Monday, September 15, 2008

Romer Calls for the Nation to Face its Educational Shortcomings

Roy Romer, Chairman, Strong American Schools & Former Governor of Colorado, had much to say about the current state of American education.

The political reality is that far too many Americans do not think there is a problem with the schools in their communities so it isn’t a problem for them. They couldn’t be more wrong and we need to do more to open their eyes to the realities and the ramifications of not greatly improving our nation’s public education system.

Take a look at our nation’s most recent ranking among industrialized countries (2006) in mathematics. If we were talking about Olympic competition, we wouldn’t even medal. U.S. high school students ranked 25th in math (out of 30 OECD countries) on international assessments. That’s behind Korea (#2), Japan (#6), New Zealand (#7), the Czech Republic (#11), Germany (#14), France (#17), the Slovak Republic (#20), and Spain (#24) to name a few. We are just ahead of Portugal (#26), Greece (#28), and Mexico (#30). In science we ranked only slightly better, 21st, with many of the same countries positioned ahead of us.

America once had the best graduation rate in the world, but in recent years has slipped to near the bottom (21st out 26 nations) among other industrialized countries. Against two of our economic competitors, China and India, the future looks bleak at our current high school graduation pace. China will have nearly 13 million graduates in 2015. India will have nearly 11 million. The U.S. will produce just over 4 million high school graduates.

This cannot and should not be acceptable to the American public or it’s political leaders.

The next president must educate the American people about the seriousness of our education problem. We need a "Sputnik" moment -- how do we get the American people involved in a national solution?

Improving our educational performance will pay huge economic dividends for our nation. Not doing so will see our great nation continue down this slippery economic slide in an ever-increasing competitive global economy. If America could increase the cognitive skills of its students to the level of the highest performing nations over the next decade, our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would grow by an additional 4.5 percent over the next two decades—an amount that is equal to what the U.S. currently spends on K-12 public education.

In my opinion, the key is through the states. The biggest barrier to a national consensus on lasting reform is that states say education is a state issue. What I believe we need is for the states to voluntarily benchmark themselves against the 10 best industrial nations, and for the federal government to provide incentives in support of these efforts. We also must design more authentic tests to measure ourselves against these benchmarks. The feds could provide funds to design these tests.

Beyond the development of challenging benchmarks standards and assessments, we MUST have competent, high-quality teachers in every classroom, particularly in high-poverty, high-risk schools. So much more needs to be done here.

In the end, if we could have consensus on three key areas to reform and improve education, I would recommend these:

• Develop Common Rigorous Standards
• Ensure there are Effective Teachers in Every Classroom
• Provide More Time and Support for Learning


wcalvin anderson said...

This Summit was a 'breathe of fresh air'. I hope that it will create the "Sputnik moment" for initiative and use the NCLB as a data resource equitably beyond privately dividing the national educational budgets of 15k school systems to use school improvement plans and leadership teams to understand what a 'sound basic education' is today in credible academic engagement,demographically, racially, regionally, nationally and globally.

The international cities here and abroad that our high school/college graduates and non graduates are not competitive in and laid off in is not an issue of colorlines and zip code achievment gaps -- it is American readiness.

I pray that we will convey to our children that we need every single one of them for participation in our Bill of Rights and Creedal ideas that 'ordains' our Constitution and not just to save retired Babyboomers and foreign debt service. Our stature in the world is spiraling to unchartered territories and but [our] nationalism is supposed to be the source of hope for pluralistic and democratic ideals everywhere. NCLB must be a real ethos and intention so that our children believe it with the passion of a Diane Ravitch, Joel Klein, Juan Williams, and Condi Rice.

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