Helping Students Graduate

BUILDING GLOBAL ECONOMIES. From the Schoolhouse to the Workplace

03/31/2010  |  Franklin Schargel

Schools need to be globally competitive, just as businesses are. 

We have come to recognize that Coca Cola is a global company, and you can buy a McDonald’s hamburger all over the world. Faxes, cell phones and the Internet have freed industrial firms from geographic boundaries. Toyota can build cars as easily in Evansville, Indiana as it can in Japan. Motorola can assemble pagers as easily in Singapore as it does in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Look at the label of any “American product.” General Motors makes cars in Canada and Korea as well as the United States. I.B.M. makes some of its computers in Mexico as well as the Far East. Pitney Bowes puts its name on the outside of some photocopy machines while Ricoh puts its mechanisms inside.

”Education isn’t just a social concern, it’s a major economic issue. If our students cannot compete today, how will our companies compete tomorrow?” John Akers, former Chairman of IBM

Traditionally, schools have asked for greater inputs — more money, more teachers, more books and smaller classes. Taxpayers, politicians and businesspeople are now demanding greater output from schools using the same or diminished resources; in other words, higher performance. Sustained economic growth of a country can best be achieved by having high performing educational organizations. High performing educational organizations are capable of increasing a nation’s productivity and quality.

Businesses are no longer geographically bound to produce products in their home countries. Neither are they geographically bound in their hiring practices.  Companies are capable of flying around the globe in search of cheap labor, to places where taxes are reasonable, regulations are limited, and where workers are qualified to run, repair, design and develop machinery. The question frequently asked is, “Why should the American business community have to spend money teaching entry-level employees the skills they should have acquired in high school and college when they can employ workers in foreign countries who are better prepared and will work cheaper?”

Jobs have become more complex. In the first half of the 20th century, physical power was the engine that drove economic development. Since the 1950s and into the 21st century, brain power is the driving force.  In 1950, two-thirds of Americans who had jobs worked with their hands, while one-third worked with their minds. Today the ratio is reversed.

According to the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences magazine, Insights, an automobile mechanic  in 1965 who understood 500 pages of repair manuals could fix about any car on the road. Today, the same mechanic needs to be able to understand about 500,000 pages of manuals, the equivalent of 50 New York City phone books.

Knowledge and information — the commodities of the 21st century — are the most easily transported resources a nation can possess. Knowledge can be taught to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

To compete in the global marketplace, America’s manufacturers must depend on  a well-trained, technologically prepared workforce, and if they cannot find those workers at home, they will look elsewhere. No longer does an American graduate have to compete against other American graduates for jobs, but against the best graduates of Singapore, China and Israel.

The nation’s governors, the president, the Congress, businesspeople and taxpayers are all demanding that schools improve. And our schools are improving. The recent publication of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) test demonstrates our improvement. Over half a million randomly selected eighth-grade students from 41 nations were tested.

The good news is that we are not at the bottom. In fact, we are in the middle of the pack — a little below the average in math and a little above in science. This puts us on the same level with many of our major trading partners--Germany, England, and Canada, for example.

The bad news is that we are not on top - where we have to be!  Countries like Singapore, Korea, Japan, the Czech Republic, and Hungary head the list of internationally high performing schools.  

The problem is that American schools are improving numerically, while the world and the workplace change exponentially. The obvious answer to retaining high-income, high-technologically-skilled jobs to is to improve our educational achievement levels. And even that will not insure that jobs will stay in the country. But without a highly educated workforce, we cannot even gain admission into the game of global competitiveness.  

The competitiveness of the global economy makes educational change inevitable. And some of our allies are aware of that. Here is a statement made by the Swedish representative to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

“For the majority of us, our own history and wealth have proved the intimate relationships between a nation’s prosperity and the quality of its educational system. This relationship is abundantly clear. And when this relationship is proved, education policies are no longer an area to be the exclusive preserve of specialists and technicians. Educational policy has now become a central and strategically important area for the whole range of policy making. The industrialized world knows very well our prosperity could not have been achieved, and cannot be maintained if we don’t have breadth and excellence in our educational system.”

The Twelve Essential Elements of Being World Class

All high performing organizations have 12 essential elements. These elements provide a foundation upon which all the other components are placed. The essential elements are:

• Dynamic Leadership

• Aligned Systems

• High Performing Students

• Vision, Mission

• Deployment

• Continuous Improving Results

• Student Learning

• Shared Responsibilities

• Customer Satisfaction

• Business Partnerships

• School Alliances

• Community Involvement


The graduates of our public schools built America. Its graduates provided the manpower that built our industries, transportation and communication systems. America’s public schools became known for producing the world’s finest doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists and business leaders. Graduates were the workers in the factories, the middle managers and even became chief executive officers. The United States can only thrive in the 21st century if all the graduates of our public schools succeed and make this country into a high performing global nation. If our schools cannot turn out high performing graduates, how can our industries produce high performing products and services?

Franklin P. Schargel is the President of The Schargel Consulting Group, an educational and training consulting organization interested in building World Class Schools. He can be reached at [email protected].

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