America’s Schools Need Upgrade

, Irene Warren, Leave a comment

Veteran educator Tony Wagner presents a cogent argument in his new book entitled, The Global Achievement Gap, in which he argues that American schools, both public and private have missed the mark when it comes to teaching our children the survival skills needed in order to obtain gainful employment. Wagner, who is also the co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education makes no bones about it: change the way we teach our children, or the “net generation,” as he calls them, will be playing second fiddle to that of their foreign counterparts in developing countries, such as India and China, in securing career positions.

In his book, Wagner describes The Global Achievement Gap as a two-fold gap.
Wagner contends, “there are two achievement gaps in our education systems. The first of these—well-documented, widely discussed, and the focus of education reform efforts for the past decade or so—is the gap between the quality of schooling that most middle-class kids get in America and the quality of schooling available for most poor and minority children—and the consequent disparity in results.” “The second one is the global achievement…the gap between what even our best suburban, urban, and rural public schools are teaching and testing versus what all students will need to succeed as learners, workers, and citizens in today’s global knowledge economy.”

Wagner claims that America is failing miserably in its current approach toward providing a quality education for all students nationwide. “As a country, we’ve been striving to close the first achievement gap by bringing our poorest schools up to the standards of our middle-class schools—mainly through increased testing and greater accountability for progress, as measured by the tests,” Wagner pointed out. “However, it has become increasingly clear to me that even in these good schools, students are simply not learning the skills that matter most for the twenty-first century. Our system of public education—our curricula, teaching methods, and the tests we require students to take—were created in a different century for the needs of another era. They are hopelessly outdated.”

Thus, Wagner explained, “the high school graduation rate in the United States—which is about 70 percent of the age cohort—is now well behind that of countries such as Denmark (96 percent), Japan (93 percent), and even Poland (92 percent) and Italy (79 percent).” “Only about a third of U.S. school students graduate ready for college today and the rates are much lower for poor and minority students.”

In addition, Wagner claimed, “sixty-five percent of college professors report that what is taught in high school does not prepare students for college. One reason is that the tests students must take in high school for state-accountability purposes usually measure 9th or 10th grade-level knowledge and skills.” “Primarily multiple-choice assessments, they rarely ask students to explain their reasoning or to apply knowledge to new situations (skills that are critical for success in college), so neither teachers nor students receive useful feedback about college readiness.” In short, Wagner says, “the United States now ranks tenth among industrial nations in the rate of college completion by 25-to 44-year-olds. Students are graduating from both high school and college unprepared for the world of work, and among those who employ young people right out of high school, nearly 50 percent said that their overall preparation was deficient.”

To set the record straight, Wagner offers seven survival skills for making American schools better able to provide a quality education for all children in that they are better prepared to succeed in school, as well as in the real world.

Wagner proposed that educators teach students in ways that they can demonstrate the following:

• “critical thinking and problem solving,”
• “collaboration across networks and leading by influence,”
• “agility and adaptability,”
• “initiative and entrepreneurialism,”
• “effective oral and written communication,”
• “accessing and analyzing information,” and
• “curiosity and imagination,” as a way to prepare students to succeed not only in school but also in the adult world.

Concluding, Wagner explained that “to deal with these challenges and others that will inevitably emerge, we need to ensure that students are differently educated for the future.” “If all students are to acquire the new skills for success in the twenty-first century, the change I describe must be systemic, and it must start in individual living rooms and classrooms, in school PTA and faculty meetings and district central offices. I believe it begins with change of mind and heart—a change that comes about through adults learning together.”

Irene Warren is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.


 

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