We have so much to do, refocusing education on competencies and essential skills that students need for today's workplace and global competition.
Much has been said and written about what we are doing right and not doing right in our education system to prepare students to succeed, and how we compare with other nations. I think it is presented and summarized well in the book The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner. He makes an excellent case based on interviews, data, and classroom observations for significant changes to the educational process within our schools, and the essential skills students need to master. One small data point from that book:
The most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test ranks U.S. Students 25th on the science test out of 56 countries, and 35th out of 56 on mathematical literacy.
The "Leave No Child Behind" mandates and penalties have taken a toll, emphasizing specific knowledge and multiple-choice tests at the expense of student ability and readiness for the marketplace. It's a problem made worse by the fact that in small school systems with smaller student populations, NCLB is really measuring student population differences from year to year more than it is measuring school program differences. It is not an accurate measure of school improvement. This is Maine, not New York City.
We can do better. And we have to do better. Because increasingly in the workplace it is not just what you know, it's how you are able to apply what you know to new challenges, and how you continue to build your knowledge that bring success. Today's schools must emphasize the skills of critical thinking, collaborative problem solving, good communication, practical application of math and the scientific process, and a commitment to lifelong learning.
At Wiscasset High School there is a required Technology Education two semester course that all students take, no matter what their career plans hold. In spite of the name, the focus of this course is on real problem solving, hands-on skills from woodworking to creating video news clips. And it requires students to use those essential skills, apply other subjects from math to writing to science, and use technology as a tool, in solving real world problems. Yet this is not a required course in Maine, is not encouraged by NCLB testing, and similar courses have been cut in other school districts such as Augusta due to the budget crunch.
We need to reset the focus and priorities placed on Maine schools back to nurturing those essential skills. In many ways it is a return to the path we started down with the Maine Learning Results.
To accomplish this change we need to give our educators the expectations, the training, and the support and recognition necessary to make this happen. We owe it to our children and grandchildren. As your senator I would work to reform and rededicate educational goals and methods to instill employable skills for the 21st century in students of all ages.