The Global Achievement Gap

Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need, and What We Can Do About It

by Tony Wagner

Number of pages: 344

Publisher: Basic Books

BBB Library: Education

ISBN: 9780465002306

About the Author

Wagner is director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He served as Advisor to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He is the author of Making the Grade, and How Schools Change.


Editorial Review

Education expert Tony Wagner has conducted scores of interviews with business leaders and observed hundreds of classes in some of the nation’s most highly regarded public schools. He discovered a profound disconnect between what potential employers are looking for in young people today (critical thinking skills, creativity, and effective communication) and what our schools are providing (passive learning environments and uninspired lesson plans that focus on test preparation and reward memorization).

Book Reviews

"Wagner's book, The Global Achievement Gap, is an extremely insightful read from an Academic Advisor's perspective. " NACADA

"According to Mr. Wagner, their claims that it is a diagnostic test are misleading. In fact, the school is just preparing them for the final exam." Global Ed

"Additionally, the illustration depicts the gap by exhibiting two rows of two chairs and desks, symbolizing the old school of learning that generates the global achievement gap and hinting that something needs to be changed so as to catch up." Edrev

"This is an excellent book on the challenges and potential solutions in today’s education system. Tony Wagner sees a major gap between what students are being taught, and the skills they need to master to succeed in the 21st century economy." Seeking Growth

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Wisdom to Share

Instituting better assessments is the one most important change we could make tomorrow that would have the greatest impact.

“We need a teacher we can really talk to. Not just about school things, but things going on in our lives. We want to know that a teacher cares.”

Whether at school or in the workplace, young people are hungry for creative and interactive relationship with the world.

Growing up in this era of remarkable abundance (for many, at least) and with a vast array of new toys at their fingertips, young people want lives that are different from the ones they see their parents living.

What is needed to tip the balance to the positive is an older generation that better understands what drives the younger generation and has learned how best to harness and focus its energies.

Younger generations have enormous potential either to become lost in an endless web of fantasy and entertainment or to use their skills with these new technologies to make significant contributions to our society as learners, workers, and citizens.

New developments on the web are giving young people a set of experiences that create a hunger for more than merely learning through discovery.

“Most of us experienced formal learning in an authority-based, lecture-oriented school. Now, with incredible amounts of information available through the web, we find a ‘new’ kind of learning assuming pre-eminence learning that’s discovery based. We are constantly discovering new things as we browse through the emergent digital ‘libraries.’ Indeed, web surfing fuses learning and entertainment, creating ‘infotainment.’”

The ways in which young people are different today as learners may be the most fundamental change we need to understand as we consider how to close the global achievement gap. The use of the Internet and other digital technology has transformed learning entirely.

The desire to multitask and be constantly connected to the net and to friends as well as the hunger for immediate results influence how young people today interact with the world; whether in school or at work or at home or while traveling, and must be taken into account by both educators and employers.

To better understand how young people today are differently motivated, we need to see that they’re growing up in an environment that is radically different from previous generations.

Instead of having students, teachers and would-be administrators memorize the parts of the car, metaphorically speaking, they have to demonstrate that they can actually drive!

We need to identify the competencies that are most important to be an effective teacher or administrator and then develop ways that adults can show proficiency.

The real problem with educator preparation programs is that they focus on ensuring that future teachers and administrators have covered a broad range of required academic content; content that, in many cases, has little to do with the actual requirements of the job.

Studies show that nearly one in two teachers who start out in the classroom leave after just five years!

Lack of adequate teacher preparation and support is considered the primary cause for the astounding public school teacher attrition rate.

Certification programs for administrators focus a great deal of time and attention on subjects like history of education, education psychology, philosophy of education, school law, and research methods, but none at all on how to be a change leader, or how to supervise teachers effectively.

Work, learning, and citizenship in the twenty-first century demand that we all know how to think, to reason, analyze, weigh evidence, problem-solve, and to communicate effectively.

Almost any job that pays more than minimum wage now calls for employees who know how to solve a range of intellectual and technical problems.

In the twenty-first century, mastery of the basic skills of reading, writing, and math is no longer enough.

There is a global achievement gap: a gap between what even our best public schools are teaching and testing versus what all students will need to succeed as learners, workers, and citizens in today’s global knowledge economy.

Economic survival is not the only factor that we must consider as we rethink education goals for the twenty-first century.

Teaching all students to think and to be curious is much more than a technical problem for which educators, alone, are accountable.

Teachers haven’t been trained to teach students how to think. The textbooks and tests we use aren’t designed to teach and assess the ability to reason or analyze.

There is an assumption that only those in the college-preparatory classes were going to have to learn how to reason, problem-solve, and so on, and historically they comprised only a small percentage of students.

The simplest explanation for the low level of intellectual work and lack of curiosity found in classrooms—even in our best high schools—is that our schools were never designed to teach all students how to think.

Students are graduating from both high school and college unprepared for the world of work.

In order to earn a decent wage in today’s economy, most students will need at least some postsecondary education.

Sixty-five percent of college professors report that what is taught in high school does not prepare students for college.

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