Wednesday, December 26, 2007

In Desperate Need of An Academic Revolution by Akindele Akinyemi

Do Detroit's high school seniors have the skills they need to land good jobs at your company?

I often ask that question to business and civic leaders in our community.

Once again, we should be asking exactly the right questions when we are in the business of reforming education in our community.

Detroiters are fortunate to have charter advocates who are not afraid to reach out directly to employers for real, practical answers about what students need to know to compete in a global work force.

This conversation between business leaders and schools is critical if we're going to improve student motivation to stay in school. We can help them connect the dots between graduation and a good job -- and the good life they seek.

As business and educational leaders, we have clear reasons to get involved. More than 80 percent of employers are facing a moderate to severe shortage of qualified workers, according to a report commissioned by the National Association of Manufacturers.

Charters in Metro Detroit should connect with the Detroit Regional Chamber and SEMCOG to personally connect with schools -- by talking about the skills workers need, by walking the halls of our schools through programs like "Principal For A Day," and by forging long-term partnerships with schools.

Blacks in Detroit have to begin thinking outside the box. This means teaching our children that the world is bigger than Mack and Bewick, Schoolcraft and Wyoming and Grand River and Joy Road.

America finds itself at a unique and delicate tipping point, characterized by two unprecedented shifts. First, the world is becoming dramatically more interconnected and competitive, and second, innovation itself -- where it comes from and how it creates value -- is changing.

For example, countries around the world are increasing their production of science and engineering students, ramping up R&D spending, building world-class infrastructure, and focusing on niche areas where they can compete. In many respects, this is great -- it increases our global capacity to innovate and to meet the challenges we face in areas like health care and energy. But there is a risk that some of the resources that the United States has come to depend on -- the best and brightest students in the world, corporate R&D investment, new startup companies -- will choose to locate overseas rather than in the United States.

Over the past decade or so, we as a nation have tended to under-invest in the physical sciences and engineering -- the very disciplines that underpin the innovations and technological advances from which we benefit today. What we have to read into this going forward is very clear: we need an extremely robust R&D portfolio -- in the physical sciences and engineering and the health sciences. We must, as a nation, invest in the frontiers of science, technology, and engineering.

This is why we need to begin looking and investing into charter schools that are set up as technology hubs as well as learning the core curriculum's by raising the bar with our children in our community as well as raising the bar with the parents.

On the new international math & science test series, the Associated Press reported "American high school 12th graders scored near the bottom of all nations - out performing only Cyprus and South Africa.

US News & World Report study showed that students in Japan, Germany & France: spend 100% more hours studying math, science and history than U.S. students. A full 50% of all students take advanced examinations, compared to but 6.6% in U.S.

Average days in school: Japan 240 ,Korea 222,Taiwan 222, Israel 215, US 178. In addition, their school days tend to be longer, they assign more homework and apply more discipline in the classroom.

In Detroit and other places across urban Michigan education requirements have been "dumbed down" so as not to injure students' self-esteem. How's this for a reality check concerning outcome-based education, watered-down curricula and grading techniques which is the rage in some circles. We have to understand that There's no such thing as 'outcome-based competition to make sure nobody's feelings get hurt. The real world is not a padded romper room at McDonald's. It has edges to it? No. Teachers are not responsible for social problems that can undermine students' abilities to perform in school.

Critics of government education are told they judge U.S. teachers unfairly, especially when being compared to other nations' educational systems. We need to fully understand as educators and community activists that fairness has nothing to do with it. Speaking of Detroit's recent past, the cars coming out of foreign factories were better than ours. The customers are only interested in the end product not the problems that we have producing it or the advantages our competitors enjoy that we don't.

If we want to compete globally and take transforming our community seriously we have to understand the big mistake thinking that our public schools should be warehouses for incorrigible adolescents. No one should be allowed to stay in school just because he has nowhere else to go but the street. Children get self-esteem from success not baby sitting. Oftentimes, I get appalled to hear that syntax and spelling get in the way of self-expression, and that protecting a child's self-esteem is more important than developing his/her mind. Maybe there's a place for people who sit around feeling good about themselves but can't write a coherent sentence saying why, but when we are talking about designing a international charter college preparatory academy there is no room for such behavior.

U.S. spending per student is between 50% higher and 2-3 times higher than other nations despite fewer class days than others, yet our comparative test scores in math & science are lower.

We have to STOP thinking about the box we are comfortable living and working in and understand that education goes in hand with economics. It is not about just the community you live and work in anymore. It is about academic revolution. It is time to stop fooling ourselves about Detroit and other government ran public schools. They are not doing the job the taxpayers are paying for and are unlikely to improve unless education follows the example of business and engages in competition.

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