Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wilhoit: Global shift needed

This from the Messenger-Inquirer (subscription):

Kentucky and the nation must focus on improving education and turning out better-prepared graduates if the United States is to compete with growing nations, former state education commissioner Gene Wilhoit told the spring meeting of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said higher education graduates in the United States are at a significant disadvantage when competing for jobs because of the huge numbers of graduates more populous countries such as India and China can turn out.Wilhoit was the keynote speaker for the meeting of the committee, a Lexington-based nonprofit that is focused on education in Kentucky.Advances in technology, the globalization of economies and the shifts in demographics mean that foreign graduates are becoming better prepared to take on high-paying jobs worldwide and U.S. graduates are at risk of losing out.

"They are on a mission and they are going to do what they can do to be like us," Wilhoit told those in attendance at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Louisville on Monday. "They have made the connection that if they educate their children, they can compete with the United States. We as a country don't often recognize this dramatic shift."

Changes over the past decade also mean that the national and state-level approaches to education are no longer adequate when it comes to competition on an international scale, Wilhoit said. Because of that competition, Wilhoit said, Kentucky and the nation at large, cannot compete in manual labor because of the global shift abroad with those jobs."We're not going to win the population race. We've already lost it," Wilhoit said. "Our economic future is directly tied to how well we educate the next generation of students."

That's what makes the national adoption of core standards so important, Wilhoit said. Part of creating, implementing, maintaining and benefiting from national standards, Wilhoit said, is taking on the necessary mechanics of the system.

New methods of self-assessment for students and teachers alike, the adaptation of technology to the classroom and more focused professional development for educators are all part of the new system that needs to come about.

At the same time, Wilhoit said, it's not just enough to set standards nationwide. The standards have to be well-prepared and well-thought out."These must be college- and career-ready standards," Wilhoit said. "Every youngster needs a goal, needs an ambition to continue to higher education."Wilhoit said this is a decision point.

"We have a chance here, one of two ways we can go. One, we can change what we teach and ask less of our kids. That's unacceptable," Wilhoit said. "Two, we can change what we're doing."

Also speaking at the meeting was Ann Shannon, a consultant who led a personal development seminar with DCPS math teachers in late February and early March. Shannon's seminar has also been conducted in five other school districts throughout the state and is part of the preparation for the math section of the new core standards.

Daviess County Public Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton said he believes Wilhoit was dead-on with his statements."I agree with him. ...We're no longer competing against neighboring counties or even neighboring states. We're competing against neighboring countries. "Shelton said also that action now is important."We have to change things to fit the need we have, to be more focused on problem-solving and critical thinking so we can adequately prepare kids," Shelton said.

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