* The high school graduation rate in the United States -- which is about 70 percent of the age cohort -- is now well behind that of countries such as Denmark (96 percent), Japan (93 percent), and even Poland (92 percent) and Italy (79 percent).

* Only about a third of U.S. high school students graduate ready for college today, and the rates are much lower for poor and minority students. Forty percent of all students who enter college must take remedial courses. And while no hard data are readily available, it is estimated that one out of every two students who start college never complete any kind of postsecondary degree.

* Sixty-five percent of college professors report that what is taught in high school does not prepare students for college. One major reason is that the tests students must take in high school for state-accountability purposes usually measure 9th or 10th grade-level knowledge and skills. Primarily multiple-choice assessments, they rarely ask students to explain their reasoning or to apply knowledge to new situations (skills that are critical for success in college), so neither teachers nor students receive useful feedback about college-readiness.

* In order to earn a decent wage in today's economy, most students will need at least some postsecondary education. Indeed, an estimated 85 percent of current jobs and almost 90 percent of the fastest-growing and bestpaying jobs now require postsecondary education. Even today's manufacturing jobs now largely require postsecondary training and skills. According to the authors of ''America's Perfect Storm": "Over the next 25 years or so . . . nearly half of the projected job growth will be concentrated in occupations associated with higher education and skill levels. This means that tens of millions more of our students and adults will be less able to qualify for higher-paying jobs. Instead, they will be competing not only with each other and millions of newly arrived immigrants but also with equally (or better) skilled workers in lower-wage economies around the world."

* The United States now ranks tenth among industrial nations in the rate of college completion by 25- to 44-year-olds.

* Students are graduating from both high school and college unprepared for the world of work. Fewer than a quarter of the more than 400 employers recently surveyed for a major study of work-readiness reported that new employees with four-year-college degrees have "excellent" basic knowledge and applied skills. Among those who employ young people right out of high school, nearly 50 percent said that their overall preparation was "deficient."

* Only 47 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in the last presidential election, compared to 70 percent of 34- to 74-year-olds.

The conventional view of the underlying problems suggested by these data is simply that our schools are "failing." We've heard this line from Republicans and Democrats alike. We've heard it in the media and from academics and policy pundits. We've heard it so often that it has become the accepted wisdom of the day. But what I see in high school classrooms all over the country suggests a different conclusion. What I see there is, in fact, not very different from what I saw thirty-five years ago when I began my career as a teacher -- or even what I experienced as a high school student myself. No better, and no worse. Just more testing -- and more teaching to the tests.

My view is that the numbers cited in the above list, taken together, point to a new and little-understood challenge for American education: In today's highly competitive global "knowledge economy," all students need new skills for college, careers, and citizenship. The failure to give all students these new skills leaves today's youth -- and our country -- at an alarming competitive disadvantage. Schools haven't changed; the world has. And so our schools are not failing. Rather, they are obsolete -- even the ones that score the best on standardized tests. This is a very different problem requiring an altogether different solution.

What are these new skills, and why they have become so important? Why don't our schools -- even the best ones -- teach and test them? What are the best ways to hold our schools accountable, and how do we need to differently prepare and support educators to meet these new challenges? How do we motivate today's students to want to excel in this new world, and what do good schools look like that are meeting these challenges and getting dramatically better results? What can and must we do as citizens about this growing global achievement gap? These are some of the questions I address in this book.

The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

The above is an excerpt from the book The Global Achievement Gap; Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach The New Survival Skills Our Children Need -- And What We Can Do About It
by Tony Wagner
Published by Basic Books; August 2008;$26.95US/$28.95CAN; 978-0-465-00229-0
Copyright © 2008 Tony Wagner

Author's Bio: 

Tony Wagner is co-director of the Change Leadership Group (CLG) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He consults to schools, districts, and foundations and served as Senior Advisor to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He has appeared on The Today Show, NPR, McNeil/ Lehrer News Hour and writes for Education Week. A former high school teacher and principal, he is the author of Change Leadership, Making the Grade, and How Schools Change. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.