“ON DEVELOPING HUMAN CAPITAL”
I recently served on a panel to share how schools are developing human capital. The event’s sponsors had good intentions in trying to link the work of schools with that of business. Yet, the unintended implication that children and adolescents represent chattel in an economic engine that is being fueled by schools was disconcerting. Though, considering the design of the current school reform movement, I was not surprised.
There is a renewed utilitarian perspective on the purpose for school. U.S. and New York State policymakers call for College and Career Readiness. Their argument is based on a need for international competitiveness. While pragmatism is typically healthy, the recent approach is both ironic and counterproductive.
Many educators are concerned that we are narrowing our curriculum and educational priorities to prepare students for assessments while other countries, such as Finland and China, are making advances via the emulation of those elements of U.S. education that foster creativity and innovation. States, such as New York, are abandoning a model that created a generation of entrepreneurs and inventors who led the world in patents and Nobel prizes.
The new reform agenda has produced the following:
• teacher and student-test cheating scandals;
• an “award-winning” school in Texas – discovered to have dropped science, history, and the arts to achieve high scores on the state test;
• school districts that drop their arts and extracurricular programs due to limited resources or a need for more time to prepare students for tests;
• untested professional accountability systems – based on student exam results – that are likely to further narrow the scope of instruction to “make the grade”;
• New York math and reading exams for seven and eight year olds will exceed four hours per test. Tests are being planned for other subjects.
These represent a stark departure from an educational experience that should spark joy in learning, not anxiety. Such changes are occurring with no evidence that they will work.
Of course there is a need to develop skills and knowledge that will be required for future jobs. We are in the midst of a major information technology revolution; but is the education establishment setting a course to provide students with the right learning experiences to truly enable them to help advance our society during these transformative times? Does our focus on testing and accountability allow for a curriculum that fosters creative and innovative learning? What will we lose by narrowing learning experiences?
We must develop creative and critical thinking in our students to spark the next IT idea, healthcare intervention, transportation innovation, or clean energy solution. The U.S. economy needs creative knowledge products to compete in an interdependent global marketplace.
Such creators and creations are not developed in test-driven institutions in which the objectives are to sort and select those who are “college and career ready”. School must be much more than the development of human capital.