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The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need--And What We Can Do About It Excerpt from The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need--And What We Can Do About It

by Tony Wagner



A New Context for Schooling

Economic survival is not the only factor that we must consider as we rethink education goals for the twenty-first century. To better understand how all of our schools must adapt to new realities, we need to explore three fundamental transformations that have taken place in a very short period of time:

  • the rapid evolution of the new global "knowledge economy," with profound effects on the world of work -- all work.
  • the sudden and dramatic shift from information that is limited in terms of amount and availability to information characterized by flux and glut.
  • the increasing impact of media and technology on how young people learn and relate to the world -- and to each other.

Separately, each of these transformations represents enormous challenges to our education system. Taken together, they compel a fundamental reconsideration of all of our assumptions about what children need to learn and how learning takes place. In the chapters that follow, I will explore these three forces of change and their implications for teaching, testing, schooling, training educators, and motivating today's students.

In Chapter 1, we'll look at how the world of work is changing and how these and other changes have created an imperative for individuals to master what I call the Seven Survival Skills -- the skills that matter most for work, learning, and citizenship in today's global "knowledge economy." Then, in Chapter 2, we'll contrast this New World of Work with the Old World of School -- a world that has remained virtually unchanged for more than a half-century. In particular, we'll visit classes in some of our most highly regarded public schools to explore the extent to which these new survival skills are being taught. In Chapter 3, we'll look at the standardized, multiple-choice tests that students must take with increasing frequency and see what they are really like. We'll explore why and how these tests became so prevalent and gauge their influence on education today; we'll also look at some new assessments that have the potential to hold schools accountable for the skills that matter most.

The fact that future educators must be differently trained and supported in their work is the subject of Chapter 4. Chapter 5 explores the ways in which members of the "Net Generation" have been shaped by the very different world in which they've grown up, as well as the challenges involved in motivating today's students and tomorrow's workers. In Chapter 6, we'll take a tour of three remarkable high schools that show how the Seven Survival Skills can be taught and assessed and that point the way toward a new vision for education. And finally, in the Conclusion, we'll consider some questions -- questions for me and questions for you -- about what we can do to create a very different dialogue about teaching and learning and testing in the twenty-first century.

In The Global Achievement Gap, I begin by discussing why today's students must be taught how to think -- all students, not just those labeled as "gifted and talented" -- and then I explore some of the essential questions that we must answer if we are to take this goal seriously. What changes must be made within the education system to prepare our nation's students for both analytic and creative thinking? What must teachers do differently to stimulate students' imaginations? What kinds of tests must be given to students to show whether we are making progress toward these ambitious goals? Determining the answers to these questions is important indeed; but, as Einstein suggested, "the formulation of the problem" is even more so.

The "problem," simply stated, is that the future of our economy, the strength of our democracy, and perhaps even the health of the planet's ecosystems depend on educating future generations in ways very different from how many of us were schooled. In this book, we embark on a journey together, not only to understand this global achievement gap but also to discover new ways of thinking about education and best practices in schools that are preparing all students for learning, work, and citizenship in the twenty-first century.


The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2008 Tony Wagner