Integrity Matters
February 22, 2006

High school exit exam a test for teachers, too

Question: (E-227)

Dear Jim:

What about the integrity of requiring seniors in high school to pass the California graduation exam?


Without quantifiable standards, progress cannot be measured. Without progress and improvement, performance levels drop. Eroding standards spell disaster. Future contributors must have the intellectual tools to sustain and improve the world they will inherit. They must be able to assess food quality, medical services and transportation safety, as well as constructive technological breakthroughs. Preparing young people to function effectively in the 21st century is the responsibility of today's educational leadership.

Sitting in a classroom does not make one an informed person any more than standing in a garage makes one an automobile.

When learning has taken place, it can be verified, and should be.

Many years ago, one of our clients was building his third successful software company, and he had hired our management consulting firm to fine-tune the leadership skills of his key people. He chose to introduce me with the following words: "Jim Bracher is the smartest man I ever met who was not wearing overalls." Yes, you read the words correctly, "not wearing overalls" - the uniform of choice for those who make their living tilling the soil, at least in the Midwest, where our client (and I) had been reared.

After his remarks, my question, in front of his team, was: "Is this a compliment?" He assured me that it was, because he had never met a dumb farmer.

He then asked if I had ever known a dumb farmer. When I said I was not sure, he made the point that farmers who are not alert, flexible and hardworking will likely go out of business.

Smart and successful farmers deal with circumstances that are often unpredictable: weather, pests, bugs, price fluctuations, expensive equipment, fuel costs and labor. Their need for knowledge and the ability to function efficiently and effectively - in many areas - separates the real farmers from the pretenders. They profit from the positive consequences of preparedness.

Likewise, students facing their tomorrows - whether they continue formal studies or join the work force - must balance knowledge with application of math, science, communication skills and social awareness.

Integrity-centered leaders will enable the next generation to cope and succeed, auditing their progress and providing supportive tutoring where required.

Learning for survival and success is no longer an option, it is a must.

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