As the director of a small team, I once had an upper manager advise me, “Wherever you put your focus, that will be what your team focuses on, too.” And soon after, I realized how true that statement was, not only in management but with everything in life. We see it every day. As a nation we are now intensely focused on health care and insurance due to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. As a state we are discussing the expansion of Medicare because of Gov. Kasich’s call for legislation, and as a community we are contemplating the effects of regionalism and job growth owing to Mayor Jackson’s plans and initiatives. So without scientific research, I am going to go out on a limb and agree with that original claim. People will place their focus on whatever it is that is most talked about or celebrated.
So what does this mean for our educational system? People often ask the question, “Why are many Asian and European students out-testing American students, particularly in math and science? Why do students who live in more affluent communities outperform students from less affluent neighborhoods? Is it race? Is it money? Is it really because of better schools or teachers?”
Personally, I think not. I think it is less because of higher quality educators and more because of culture. We have to ask ourselves, “What is the culture that we have created for our children?” Is the culture of the community to glorify a great basketball player or football player, or is the culture revering the student who wins the science fair? Is the cultural expectation for students to excel in calculus, or is the cultural expectation to just get by? Whatever we as a community honor and praise, that will be exactly to what our kids aspire.
So is it really true that many Asian and European students outperform American students in math and science? Yes, unfortunately, it is true. Reviewing the results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) that academically tests 15-year-old students from 60 countries, outcomes show that American students run behind 17 other countries in math, including China, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Finland, Switzerland, Japan and Canada. And while some will claim that budget cuts in schools have taken a toll, if you look at the fact that the U.S. has the highest-funded school system of all of these nations, that argument hardly stands. The countries that truly excel are those who place high value on family structure, who respect education with the highest regard and who do not battle with discipline in the classroom. But what does this all mean, and why does it really matter?
It matters because, as Dr. William Daggett so eloquently stated at Fairview Park High School back in October, the problem lies in the “skills gap.” Dr. Daggett, a renowned educational speaker, states that “the rate of change outside our schools is four to five times faster than the rate of change inside our schools.” In essence, this means that we are not able to keep up with the skills demands of the world.
And what are those demands? They are demands in technology, computers, science, medicine, engineering, finance, statistics, data analysis and so on, and so on. Jobs are slowly slipping away from us every day, and we will not be able to keep up with the world as it quickly moves beyond our capability to compete. Over 400,000 jobs in these aforementioned fields go unfulfilled every year because the skills of our graduating students do not match the skills of the jobs. And really, what does it all mean if our educational system does not lead to careers, new innovations and humanitarian efforts that improve the world?
Keeping up with these changes will not happen if our “culture” doesn’t really start to celebrate the big and small wins that our students make every day in school. If we continue to focus and praise celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, then Miley is what we will get. But if we praise the victories of our everyday excelling students – then continued success is what we will achieve.
Tanya Foose was a candidate for the Fairview Park school board in 2013. She will be an occasional columnist for West Life.