what makes our schools and colleges great. For example, the best teachers are great at seeing each and every student as unique, getting to know him or her, and caring about what makes each learner tick. They build relationships with their students and their students’ families and communities.

Nothing about standardized testing, for example, enables that. And yet, all of our focus on fixing education in the U.S. today revolves around standardized testing and trying to fill students’ knowledge deficits.

Busteed points out that Gallup polls show that only 1 percent of Americans give public schools a grade of A. But when asked to grade the school their oldest child attends, 37 percent give those schools an A.

“This disparity has amazingly helpful and hopeful implications,” he says. “When we know our schools and our teachers, we like them because we are able to see all that is good about them. When we think about education more generally, we tend to focus on what we’ve heard about what’s wrong.”

As an example, Busteed takes a look at New Technology High School in Napa, Calif. It’s a place that puts the emphasis on technology and project-based learning. Teachers make the effort to find out a student’s strengths and passions, then assign students to teams to work on projects meant to get the most out of those attributes.

“We each have a unique set of talents,” Busteed writes. “America is strong in more than 311 million ways. Let’s not try to fix weaknesses. We are allowing weaknesses to get in the way of our strengths. The second we start thinking of America as a strengths-based nation is the second we start winning again.”

Read Busteed’s refreshing essay here.


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