May 2009

Re-Tooling for the Information Age

Language Magazine May 2009 Cover
Language Magazine May 2009 Cover

One of the few benefits of recession is that it begs us to question the policies that have led us to such a situation. Much has been said about economic decisions, lax regulation, and corporate greed but there has been less discussion about the societal structure which has fomented such economic turmoil. At the heart of our society is a sytem which fails to adequately prepare vast numbers of children to succeed in the Information Age.

A new study by the consulting firm McKinsey entitled “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools” (available at www.mckinsey.com) estimates that if we had closed the racial achievement gap and black and Latino student performance had caught up with that of white students by 1998, U.S. GDP last year would have been between $310 and $525 billion higher. If the gap between low-income students and the rest had been narrowed, U.S. GDP in 2008 would have been $400 to $670 billion higher.

Matt Miller, one of the report’s authors, points out in stark terms that there are millions of kids in modern, suburban schools “who are being prepared for $12-an-hour jobs — not $40 to $50 an hour.” If this is the situation in the suburbs, imagine the future for which kids are being prepard in urban areas where minorities dominate.

The report also highlights the “international education achievement gap” between the U.S. and other industrialized nations, claiming that if America had closed the gap between 1983 and 1998 to raise its performance to the level of nations like Finland and South Korea, U.S. GDP in 2008 would have been between $1.3 and $2.3 trillion higher.

Despite the pessimistic conclusion of the report — that “existing gaps impose the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession, one substantially larger than the deep recession the country is currently experiencing,” there is some cause for optimism. There are plenty of examples of educational success in America today, including here in Southern California where schools in Glendale and Chula Vista with very high percentages of English learners have shattered their yearly progress goals. And the recession itself may have the unintended consequence of revitalizing, or maybe even revolutionizing our educational system.

President Obama recognizes that we urgently need to invest the money and energy required to revamp our educational system so that it meets the demands of today’s society, but we need to make it our priority.

With Wall Street’s decline, many more educated and idealistic youth want to become teachers, while the wave of layoffs across the nation is offering more experienced individuals the opportunity to retrain and realize the long-held ambition of becoming an educator. The current shortages of English as a Second Language and bilingual educators will worsen as baby boomers retire, so we need to do all we can to encourage the talented and committed to teach in these areas where they can affect the most change.

Instead of pouring hundreds of billions of dollars more into Detroit’s leaking tanks, merely delaying the inevitable industrial decline, we must re-tool for the Information Age by investing in the education of those students currently being set up to fail — minorities, low-income, and English language learners. Let’s seize this opportunity to recruit and train a vast network of educators committed to the success of all children.

IN THIS ISSUE:

So You Want to Learn Chinese?
Kate Sommers-Dawes explores the array of programs now available to learn Chinese, from total immersion in China, through teacher-led courses in the U.S., to self-study materials

Multimedia for Hispanic Deaf Students
Monica Hernandez outlines how technology can be used to improve the educational experience for Latino students with hearing difficulties

Speaking of Writing
Connie Williams, Roberta Stathis, and Patrice Gotschstress the significance of oral language in English Learners’ literacy development

Travel Safe
As plans are made to study abroad, students and faculty need to consider health insurance options

Last Writes
Richard Lederer with Teacher Topics on Arthur Conan Doyle

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