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

 
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Despite the best efforts of educators, our nation’s schools are dangerously obsolete. Instead of teaching students to be critical thinkers and problem-solvers, we are asking them to memorize facts for multiple choice tests. This problem isn’t limited to low-income school districts: even our top schools aren’t teaching or testing the skills that matter most in the global knowledge economy. Our teens leave school equipped to work only in the kinds of jobs that are fast disappearing from the American economy. Meanwhile, young adults in India and China are competing with our students for the most sought-after careers around the world.

Education expert Tony Wagner has conducted scores of interviews with business leaders and observed hundreds of classes in some of the nation’s most highly regarded public schools. He discovered a profound disconnect between what potential employers are looking for in young people today (critical thinking skills, creativity, and effective communication) and what our schools are providing (passive learning environments and uninspired lesson plans that focus on test preparation and reward memorization).

He explains how every American can work to overhaul our education system, and he shows us examples of dramatically different schools that teach all students new skills. In addition, through interviews with college graduates and people who work with them, Wagner discovers how teachers, parents, and employers can motivate the “net” generation to excellence.

An education manifesto for the twenty-first century, The Global Achievement Gap is provocative and inspiring. It is essential reading for parents, educators, business leaders, policy-makers, and anyone interested in seeing our young people succeed as employees and citizens.

For additional information about the author and the book, please go to www.schoolchange.org


Customer Reviews:

  • Educating For The Future
    As a part time college professor, I've been a big proponent of quality education for decades. Quality education leads to quality employees and that attracts well paying jobs. That, in turn, increases the local tax base which funds better roads, sewers, parks, along with more police officers, firefighters, EMS, and improves the overall quality of life in the community. Tony Wagner's book, The Global Achievement Gap, is a tour de force for anyone interested in America's school system. We are fast becoming a nation of underachievers in a society which rewards mediocrity. We are graduating students without a basic understanding math, English, science, or history. We've all but cut out art and music from their curriculum. But whatever you do, don't interfere with their sports programs! Mr. Wagner delves into why our children are failing behind the rest of the world and what we can do about it before it's too late. The dumbing down of our children has to stop now. I urge everyone interested in our school system to read Mr. Wagner's book now!

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  • Skills for everyone to learn and ways to teach them
    I graduated as a valedictorian from a high school that is not known for its academic excellence. I did not feel much pride in my achievement - though I know I should have because it indicates I worked hard in school. I was lucky and had quite a few great teachers that did try to teach me to think -- not just memorize stuff. However, I had many more teachers that I could describe much less enthusiastically. I was valedictorian though and took and passed several AP classes too. But I did horribly when I got to college because of the poor preparation I was given in high school. The skills I needed to get that valedictorian status was not enough for even a 3.0 average my first semester of college.

    The Global Achievement Gapdoes a great job of discussing how we need to change schools today so that the students are better prepared for college and work - not just to pass tests. He discusses how teachers should use content to teach kids to think - and not making the content the goal. He discusses different ways students can be taught to speak and think for themselves, to be able to question things around them and be able to solve problems on their own. While reading this book, I kept thinking about how *I* could have benefited from these had I had an education like he described. However, as an adult looking at the big picture, I have a hard time believing that such a big change to cover *everything* he describes is realistically feasible in our world. Maybe we can take small steps toward that goal but the changes he described for the schools and the teaching education and profession are huge and require significantly more money. It will also require changes to current political system in place for schools.

    The most useful purpose of this book is for parents and teachers to think about how they might start making changes in the way they are educating the students today so that students today can start reaping the benefits of an education that will prepare them properly for their future. The survival skills Mr. Wagner describes are definitely important and can be taught in every home and every classroom....more info
  • A good read for teachers
    This book engrosses the problems our schools face, from the overpopulating classrooms to the limited flexibility of our educators. This book is a must read for all concerned and especially for the law makers we put in congress. Todays educators are faced with preparing our young people for success in this competitive and often cruel society we live in. Our schools need to be modernized and must be provided with the tools to succeed in educating our young people.All teachers should read this book as well as all school board members and parents.I give this book 3 stars.
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  • Excellent Overview of How Schools are Stuck in the Past

    Wagner argues that the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, which attempts to close the achievement gap between our best and worst schools, has instead left us with schools that are less effective than ever in preparing our children for college, work and life. Our schools are still mired in educational content and methods from the industrial age; our children get more of the skills they really need outside of school, from extracurricular activities, personal exploration and social networking, if they are fortunate enough to have those opportunities.

