By Kim Huckstadt
It is difficult to go anywhere these days without someone making reference to Thomas Friedman’s book; The World is Flat. Well, give me a seat on that bandwagon too! It appears there is ample justification for the many references to this book. It is clear that rapid advancements in technology combined with significant changes in the political / economic landscape, have had a “flattening effect” on the world. A day cannot go by that we do not read about another significant manufacturing operation being “off-shored” to a country that can supply a labor force at a fraction of the cost of the U. S. market. If you haven’t read the book, I would highly recommend it… especially if you have children or grandchildren who must be prepared to compete in this flat world. As Boomer generation father of a 12 year old, the following quote stuck with me:
“Girls, when I was growing up, my parents used to say to me, ‘Tom, finish your dinner- people in India and China are starving’. My advice to you is: Girls, finish your homework- people in China and India are starving for your jobs.”
Tom Friedman; The World is Flat
During our January in-service, I shared some of this information with our teaching and support staff. As is often the case, after sharing this kind of information, you end up asking the same question… “So what?” In my view, because the changes on the horizon are so dramatic and the economic competition is getting so fierce… the way we answer this question is more critical than ever. Clearly, the challenges we face must be addressed on many fronts – socially, economically, politically, and most certainly educationally. From an educational standpoint the evidence is overwhelming… in order to prepare students to compete in this flattened world, the vision for our Pre K-12th grade schools must be focused on College Readiness for All.
This all sounds very good and you will find many people who will nod in agreement and (in some settings) even applaud such a statement. However, because the stakes are so high, it is imperative that we go one step further and ask ourselves; is this a possibility or simply a pipe dream? With some clarification, I believe college readiness for all is a very real possibility!
Defining “All”… While this is a small word, in order to establish credibility in the educational system, it is important that we define what “all” means. In my usage of the term – it literally means “nearly all”. Because we serve all students, we must acknowledge that a small percentage of students will not go to college. At the same time, we know that there are many students leaving our Pre K-12th grade system who are capable, but for various reasons, do not enter or are not adequately prepared to be successful in post-secondary programs. This needs to change.
What is “college”? This definition must be broadened to include 2-year and 4-year programs; work-study and apprenticeship programs; military training; on-line education programs and any combination thereof… The focus needs to shift from a custodial “seat time system”, to a competency-based system. To accomplish this with a diverse population of learners, it is imperative that we examine existing delivery methods and work toward establishing multiple pathways for success. We must also recognize that this kind of “program customization” aimed at bridging the gap between 12th grade and post-secondary programs will impact the way resources are allocated.
How do we get this off the printed page and into the real world? How does it translate into anything meaningful for students? In January, I shared with our staff the following six steps that were highlighted in an article written by Donald Phillips and Kevin Skelly in the January issue of The School Administrator. As a result, we will utilize this framework in planning, implementing and assessing the effectiveness of our staff development initiatives. I have also shared this information in greater detail with our Board of Directors and asked for their continued support in advancing this important agenda. I am also very willing to share this information with any club, group, organization or “disorganization” that would like to know more about our efforts to improve student achievement and help our students be better prepared for success beyond the 12th grade.
If our vision is college readiness for all,
- We must get very clear in identifying the knowledge, skills and attributes that comprise “college readiness”. Being ready for college is different than having all students go to college.
- We must move from a K-12 concept to a Grade 14 to Pre-K concept. We must design backwards… each teacher must know their work contributes to this overall vision of college readiness.
- We must be willing to redirect resources (human, capital, organizational) to support a college readiness initiative. It is critical that we ensure differentiated learning experiences (Multiple Pathways) to engage students who are sitting in seats but fail to see the relevance between school and the real world. Instead of having students “opt in” to a rigorous curriculum, we must create a system that forces them to “opt out”. (Examples: Iowa On-Line, On-Line Advanced Placement and PLATO Classes)
- We must engage parents and our community in helping to realize this goal of college readiness for all students. In spite of all the other influences, parents are still the most important determinant regarding whether a student decides to attend college.
- We must set interim (and multiple) measures to assess student progress. This requires setting exit targets (esp. in reading & math) at the elementary / middle school level.
- There must be a system-wide commitment to this vision. Without commitment from all stakeholders including; administrators, board members, parents, students, and teachers… there will be no significant or sustainable changes.
Clearly, this is not a time for complacency, in education or any other field. Friedman calls it a time of “quiet crisis”. He also expresses that indifference and the “sense of entitlement’ that exists in this country is perhaps our greatest challenge to overcome. I think he’s probably right. In political circles during this era of increasing accountability, I often hear our leaders say, “We must demand more of our education system.” While I certainly agree with this, it is my hope that whether we are educators, students, parents or citizens… we will begin by first demanding more of ourselves. After all, personal responsibility, self-sacrifice and a genuine concern for the “common good” are fundamentals of our free society.
I expect that this article will find its way into the hands parents, educators, patrons, and possibly even some students. In closing, while wearing my “parent hat”, my thoughts are drawn back to The World is Flat and the global competition our children will face. For example, in China, if you are “one in a million”, there a 1,300 people just like you! In this rapidly changing economy, there is a great deal at stake for everyone… but especially those just entering the work force and the next generation. Let’s make the needed sacrifices and the necessary investments in our educational systems to do right by them.