MOUNT VERNON — Sweeping changes may be in the works for the educational system in Ohio, from kindergarten through graduate school. The Ohio State Board of Education has released findings from a special subcommittee which considered the question: “Looking ahead to 2020, what will be the most important skills, knowledge and behaviors for students to acquire to provide Ohio with competitive advantages in the global economy?”
The Subcommittee for Education in the Global Economy conducted a study which included an extensive literature review, interviews with Ohio business and government leaders, and an online survey. It then developed a list of the top 10 things students will need to succeed in a global economy.
The work of the subcommittee is part of a larger initiative of the state board to develop a comprehensive education reform plan, and in 2008-09, the board intends to work with the governor, legislative leaders, education stakeholders and the public to implement goals and strategies outlined in the “Vision for Transforming PreK-12 Education in Ohio.”
“There can be little argument on the validity and importance of the top 10 ideas for education in a global economy,” said Dave Southward, Knox County Educational Service Center superintendent. “In addition to rigorous academic training, we need to also concentrate on building character and responsibility, and teaching students to be part of a productive work force; to become adults who can raise children in happy homes where love and discipline both are given and administered that fosters respect for people and property. A big dose of common sense wouldn’t be too bad, either.”
Colleen Grady, co-chairwoman of the EDGE subcommittee, said the study was done in conjunction with a review, done by Ohio Department of Education staff, of high-performing education systems from around the world.
“As we review our standards and compare them with our findings,” she said, “we’re asking if Ohio standards reflect the appropriate depth and breadth of subject matter; do our standards include the correct sequence of topics, and to what extent are applications of knowledge and skill demonstration integrated into Ohio’s content standards?”
Although Grady said it seems likely there may be revisions in Ohio’s academic content standards, Southward wondered, “How will the information obtained in dialogues with Ohio business leaders be disseminated to schools, and how will this impact curriculum change and development?”
According to Grady, a preliminary review of the Ohio mathematics standards has already begun.
“I wholeheartedly agree that we need a shift in the skills taught to kids as we prepare them to be productive citizens in a global economy,” said East Knox superintendent John Marschhausen. “The world is changing at an incredible pace and the amount of information our students will need to digest and access in their lives is amazing. My personal belief is the most important skill we can teach is the ability to be self-motivated learners. It is not so much the skills we are teaching today, but the ability to learn new skills. Our kids will be utilizing technology that doesn’t even exist to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”
Asked how skill assessment would fit into Ohio’s high-stakes testing system, Grady said the current assessment system is, for the most part, an assessment of knowledge based on minimal standards and expectations.
“While Ohio’s achievement tests do provide more higher-level content/thinking skills than most states,” she said, “the system is not currently designed to easily assess the types of skills listed in the EDGE Subcommittee’s Top Ten list.”
Since career centers typically focus on hands-on learning and assessments, Grady said they may serve as a model for changing the testing system in Ohio.
“I believe that career centers, compacts and tech prep consortia have great experience with experiential and application-based learning,” she said, “and that experience can provide valuable insights as we consider policy options. The industry and employer certification widely used in career and technical education may also provide ideas for performance assessment options.”
Regarding the testing piece, Marschhausen believes Ohio relies too heavily on state achievement tests and graduation tests to determine a school’s progress.
“We, as public schools, focus energy and resources in preparation for the state assessments,” he said. “There is a great deal of attention when the state report cards are released. These assessments only address one of the top 10 ideas. We need to equip and reward schools for producing innovative students who are able to learn, live and thrive in a global economy. Performance on the state tests is wonderful, but it is only a fraction of what schools are all about in today’s society.”
Exactly how schools can or will implement the recommended curricular changes is unclear.
“The how-you-get-this-done piece is the question,” said Dorothy Holden, superintendent of Centerburg Local Schools. “The state often does not give the schools the tools, resources and funding to achieve. Also, a big piece of the puzzle is the home. Getting parents to support high ideals and demanding schedules, not to mention increased homework, or a longer school day or a longer school year, can be a challenge.”
Resources and funding will be a factor, agreed Marschhausen.
“We need to move to 21st century technology in education,” he said. “We e-mail, text message and blog in the real world. In schools today, we are writing [paper and pen] essays. A switch means a continual financial investment to make the new technology available to students in our schools.”