Barriers keep things away from other things - they might be levees that keep dangerous waters away from communities; they sometimes separate nations at border crossings; they might even be erected around buildings (as happened often after 9-11) to prevent wrongdoers from entering.
There are other kinds of barriers too - ones that aren't so physically tangible, but every bit as real. Consider barriers to entry for a company trying to get into a market or reach a demographic; consider also barriers to entry for a person trying to gain employment.
In this last case, there are a few ways that would-be employees can break through these barriers - I think it boils down to:
- Accreditation - a diploma or certification attesting to something you've learned that is of value to the employer
- Connection - someone you know either in the company or that the company wants to know
- Reputation - being proven or having a following that you bring to the table that improves the employers' ability to do something (attract new customers, build credibility, etc.)
- Experience - jobs you might have had, or work you may have done that is meaningful to the employer
For most people starting out, having a piece of paper from the right institution accrediting their education is the only thing they have. In the past, you may have been hired solely for having a diploma, but today with the scarcities we face and the glut of prospective candidates, employers can be much more selective. It's not enough to have a piece of paper; what that paper represents is actually more important.
I wrote a while back about universities being at risk because of their steadfast commitment to keeping things as they were a century ago, but now we know that institutions do this at their assured peril.
I have written a ton about K-12 education and how it's being impaled into the ground, but a couple of thoughts stand out. I'm the first to agree that we are what we measure - but we should also know that if you lower the barrier to entry, people won't try as hard!! If you protect management from failure, they won't feel as accountable!!
Seth Godin wrote this great post today about how career fairs are (my words) the aspiration to be average. He didn't need to prove it, but here's more proof of this - the NY Times reported that several states are lowering their high school graduation test standards!!
How often have you seen a person say - well if I only need to produce 10 widgets a day, and no matter what I do, I only get paid to produce 10 widgets, I'll produce 20 (or even 11) anyway, just because I can and I care?
What gets measured gets done - if you lower the standard, guess what, you've guaranteed that the students will learn less! These legislative charlatans are trying to put a better spin on things - Dr. Gerald Zahorchak, Pennsylvania's Secretary of Education in one breadth said that 20,000 2007/8 graduates required remediation at a cost of $26 million before they were ready for their next step - a pretty damning condemnation of current graduation standards. BUT in the next breadth, of their plan to lower the standards for testing, he said: I want more than anything to be able to say with confidence that every Pennsylvania student who receives a diploma is ready for the real world.
I am speechless.
I think Dr. Zahorchak and all of his peers must be required to face the tens of thousands of unemployed high school graduates in their state every day, and hear from each of them about how their 13-year investment in public school has failed them.
The school system in this country is in peril - there should be a sense of urgency that eclipses the post 9-11 fervor on national security for approaches that improve the potential of every child in the school, not lower the standards so some imbecile with a big office can look good.
The barrier we are missing is the one that requires politicians to have an IQ above that of a grape.