Workforce Commission Declares Need for Radical Changes in U.S. Education System
By Judy Mejia
The U.S. no longer has the best educated workforce in the world, according to a new report released last month by The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. The Commission found that over the past thirty years, America has proportionately produced fewer high school and college graduates than other developed countries. Lower-skilled jobs have been outsourced or replaced by technology, and soon American middle-class jobs will be in jeopardy. The group noted that American engineers are competing with engineers in China and India who earn less than 20% of their earnings even with the same credentials. The report sends a clear message to educators and policymakers that substantial changes to the education system are a top priority for our 21st century students.
In order for America to stay competitive in a changing world, the Commission recommends major reforms to the current education system. Among its recommendations are: requiring high school students to pass competitive exams covering a broad array of subject areas and conceptual thinking skills, which would end high school sooner for many states; shifting all responsibility for financing public education to the state level; and recruiting high quality teachers from the top third of the high school graduates headed for college by setting up a new Teacher Development Agency.
Going beyond the No Child Left Behind Act, the report strongly recommends a set of new standards and assessments to meet the demand for creative, innovative, and analytical employees, saying that current tests measure only the most basic skills. As the report explains, "More often than not, little or nothing is done to measure many of the other qualities that we have suggested may spell the difference between success and failure for the students who will grow up to be the workers of 21st century America."
The report also advocates a number of radical and controversial school governance changes that would give schools complete autonomy from local districts and would shift the local school boards' role to contracting private with organizations, and establishing a GI Bill-like fund of $31 billion per year to set up Personal Competitiveness Accounts that would allow adult workers to receive continuing education.
The Commission believes that its recommendations will save America $60 billion, decrease the nation's dropout rate, and send almost every high school student to college. "Although we would not endorse all of their specific recommendations, the Commission's analysis of the critical need to radically improve our education system so that it will serve all students is important if we are to educate all citizens with the high-level skills necessary to compete with the global workforce," said Campaign Executive Director, Michael Rebell.
The New Commission on The Skills of the American Workforce is made up of a prominent panel of former U.S. Secretaries of Education and Labor, as well as key education policy leaders including Teachers College Professor of Early Childhood and Family Policy, Dr. Sharon Lynn Kagan. Tough Choices or Tough Timesfollows the Commission's groundbreaking report released in 1990 on high skills and low wages which led to several education and economic policies changes in the 1990s.
The executive summary, Tough Choices or Tough Times, can be found at www.skillscommission.org.