Average Is Over, Part II

A big mismatch exists today between how U.S. C.E.O.’s look at the world and how many American politicians and parents look at the world, it may be preventing us from taking our education challenge as seriously as we must. For many politicians, “outsourcing” is four-letter word because it involves jobs leaving “here” and going “there”. But for many C.E.O.’s, outsourcing is over. In today’s seamlessly connected world, there is no “out” and no “in” anymore. There is only the “good,” “better” and “best” places to get work done, and if they don’t tap into the best, most cost-efficient venue wherever that is, their competition will. (source: Thomas L. Friedman – NYTimes – 08/08/2012)

For politicians, it’s all about “made in America,” but, for C.E.O.’s, it is increasingly about “made in the world”, a world where more and more products are now imagined everywhere, designed everywhere, manufactured everywhere in global supply chains and sold everywhere. American politicians are still citizens of our states and cities, while C.E.O.’s are increasingly citizens of the world, with mixed loyalties. For politicians, all their customers are here; for C.E.O.’s, 90% of their new customers are abroad. The credo of the politician today is: “Why are you not hiring more people here?” The credo of the C.E.O. today is: “You only hire someone, anywhere, if you absolutely have to”, if a smarter machine, robot or computer program is not available. Yes, this is a simplification, but the trend is accurate. The trend is that for more and more jobs, average is over. Thanks to the merger of, and advances in, globalization and the information technology revolution, every boss now has cheaper, easier access to more above-average software, automation, robotics, cheap labor, cheap genius than ever before. So just doing a job in an average way will not return an average lifestyle any longer. Yes, I know, that’s what they said about the Japanese “threat” in the 1980s. But Japan, alas, challenged just two American industries, cars and consumer electronics, and just one American town, Detroit. Globalization and Internet/telecom/computing revolution together challenge every town, worker and job. There is no good job today that does not require more and better education to get it, hold it or advance in it. Which is why it is disturbing when more studies show American K-12 schools continue to lag behind other major industrialized countries on international education tests. Like politicians, too many parents think if their kid’s school is doing better the one next door, they’re fine. Well, a dose of reality is on the way thanks to Andreas Schleicher and his team at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which coordinates the Program for International Student Assessment, known as PISA test. Every three years, O.E.C.D. has been giving the PISA test to a sample of 15-year-olds, now in 70 countries, to evaluate reading, math and science skills. U.S. does not stand out. It’s just average, but many parents are sure their kid is above average. With help from several foundations in the U.S., Schleicher has just finished a pilot study of 100 American schools to enable principals, teachers, parents to see not just how America stacks up against China, how their own school stacks up against similar schools in best-educated countries, like Finland and Singapore.

“The entry ticket to the middle class today is a postsecondary education of some kind”, but too many kids are not coming out of K-12 prepared for that, and too many parents don’t get it, says Jon Schnur, chairman of America Achieves, which is partnering with O.E.C.D. on this project as part of an effort to help every American understand connection between educational attainment at their school, for all age groups, and what will be required to perform the jobs of the future. “Imagine, in a few years, you could sign onto a Web site and see this is how my school compares with a similar school anywhere in the world”. “And then you take this information to your local superintendent and ask: ‘Why are we not doing as well as schools in China or Finland?’ ” Schleicher’s team is assessing all their test results, and socioeconomic profiles of each school, to make sure they have a proper data set for making global comparisons. They hope to have the comparison platform available early next year. Says Schleicher: “If parents do not know, they will not demand, as consumers, a high quality of educational service. They will just say the school my kids are going to is as good as the school I went to.” If this comparison platform can be built at this micro scale, he says, it could “lead to empowerment at really decisive level” of parents, principals and teachers demanding something better. “This is not about threatening schools,” he adds. It is about giving each of them “the levers to effect change” and a window into the pace of change that is possible when every stakeholder in a school has the data and can say: Look at those who have made dramatic improvements around the world. Why can’t we? 

Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional

5 Responses to Average Is Over, Part II

  1. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: According to Friedman’s piece “Every three years, the O.E.C.D. has been giving the PISA test to a sample of 15-year-olds, now in 70 countries, to evaluate reading, math and science skills. The U.S. does not stand out. It’s just average, but many parents are sure their kid is above average”. US is top among the best 100 universities in the world. High education is the last competitive sector of the US economy. China — principal adversary of the US in the 21st century — sends its best to be trained in America. The question is: How long can the US maintain its dominant position in high education if AK-12 American students are average?


