In the past few weeks, I've read several articles and blog posts about schools training children for the new labor market.
Harry B at Crooked Timber mentioned a book by Tony Wagner, 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. Wagner's thesis is that the most innovative schools in the world provide kids with skills that will enable them to compete in a global workplace. American schools are falling behind because they put too much emphasis on testing and don't teach higher-level problem solving. He interviewed business leaders to find out what deficits exist in their workers.
The New York Times reports that schools are introducing engineering into the curriculum in many schools.
Inside Higher Ed reports that "The United States economy is in serious danger from a growing mismatch
between the skills that will be needed for jobs being created and the
educational backgrounds (or lack thereof) of would-be workers. That is
the conclusion of a mammoth analysis of jobs data being released today
by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce."
With bleak employment numbers and the transformation of the economy, it's hardly surprising that there is growing pressure to revamp our schools.
The involvement of business leaders in schools is also nothing new. Since the evolution of our public education system, they have played a cyclical role in shaping our school's curriculum.
I have mixed feelings about this trend to prepare kids for the global workforce.
On the positive side, I do believe there are real changes happening in the workforce, and our kids do need to be prepared for new demands. I believe that education policy should be a community endeavor and should not be entirely shaped by administrators and education elite.
On the negative side, I have many concerns about how a "career-focused" curriculum is implemented.
Administrators in our town have been influenced by the Wagner book. As a result, group class projects have replaced individual projects. These class projects emphasize visual presentation over written expression. The children are rewarded for the number of pictures on the bulletin board. They only write four essays for the entire year. They are taught how to use PowerPoint in their English classes, rather than how to write a clear topic sentence. It's not surprising that school test scores plummeted.
My kid turned eleven last week. He'll enter the workforce in ten years, after he finishes college. If anyone claims that they know the workforce will look like in ten years years, he/she is a huckster and should be mocked. No one can predicted what professions will be valued in ten years time. I can predict with utter confidence predict that PowerPoint will not exist in ten years; five or six new generations of software will pop up in that time. I can also say with complete confidence that we'll need workers that can read complicated material and express themselves both verbally and in written form.
At the same time, budget cuts have devastated our foreign language program. Jonah will spend more time in a home economic class next year, then in Spanish class. I would think that knowledge of a foreign language would be a prime need in a global workforce.
I remain suspicious of all curriculum reform. Talented teachers and motivated students with committed parents will succeed, regardless if the emphasis is on engineering or on Shakespeare.