As President Obama reiterates his call for a sweeping transformation of public education policy and states make their own broad attempts to improve academic achievement, we find ourselves at a critical crossroads. The choices we make today will determine the future of the young people in whose hands we will place America’s prosperity. We have an incredible opportunity to ensure that our students receive the kind of education they’ll need to thrive in the 21st century workplace, but we must act swiftly.
Last November, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) quietly issued a heavily edited and revised version of an earlier report they published that incorrectly criticized the for-profit college sector. At the time, the GAO received significant criticism on their effort from media, education experts and other commentators.Critics pointed out the shoddy and unprofessional work originally put forth by the GAO, as well as the resulting damage it caused the for-profit college industry. It was clear that many errors and misleading conclusions were retracted from the earlier study that was broadly touted.
The New Year always brings about a plethora of lists. The previous year’s best and worst laid out for all the world to see. Companies vie for top billing in employee satisfaction and profits. Individuals compete head on for product innovation and revenue. Fortune, Forbes, and Fast Company all have a list. They are meant to be recognition for a job well done but they are even more valuable as a glimpse into the future. Yesterday’s success is tomorrows skill set in demand.
Inc. Magazine puts out their 30 Under 30 list, which is a look at America’s hippest young entrepreneurs and their companies. The bio’s detail how the idea came about, where they got the money, future plans and a bit about the company’s culture. It’s rather inspiring; America’s youngest, brightest, adventurous minds at work. It’s also an alarming look at the crooked, broken path from school to work.
This is the first full generation of Americans who have moved from kindergarten to college without any universal access to vocational skills. It was about sixteen years ago, after all, when school districts started moving “shop” off the main calendar and targeted those classes for certain kids. It was the time of NAFTA, Welfare to Work, School to Career, and the Workforce Investment Act. All of which played a part in encouraging community colleges to shift from technical training in favor of faster, less expensive coursework. It was when we decided that work – back-breaking, sweaty, America-building work - wasn’t good enough for our children.
With bipartisan debt commissions unfurling proposals, newly-elected Tea Partiers headed for the Capitol, and Congress moving to keep Bush-era tax breaks, it’s clear that Washington needs to find cuts in the federal budget. With dollars more scarce, our country must rededicate itself to spending as wisely as possible.
One area that politicians frequently pledge to attack is the unholy trinity of “waste, fraud, and abuse.” Identifying such wasteful spending is easier said than done – but not always.
The Obama administration proposed to act on two higher education programs where it was crystal clear that government money was not being spent prudently. Two industries, student loan companies and for-profit colleges, had become wealthy through federal largesse – and, to a large degree, at the expense of student and taxpayer interests.
While China's number one rankings in reading, science and math categories may ruffle America's competitiveness feathers, as witnessed in the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), our feathers have been ruffled before, by a host of higher performing nations. America continues to be outcompeted on the PISA. In this latest assessment, the U.S. moved little, scoring 17th in reading, 23rd in science, and 31st in math.
Before America slips further, we must retool our education system so that each child is equipped with the training and education needed to reach their maximum potential. Good schools will give back to America through innovation, investment and intellect - key components of any economic recovery process.
“Across the country, many have begun to wonder why we have a federal Department of Education at all. What makes us think that bureaucrats in Washington, DC can manage our classrooms and prepare our children for success any more effectively than qualified teachers and engaged local school boards?”