This post is by Ron Berger, chief academic officer of Expeditionary Learning.
When a student is finished with school and moves into adult life, she will be judged not by her ability to perform on a test of basic skills, but by the quality of her work and character. This holds true regardless of what career or life role she chooses. Quality work and character are the keys to a successful life. So why are they not the primary focus of schools?
You may argue that schools do focus on these things. But consider this: to get passing grades, students must behave (at least much of the time) and turn in acceptable work (at least much of the time). This is a far cry from instilling in students an ethic of excellence for who they are and what they do. It is almost hard to imagine a lower bar.
Quality work and character have almost nothing to do with how students, teachers, and schools are judged in America. When is the last time you read a headline about a school being “high-achieving” that described the actual quality of work students produced or the quality of their actions? A “high-achieving” student or school means one thing today: good scores on basic skills tests in math and reading.
It’s not that basic skills in reading and math don’t matter. Of course they do. But success in this small realm is just a starting place. If students miss the opportunity to develop high standards for the complex skills they will need in life while they are still in school, how will they develop them?