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Apodaca: Focusing on the real world

March 29, 2014|By Patrice Apodaca

It's no secret that significant changes are underway in education. But an easier-to-miss development is that these various paths to change, though often superficially unrelated, are converging on a central principle: Education must increasingly focus on real-world knowledge and skills.

This shift from the esoteric to the practical, the ivory tower to the shop floor, is sometimes subtle, in other instances intentionally bold, and it has passionate supporters as well as critics. But in all cases it marks a profound rethinking of the nature and scope of our efforts to prepare students for the future. Heads up: Any time you see the word "relevant" used in an educational context, consider it a euphemism for "intended to help land a good job."

Whether this movement proves successful will remain unclear for some time to come, but for now the way forward appears to be firmly set in motion.

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Following are some key examples:

1. One need look no further than our own Newport-Mesa Unified School District to find evidence of change.

Earlier this month, the school board discussed a proposal to adopt flagship programs that would allow students to specialize in specific subject areas. These flagships — or academies, as they are often called — are meant to tailor scholarship toward career objectives, sometimes in the arts and humanities, but increasingly in so-called STEM subjects, that is science, technology, engineering and math.

The proposal is still in the early planning stages, but the general idea that targeting pre-college education toward bankable careers is growing in popularity.

2. Newport-Mesa has also eagerly embraced the new Common Core state standards, which are being rolled out this school year. Common Core — which has been adopted by 45 states, including California — is undergoing field testing of new standardized tests this spring (yes, a test of the test), and it looks likely that less-than-wonderful results early on could set the stage for rocky times ahead.

Even so, the basic thrust of Common Core is powerful, and unlikely to be daunted by a difficult implementation. And at the heart of the new standards is the intention of helping students learn to think more deeply and critically. They focus on understanding and analysis rather than rote memorization, and offer the potential of producing young minds better equipped for the rigors of higher education and the challenges of workplaces going forward.

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