Offering Our Youngest Leaders a Seat at the Table

A Seat at the Table

Many American journalists and politicians point proudly to the great innovations that routinely spring forth from America’s businesses, large and small. These same people also rail about the need to improve the performance of America’s students on standardized assessment tests.

Why do they celebrate innovation and ingenuity in America’s businesses, and then demand that our students – the business leaders of tomorrow – perform well on standardized tests?

Schools can’t measure what matters, so they measure what they can. As I wrote earlier this year, even in the rare instances when educators actually discuss innovation, they still use words like “standards” and “assessment.” Conversely, “passion,” the dominant word at tech conferences, is rarely uttered in school.

So how do students react to a system in which their individual abilities, interests and passions are of little consequence?

They drop out.

Not physically – the number of students leaving school has actually fallen over the past two decades – but emotionally. In January 2013, the Gallup Organization reported that a survey of 500,000 students showed that student engagement plummets every year a child continues in school. By the end of high school, only 4 in 10 students are fully engaged. Gallup called it our “monumental, collective national failure.”

Schools can’t measure what matters, so they measure what they can.

Importantly, Gallup reported that 45% of our students indicated that they plan to start their own business someday. Yet “a mere 5% have spent more than one hour in the last week working, interning, or exposed to a real business.”

How do we expose students to real businesses? How do we “move the needle” on anything in a school system that has more than 55 million students in 132,000 schools, public and private, across 50 states?

We do an end-run.

We can’t wait for new legislation or a shift in educational policy to drive innovation in schools. The world is changing too quickly for schools to keep up.

We need to connect the best innovators in the world with our most eager students, and those teachers and administrators who “get it.” We also need to raise the stakes; today’s students want to do more than generate profits. As Deb Scofield wrote in a post last week, students today “feel entitled…to change the world….their default focus is on others, not themselves.”

When it comes to tackling today’s biggest problems, we keep our young people – the ones with the biggest stake in the future – on the sidelines while adults talk in circles and little gets resolved. Would students help bring about a better world if we gave them a seat at the table?

The Quest2Matter is doing just that. It challenges students to accept that they matter and that they have a genius to contribute to the world, and it demands their contribution.

We can’t wait for new legislation or a shift in educational policy to drive innovation in schools. The world is changing too quickly for schools to keep up.

This is only the beginning. This is not mere talk; it is underway. In a HuffPost Live segment last week about our mentoring program, some of the leading innovators in the world viewed such a program as critical to students’ maximizing their learning in schools and essential to U.S. economic revival.

What do we expect to be the result of offering our youngest innovators a seat at the table? Before long, America’s leaders and leading voices will celebrate student achievement that actually matters.


For a powerful spoken word video on the potentially life-wrecking results of standardized tests, read and watch When You Hate School But Love Education

My life path has always been about teaching and communication. My twenty years as an educator and my passionate pursuit of literacy and learning, gave me the healthy dose of courage and skills that have led me through a wonderful variety of experiences, including classroom and University teaching, instructional coaching, research, writing, publishing, corporate training, and starting my own business.

  • Angela,

    Let me start by saying here in the comments what I’ve already told you offline: That I couldn’t be prouder of our friendship, or of our decision to make Switch and Shift’s official “Great Cause.” I know I speak for Shawn, Mark, and Dave as well.

    One line among many stands out as particularly true of business just as it is of education: “Schools can’t measure what matters, so they measure what they can.” Deming (himself a gifted statistician!) said as much regarding companies, way back in the 1940s. It seems clear that what ails our schools is the same thing that is killing engagement at work: this worship of metrics that don’t matter, rather than engagement that brings results.

    Hopefully, more and more parents will flock to your cause, followed by educators, and finally policy makers. This whole testing craze and teaching to said tests is a cancer that I hope we excise soon.

    Great post! Thank you for once again leading the way!

  • Great stuff, Angela! I love that you are inspiring and driving this among young students. You might like to hear of the work that one of the social enterprises here in Australia is doing. They’re called One Can Grow and they’re pretty awesome ;)

  • Jeffrey Cufaude

    I yearn for the day when we realize that the seats for young people at the table are not ours to offer for they have already claimed them as their own or created their own table to which we might be lucky to be invited to join.

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