As part of the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) this week in Washington, D.C., I attended the Global Education Competitiveness Summit (GECS). The purpose of the event was to start a dialogue about international assessments, to discuss how to get students in the US to perform better on benchmark tests to ensure they are prepared to compete globally, and to look at some of the models of best practices around the world like Finland and Singapore. The meeting was sponsored by Microsoft, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and the Education Commission of the States (ECS), and dozens of education, policy and business leaders from the states of Tennessee, Michigan, Missouri, Louisiana and more contributed to the discussion.
After listening and participating, I see a couple of urgent actions for our country to take in order to reform education in the US.
Need for softer skills. We have to start with embracing 21st century competencies. We’ve been so focused on standardized tests and assessments that we’ve undervalued that broader development of competencies. For example, in Singapore, when they think about education transformation, the language they use is that want to build more confident learners, they want to build more creative thinkers. This generation of high school students will supposedly have 10 or more jobs in their lifetime. The workforce is rapidly changing, so this notion about being much more nimble on competencies is important. I think other countries have come to this realization faster than the US has in terms of understanding and taking action. I think development of these softer skills are important in terms of how we can set aspirations for students and make school much more relevant to work and the skills kids need to compete over their lifetime.
Teachers as icons. Where do we start change in our education system? There’s a lot of focus on teachers…how do we better prepare teachers and how can we get the best teachers? In other countries, like Finland, the role of a teacher is universally respected, and the best and the brightest become teachers. In the US, we need to show much more effort on making the role of a teacher something we look up to, like we do with doctors, lawyers, policemen, etc. We need to think about the teaching profession as the backbone of our country and better embrace teachers in our culture. In other countries, citizens think the role of a teacher is something to aspire to, that’s not always true here in the US.
IT assessments for systems, not teachers. When we talk about education transformation and the role of technology in that, I think colleges of teaching are being thrown under the bus when people say teachers aren’t trained to embrace technology. I don’t think that’s true. If you go to any college of teaching, you’re going to see next generation learning students. They’re going to be taking e-courses, collaborating online, etc. I think when we talk about technology or IT assessment, we shouldn’t be measuring teachers’ skills on whether they can use a browser or Word document…we should be thinking about IT assessment and asking if the school is IT-ready. Do they support digital curriculum? Are they personalizing learning? Are they assessing students and progress more regularly than once a year when kids take assessment tests? Daily reflection, change and adjustments are needed. We should put more focus and rigor on IT assessments for systems and schools, not for our teachers specifically. From a learning context, schools should be assessed on the ability to serve curriculum, to do personalized learning, etc.
We have to take action now. The US used to be the world’s leader in education and our students at the top of assessment tests. We’ve witnessed other countries change and forge ahead of us. We can’t lose a generation of students to transform. We have to transform more aggressively and more holistically.