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A Publication of WTVP

Over the last few decades, there have been a number of national reports and studies that have alerted us to an impending crisis in our ability to effectively educate a majority of our young people and prepare them to compete in the global economy.

While most of us inherently understand the importance of educating our children, too few make the connection between the quality of our educational system and our ability as a community, state, or nation to produce an adequate supply of workers to meet the needs of this new economy. Additionally, few of us see the connection between the quality of our educational system and the challenges of global competition. In other words, in past times, Americans took for granted that our educational system was the best in the world. Today, that's only partially true. While we still have the best system of higher education in the world, it's become apparent our primary and secondary systems are losing ground internationally.

Over the last decade, there's been improvement in the educational performance of our country. In 1992, about 54.3 percent of high school graduates immediately enrolled in college. In 2002, the college continuation rate was 56.7 percent. However, according to the Manhattan Institute, only 71 percent of high school students graduated on time in 2002. In addition, the figures for disadvantaged minority students range from 52 to 56 percent. The Manhattan Institute further warns that only 34 percent of our students graduate from high school with sufficient skills for college or work. For African-Americans, the figure is 23 percent; for Hispanics, it's 20 percent.

In Illinois, Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) tests are given to all 11th graders. The test assesses basic competency in reading, math, writing, science, and social science. In 2003, 51 to 59 percent of Illinois students scored at or above standard on the PSAE; 41 to 49 percent of Illinois students didn't meet standards. As in the national studies, the scores for economically disadvantaged minorities are even more ominous. For African-Americans, 69 to 83 percent didn't meet standards. Not-met scores for Hispanics ranged from 65 to 74 percent.

While we're making some progress over time to increase the numbers of young people who successfully graduate from high school to college, huge segments of our population aren't prepared for a future where 75 percent of the new jobs will require some post-high school education or training. Additionally, over the next 30 years, projections indicate America may face a shortfall of millions of skilled workers. Also, because of changing demographics, by 2010, Hispanics will comprise 37 percent of the workforce, Whites will comprise 31 percent, and African-Americans 19 percent.

In the global perspective, we're losing ground to our competitors. In a 2004 study of 30 industrialized nations: the U.S. ranked first for adults aged 45 to 64 with a high school diploma, fifth for adults aged 35 to 44, and 10th for adults aged 25 to 34.

The best predictor of the quality of our future workforce is the current performance of our educational system. In future issues, we'll continue to explore how we're faring with global competitors in developing our entrant workforce. IBI

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