    After all, advanced studies in sciences are already done by foreign PhD candidates.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/08/opinion/friedman-average-is-over-part-ii-.html

  2. Manny: I have read almost all of the previous comments and find them most fascinating. Rather than comment on each where I might, I will write my own totality. I have been involved in education for almost eighty years as a student (AB 1949; PhD 1953), as a teacher, and as a school board member. I tell you this so you can do the arithmetic. The US has never provided excellent education except for a short interval. It was considered a violation of states’ rights for the federal government to provide money for education or for scientific research. Any such money had to be disguised. Under Truman, federal money went to scientific research by giving the money to the Department of Defense. Under Eisenhower, Federal money was given to higher education for the first time, calling it the National Defense Education Act. It was Sputnik in 1957 that frightened and aroused some Americans. This was the first blow to Americans’ pride of their exceptionalism. For about ten years, things changed for the better in the financing of education, but, it did not last. In the late 1970s, I had a Vietnamese student who had left Vietnam at age 14 as one of the boat people, lived for two years in Hong Kong, and then emigrated to the US. In Vietnam, in a small town, he had already had eight years of English and four years of each of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. He was the most exceptional student I had ever had. Since we think of ourselves as so superior, we never think we have a problem.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/08/opinion/friedman-average-is-over-part-ii-.html

  3. Yazen Shunnar: The United States supremacy comes not in k-12 education, but the collegiate level. The Academic Rankings of the World gives us 60 spots on the top 100 list(1), The Times HIgher Education, 50 (2). As mentioned above more education is required to hold down a job, specifically our economy is increasingly dependent on citizens requiring post-high school degrees. The U.S. may become less competitive on the world stage in two ways. Our universities may increasingly accept foreign students due to the stronger k-12 programs of their home country. This is unlikely, though many universities trumpet international renown, out of country tuition generally costs 50,000+ dollars and many foreign students require scholarships. Difficulties in mastering English at the level of their first language peers are common and may greatly affect their academic performance. Foreign universities may surpass our own. As universities lost state support they will find it more difficult maintain their expensive research. Research, though considered detrimental to students education, provides the name recognition many schools use to draw in students. Colleges will cut teaching faculty over research to maintain their attraction to top students. If foreign universities improve overall, the current trend, we will be hard pressed to produce a ‘CEO’ competitive population.

    (1) http://www.arwu.org/ARWU2010.jsp
    (2) http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2011-201

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/08/opinion/friedman-average-is-over-part-ii-.html

  4. Don Reid: One of the great flaws in both education and politics is that they are undertaken without well defined goals and accountability. When a child finishes the first grade, schools will happily show you what he has been taught but not what he has learned. The child is assigned conspicuously arbitrary grades which tell you absolutely nothing about what they can and cannot do. This is how a student can graduate high school without being able to manipulate fractions or even understand an amortization table, much less construct a sentence showing a complex, hypothetical relationship between two seemingly unrelated items – or write a verse of poetry. Why don’t students do better? Because it is not expected of them. Even if specific things were expected, they doesn’t matter if students are not tested on them, and testing cannot be a one-time exercise. Students should be tested regularly on what they know cumulatively.


    Furthermore, testing should not be a regurgitation process spouting details of everything you ever learned. It should entail demonstrating the ability to find an answer or solve a problem with the proper resources. It should also include the cooperation of teams to solve complex problems. This is the way things are done in the real world, and not sequestering someone at a desk for 1-3 hours to scribble what they know on an exam form.

    So far as I know, there is no racial or ethnic superiority in learning. When students know unambiguously what is expected of them, and what they must accomplish before being allowed to advance, they will apply themselves to the best of their ability. Not all will succeed and some will certainly excel. In the end, however, what you will have is not just someone who has persevered for 8+ years to get a PhD, but someone who has demonstrated, documented abilities. Right now, teachers refuse to be held accountable for either their students’ achievements or the system in which they are taught. This system cannot be fixed. It must be (and I believe will be) replaced. It will be supplanted by a private sector system that emphasizes accomplishments verses mere attendance. Grades will be replaced by certification of skills and specific knowledge. No longer will diplomas be the currency of the realm, but actual abilities. Right now, academic success is based largely on means and initiative. Academic failure is largely because students are being allowed to wander in an educational wasteland looking for an oasis before they are passed on to society as ‘educated’.

  5. Don Reid: Today, US businesses are doing exactly what economics dictates in a world of globalization. What they ignore at their own peril is popular sentiment. The people of no country will allow enterprises to prosper indefinitely unless that wealth ‘trickles down’, and certainly not in a democracy. Businesses will either be part of the solution or part of the problem. The traditional solution is to erect trade barriers or restrictive labor laws. These are self-defeating, but may be tried never the less. A better course is to acknowledge that no country can be the most competitive in all areas. There are comparative advantages both natural and man-made. Economies will have to foster those industries in which they can be competitive internationally, and take advantage of other countries economies that can produce products and services more efficiently. In a word, specialization. Certain strategic industries will have to be subsidized (defense), and there will always be a desire to receive this classification, but in most fields, you must either be close to the best, or purchase your services from the best. I do not know which will prevail. Restricted trade is a well worn and dead end road, but common thinking. Competition is intimidating and relentless, but the only sustainable path if you want to improve the standards of living. Countries who choose this road will be the empires of the future. Incidentally, I am reading a book titled A Splendid Exchange by William Bernstein. It is a world history of trade and is fascinating. I think you would enjoy it.

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