In the last issue, we talked about the new Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce report: Tough Choices or Tough Times. The report set forth a number of recommendations to address the challenges America will be facing as we seek to compete in the new global economy. The following is an excerpt from the Executive Summary:
“The best employers the world over will be looking for the most competent, most creative and most innovative people on the face of the earth and will be willing to pay them top dollar for their services. This will be true not just for the top professionals and managers, but up and down the length and breadth of the workforce. Strong skills in English, mathematics, technology, history and the arts will be essential for many; beyond this; candidates will have to be comfortable with ideas and abstractions, good at both analysis and synthesis, creative and innovative, self-disciplined and wellorganized, able to learn very quickly and work well as a member of a team and have the flexibility to adapt quickly to frequent changes in the labor market as the shifts in the economy become even faster and more dramatic…The core problem is that our education and training systems were built for another era, an era in which most workers needed only a rudimentary education. It is not possible to get where we have to go by patching that system. There is not enough money available at any level of our intergovernmental system to fix this problem by spending more on the system we have. We can get where we must go only by changing the system itself.”
The recommendations the Commission proposed are both bold and comprehensive. The report does not advocate for another new program or initiative but for broad-based systemic change at all levels of government to address the problems. We also have to reexamine our social, cultural and political priorities in order to effectively address these challenges.
In future columns, we will try to address these pertinent questions: What would it take to develop a world-class system of primary and secondary education that can match and exceed the performance of the best education systems of other countries? This is assuming that we can create a system which prepares most, if not all, of our students for college by the age of 16!
What would that system look like? What changes would have to be made? How much would a new system cost? How will we address the recruitment, training and deployment of teachers? How will the development of a high-quality, full-service early childhood education system be addressed? And, given the nation’s disadvantaged students, what do they need to succeed? How will we recruit, train and certify teachers for this new system? What teacher compensation system will be necessary and how will it be administered? How will we develop new standards, assessments and curriculum that reflect the increased skills for the 21st century? How do we create high performance schools and districts? And finally, how should the new system be governed, financed, organized and managed? IBI