Skip to main content

Expert Weighs In on the State of US Education

Amanda Datnow ’90 discusses the benefits of educating the whole child.

A woman standing outside
Amanda Datnow ’90 believes partnerships between educators and researchers can inform positive change in K-12 education. Photo: Donna Coleman

Published Date

Article Content

This article originally appeared in the spring 2024 issue of UC San Diego Magazine as “The State of Education.”

Amanda Datnow ’90, Chancellor’s Assoc­iates Endowed Chair in Education Studies and associate dean of the School of Social Sciences at UC San Diego, is deeply committed to making positive changes to K-12 education. She shares her thoughts on the state of education in the United States today, the benefits of “research–practice partnerships” and what it means (and why it is important) to educate the whole child.

1. Is the U.S. system of education in good shape or bad shape? 

There are wonderful aspects of our education system and some very promising innovations underway. At the same time, some elements need a great deal of work — notably how we deliver on our promise to serve all students well. Despite a variety of efforts, students in our schools have vastly different types of educational experiences. Some have access to top-notch teaching and learning, incredible resources and socioemotional support at school, while others don’t. One of the most pressing issues in education is how to close these opportunity gaps. 

2. What needs to change in terms of teaching and learning?

Learning is a social process. Traditional methods of teaching, where the student is sitting as a passive recipient, are not the most effective way to teach the capacities we most need today — such as critical thinking, problem-solving and collaboration. We want to inspire lifelong learners. How do we do that? I’m certain we don’t do it through a focus on narrow educational goals. We have to find a way for education to connect to students’ sense of purpose. We’re seeing a shift toward student-centered learning. There is some very exciting work happening in this domain — classrooms where students have a meaningful voice in shaping their education and addressing real-world problems.

3. You have written about educating the whole child. Why is that important? 

Children bring their full selves into school. We’re not just educating their cognitive dimensions and their academic skill set, we’re also preparing them to be important contributing members of society. Schools don’t just teach students content; they also teach them ways of thinking, solving problems and working with one another. So, if we don’t think about the whole child, we miss an opportunity to connect education to that child’s own purpose, sense of self and sense of learning in the world.

4. How can a university play a role in improving education?

I think one solution is to develop research-practice partnerships like what we have locally with the Vista Unified School District (see pg. 24). When you have researchers and practitioners working together to engage in research that addresses pressing issues in schools, we have an opportunity to close the gap between research and practice and support evidence-informed school improvements. We can also pivot our work to address new issues that are popping up. 

5. What are next steps we should take as a society? 

In U.S. education, we often tend to think that all the knowledge we need is probably here inside our country. But I think there’s value in doing comparative studies and looking for ideas outside our borders, as there is a great deal of innovation happening elsewhere as well. A global perspective can help us both gain a better understanding of important trends and issues in education and free up our minds on how we might do things.

This article originally appeared in the spring 2024 issue of UC San Diego Magazine as “The State of Education.”

Topics covered:

Share This:

Category navigation with Social links