Does a Global Achievement Gap Exist?
What exactly is "The Global Achievement Gap"? Tony Wagner defines this term as referring to 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, 2008, p.8).
According to Secretary Duncan, we do have a problem in regards to the Global Achievement Gap. This is the result, he suggests, of public policy that has required excessive testing and a diversity of standards between the states, rather than a unity of purpose towards producing well-equipped students for today's global economy. In a 2009 speech at the National Press Club, Secretary Duncan accused states of setting the bar too low in order to comply with the regulations of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. "We want to raise the bar dramatically in terms of higher standards. What we have had as a country, I'm convinced, is what we call a race to the bottom. We have 50 different standards, 50 different goal posts. And due to political pressure, those have been dumbed down. We want to fundamentally reverse that. We want common, career-ready internationally benchmarked standards," said Duncan (Sloan, 2010). This lack of unity in standards impairs the ability of the United States to compete with other countries such as Finland which operate under a more unified curriculum and encourage vigorous professional development. As a result, countries such as Finland are producing students that are more prepared for 21st century challenges.
The overwhelming direction many in education have taken lately is to see what Finland is doing in regards to their educational system. The educational system in Finland has ranked above the rest of the world for some time. They began reforming their education policy in the 1970's. The Finnish have "upped" their educational game. They require all teachers to receive three years of high-quality graduate level preparation completely at state expense. They also have done a major overhaul of the curriculum and assessment system designed to ensure access to a “thinking curriculum” for all students (Darling-Hammond, 2010).
Another major difference between the American and Finnish systems is the disproportionate emphasis that Americans place on testing in contrast to the Finnish system. Pasi Sahlberg, a former math and physics teacher, who is now in Finland's Ministry of Education and Culture, says "We prepare children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test." (Hancock, 2011) Teaching students how to learn is far more important than teaching how to test because the job market requires it.
In an interview with Wagner, Ellen Kumata, a consultant to many Fortune 200 companies, says “You have to spend the time to ask the next question. There is something about understanding what the right questions are, and there is something about asking the nonlinear counter-intuitive question. These are the ones that take you to the next level" (Wagner, 2008, p. 20). A test is effective at asking questions but the 21st century workplace needs workers who can make their own.
The United States' emphasis on testing has become so bad that teachers and principals are willing to cheat. Schools in Atlanta, Georgia were caught changing answers on their student's tests in order to avoid falling below certain benchmarks under the federal law and end up facing sharp sanctions (Turner, 2011). Testing diverts attention from the proper goal of learning to an inferior goal of results. In the book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, Dubner and Levitt explain how high stakes testing has made cheating on state standardized tests extremely enticing. "At one point, California introduced bonuses of 25,000 dollars for who produced big test-score gains." (2006). When the stakes are high and the reward for teachers to cheat is great, how can the majority of teachers focus on creating authentic learning experiences for students?
Changing Education Paradigms
Ken Robinson's work is in agreement with Wagner's realization of the Global Achievement Gap. In this creative video presentation, Robinson challenges the way students are educated in America. He champions a radical rethinking of our school systems. Much like Wagner, he also supports the cultivation of creativity and the utilization of multiple types of intelligences. He describes our current process of educating of children in batches as an outdated model based on industrial America. Robinson says this model will no longer satisfy a global economy that is vastly different than it was thirty years ago. If children are still taught the same way they were during industrial America, the Global Achievement Gap will remain until our economy returns to the state it was thirty years ago which may never happen.
photo courtesy of rryshke.edublogs.org