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US education institutions subpar, study suggests

With students at schools such as Boston University looking to maximize their workforce appeal, a report released Monday reveals that their American pre-college educations may pale in comparison to international schools in preparing students for their future careers.

“The American employability gap is related to the fact that we get what we give,” said Evangeline Harris Stefanakis, a professor at BU’s School of Education. “… [American students] aren’t learning how to work in teams, how to implement real-life problem solving and they don’t have the experiences that are broader and more work-related.”

The report, which was issued by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, sought to analyze the current issues in Massachusetts education in comparison to those of competitive international schools, said Linda Noonan, the executive director of the MBAE.

“[Massachusetts is at the] top of the nation in terms of achievement on standardized tests and we do well internationally on standardized tests, but perhaps not as well as we think we do,” Noonan said. “We have some gaps that we don’t hear about very much, like the top talent gap, where our top students aren’t doing as well as their peers around the world, and also that our progress has slowed.”

Stefanakis said American education falls behind international in terms of using math, science and technology and applying them to real-life experiences.

“Internationally, we fall behind in general in the math and science areas,” she said. “You take both European countries and China and Japan and their kids are doing long division and multiplication at the end of second grade. We’re actually in fourth grade before we introduce those concepts when it’s been proven that children are capable of them far earlier. They take a more hands-on approach.”

Of employers surveyed in the report, 69 percent of Massachusetts employers said they were having difficulty hiring qualified people within the state.

“There’s a mismatch between skills students are required to learn in school and the skills that jobs actually demand,” Noonan said. “We’re measuring the wrong things in schools. Students need critical thinking … Those are not always the things we’re valuing. We need to address this not just for employment, but because citizenship requires these skills.”

Stefanakis said she would suggest an agenda of teaching focused career skills in school as well as encouraging students to take on apprenticeships at younger ages as international schools do.

“We have to think in more sophisticated ways of what we teach, how we teach it and how they are related to workplace skills,” she said. “The workplaces calls for problem solving, using technology to gather new information and figuring out how to find where problems exist … Internationally, many students start working on that from 12 years old in other countries where vocational experiences are added to educational experiences.”

Jahnero Davis-Hutchinson, a School of Management sophomore, said career preparation was not considered heavily at his high school.

“We had workshops to go over resumes and AP classes, but nothing that really prepared you for a professional career,” Davis said. “I’ve heard that other schools had business classes and accounting classes, but we didn’t have anything like that.”

Graciela Marino, a CAS junior, said the curriculum at her school in Venezuela was more restrictive than that of American schools.

“Here in the United States, education seems more complete and gives you more freedom to choose the path that you want,” Marino said. “In other countries, it is more standardized and they choose what classes you should take … It’s more to create a solid base of knowledge.”

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