What is quality education? II

As we explored in my last post a quality education is about far more than preparing our kids and grandkids for a job or career. Adult life is about far more than earning a living.

In this post I want to focus on the component of a quality education that is about preparing students for a career. And make the case that preparing students to meet the immediate employment demands of Michigan employers is not good for either students or employers. What makes this discussion imperative is that it is a standard that Governor Snyder –– and many other policy makers from both parties –– are increasingly advocating for.

First as I wrote in my last post one of the pillars of quality p-20 education should be an education that prepares students to pursue their dreams anyplace on the planet, not just here in Michigan. But also p-20 education needs to be about preparing students for a career of forty years or more –– not an immediate job at graduation –– in an economy where no one knows what jobs and occupations will be in demand in the future.

Bill Wagner, Ann Arbor software entrepreneur, wrote a terrific column about this for that is highly recommended. He writes:

My perspective on education is firmly rooted in being a business owner: What type of education is needed for a long and successful career? What do businesses look for in a successful new employee? By considering these questions, Michigan policymakers can create a strong future. The country, and especially Michigan, seem stuck in the mode of thinking of education as a means to a job, as a vocation. The problem with this attitude is that the hot jobs change frequently. Preparing people for one job, and one job only, creates a temporary and rigid work force. … Your education must prepare you for a long career that meets constant changes in the job market, and supports your own growth. The only constant during a life-long career is that you’ll need to adapt. The important question for our education system: Are you prepared for all the changes that may come in the future? (Emphasis added.)

… In order to grow companies and our work force, our education system needs to prepare people for an ever-changing world. Preparing for today’s hot job is the road to irrelevance. Getting a broad, rich education that lays the foundation for becoming a triple threat is the path to a very successful career. We hire software developers that have deep knowledge of computer science and software engineering. But they must also have broad knowledge of other disciplines so that they can grow to accept new challenges as we continue to grow. We’re trying to hire more skilled people every day. We need Michigan’s education system to lay the ground so that we have a work force full of “triple threats.” It’s not enough to educate people for one job. We must educate them for lifelong successful careers. Careers that will demand diverse skills from every individual.

Not only do employers like Wagner understand best the need to develop skills that prepare students for long careers but they also are in the lead in delineating what the skills are. What skills they increasingly need from their employees both today and tomorrow. One of the best delineations of those skills comes from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Highly recommended! Here is their framework for 21st Century Learning:

Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes
Mastery of core subjects and 21st century themes is essential to student success. Core subjects include English, reading or language arts, world languages, arts, mathematics, economics, science, geography, history, government and civics. In addition, schools must promote an understanding of academic content at much higher levels by weaving 21st century interdisciplinary themes into core subjects:
  • Global Awareness
  • Financial, Economic, Business and Entrepreneurial Literacy
  • Civic Literacy
  • Health Literacy
  • Environmental Literacy
Learning and Innovation Skills
Learning and innovation skills are what separate students who are prepared for increasingly complex life and work environments in today’s world and those who are not. They include:
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Communication and Collaboration
Information, Media and Technology Skills
Today, we live in a technology and media-driven environment, marked by access to an abundance of information, rapid changes in technology tools and the ability to collaborate and make individual contributions on an unprecedented scale. Effective citizens and workers must be able to exhibit a range of functional and critical thinking skills, such as:
  • Information Literacy
  • Media Literacy
  • ICT (Information, Communications and Technology) Literacy
Life and Career Skills
Today’s life and work environments require far more than thinking skills and content knowledge. The ability to navigate the complex life and work environments in the globally competitive information age requires students to pay rigorous attention to developing adequate life and career skills, such as:
  • Flexibility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Self-Direction
  • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
  • Productivity and Accountability
  • Leadership and Responsibility

These are the components of a quality education. It is what we should be asking of our p-20 system and what we should be measuring when we assess and hold education institutions accountable. Its these broad –– rather than narrow vocational skills –– that will prepare or kids for the economy of the future and for a real opportunity to realize the American Dream.

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