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The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need--And What We Can Do About It Hardcover – August 12, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 68 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Wagner, a Harvard education professor, begins by offering his astute assessment of secondary education in the U.S. today and how it fails to produce graduates who are “jury ready” (i.e., able to analyze an argument, weigh evidence, and detect bias). He then presents a concise manifesto for the steps needed to “reinvent the education profession.” His thesis revolves around “Seven Survival skills”—the core competencies he deems necessary for success both in college and in the twenty-first-century workforce. These encompass problem solving and critical thinking, collaboration across networks, adaptability, initiative, effective oral and written communication, analyzing information, and developing curiosity and imagination. Wagner visits a wide spectrum of schools, both public and private, meets with teachers and administrators, and demonstrates how these survival skills have been forgotten in the preparation for mandatory tests. He stresses the importance of being able to analyze new information and apply it to new situations in the “global knowledge economy,” then details the programs, including team teaching, at a few innovative schools that are effectively meeting this challenge. --Deborah Donovan


Howard Gardner, author of Five Minds for the Future and Multiple Intelligences
“In this persuasive book, Wagner delineates what skills are needed in a globalized era, why most American schools can’t nurture them, and how today’s schools could be transformed to cultivate tomorrow’s skills.”

Jay Mathews, Washington Post
“I consider this book more of an experience than a read…[Tony Wagner] is a likely leader for the new era.”

Educated Quest
“If I had the money, I would buy a copy of this book for every governor, congressman and senator; this book presents a far better direction for education politics than the current thoughts from Washington…The Global Achievement Gap is well-reasoned and well-written…If you’re a parent who is serious about your child’s education and course content, buy this book and use the Survival Skills as your guide.”

Harvard Crimson
“Wagner’s book raises many important questions about both the state and purpose of secondary education in America.”

Education Review
“Through Wagner’s story-telling style, using cases and examples, we were impressed by his profound insight and his patience in sharing what he has realized.”

Anne L. Bryant, Executive Director, National School Boards Association
“Every school board member, administrator, teacher and parent in the nation should read this book.”

U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye
The Global Achievement Gap is a ‘must’ read for all policymakers.”

Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education, Stanford University
“Tony Wagner takes us deep inside the black box of school curriculum in a way few authors have done. What do we mean by rigor? By 21st century skills? Wagner shows us concretely what thinking skills really are, how current approaches to ‘raising standards’ cannot get us there, and what will. Everyone concerned with American education should read this book.”

Mel Levine, author of A Mind at a Time
“Tony Wagner has managed to penetrate the jargon and over-simplified responses to the pervasive underachievement that exists among our students. He has charted an important new direction and given us a way to get there. This book deserves to be powerfully influential.”

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School Professor and author of America the Principled and Confidence
“Tony Wagner argues persuasively that old ways of teaching are completely unsuited to new ways of working. The Global Achievement Gap should be grabbed by business leaders to guide a much-needed conversation with educators.”

Clayton Christensen, Professor, Harvard Business School, and author of Disrupting Class
“Parents, teachers, administrators and policy makers urgently need to understand what Wagner is telling us.”

Dr. Richard C. Atkinson, President Emeritus, University of California
“Wagner builds a persuasive case for change in the way we approach schooling, grounded in the question: what does it mean to be an educated person in the 21st century?”

Larry Stupski, Chairman, Stupski Foundation
“Tony Wagner makes a strong case for rethinking our entire approach to education, and his argument is persuasive.”

Charles Fadel, Global Lead for Education, Cisco
“This insightful book calls for a much needed dialogue between educators, business leaders and policy makers on the future of American education. By using many real-life examples, the book is a very readable starting point for that discussion.”

John Abele, Founding Chairman, Boston Scientific, Board Chair, FIRST
“Kudos to Tony Wagner.”

Dr. Arthur E. Levine, President, The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation
The Global Achievement Gap offers a simple, readable, intelligent and compelling analysis of the needs of our schools and the ways to address them.”

Deborah Meier, author of The Power of Their Ideas
“It’s always an occasion for delight when Tony Wagner writes a new book. He’s done it again by provoking us to think about the reasons behind the current furor over school achievement.”

Keith R. McFarland, Author of #1 Wall Street Journal and New York Times Bestseller, The Breakthrough Company
“Tony Wagner is not just talking about our schools here—he is talking about the future our nation. The Global Achievement Gap cuts through the complexity and partisan posing so often associated with this genre. It is a powerful call to action, and a roadmap of how to fundamentally rethink the education of our children. If we ignore it, we do so at great peril.”

Keith Sawyer, author of Group Genius
“This important book is a wake-up call for America. Wagner shows that even the best schools are failing to teach the necessary skills for the 21st century. Students memorize academic content, and get high scores on standardized tests, but they never learn how to think, solve problems, or be creative. The stories about the few remarkable schools that are transforming classroom instruction and pointing the way to the future are compelling. Every parent, teacher, politician, and executive should read this book.”

