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A letter to presidential candidates: three decisions to enable continuous growth in the U.S.

Dear candidates:

In a few days one of you will be elected President of the United States. Inherent in that role is the duty to keep the U.S. a prosper country where its citizens can pursue happiness. In the medium to long-term, Education can bring one of the greatest impacts. Nevertheless, we have heard little of what you have planned to do so far.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) published its “The Future of Jobs” report in January, 2016. It discusses the future of employment for the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” While you are in the Oval Office, the WEF reports five million jobs will be lost before 2020, and 65% of children starting primary school today will work on jobs that do not exist yet. “… Anticipating and preparing for future skills requirements is critical.” The good news is we will also experience the creation of 2.1 million new specialized jobs. The bad news is our society is not ready for the job demands that are just four years ahead of us.  We must do something.

“Without urgent and targeted action today, to manage the near-term transition and build a workforce with future-proof skills, governments will have to cope with ever-growing unemployment and inequality, and businesses with a shrinking consumer base,” WEF’s “The Future of Jobs” Report

You have a tremendous responsibility that goes beyond providing education, a responsibility by which you will be judged by future generations. What will you do? What will be your impact?

Human capital has a direct correlation to the country’s economic future.  Here are three Education decisions to consider as President that will enable growth.

1. Innovation in Education

Innovation happens in every industry:  from finding the cure for Ebola, to using idled cars to service customers (Uber), or the creation of alternative energy. These innovations happen within parameters set to their industries and approved by specific agencies. So why not do the same for Education? Our education system is so rigid that the little innovation we have seen just does more of the same: long-distance teaching via Skype or pre-recorded videos, automated quizzes and exams, a whiteboard in the classroom that replaces the blackboard, all with one purpose: to have better grades on standardized tests, which is distant from what the fourth industrial revolution is requiring.

By bringing down barriers such as curriculum requirements, like Finland did with heralding success or establishing quality of learning over seat time requirements, like innovation organizations do in the real world, we could see innovation flourish around the country and have the U.S. set parameters where the country delivers and is recognized by its outstanding Education System.

2. Personalized Learning for all

In 2001, Robert Barro, a leading education and economic researcher concluded if all students of a country attend one additional year of education, its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) can increase by 0.44% per year. Along the same line of research, Hanushek and Woessmann (2008) determined more important than years in school is the quality of learning. They concluded quality and cognitive skills result in a powerful economic growth opportunity, enabling countries to reach one full percentage point per year in GDP increase. This makes the case for us to individually enable each student to success, and therefore, impact their social and economic opportunities and their communities’.

The world is moving towards a more personalized experience. However, the clear majority of students still learn on the traditional, industrial way: one teacher lecturing for a group of students, ignoring their learning pace for the sake of complying with the established curriculum, and most damaging, ignoring their potential.

By making personalized learning a requirement, you will enable educators to foster students’ potential, to develop the cognitive skills that will enable them to have better social and economic opportunities, and consequently bring the U.S. into faster and consistent economic growth.

3. Personalized assessment for all

If personalization is everywhere, including in Education, why do we still assess students’ knowledge with a standardized test? If we are fostering each student’s potential through a personalized learning, why not evaluate their growth accordingly, comparing their personal growth rather than comparing them to each other?

In 2014, Ms. Katie Brown from Seattle, WA won the Teacher of the Year Award. When Bill Gates interviewed her she shared a big disappointment: she had this student that arrived from another country and advanced four grade levels in English in just one year, a “heroic work from him and his teachers.” And yet his scores on the standardized tests said he was not proficient to his grade level. How frustrated is for that student and his family? What’s the likelihood of him dropping out? How does this impact his self-esteem? Will he apply the same effort as previously after “failing”?

Personalized assessment is simple: shift the focus of assessment from learned content to the learning process. How students acquire information, where from, how they transform that information into knowledge, how they practice what they have learned and how they will use that information in their lives. The main measurement of success is the effort that students apply to reach each milestone, regardless of the time they take, but ensuring the highest excellence of work (Duckworth, Angela. “Grit”, 2016).

 

Surely you will have many other decisions to make about Education. However, if you start with these three, you will enable the professional educators to contribute to your legacy. These decisions are your investment to the long-term needs of our country. A strong education system is the key to our continuous success.

Thank you.

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