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Are We REALLY Preparing Kids for the Global Economy?

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I spent some time on Sunday reading through the WaPo 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 three to four 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 cross-border challenges. 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.

(Pencils Can't Fix This slide can be downloaded here---by Bill Ferriter.)
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Bill Ferriter is a full-time classroom teacher, part-time author and proud founding member of the Teacher Leaders Network.

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