Tag Archives: skills gap

Have a challenge? Need a challenge?

Challenge is a challenging word.

We in education most often use the singular noun to mean a task that demands special effort or dedication, but which is within the ability of the person who accepts the challenge.

We like kids who accept a challenge.

By contrast, we typically use the plural form, challenges, to mean things that require more ability than an individual has, as in “that kid has serious challenges.”

We prefer kids with challenges be in another teacher’s classroom.

I ran across two items today on Twitter that made me think about those two opposing usages.

Challenged workers

The first is a National Skills Coalition report showing roughly 20 million Americans employed in key service-sector industries lack basic skills in literacy, numeracy, or digital problem-solving.

These are people that we educators would probably say “have challenges.”

A large proportion of these people work in just three areas: retail, health care and social assistance, and in food services and accommodations. Surprisingly, 58 percent of them have been with their current employer at least three years, and 23 percent of them are supervisors.

Here’s the most astonishing fact about these workers:

More than one in three (39%) participated in a learning activity over the past 12 months, including 27% who are pursuing a formal degree or certificate.

Ignore for the moment the question of how all those people get into post-secondary education when they trouble with reading, writing, arithmetic, and problem solving: Think about how someone with challenges becomes someone who accepts a challenge.

Workers who take on challenges

There may be many factors the lead to someone accepting a challenge, but they certainly include:

  • Having a personal reason for accepting the challenge of learning.
  • Sensing that doing nothing will produce a bad outcome.
  • Believing the desired outcome is worth the effort it requires.

At some point, we educators have to start figuring out how to get those “kids with challenges” to accept the challenge of learning how to learn what they will need to know in their work and in their lives. It’s particularly important for us to do that for the students who aren’t natural, book-learning scholars: the hands-on, vocational, CTE students.

They crave a challenge, too, and they deserve it.

What else could we be doing to see that all students have opportunities to take on challenges?

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Filed under Lifelong learning, Workforce readiness

The skills–grades gap

We’ve all heard gripes about grade inflation.

We’ve all heard gripes about college students’ lack of basic skills and study habits.

How is it that those two conditions co-exist?

Letter A made from a balloon illustrates article on grade inflation

That’s the question Donald Hurwitz, senior executive in residence at Emerson College, explores in an opinion piece in The Boston Globe this week.

I don’t think many people in education have stopped to ask that question.

If you read Mary Alice McCarthy’s recent  influential piece in The Atlantic about America’s love affair with the bachelor’s degree, you might have noted the anecdote about her nephew who  couldn’t march with his college class because he was three credits short.

His adviser pointed out that he had taken the same economics course twice—one year apart. My nephew hadn’t noticed. When his exasperated parents demanded an explanation, all he could offer up was that the class had been taught by a different professor, and held in a different room. He got a B both times around.

That anecdote illustrates the problem.

Both times the nephew took the economics course he got a B, but he didn’t learn enough to recognize the material the second time around.

The B for not learning is what appalls Hurwitz.  He says:

Undifferentiated grades suggest a failure to engage with students, to acknowledge differences. Very high, undifferentiated grades make it easy not to ask, why? If the fault lies with students’ attitudes or abilities, shame on teachers; in not demonstrating how discerning judgment is exercised, they fail to equip students to determine how seriously to take their schooling and themselves, to wonder what in the situation they are responsible for. They are deprived of the means and reasons to ask: Did I work hard enough? How much should I care? Does this subject matter to me?

In the end, the solution comes down to teachers.

Hurwitz concludes:

Failure to engage, to acknowledge differences, to own up to discerning judgments of others, permits students to do likewise, and it undermines the very idea of a community of learning.

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Filed under Assessment of students