Harvard professor speaks on education reform

The Harvard Club of Northern Nevada and the Sierra recently hosted Professor Paul Peterson at the Montreux Golf and Country Club. Professor Peterson presented to local Ivy League alumni and educators on the perilous state of American education and what c

Reno, NV; June 14, 2013.  Harvard and other Ivy League alumni, along with community education leaders, attended a presentation on education reform conducted by Professor Paul Peterson, Harvard’s Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government and Director of the University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance.

“The Harvard Alumni Association makes speakers available to local alumni groups,” explains Jacqueline Leppla, president of the Harvard Club of Northern Nevada and the Sierra.  “We recognize that education is a particularly important topic in our community and wanted to invite an expert in the field to lead an important discussion.”

Professor Peterson is a member of the independent review panel advising the Department of Education’s evaluation of the No Child Left Behind law. Research demonstrates that U.S. students trail their counterparts in many other developed nations in terms of the percentage of students performing at or above the advanced level in science and math.  A regression analysis shows a strong correlation between math test scores and long-term economic growth.  Significant improvements in per capita gross domestic product (GDP) are projected if U.S. students can achieve at the level of those in Germany, Canada or Singapore.

During his speech entitled, “The Perilous State of American Education (and what we can do about it),” the professor noted that digital education may provide the customized instruction needed to make necessary gains.  “The point is not that digital learning today is terrific,” explains Peterson, “but that it has tremendous potential.”  

In order for virtual leaning to succeed, Professor Peterson recommends an environment that includes transparency, accountability, flexibility and competition.  He advocates balanced learning systems that incorporate digital components which allow educators to customize instruction for individual students.

“Change is likely to occur first in higher education rather than in secondary education,” predicts Peterson.  “School districts face less competition than colleges and universities do.  We need to find ways of giving students and parents as much choice in secondary education as is provided in higher education.”

Professor Peterson correlated potential changes in education to drivers that are commonly used to describe the market effects of capitalism; he pointed out that “disruptive technologies” are likely to be a necessary part of the process and that digital educational tools may only become prevalent once the appropriate price-point is achieved.  

The professor fielded questions from alumni and educators at the conclusion of his presentation.  “The discussion between audience members and the professor was very engaging,” said Pedro Martinez, superintendent, Washoe County School District.  “This dialogue was an extremely important part of the evening.”

Professor Peterson is an author or editor of over 30 books, four of which have been identified as the best work in their field by the American Political Science Association.  Of particular interest to attendees:  his upcoming book, Endangering Prosperity (which will be out in September) and Saving Schools (published in 2010).