WASHINGTON—An education crisis looms, and if it is not addressed promptly and effectively it could undermine the prosperity of future generations of Americans.
This was the message from the U.S. Chambers ICW (Institute for a Competitive Workforce) at its annual Education and Workforce Summit, Sept. 24 – 26 in Washington, D.C.
The event was part of the groups national effort to promote effective and sustainable business and education/work force partnerships. Now, more than ever, speakers said, the future of business in the United States depends on its educational and work force systems ability to adapt to changes in technology, demographics, globalization and other forces affecting society and economy.
To create and sustain regional economic development, communities has to bridge gaps between education, training and employment, but research indicates that the United States is struggling to do so.
“For the last part of the 20th century, the U.S. has had the most highly educated work force in the world,” said Martha Lamkin, president of the Lumina Foundation for Education, a private foundation based in Indianapolis. “This is evident today in the 55 to 65 age range. But this picture is less optimistic for our younger adults, as other countries are exceeding us in two and four-year education completion.”
Those who deal with what is often the end result of the U.S. education system—the business community—feel that it is lacking. In a 2006 study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerces Statistics and Research Center, 53 percent of business organizations felt that the current school curriculum did not adequately prepare students for college and the work force.
The business community made several suggestions, the first of which is that new programs and school planning concepts be in order. Half felt that the school year should be longer, and more than one-third (38 percent) felt that it should be year round. Almost all argued that more frequent assessments should take place on students to find trouble areas.
Business respondents also had strong criticisms of the educators themselves. Only about one quarter (26 percent) felt that teachers used the best research methods available to help with instruction, and only 27 percent believed that institutes of higher education were preparing teachers to be effective.
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The business communitys view of the way communities handle education reform was also somewhat dismal. Only 11 percent of business leaders felt that money was well-spent to improve low-performing schools. Less than one-quarter (23 percent) felt that parents had good options for improving their childrens education.
Furthermore, the U.S.s competitive edge was slipping, they worried. Ninety percent of respondents said that there was a need to raise the bar on achievement expectations to ensure that the United States remained on par with other high achieving countries.
“We must begin aligning our education system with the underlying economy,” Lamkin said.
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