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Prepare students for the world, not tests

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POSTED: July 14, 2008 5:00 a.m.
It is a fact: Students in Georgia and the nation do not measure up to their peers in other countries known to provide a world-class education. While the debate continues over who's to blame and policy-makers pay lip service to preparing students for the 21st century - here for almost a decade already - the U.S. education system muddles on as a 19th-century model.   
The world is in the midst of monumental change, a global and digital age where high quality education is one of the key drivers of success in life. It defeats efforts to keep pace with change if students are educated or assessed as they were in the past.
Schools must prepare students for the three C's of globalization:
•  Competition Skills: literacy, math, science and problem-solving;
•  Communication Skills: world languages and technology; and
• Collaboration Skills: cultural understanding and teamwork.
Equipped with these, students have the skills necessary to sell to the world; buy from the world; work for international companies; manage employees from other countries and cultures; compete with people around the world for jobs; work with people all over the world in joint ventures, and understand and solve global challenges.
Beyond economics, emphasis should be on democracy and citizenship. Today's American students will operate in tomorrow's global society. They should be expected to understand how American interests are dependent on forces outside our borders and how issues of local origin impact the world.
Developing students' global/international competence must focus on three areas:
• Knowledge and cultural perspectives of other world regions, cultures and global/international issues
• Skills in communicating in languages other than English, working in global or cross-cultural environments and using information from different sources around the world
• Sensitivity to the values of, and concern for, other cultures and peoples.
To this end, the 21st-century school is one that has internationalized its curriculum and staff, expanded offerings of world language programs and developed high academic standards that provide the depth of learning students need.
These efforts will increase student engagement and interest, resulting in higher test performance on national and state assessments. They will improve the outcomes of our education system in the United States and produce students with the skills so many are sadly lacking. Communities with such schools will reap rewards as they become more desirable places in which to live and do business, resulting in increased economic development and rising property values.
The focus of the educational systems of high performing countries is on outcomes, high ambition and universally high standards. Concern is for diversity, individualized learning, and teaching students how to adapt to rapid change in practices, technology and culture.   
The future supply of high school and college graduates in the United States is declining, while in China, the European Union and India have already surpassed this country. They will continue to do so unless we take decisive action.
This nation's status as a world power is scarred by high dropout rates, teen pregnancy, high levels of incarceration of students and disagreement about what students should be learning and how this learning capacity should be measured. While there are indeed high-performing schools across our state and nation, the bickering over blame for poor test results is akin to Nero fiddling while Rome burned.  
Children are languishing. Now is the time for competent educators, businesspeople, parents and community leaders to join forces to develop programs for public schools to deliver a strong globally-based curriculum, driven by research-based standards known to prepare students for success in a highly evolving, fast-paced world. School districts must then deliver on these outcomes and the state Legislature must support these efforts through enabling flexibility to adopt best-practice education policy that focuses on the student.
Failure to act will be an indictment of this nation's values and beliefs, threatening national security and this country's future to a greater degree than any act of terrorism ever could.

Jessie is a retired educator and an education management consultant who serves on the Georgia Professional Standards Commission's Human Resources Task Force. The Georgia Public Policy Foundation is an independent think tank.
 

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