Education: Best in execution, worst in strategy

by Steve Wyckoff on February 19, 2010

I read this phrase the other day and I thought it applied to education perfectly. Best in execution but worst in strategy. It is my observation that we are doing the best job in education we have ever done, doing what we’ve always done. Our execution is excellent. State assessment scores are on the rise. Dropout numbers are in decline. Each time the state or federal bureaucrats give us a new task to accomplish with our students we commit ourselves to accomplishing it, regardless of how little sense it makes.

On the other hand our students are less well prepared for the world they are going to live in than they have ever been. We have the wrong strategy. We are still preparing our kids as if a small percentage are going to go on to college and earn four-year degrees and the rest, at some point, are going to drop out of the system and go to a factory where they will do mindless work exactly as management tells them to.

Want some supporting evidence? Our core curriculum was designed over 115 years ago. It is still the core of what we teach our kids. It was designed to prepare the small percentage of high school students who were going on to college in 1892 to be successful. It was deemed to be such a good curriculum that every high school student should have it. And it was okay, because those kids who didn’t do well in the curriculum could still go into the workplace, show up every day, do what they were told, and make a good living.

More evidence: in 1950 over 60% of the jobs in America required unskilled workers. Today less than 15% of the jobs in America require unskilled workers. Only about 23% of all the jobs in America require a four-year college degree. The remaining 60% to 65% of the jobs require some type of technical skills.

But we are still preparing every student to go to college in the hopes that they will earn a four year college degree. And we are ignoring the vast numbers of students who need a different kind of preparation to be productive members of society in the 21st century.

Our strategy is all wrong …  but our execution is flawless. – Steve Wyckoff

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