Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What it Will Take to Close the Global Achievement Gap

Professor Tony WagnerTony Wagner serves as Co-Director of the Change Leadership Group (CLG) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education since its inception in 2000. “An initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, He also the author of The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need--And What We Can Do About It and presented this past week to the American Youth Policy Forum..

Wagner’s basic argument is that a global achievement gap exists so that even students attending our best schools fail to meet the expectations that leaders of large firms like Microsoft. Google and Xerox. Everyone in these firms need to communicate with passion, problem solve and collaborate at far higher and more sophisticated levels than ever before. Furthermore today’s tests can tell us almost nothing about who has those skills and who does not. What are some of the components we should look at to improve? Better tests, vastly improved teacher preparation with a greater emphasis on the clinical , more R&D that can point to specific areas concerning how to improve practice are among the key points that need to change. Where do we look for a model? No further than Finland--the highest performing educational system in the world. Wagner is just back from a trip to that country-- a nation he notes that is not entirely homogeneous--20% of the population migrated from other countries.

Finnish system is characterized by :

• Need a Masters Degree to teach
• Finland’s student teachers are better prepared and higher performing than most experienced teachers in the US
• National curriculum standards-local responsibility for implementation
• One third of all high school classes are electives

Wagner advocates—some of the following actions need to be taken:

• students’ have digital portfolios linked to teachers’ portfolios
• Recertification of teachers’ every 5 years
• A National Teachers Academy similar to the National Army, Navy and Airforce Academies—where exemplary teachers demonstrate their skills
• A greater emphasis on R&D to help understand how to teach at these higher levels that are now needed by our society and economy.

Asked what specifically we could do when NCLB is up for reauthorization this year—explore alternatives to the useless tests we now have. Finland he notes employs very few tests.

My questions are now as follows:

  • Do we have the leadership, money and the willingness now to reinvent both assessments so that they truly reflect the 21stcentury skills we need today

  • Can we improve our teacher preparation and form it along Finnish lines?

  • Can we find leaders like Wagner willing to clearly explain the facts to our attention challenged media, policy makers and others that even our best students are not prepared for the global workforce?

  • Can we all acceept that what our students need at this time is something different from what we all endured in the last century--teacher led instruction? Can we finally shift over to student centered engaged learning ?

  • Can we use technology as a key tool --so that all our students from the least academically motivated to the most want to come to school and don't end up as passengers on a bus they don't know why they are on?

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