If you were given the task of designing a high school to prepare young people to compete in a 21st-century global knowledge and innovation economy, how would it look? The second question is: Why is it necessary to redesign our system of high school education?
The second question is easier to answer than the first. The answer: because our current system of high school education does not work for most of our children. Let me give some examples:
- In international rankings, the United States ranks in the lowest quartile
of countries in math and science achievement for students in the twelfth grade.
- Nationally, the graduation rate for all high school students averages about 70 percent, about 58 percent for Hispanics and about 53 percent
for African-American students.
- In Illinois, just 50 to 60 percent of all eleventh grade students are meeting basic competencies in reading, math and science, as measured
on the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE).
- Locally, 50 to 75 percent of incoming community college students tested need remedial courses in reading, English and math.
- In national surveys, employers report major skill deficiencies of high school graduates in the areas of basic employability skills (i.e. attendance, timeliness, work ethic, etc.), math, science, reading comprehension, problem solving, written communication, character
education and personal responsibility.
In summary, our system of high school education is broken! Our current
system was created in the late 19th century to meet the challenges of the emerging 20th-century industrial economy. This model was designed to prepare the majority of students to work in a low-skilled, 20th-century manufacturing environment. High numbers of dropouts were acceptable; only a handful of students were necessary to go on and complete college education. This small group of elite workers that went on to college included the professionals, managers and leaders.
Today, however, our students compete with, literally, every student
in the world. Eighty percent of all the new jobs in this century will require advanced skills and education beyond high school. In addition, to be successful in a 21st-century global knowledge and innovation economy, students will have to excel in math, science, technology, critical thinking, creativity, teaming and communication skills. While the United States has the best system of higher education
in the world, our high school system is obsolete.
Let me also dispel some myths. Some people think that “my child is doing pretty well.” They may also think that “my child’s high school is a pretty good school.” That’s the problem. If we examine the data, the vast majority of our children cannot compete with the best students internationally. Many of these international students go to school longer than U.S. children and have more rigorous curricula. As a result, many international students will have the equivalent of fourteen years of education in the same time U.S. children complete twelve.
In our next column, we will begin to explore some new models and assumptions for high school education in the twenty-first century. iBi