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The Global Achievement Gap – Looking Forward; Looking Back

By: Christopher Scott


As we begin the second decade of the 21st Century, we find ourselves increasingly called to account for the performance of our schools and the perceived loss of international intellectual advantage enjoyed by previous generations of Americans. In spite of an array of well-meaning reform efforts on the state and national level, broad-based institutional success has proved elusive. And while limited gains have been made on a number of the most basic fronts, the professional press and the general public concede that there is still much work to be done.  AVID -- its mindset and its methods -- is central to that work.

In 2008, Harvard education professor Dr.Tony Wagner [More at http://www.schoolchange.org/about_tony_wagner.html] set out to make clear the challenges facing American schools as they attempt to prepare students for the competitive rigors of 21st Century society.  In his seminal work, The Global Achievement Gap, [http://www.amazon.com/Global-Achievement-Gap-Survival-Need/dp/0465002293], Wagner acquainted the reader with the characteristics of the “knowledge economy,” and the corollary significant shortfalls in American education in fostering the skills necessary for our students to match their global peers. Wagner observed that this new economy is characterized by “a sudden and dramatic shift from information that is limited in terms of amount and availability, to information characterized by flux and glut,“ and by “the increasing impact of media and technology on how young people learn and relate to the world – and to each other.” These paradigm shifts contribute to the broader transformation, the rapid evolution of that economy with “profound effects on the world of work – all work.”  Stating that this new economic reality compels a “fundamental reconsideration of all our assumptions about what children need to learn and how learning takes place,” he then sets out to identify Seven Survival Skills our students must have to effectively compete in the new global marketplace of ideas, information, and borderless commerce. [More at http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news_events/features/2008/08/20_wagner.php]   

To those familiar with AVID, it will come as no surprise that for more than thirty years the survival skills delineated by Wagner have been central to the WICR methods of the program:

#1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving are central to AVID’s approach to content.  Through Socratic method and daily reflective activities, students are given explicit instruction and ample time for practice in comparative reasoning, application, synthesis, and higher-level questioning.(Note AVID’s previous series on brain research and AVID elective)

#2. Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence comprise the entire 7th AVID Program Essential.  Student cohorts are trained to develop a classroom environment of trust and mutual respect. With their shared commitment to #1 above, leadership is nurtured by reason and persuasion rather than direction and command.

#3. Agility and Adaptability in academic and social contexts are hallmarks of the AVID focus on academic rigor.  Students are encouraged daily to embrace ambiguity, learn “on the fly,” and accept the challenge of change and the “unknown.”

#4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism are embodied in the last two letters of the AVID acronym, “individual determination.”  AVID students make a written commitment to post-secondary goals and are trained to seek opportunity and become self-advocates for scholastic success able to effectively navigate the convoluted systems of academia, financial aid, and career requirements.

#5. Effective Oral and Written Communication serves as the foundation for the entire AVID support framework.  The AVID writing-to-learn strategies, from reflective note-taking to exposition and analysis, to written and oral response to complex texts, are applied across all curricula.

#6.  Accessing and Analyzing Information is central to the AVID emphasis on inquiry skills. AVID students are taught to be discerning consumers of information, especially in a 21st Century context, and are given ample opportunities to explore, discuss, and reflect upon multiple resources.

#7. Curiosity and Imagination characterize the culture of the AVID classroom. Through application of AVID’s collaborative and critical-thinking approach, AVID students are noteworthy for their ability to develop creative solutions, engage others empathetically, and pursue systems analysis for complex situations.

As we look forward at a continually evolving social and economic landscape, we would do well to re-visit Wagner’s earlier work, as relevant today as it was in the last decade. In doing so, we should also recognize that in AVID we have the established structural and pedagogical tools, grounded in ample research, necessary to help bring about the changes Wagner advocates. Indeed, AVID gives educators the means to close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society. [More at http://avid.org/intro.html]

For additional information on AVID and 21st Century Skills, see the article by Chris Scott and Brian Kick. “AVID: At the Forefront of 21st Century Skills.”

The California Region III Director based in the state capital, Mr. Scott has overseen AVID in the ten-county Sacramento metropolitan area since 1999. Involved with AVID in both an instructional and administrative capacity for the better part of two decades, he has been a member of the national AVID Summer Institute professional development team since the mid-1990's and is frequently called upon to make informational presentations for state and local policy-making bodies and community organizations. Mr. Scott's interests range from evolving education theory and practice to issues of governance and socio-economics.

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Reader Comments (1)

Fantastic article, great insight and a wealth of information, really learned a lot today, thank you and I have bookmarked so as I may return.

July 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne scholl

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