Education Opinion

CEOs Want Hard-Working, Decision-Making Team Players

By Tom Vander Ark — May 17, 2013 2 min read
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A survey of chief executives indicates that 92% say education is very or the most important national competitiveness issue. But the survey, conducted by the The Business Council and The Conference Board, isn’t a flattering picture of U.S. education. Three quarters of the CEOs think U.S. higher education is better/much better than competitors; but only 23% and 14%, respectively, say the same about U.S. secondary and primary education.

What’s most important? The priority on soft skills (what Conley calls metacognative skills) is clear. Interestingly, work ethic is the clear winner. The next four priorities describe the setting--teamwork, decision making, critical thinking, and computer literacy. The 3Rs come next on the priority list.

Views about schools are shaped by the fact that about half of the CEOs say they are having trouble finding qualified workers. While CEOs don’t have much regard for U.S. primary schools, they do rate the U.S. workforce high on creativity and motivation to advance--they picked that up somewhere. In addition to weak writing and communication skills, the CEOs are worried about the physical and health readiness of the workforce--the first time I’ve seen that on a survey.

Tony Wagner outlined the 7 survival skills in the Global Achievement Gap--they line up pretty well with the surveyed CEO priorities. As noted in his most recent book, Creating Innovators, he sees a mismatch between what is taught/tested and what is required by the new economy. Wagner suggests the skills required for work, learning, and citizenship have converged. “Schools aren’t failing and don’t need reform,” instead says Wagner, “we need to reinvent, re-imagine our schools.”

There are five fundamental mismatches, according to Wagner, between the structure of schools and the culture of innovation:

  1. The culture of learning is about individual assessment and sorting, but innovation is a team sport;
  2. The culture of schooling is compartmentalized, but innovation happens at the boundary between disciplines;
  3. Most schools exhibit a culture of infantilization and passivity; by contrast innovators are active creators;
  4. The culture of school rewards risk aversion and penalizes failure; the culture of innovation demands risk and iteration; and
  5. Schools rely on extrinsic motivation, innovators are usually motivated intrinsically.

Wagner boils down the basic principles of creating innovators to play, passion and purpose. Wagner is fond of High Tech High where founder Larry Rosenstock talks about how the best in any field are always perplexed by new problems. Rosenstock wants to inculcate perplexity.

“We need a new accountability system starting with the skills that matter most,” said Wagner. He wants performance standards not content standards (i.e., write an effective essay versus find a gerund in a passage). Wagner wants digital portfolios so kids can show what they know and a merit badge system where they progress based on demonstrated mastery.

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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