Over the last few months national headlines pertaining to education have centered on teacher tenure, union representation, budget cuts, teacher layoffs, and collective bargaining – just to name a few. Unfortunately, the headlines are not focused on the truly important issues regarding education in America. “One of the most fundamental obligations of any society is to prepare its adolescents and young adults to lead productive and prosperous lives as adults.” (Pathways to Prosperity Project, Harvard Graduate School of Education, February 2011)
The education continuum starts at birth and continues until someone goes to work. Some would argue (and I would agree) that the true learning continuum is birth to retirement. The continuum is comprised of three major periods of learning: 1. birth to pre-k, 2. K-12, and post-secondary education. An inordinate amount of studies have been conducted attempting to measure our success at educating our citizens along the continuum and thus preparing them for the workplace.
Consistently these studies indicate that America is falling behind other competing nations. Although the research proves that children that are not prepared for kindergarten ever catches up with those that are prepared, we still do not have universal pre-k in our country. Further research proves that not being proficient in reading by the third grade almost predicts future high school dropouts, we socially promote these children to fourth grade. And those not proficient in numeracy by 8th grade are further denigrated to almost certain failure in high school.
The final measurement that we as a nation are failing in is the area of high graduates. Even though we are improving in this area, we are not graduating as many as compared to the countries we are competing against in the global marketplace. Even worse, we are losing the race of transitioning our high school graduates into college.
According to the Harvard study, “the United States has led the world in equipping its young people with the education they would need to succeed.” Due to the success of the high school movement at the start of the 20th century, and the GI Bill after WWII - U.S. baby boomers far surpassed their counterparts globally in educational attainment. Our success in education propelled tremendous growth in American wealth. By the year 2000, U.S. per capita income was five to six times larger than in 1900.
Unfortunately, at the conclusion of the first decade of the 21st century, trends for education attainment show “profoundly troubling signs that the U.S. is now failing to meet its obligation to prepare millions of young adults. The “growing evidence of a skills gap indicates many young adults lack the skills and work ethic needed for many jobs that pay a middle-class wage.”
The 21st global economy will create jobs that require a vastly different skill set by its workers.
If the net job growth over the last thirty years required at least some post-secondary education, why would the next thirty require anything less? “Workers with at least some college have ballooned to 59 percent of the workforce, up from just 28 percent in 1973.” The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown “project that the U.S. economy will create some 47 million job openings by 2018. Nearly two-thirds will require at least some post-secondary education.”
I agree with the Harvard study, “the message is clear: in 21st century America, education beyond high school is the passport to the American Dream.” And I would further argue that America’s prominence and greatness lies in how well we once again lead the world in education attainment. We must provide our young people and those workers displaced by the great recession with the needed work skills to compete for those jobs created by the new economy.
So what does all of this mean for the greater Dalton community? By the fall of this year, we will have multiple entities providing many pre-k opportunities but not to all four-year-olds. Our two k-12 school systems will continue working together and working hard educating our children – but many third graders will not be proficient in reading, and many eight graders will not be proficient in math. And many high school students will drop out prior to completing their education. On a positive note, we will have for the first time, two institutions of higher learning offering a wider variety of college opportunities to those who do graduate.
Given the better than average education foundation available in our community, the Chamber will work with all stakeholders to strengthen the birth to retirement learning continuum. We will exhaust every idea that can make pre-k available to all four-year-olds. We will develop a scorecard that identifies our gaps in third grade reading and eight grade numeracy. Armed with the information from our scorecard, we will work with our education partners to offer solutions that will improve those gaps. Through partnering with our post-secondary institutions of higher learning, we will not only continue improving our high school graduation rate, we will further work to transition a higher percentage of high school graduates into college programs of study.
America’s future is dependent on each and every community rising to the occasion. Our community can and must do its part in building the citizen of tomorrow today. We welcome this challenge and all who will partner with us in meeting it.