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Four Ways Business Leaders Might Transform Education

As an American educator, I’ve lived with the changes that have come to our profession in the past twenty-five years. Today’s students are the most tested students of any generation in American history, and our educators are facing accountability measures unlike anything ever imagined by their predecessors. We have spent our careers working in a system that places its highest values on high test scores.


But is standardized testing the best response we can make to a world that has shifted to a global economy? Are we moving quickly enough to adjust? Should we be doing more?


I worry that the changes occurring in the world are coming at us in waves that are accelerating in their approach. The shifts in technology and in society are becoming more intense and there’s less time for us to adjust before the next wave hits. Though we are working harder than ever, I fear we are falling further behind. It’s almost impossible for any culture to keep up with the rate of change we’re seeing today, but it’s particularly hard for a culture like education where the majority of its members have been trained to function in a 20th Century paradigm.


What will it take to force education out of its nine month school years, away from its reliance on standardized testing to gauge its success, and into a system that stresses creativity with a heavy reliance upon technology?


Perhaps something cataclysmic.


In the 1950’s, the launching of the Soviet Sputnik satellite pushed more math and science into American schools. In 1983, the release of the report A Nation at Risk brought about the system of high stakes accountability we see today. Previous transformations in education have been brought about by exterior forces, notably the government and American business leaders who push for reform when they begin to panic about national security or global competitiveness.


We are due for another jolt. While the world surges forward, American education is still using the testing model brought about in the 1980’s --- we are surging back to the 20th Century. American schools are being hamstrung by politics, a lack of vision by government leaders, and an inability of educators to unfreeze their paradigms.


We are working hard and making progress in the old paradigm of test scores, but it’s an obsolete one that doesn’t measure what needs to be measured in today’s world. I equate it with building a road that goes nowhere. We are working hard to improve the road, and each new initiative like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top extends the road --- but the road still dead ends in the middle of a dark 20th Century forest. If we keep having new initiatives forced upon us that are centered on high stakes testing, we’ll just keep extending the road deeper into the past.


If American business leaders, acting out of desperation, help to push the next inevitable round of education change, then it could look something like this:



1. THERE WILL BE A PUSH FOR GLOBAL STANDARDS: The global economy has flattened the world. While American education leaders push for national standards, business leaders will begin to push for global standards. Improving education is a global goal. Parents everywhere want their kids to be educated. Governments everywhere want their young graduates to compete. Doesn’t it make sense that the person we speak to India on the phone who’s helping us to resolve an issue should have had the same standard of education as the kids living next door? Shouldn’t we all be working together? It’s only a matter of time before business leaders who employ a global work force demand it.



2. THERE WILL BE A PUSH FOR CREATIVITY AND TECHNOLOGY: In 1983 when A Nation at Risk appeared, the CEO’s were demanding that graduates have basic skills. They needed people who could read and write. However, a recent IBM survey of 1500 CEO’s found today they are looking for people who can be creative --- they need people who can analyze a problem and then create a solution that solves that problem. But our testing system is still centered on the lower skill sets, and it doesn’t stress creativity. Society still views testing as the best way to check school progress, and political leaders don’t want to be seen as being weak and lowering standards. Perhaps Big Business is the only group with the clout to force government leaders to back away from standardized testing and to move toward placing an emphasis on creativity and 21st Century skills.



3. THERE WILL BE A PUSH TO FIND AND LINK THE GLOBAL EDUCATION REVOLUTIONARIES: It’s hard for one company to change the world, but when the entire education world is desperate for effective change then maybe one company can lead the way. Can an international giant like Intel, Dell, Cisco, or Apple that has a presence in schools throughout the world be a change agent that links revolutionary schools around the globe in a new model? Can one of the companies, or several of them working together, lead the way by helping a hub of schools to share ideas and to provide resources and assistance? Can this consortium of successful schools be a catalyst for others to follow?



4. THERE WILL BE A PUSH FOR NEW TYPE OF SCHOOL SYSTEM: Will the giant corporations be forced to create their own hybrid school system unlike any we have ever seen that will break the current mold of education? Will a company partner with a state, city, or school district and totally recreate a school that combines the best attributes of public, private, and charter schools? One that removes politics and employs standards for 21st Century learning? Think it can’t happen? Desperate times will call for desperate measures, and nothing can be taken as a certainty for the future except that it will be vastly different. The world will wake up one day and realize that mass testing is not the answer for the 21st Century. The company poised to step in with solutions when that day arrives will be the global leader in education. How much money will that be worth?



The reassuring part of these scenarios is that American educators are versatile, talented and dedicated. A new paradigm will have to be forced upon us, but we will respond effectively in the new paradigm. There’s not a finer teaching force in the world. If we can be plugged into a new paradigm that focuses on creativity, technology and the evolving skills needed to thrive in a global culture, then we will be spectacular. Imagine a globe linked through the finest education principles. Imagine the progress. Imagine a better world.



But for that to happen, something or someone is going to have to force the transformation issue to a crisis. It will be painful, but necessary. Let’s quit extending the road to nowhere. Let’s make a right turn and get out of the forest.

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Comment by Heather Haringa on December 30, 2011 at 11:48pm

GREAT POINTS!  Thank you for sharing!


Thomas Whitby created this Ning Network.

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