The National Center on Education and the Economy issued a report this week entitled Tough Choices or Tough Times: The Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. It calls for the biggest changes in the American educational system in over a century. You can read in PDF form the Executive Summary of the Report.
One quote from the Executive Summary that underlies the reports philosophy is this: “The best employers the world over will be looking for the most competent, most creative and most innovative people on the face of the earth and will be willing to pay them top dollar for their services. This will be true not just for the top professionals and managers, but up and down the length and breadth of the workforce.”
As you are already thinking, the report points out that today’s schools are preparing students for “routine work,” not for creative and innovative work. The schools are failing to prepare students for the world they will enter. The curriculum and many of the methods we use in today’s schools were developed for another era—as I indicated in a previous post.
When you examine the Executive Summary, you’ll find ten recommendations proposed by the Commission to “change” our educational system. It is radical in its proposal, but practical, as well. One of the underlying ideas is that the Commission urges creating an educational system in which every student can go on to college. This notion reminds me of the Gates Foundation work going on with urban high schools in which the size of the school is reduced, and the personal attention to every student is enlarged, thus resulting in greater success for high schoolers.
The report has recommendations for teacher education, the use of resources, the creation of new standards that are based on tomorrow’s requirements for innovation and creativity in the workforce, the creation of high performance school districts everywhere, high quality universal early childhood education, educational experiences for the adult workforce to learn the “new skills,” personal financial accounts for every child enabling them to pursue a quality education.
Although the report does not recommend an end to testing, it does have a lot to say about the current state of national and state-wide testing. They recommend less testing, and a revamping of tests that measure the very core of their proposal, and that is creativity and innovation, facility with the use of ideas and abstractions, self-discipline and organization needed to manage one’s work, and the ability to function well as a member of a team, and many more. These are very different than discipline (science, reading) based knowledge that today’s tests measure.
Curriculum will have to more innovative in our schools. In science, inquiry-based learning needs to form the core of science teaching, K-12. We also need to cut back substantially on the breadth of content, and instead focus on fewer concepts and help students know these well, and be able to “do science.”
The Executive Summary is worth taking a look.