Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson’s September 6, Wall Street Journal op-ed makes some critical points about the increasing importance of math and science skills; for numerous jobs “below” the level of the traditional advanced degree, science and engineering jobs. Traditional “blue collar” jobs increasingly require solid math, science, and general critical thinking skills; something that has made them into high-paying, widely available (vacant!) job openings.
But CEO Tillerson’s transition from a desperate high skill deficit problem to his assertion that there is a key Common Core Standards Initiative (CCSI) role in a STEM improvement strategy rests on an assumption that the current system’s abysmal performance level — STEM and elsewhere — is substantially due to low or unclear expectations. As I’ve argued repeatedly, the current system performs poorly because of pervasive student-teacher mis-match issues, and fundamental information processing and weak/perverse incentive problems (priceless “central planning”). Is the CCSI useful even though it does not address any of those core governance and funding policy deficiencies?
What we need to decide about the CCSI is whether higher, semi-formal standards are a useful part of a strategy to extract significantly improved performance from a largely dysfunctional process of delivering instruction to our highly diverse K-12 student population. On the downside, the CCSI may be a distraction that will at least delay attention to possible real solutions, or worse, become an entrée to debilitating regulation of content.