Global Connections, Common Core Standards Can Boost U.S. Student Competitiveness, Education Ranking

COMMERCIAL IMAGE - In this photograph released by AP Images for TI on Tuesday, May 22, 2012, Mayim Bialik, spokesperson and a
COMMERCIAL IMAGE - In this photograph released by AP Images for TI on Tuesday, May 22, 2012, Mayim Bialik, spokesperson and ambassador for TI, and Lisa Brady Gill, executive director of North America marketing look on as STEM Academy student Alfredo Aranda works during a visit to classrooms prior to a presentation in which Bialik and TI presented the school with a $50,000 donation in education technology and professional development, Monday, May 21, 2012. (Rene Macura/AP Images for TI)

How do American students fare on the latest round of respected international assessments? Not so well, according to recent results on the exam known as the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA.

American students scored 31st in math and 23rd in science when compared with 65 other top industrial countries, and the World Economic Forum currently ranks the U.S. as number 48 in quality of math and science education.

As a nation, we aren't making the progress we should, and we are failing to equip students with the skills they need to succeed once they leave school. Along with our top international ranking, we have also lost the love of learning in too many of our schools. And the consequences are grim.

The latest international tests confirm what we have known for some time: It is no longer prudent to pretend that we can wring better results from using the same old methods. The best education standards in the world -- including the new Common Core State Standards adopted by most of the United States -- recognize this need for change. These new standards focus on critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills -- the skills students now need for college and career in a networked world, and that can turn students into enthusiastic, life-long learners.

And social networking and digital media tools must play a significant role in building these skills.

In today's workforce, collaboration -- not just competition -- sparks innovation and drives success. In other words, most learning is now social. Students want to learn from each other as well as from their teachers. Today's students are motivated and engaged by collaborative learning environments in which personal connections makes learning real, meaningful and engaging. And collaborative learning in a digital environment enables students to learn from peers around the world as well as from classmates around the corner, giving problems a global context, reinforcing authentic language learning, and instilling the cultural understandings, perspectives and empathy that employers say is key to 21st-century workplace success.

Research shows that collaborative, project-based learning in which students grapple with real-world problems can help them to develop critical thinking and communication skills required in today's economy. Safe and secure social-learning networks can now connect students, teachers and experts from diverse cultures in collaborative learning communities that enable project-based inquiry into science, math, literature and other core topics within the global context necessary for deep understanding of the world's most important problems.

The bottom line is that students will be more motivated to learn about the Arab Spring by engaging directly with students in Egypt around a collaborative project than by teacher-led discussions in a classroom populated by friends who share the same limited perspective.

Climate change will be more real to students when they can connect with their peers in distant countries, such as Haiti, Iceland and Japan, who've recently been affected by natural disasters.

Nutrition becomes more interesting when students from around the world can compare different diets and foods.

Despite large-scale investments in technology, we are in danger of too narrowly focusing the use of classroom technology on more efficient testing and assessment. We should be harnessing the transformative potential of technology at a time when global competition is demanding new skills from the workforce and learning standards around the world are being revised to focus on those new skills.

Technology leaders need also to become leaders in the evolution of new forms of learning that take advantage of the power of technology to meet kids where they are motivated to spend time -- in connected communities of peers interested in what each other thinks and has to say.

If we do more of the same, we should expect continued alarm and disappointment with each new report comparing our students to their peers around the world.

Co-authored with Nina Zolt