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Achievement: Right answers, or right questions?

An interview in Education Week helps to highlight some of the issues that are crucial to education but don't get a lot of discussion.

Ed Week columnist Anthony Cody's interview with business consultant Steve Denning is worth a read for anyone interested in the content of our education. Denning, a former World Bank official who now advises business on management issues, argues that the "stricter management" style of education reform that has become so popular is not likely to be any more successful in education than it has been in the private sector.Here is an especially notable quote:

[Q:] What do you think about the drive under way to make our schools more competitive globally through raising standards and rewarding success?

[A:] I am all for making schools competitive globally, raising standards and rewarding success. Those are all good things in principle. But everything depends on how they are implemented.

If by "making schools competitive globally, raising standards and rewarding success", one means making the system teach children a curriculum more efficiently in a top-down bureaucratic manner, by adopting scores on standardized test as the goal of education, and by hammering teachers unless scores improve, then obviously this is a travesty of true education and utterly counterproductive....

What's more, it focuses the education system on the needs of the 20th Century economy, namely, generating docile workers who did what they were told, had specific knowledge and could answer questions based on that knowledge.

The needs of the 21st Century economy are different. As the economy goes through increasingly rapid change, the economy needs people who can learn new skills quickly and who are as good at deciding what are the right questions as they are at finding the right answers. By and large, today's curriculum tends to discourage learning and creativity and today's standardized tests don't do a good job of measuring those dimensions. As a result, the preoccupation with international standardized test scores is leading to efforts to push the system to produce students who would be good for the 20th Century, but not the 21st Century.

This line of argument should have a special power here in Michigan, where we face the need to transform our local economy.

You can find the full interview, and comments, on the Education Week site here:
Interview: Steve Denning offers Radical Ideas for Reframing Education Reform, 5 September 2011.

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