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 50009th edition (August 12, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465002293
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465002290
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #811,189 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

TONY WAGNER currently serves as an Expert In Residence at Harvard University's new Innovation Lab. Prior to this appointment, Tony was the first Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, and the founder and co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education for more than a decade. His previous work experience includes twelve years as a high school teacher, K-8 principal, university professor in teacher education, and founding executive director of Educators for Social Responsibility.

Tony is a frequent speaker at national and international conferences and a widely published author. His work includes numerous articles and five books. Tony's latest, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change The World, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2012 to rave reviews and has been translated into ten languages. His 2008 book, The Global Achievement Gap continues to be an international best seller with a Second Edition recently released.

Tony recently collaborated with noted filmmaker Robert Compton to create a 60 minute documentary, "The Finland Phenomenon: Inside The World's Most Surprising School System." He also served as the Education advisor for a major new education documentary, "Most Likely to Succeed," which had its world premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Simon & Schuster will publish Tony's sixth book, by the same title, in August 2015.

Tony earned an M.A.T. and an Ed.D. at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

Follow Tony on Twitter @drtonywagner and visit his website tonywagner.com to see a list of his upcoming appearances and latest blogs.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wagner argues that the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, which attempts to close the achievement gap between our best and worst schools, has instead left us with schools that are less effective than ever in preparing our children for college, work and life. Our schools are still mired in educational content and methods from the industrial age; our children get more of the skills they really need outside of school, from extracurricular activities, personal exploration and social networking, if they are fortunate enough to have those opportunities.

Today's corporate work environment consists of clusters of business expertise distributed globally and connected via high-speed communications links. Workers collaborate in their local team and with other teams around the world to define and solve open-ended problems. In today's fast-changing, complex environment, teams are given broad objectives and asked to find the best way to achieve them. There are no pre-defined "right answers" in the business world, only profitable and unprofitable strategies. Similarly, there are seldom any "right answers" in politics, or healthcare, or any other aspect of society - including education. As adults, we have learned that history is always a selective interpretation of past events, and that the most effective communicators often break the established conventions. Yet in our schools we drill on facts and basic skills, and seldom encourage or even tolerate questioning, innovation, exploration, or collaboration.
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Format: Hardcover
I graduated as a valedictorian from a high school that is not known for its academic excellence. I did not feel much pride in my achievement - though I know I should have because it indicates I worked hard in school. I was lucky and had quite a few great teachers that did try to teach me to think -- not just memorize stuff. However, I had many more teachers that I could describe much less enthusiastically. I was valedictorian though and took and passed several AP classes too. But I did horribly when I got to college because of the poor preparation I was given in high school. The skills I needed to get that valedictorian status was not enough for even a 3.0 average my first semester of college.

The Global Achievement Gapdoes a great job of discussing how we need to change schools today so that the students are better prepared for college and work - not just to pass tests. He discusses how teachers should use content to teach kids to think - and not making the content the goal. He discusses different ways students can be taught to speak and think for themselves, to be able to question things around them and be able to solve problems on their own. While reading this book, I kept thinking about how *I* could have benefited from these had I had an education like he described. However, as an adult looking at the big picture, I have a hard time believing that such a big change to cover *everything* he describes is realistically feasible in our world. Maybe we can take small steps toward that goal but the changes he described for the schools and the teaching education and profession are huge and require significantly more money. It will also require changes to current political system in place for schools.
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1 Comment 39 of 39 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
Finally a text that outlines school reform without the need of an masters degree to access it. Wanger recommends that schools focus on teaching mental processes by teaching content rather than making content the end goal. The need to develop competencies will prepare our students for a global economy where they will compete with students in and outside the US.

All teachers, administrators, school boards, universities with teacher certification programs, parents, business owners, community leaders, and policy makers who are frustrated but optimistic about school reform should invest time to read this book because it lays out causes of the global achievement gap, identifies core competencies, and highlight schools that serve as models for an achievable school reform.

In addition to the large implications this book might have for the education world, it is valuable for helping me transform my approach to teaching.
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Format: Hardcover
I wanted to like this book and while Dr. Wagner made some good points, especially about the shortcomings of typical student assessments, these strengths could not overcome the books many weaknesses. For instance, the gathering of opinions about what students should learn in school, passed off as "research," and then coverted into the hopelessly vague "Seven Survival Skills for Teens Today" reveals a biased methodology that undermines the work's credibility.

Furthermore, the "Seven Survival Skills" continue the recent trend of suggesting that the goals of education are simply generic process skills. While I have my issues with E.D. Hirsch's work, I do agree with him that education is not content free and that any claims to the contrary are misguided. (By the way, if you read the list of seven skills closely, it becomes apparent that more like a dozen process skills are seen as essential - one of Dr. Wagner's editors must have decided that seven was more marketable and combined similar, but not identical learning domains to reach the marketing target.)

Dr. Wagner's discussion of improving the education profession also fell short. He continues to perpetuate the insular view that there is something unique about working in schools compared with all other lines of professional work. There is not. Workplace contingencies are basically the same everywhere and in every profession. What matters is arranging the contingencies of work to get high performance. He does not enlighten us on that point.

The book fails us again when Dr. Wagner presents his examples of exemplary schools that work.
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