Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Life is not a multiple choice test.

I just finished reading "The Global Achievement Gap" by Tony Wagner.
I highly recommend this book.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

(xxi) Schools haven’t changed; the world has. And so our schools are not failing. Rather, they are obsolete – even the ones that score the best on standardized tests.

(xxiii) I have observed that the longer our children are in school, the less curious they become.

(xxv) Boredom continues to be a leading cause of our high school dropout rate.


What business people say about new employees:

(2) I look for someone who asks good questions…I want people to engage in good discussion – who can look me in the eye.

(20) We’re looking for less linear thinking—people who can conceptualize but also synthesize a lot of data.

(26) Kids just out of school have an amazing lack of preparedness in general leadership skills and collaborative skills…They lack the ability to influence versus direct command…the only kind of leadership young people have…is one that relies on obedience versus the kind…demanded by…teams and networks.

(31) Today’s employees must adapt to change; they can’t be satisfied with the status quo…we look for employees who have a passion to embrace new ideas.

(111) In today’s world, it’s no longer how much you know that matters; it’s what you can do with what you know.


More quotes from the book:

(7) The [AP] kids…don’t know how to observe. I ask them to describe what they see in the microscopes, and they want to know what they should be looking for – what the right answer is.

(9) While No Child Left Behind was well intended, its implementation is, in fact, putting all of our children further behind in acquiring the new survival skills for learning, work, and citizenship.

(17) Schools need to let kids be much more curious instead of learning to pass tests…Throw out the textbooks! We’re getting what we measure, but we’re measuring the wrong things.

(34) The skills needed to be a successful knowledge worker today continue to evolve and grow in importance everywhere – except in our schools.

(47) Sure, sports are important, but why don’t we see more public celebrations of academic achievement in our high schools?

(75) If we do not allow our students to ask why, but just keep on telling them how, then we are only going to get the transactional type of outsourcing, not the high-end things that require complex interactions and judgment to understand another person’s needs.

(91) Knowledge of mathematics did not even make the top-ten list of the skills employers deemed most important.

(93) We keep hearing that all students need more math and science courses, but I believe that all students need more engaging and relevant math and science courses.

(98) Did you know there are now over 750 colleges and universities that do not rely on either the SAT or the ACT to make most of their admissions decisions?

(105-6) AP courses were originally designed in the 1950s as a way for the most academically advanced students to take a college-level course while still in high school…[Now] too many students who have passed AP exams lack either the academic skills or the depth of understanding required for true college-level work.

(113) A hidden cost of the teaching and testing that dominates high schools today is its negative impact on student motivation to learn for pleasure or even to continue in school at all.

(115) Life is not a multiple choice test.

(115-6) The Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) is an open-ended, ninety-minute performance assessment…to solve real-world problems…the CLA is less than half the cost of an AP exam—or about $40 per student—and so there is no reason public schools couldn’t use this test as a way of determining whether their students are college-ready. [see:]

(123) Go in and watch some of our teachers teach writing. And it would make your hair curl. Very formulaic and incredibly repetitive so as the drum any glint of creativity from a child’s heart.

(124) Factual recall tests are also about ten times cheaper to develop and to score – which is another obvious reason for their popularity with state legistlators.

(128) If your goal is to improve student learning – and that is the only goal that really matters—the first problem that you have to work on is to improve teaching and the coaching of teachers.

(142) I truly believe that viewing and discussing videos of teaching and supervision is the single most effective strategy for improving instruction for all schools; yet it is almost never done.

(146) Studies show that nearly one in two teachers who start out in the classroom leave after just five years…the national cost of this teacher dropout problem is over $7 billion dollars a year.

(154) There are wonderful and effective teachers in every school across the country…but these teachers and schools are the exception—what I call the random acts of excellence in a system that is more frequently characterized by mediocrity—through no fault of the majority of teachers and administrators who want to make a difference in students’ lives.

(162) I realized that just because teachers were using research-based strategies and providing a quality learning environment, they weren’t necessarily engaging students in using their minds well.

(170) These kids can do amazing things when you build the learning around what interests them.

(175) Continuous partial attention [ie, multitasking with technology] describes how many of us use our attention today…we want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment. To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter.

(178) Students are increasingly impatient with the lecture style of learning and the reliance on textbooks…and crave more class discussions.

(179) The real literacy of tomorrow entails the ability to be your own personal reference librarian—to know how to navigate through…complex information spaces…Navigation may well be the main form of literacy for the 21st century.

(180) Web surfing fuses learning and entertainment, creating infotainment.

(181) [The Web] is a vast and ever-expanding palate for personal creativity and self-expression—especially for young people growing up today.

(187) What is needed…is an older generation that better understands what drives the younger generation and has learned how best to harness and focus its energies.

(188) The older generation defined itself by what they wear and own; this generation [the Net Generation] defines itself by what it creates and co-creates with others, and others build on.

(190) School is boring for kids today because it hasn’t caught up with what kids can do outside of school.

(194) You have to make the work more interesting and allow [the kids] to work in different ways. They are prepared to work just as much and just as hard—but not at a desk eight hours a day.

(194) [Young people] bring a lot to the table…they can connect in new ways, they collaborate, they are visual learners, and they have great spatial awareness…Put them in teams with traditional workers where they can learn from each other.

(199-200) The overwhelming majority of students today…want to be challenged…they want to know why they are being asked to learn something. They want learning to be an end in itself—rather than a means to the end of boosting test scores.

(205) Young people who have discovered their passion are far more likely to have the will and discipline to learn and do the difficult things that school and work often require.

(210) Rigor is being in the company of a thoughtful, passionate, reflective adult who invites you into an adult conversation which is composed of the rigorous pursuit of inquiry.

Examples of schools that work:

1. High Tech High Schools in San Diego County:

2. Big Picture Schools:

3. Coalition of Essential Schools:

Tony Wagner’s 7 Survival Skills for Teens Today

(ie, what schools should be teaching & what kids should be learning):

1. Critical thinking & problem solving

2. Collaboration and leading by influence

3. Agility and adaptability

4. Initiative and entrepreneurialism

5. Effective oral and written communication

6. Accessing and analyzing information

7. Curiosity and imagination


  1. Thank you for reading “Achievement Gap” and for putting up some info on it. I hope others will follow your lead and we can begin some community dialogue that includes investing in the developmental needs of our students and examining potential changes in the way we educate that develops the whole person, not just the academic/content…

    Thank you for all your efforts and perseverance!

  2. There needs to be a revolution in today's Educational System! We need more charter schools in Contra Costa. How come the majority of Charter Schools aimed at the individual child seem to be in Oakland and San Francisco? Is it because the parents in this area are 'Status Quo" or to busy to care?