Learning and Teaching Innovating: California Can Recapture Its Global Reputation If We Show the World That Innovations in Education Will Recharge the Economy, Restore Hope and Re-Ignite Student Creativity

By Trilling, Bernie | Leadership, November-December 2009 | Go to article overview

Learning and Teaching Innovating: California Can Recapture Its Global Reputation If We Show the World That Innovations in Education Will Recharge the Economy, Restore Hope and Re-Ignite Student Creativity


Trilling, Bernie, Leadership


We have reached a critical moment in California. Our state faces some of the most complex business, political, scientific, technological, health and environmental challenges in its history. At the very same time it is undergoing an unprecedented financial and governing crisis.

Successful states and economies are built on an adept citizenry that can learn quickly, devise creative solutions to problems, and rapidly innovate its way to a successful and prosperous future. California's Silicon Valley and its creative film and media industry have been world pioneers in creating a culture of fast and deep learning, cutting-edge creativity and constant innovation.

Despite being absorbed in the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression, this is the right time to come together to apply what we've learned about being an innovation pioneer to the reshaping of our education system. "It's all downhill from here," could be the positive spin that will propel us into action!

The strategy of using a deep crisis to make deep changes appears to be the theme of our times. Now maybe the best time to innovate our system of learning and teaching so we can secure a future for California where every citizen receives a world-class education and every student is well prepared for the realities of 21st century work and life.

One place to start is to take a hard look at the reasons for California's high dropout and remedial rates.

Unfortunately, we do not know for sure the exact number of students who fail to graduate high school, because California is still developing an accurate system to assess these numbers. Still, according to the California Dropout Research Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara, 349,191 California high school students graduated in 2005-06. However, four years earlier, 520,287 students were in the ninth grade. This indicates that approximately one-third of California students fail to graduate on time. This estimation is backed by the U.S. Department of Education, which finds a California high school graduation rate between 65 and 74 percent.

Clearly this is a serious problem for these students, their families and their communities. It is also a critical issue for everyone in our state. Dropouts earn significantly lower wages, pay less in taxes and are more likely to be involved in crimes and end up in prison (which, also due to our financial crisis, are over-full).

While this group earns much less and is incarcerated or on welfare much more, the total bill to our state is staggering--California is hit with $46.4 billion in losses every time 120,000 20-year olds fail to complete high school.

While the dropout rate is a major problem facing our education system, so is the need for remedial education--those students who graduate high school and enter college, but are required to retake high school courses. California's Legislative Analyst's Office analysis of the 2003-04 budget found that almost half of regularly admitted California State University students arrive unprepared for college writing and mathematics. The amount of money spent to provide these high school graduates with the education they should have received in high school is also staggering.

Why students drop out and need remedial education

A growing body of research has shown that one of the biggest factors for students both dropping out and needing remedial education is disengagement. Students simply don't see a real-world connection to their studies and find school boring.

Not surprisingly, dropping out is the final stage in a cumulative process of withdrawal from school that can begin as early as elementary school. In fact, a high school student's motivation is largely shaped by his or her early academic achievement and engagement, as students who are struggling in middle school are more likely to drop out of high school.

Schools are not the sole source of the problem. …

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Learning and Teaching Innovating: California Can Recapture Its Global Reputation If We Show the World That Innovations in Education Will Recharge the Economy, Restore Hope and Re-Ignite Student Creativity
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