National Learning Outcomes

National Learning Outcomes: A CAPE-Ohio Position Paper for Principle 7

As we strive to make public education universally accessible and successful for all students, knowing how schools are doing in getting students to achieve the most important learning outcomes is vital to the enterprise. A national consensus on a few key outcomes, that all students regardless of who they are or where they live should strive to achieve during their public school experiences, is imperative. Outcomes such as the following might provide a beginning point for developing that consensus. Additionally, it might also inform the continuing debate about common learning standards and the part they will play in our future system of public education.

Clearly, knowing and understanding human cultures and the natural and physical world is worthy of inclusion in our short list. Such understanding will result from a thorough grounding in the sciences, mathematics, social and behavioral sciences, the humanities, history, languages, and the arts. While many might argue that grounding students in these subjects has been the goal of our educational enterprise since its earliest beginnings, schools of the future must provide students with many more opportunities to study these subjects, not as ends in themselves, but rather with a focus upon them as a means to engage the big questions facing humanity, both contemporary and enduring.

There are few who would disagree that intellectual and practical skills will become invaluable assets for virtually all human endeavors as the world continues to become more economically interconnected, interdependent, and competitive. The ability to understand and use methods of inquiry as well as the ability to think critically and creatively will be increasingly expected and essential to all areas of success. While new technologies have and will continue to change the nature of written and oral communication, the ability to do it well will continue to grow in importance, as will information literacy. The world of the future will demand a level of quantitative literacy historically possessed by a small minority. Nothing can be more obvious than the realization that this can no longer be allowed to be the case. The quality of every individual life and that of the nation as a whole will depend in some measure upon universal quantitative literacy.

The fostering of individual and social responsibility is as important a universal learning outcome and responsibility of public education as any other. Civic knowledge and engagement—local and global, is the cornerstone of a healthy democratic society. Attention to the rejuvenation of this idea, including the extension of intercultural knowledge and competence and ethical reasoning and action is imperative. Finally, such responsibility also demands attention to the foundations and skills necessary for lifelong learning and individual health and well-being.

Finally, the ability to synthesize and advance our accomplishments across general and specialized studies is essential in our quest to make sense of the world. The capacity of each of us as individuals to adapt knowledge, skills, and responsibilities to new settings and questions will define the social, political, economic, and psychological well-being of the nation for generations to come. This might well define the very purpose of schooling.