A Publication of WTVP

A national study of high school dropouts (The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts) listed the number-one reason students drop out of high school as: classes were not interesting. When students don’t complete high school, the societal costs are staggering. Studies show dropouts are far more likely to receive government assistance, serve time in prison, be unemployed and live a less healthy lifestyle. While there are obviously a variety of factors that determine whether a student drops out or stays in school, it seems to me that we do have the ability to address the number-one issue students cited.

Business leaders would seem to concur that this is needed. Tony Wagner opens his 2008 book, 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, by recalling a conversation he had with a corporate CEO/engineer with whom he shared a flight. Wagner asked this gentleman what qualities and abilities he most seeks in prospective employees. The answer was quite simple: He seeks employees who are able to ask good questions and possess the ability to engage in meaningful give-and-take discussions. The CEO commented, “We can’t teach them how to think.” He emphasized the importance of these skills to work as part of a team and be in touch with the needs of his customer base.

Students learn and enjoy the educational process far more when they are challenged to apply the knowledge and skills they are learning in practical, relevant ways. One of my favorite lessons as a classroom teacher involved having students create and develop their own business plans. This activity applies relevance—through a relationship in a business they are interested in—to a variety of important concepts and skills our future workforce must possess. Furthermore, it opens the door for the type of Q&A/critical thinking dialogue that is often missing in our “standards-driven” curriculum.

Wagner and others decry the inadequacy of high-stakes standardized testing as a measure of success in our schools. In fact, Wagner is painfully blunt on page 114 of the Global Achievement Gap, stating, “Schools haven’t changed; the world has. And so schools are not failing. Rather, they are obsolete—even the ones that score the best on standardized tests.”

The 2009 book, Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization, by Yong Zhao states, “Education built on test scores can be harmful to students and their respective countries.” Zhao set out to write a book on education in China and ended up writing a book on the American educational system instead. Ironically, as China moves to de-emphasize test scores and places a new emphasis on communication and critical thinking skills, America is moving in the opposite direction. Zhao contends that we are moving away from the educational system that has provided us the global edge in critical thinking and problem solving as they relate to inventions, ingenuity and economic success as a nation. I would contend that this corresponds with a de-emphasis on career and tech education, and a move toward emphasizing core curriculum.

Another stark contrast between the Chinese and American systems is the wide chasm in collegiate opportunities. Catching Up or Leading the Way points out, “In 1999, China changed its education system to be more like U.S. public schools and set the goal of sending 15 percent of its students to college in 2010.” According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 68.6 percent of the 2008 U.S. high school graduates enrolled to take college course work. This is an interesting contrast for a number of reasons and worthy of more time in a future article. Indeed, the winter 2009-2010 issue of the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that 27 percent of our workforce in the next decade will need an associate’s degree or higher.

» 7 Survival Skills: The Competencies Workers Need and Schools Don’t (Adequately) Teach

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  3. Agility and adaptability
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurialism
  5. Effective oral and written communication
  6. Accessing and analyzing information
  7. Curiosity and imagination

Source: Tony Wagner, 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.

The books referenced and statistics highlighted fly in the face of conventional wisdom in current school structure and among those setting educational policy. I realize this and feel compelled to restate the assertion I made in previous articles I have written for this magazine. School accountability and reform are essential, and any quality educator would share that same point of view. To that end, quality teachers and schools are continually seeking ways to improve. With that thought in mind, I am particularly encouraged to be able to write the next paragraph.

In a recent presentation to District 150 teachers and administration, Patrick Dolan illustrated this concern in a creative way. In speaking with the group, Dr. Dolan drew a pie chart addressing all the ways we should be measuring success in our schools. Along with standardized testing, there was talk of social and emotional growth, career direction, self-worth and accomplishment, graduation rates, etc. Suffice it to say that the standardized testing slice of the “pie” was a small fraction. It is, unfortunately, where 100 percent of our societal definition of success currently lies. It was very encouraging to see the teacher union leadership, school board members, and district and building level administration listening to Dr. Dolan’s message on the importance of taking advantage of this unique window of time they have to create meaningful, positive change. Everyone involved seemed receptive and open to his message.

And finally, I would like to thank Methodist and OSF for their recent work to expose area high school students to “Health Care Career Encounters” and “Nurse for the Day” programs. Methodist worked in conjunction with the P.E.R.F.E.C.T. office and Tazewell County/Area Education for Employment to promote the Health Care Career Encounters, while OSF worked with the P.E.R.F.E.C.T. office to provide the Nurse for the Day opportunity. I would like to express my gratitude to my staff and to everyone involved in creating these valuable opportunities for students.

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in mock job interviews for senior students at Princeville High School. Volunteers from the community (with hiring and interview experience) take 30 minutes with each senior to conduct a “job interview” and give them feedback and suggestions on how they answered questions and conducted themselves during the process. I was truly impressed with the caliber of students I saw and commend the school for this program. These are just a few examples of the great things that are taking place in schools in our area. Once again, I encourage you to get involved and be a part of the change you would like to see. iBi