Are We REALLY Preparing Kids for the Global Economy?

I spent some time this morning reading through the Washington Post ‘manifesto’ written by Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein and their teacher-bashing buddies.

Like most of the work being created by the well-funded uber-reformists who are driving conversations on education in America today, this bit was full of half-truths and outright lies.

Perhaps most disconcerting was the assertion that “the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher.”

That’s simply not true, and every one of the 16 “educators, superintendents, chief executives and chancellors responsible for educating nearly 2 1/2 million students in America” that signed the WaPo Manifesto knows it.

Thankfully, voices on education are starting to call ‘em on it time and time and time again.

The truth is that factors in a student’s life beyond school are 3 to 4 times more influential than teacher quality in determining just how successful a child will be in school.

What caught me by surprise in the WaPo Manifesto though, was this statement:

“But the transformative changes needed to truly prepare our kids for the 21st-century global economy simply will not happen unless we first shed some of the entrenched practices that have held back our education system, practices that have long favored adults, not children.”

The fact of the matter is the kinds of reforms Michelle and company—which all seem to begin and end with rewarding or punishing teachers for scores on standardized tests—are doing little to ‘prepare our kids for the 21st-century global economy.

Here’s why:  Success in tomorrow’s knowledge-based world depends on innovative thinking and collaboration.  It depends on finding connections across domains and understanding what global issues look like through the lens of international neighbors.

It depends on the ability to generate creative solutions to problems.  It depends on understanding the kinds of cultural factors influencing the choices made by other nations.  It depends on being able to persuade in a world where influence is easier to generate and where minds are buried in thousands of messages.

The problem is that the tests Michelle and company have built their reforms around don’t measure any of these skills.  Instead, they’re focused on the kinds of low level thinking that can be easily assessed in 60-question multiple choice exams.

And that carries real consequences in our classrooms.  I rarely spend time engaging my students in deep and meaningful conversations anymore because the skills my students develop in those conversations aren’t tested.

I haven’t taught my current students anything about using visual images and video messages to persuade because the skills my students develop in those activities aren’t tested.

I stopped working to develop collaborative digital projects between my students and students in other nations because the skills my students develop in those activities aren’t tested.

Instead, we’re simply grinding through a massive curriculum memorizing the basic facts that are likely to be on the mini-assessments we take every three weeks.  We might be prepared to pass Michelle’s silly exams this June, but we’re certainly not going to be prepared to participate in the 21st-century global economy.

And don’t let ‘em tell you otherwise.

5 thoughts on “Are We REALLY Preparing Kids for the Global Economy?

  1. Bill Ferriter

    K. Borden wrote:
    We don’t agree on many issues, but we agree on some. If we could even begin to build some reforms on the areas where agreement does exists, maybe there is hope.
    Here’s the thing, K: The current leaders of the ed reform movement—the folks I’ve been lambasting in my recent entries—aren’t interested in looking at areas of agreement or in building any kind of consensus on practices that may work.
    Instead, they’re content to use their positions, their connections and lots of cold hard cash to steamroll their ideas—many of which will do more harm to our children than they will good—-across the American school system.
    Need proof?
    Then consider the fact that the Gates Foundation is spending $2 million simply to promote Waiting for Superman:
    That’s not conversation starting. That’s using cash to shout louder than anyone who disagrees with you.
    Take a look at this definition of propoganda:
    Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented.
    The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political agenda.
    Now, tell me how the current work of people like Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates, NBC and Oprah varies from this definition?
    They’re presenting carefully selected facts. They’re completely omitting opposing voices from their conversations. They’re pushing a political agenda.
    There’s nothing good about that—and maybe I’d work to be more of a consensus builder if I actually believed that my voice had a chance of being heard.
    I’m honestly beyond frightened for our public schools.
    And that’s sad.

  2. Charlie A. Roy

    @ Bill
    Well said. Perhaps we need a coordinated effort to come up with assessments that actually show growth in critical thinking and collaborative problem solving. I’m aware of an assessment for critical thinking but not the latter. If what matters is measured and what is measured is where the learning focus exists then why not move our assessment sights to something meaningful?

  3. K. Borden

    Mr. Ferriter:
    I am struggling with your posts over the last several months. I know from reading your blog for a while now you fundamentally agree with the need to reform the way teachers are hired, evaluated, compensated and retention decisions are made. You agree with Michelle Rhee and others speaking out now that seniority cannot continue to be the determinate in how teachers are evaluated, but you don’t say that anymore.
    Why not link the recommendation you and the others at TLN worked on as an alternative to what is being currently set forward for teacher evaluation/compensation/retention?
    I also recall that you see value in performance testing and data, although you take issue with how it is used and evaluated.
    I am fairly confident you would agree with the statement “By better using technology to collect data on student learning and shape individualized instruction, we can help transform our classrooms and lessen the burden on teacher’s time.” I also feel confident that you would agree with the statement “To make this transformation work, we must also eliminate arcane rules such as “seat time”, which requires a student to spend a specific amount of time in a classroom with a teacher rather taking advantage of online lessons and other programs.”
    We don’t agree on many issues, but we agree on some. If we could even begin to build some reforms on the areas where agreement does exists, maybe there is hope.

  4. Derron

    I fully agree that those skills (innovative thinking, collaboration, ability to generate creative solutions, etc…) are important and are not being taught, but the problem is that students are not developing the skill set needed to develop those skills. If you can’t find the main idea of a story, how will you see through someone else’s eyes? Or persuade when you have trouble putting your thoughts into words? Michelle’s tests maybe basic but we need that first.

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