Community, schools need to cooperate

A few months ago, Amazon announced that it has plans in the works to increase its delivery speed by employing unmanned drones that can have your order at your door in 30 minutes – or less. Amazon has pulled back the curtain to the future and allowed us a brief glimpse of what is to come.

We live in remarkable times: the future is here. Technologies dreamed up in television shows like ”Star Trek” are everywhere. We carry computers in our pockets and have access to digital credit cards.

I find myself reflecting on the technology so many of us use so casually, and wondering where the next great innovators are, and how we’re preparing them to lead us into the future. It took remarkable foresight and creativity to create the technologies we’ve all come to use and love. Who is the next Steve Jobs? Who will create ”the next big thing?”

It’s no secret that American students are outpaced by about a dozen other countries when it comes to academic proficiency in math and science – the key disciplines required for technological innovation. If we want to continue being on the cutting edge of technology, we need to be equipping a new generation of innovators to do the cutting.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a yearly study that compares the math, science and reading proficiency of 15-year-olds from 65 countries. The PISA was first conducted in 2000, and frankly, American students don’t always do that well. In 2013, American teens ranked ”Average” in reading and science, and below average in math. But before you get excited, ranking average still means we rank behind 10 or so other countries, like Canada, Poland and Japan.

Now, you’re wondering how all of this connects with our region and our city.

Here’s the problem: If our nation’s education system isn’t cutting it when it comes to preparing students for tomorrow, and we’re part of that nation, then our region isn’t preparing our students to be the innovators our region, and our country, needs to continue moving forward.

At this point, one would typically start addressing the education gaps in our local school systems, or maybe identify failures at the level of administration. Across the country, there is a growing discontent with teachers, and a movement to tie their job security to student performance. Some would point to funding, some would point to income inequality, and some would point to the disintegration of the family.

In the end, all of these are enemies of excellence in education, and all need to be addressed. In my mind, increasing excellence in education is everyone’s job, not just the government’s. Because the government – whether federal, state, or local – has been dumping millions into education for decades, and it doesn’t seem to be working too well.

In my mind, this gap can be filled by community organizations that take a holistic approach to education. For example, the United Methodist Community Center does great work with Mahoning Valley students in a variety of ways. Another community organization, Mind, Body and Soul Asset Development Center, exemplifies this holistic approach to assisting students and their families in seeking educational excellence. Their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program is exactly what our community needs. For this, Mind, Body and Soul deserves our admiration.

Programs like STEM, replicated across the region and the nation, could help our students get back in the game. Because the reality is, teachers and administrators can’t do it all. We need to leverage community resources to help build organizations that build students who just might invent something totally crazy – like a thermostat that you can control from far away. Or a driverless vehicle.

Oh, wait. We have that. Well, we’ll have to leave it up to them.

Tennant is a Warren resident. Email him at