    Today's corporate work environment consists of clusters of business expertise distributed globally and connected via high-speed communications links. Workers collaborate in their local team and with other teams around the world to define and solve open-ended problems. In today's fast-changing, complex environment, teams are given broad objectives and asked to find the best way to achieve them. There are no pre-defined "right answers" in the business world, only profitable and unprofitable strategies. Similarly, there are seldom any "right answers" in politics, or healthcare, or any other aspect of society - including education. As adults, we have learned that history is always a selective interpretation of past events, and that the most effective communicators often break the established conventions. Yet in our schools we drill on facts and basic skills, and seldom encourage or even tolerate questioning, innovation, exploration, or collaboration.

    Wagner presents seven "survival skills" that students should be learning in school in order to prepare for college and adult life:

    * Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
    * Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence
    * Agility and Adaptability
    * Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
    * Effective Oral and Written Communication.
    * Accessing and Analyzing Information
    * Curiosity and Imagination

    Yet, according to a NIH study published in Science (2007), 5th-graders in middle-class public schools across the United States spent 90% of their time in their seats listening to the teacher or working alone, and only 7% of their time working in groups. Further, the average 5th grader received 5 times as much instruction in rote learning than they received instruction focused on problem solving or reasoning.

    The US high school graduation rate is only 70%, and 40% of all students who enter college must take remedial courses. It is estimated that 50% of students starting college never complete a college degree. Wagner's interviews with students and professors suggest that what is missing is not content knowledge, but competencies. In core classes and even in AP courses, students are drilled in specific content and vocabulary necessary to pass standardized tests, rather than trained in open-ended inquiry, assessment, reasoning, collaboration and presentation.

    Wagner takes us beyond the usual complaints about tenure and unions to examine disfunctional structural components of the educational system. In general, degree programs for teaching and school administration suffer the same flaw of content over competencies. Once they graduate, teachers are seldom given more than checklist evaluations, and rarely sit in on one another's classrooms or collaborate for instructional improvement. Instead, Wagner suggests, most teachers have little recourse other than to re-discover effective teaching on their own, in a hit-or-miss manner. As a consequence, not only are best practices not promulgated, but there is little consensus among teachers about what constitutes good teaching.

    Wagner also looks at the problem of how our current teaching practices fail to engage and motivate students. Outside of school, our children have team sports and group activities, and are immersed in the Internet world of interactivity, social networking, and visual information access. Despite legitimate concerns about addictive behavior, violent content and cyber-bullying, Wagner points out that our kids online experience, including even gaming, is much more relevant to the kind of activity found in most information-intensive careers. Our children want group connections, open-ended exploration, immediate feedback response, and relevance. Multi-tasking, search, and filtering are natural tasks to them, while they have little patience for long, linear, non-visual texts.

    Our schools offer students little of what engages them. Instead of group activity, they get one-way lectures and individual worksheets. Instead of open-ended exploration, they get drills and tests. Instead of rich interactive, multimedia information, they get dry textbooks. Wagner argues that most high-school school drop-outs occur not because the student lacks ability, but because they lack motivation. School does not engage them, and they correctly perceive a lack of relevancy to their current and future lives.

    Finally, Wagner offers us some profiles of a few schools that are "doing it right". While it is wonderful to see such examples, they are all small schools. It is probably not feasible nor desirable to open hundreds of thousands of new schools in every neighborhood, and Wagner doesn't offer much perspective on how we can translate these examples to the large schools that make up most of our national school system. But perhaps it is better if we all collaborate on solving that problem! I highly recommend this book by Tony Wagner as a starting point.




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