Past Chair, Partnership for 21st Century Skills
K-12 Education Manager, Intel Corporation
Recently, at a conference on education reform, I heard a state superintendent from one of the country’s highest performing states share a comment I found concerning. He said he believed there would be a tension between meeting more rigorous common core standards and personalizing learning for students to make schools relevant and engaging to learners.
While I have a lot of personal respect for this man, I think his comment reflects a common misperception that our country has to overcome in order for school improvement to succeed. As I sat in the conference room, looking around at a sizeable crowd of over-40-somethings, it occurred to me that educational, corporate and government leaders need to be promoting exactly the opposite message. I think the only way we will have all students meet rigorous standards is to make the learning completely personal, relevant and engaging.
At a time when an overwhelming number of students feel disconnected from school – according to a recent Time Magazine article, the national high school dropout rate currently exceeds 30 percent – we need to find a way to connect with students, to engage them and keep them in the classroom. Technology will be a critical component of this endeavor.
In this digital era, students are connected as individuals through cell phones, the internet and many participate in large virtual on social networking sites. Technology is so integrated in their lives that, according to a recent factoid, nine out of ten students no longer wear wristwatches as timepieces because they can now access the time through a plethora of other technological devices close at hand. Content is available online, critical analysis and application of content has become more important than content itself as the body of published work available online doubles seemingly overnight. If students check in online but checkout at school-, why are we not doing a better job at using these tools to motivate students in rigorous learning experiences?
Intel is investing in helping teachers become better at technology integration for learning. We offer free professional development to states and districts all over the country. We also have supported the development of technology standards for students, teachers and administrators in the US. Our most recent project is collaboration with Intel, Microsoft and Cisco on how to do a better job of assessment of 21st Century skills in students.
However, I fear that philanthropic efforts by Intel, Cisco, Microsoft, or Oracle will not have the systemic impact we seek until education leaders embrace the opportunity that technology presents in making our students more engaged, and more successful in school. If you need a reason for why that is important – check out a recent McKinsey study that said the United States’ GDP would have been 9 to 16 percent higher – that is, $1.3 to $2.3 trillion higher – in 2008 had U.S. high school graduates attained the average skills of their peers in Canada, Finland or South Korea. In our current economic situation, we can’t afford not to have an educational system where all kids succeed.