If you ask the average student in Austria or the Czech Republic what the words “United States of America” conjure up for them, it is likely that they will still use the following words: innovation, opportunity, progress, pioneering…which is why I was shocked to read a recent article that indicated that in the most recent Office for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) education rankings, the United States fell below both Austria and the Czech Republic (and 28 other countries) in math secondary assessment tests. The most frightening part of this statistic is that it doesn’t start and stop in the hallways of America’s schools – it has implications that extend well beyond education into national security, economic growth and the stability of our nation.
Why? Because an uneducated nation is a nation without jobs. A nation without jobs is a nation without economic growth. A nation without economic growth is a nation with ballooning debt. A nation with ballooning debt puts the U.S. into the same precarious position as those faced by Greece and Italy today.
Some additional facts that bolster the case for immediate action:
- On Security: More than half of Americans between the ages of 17 to 24 aren’t qualified to join the military because they either drop out of high school or graduate with inadequate math, science and English skills to qualify for military service.
- On U.S. Economic Growth: Countries with higher math and science skills have grown faster than those with lower-skilled populations. If we don’t reverse our performance on math and science education, we will soon find ourselves relegated to becoming a low-growth nation.
- On College Preparedness: Today, only 30% of Americans have four-year college degrees, and U.S. Department of Education data since the year 2000 shows that 65% of those who start community colleges haven’t earned a degree or other credential after six years.
In a panel that I participated in for the Republican Governors’ Association last week, the topic of discussion was “Enhancing Workforce Development.” In conversations with Governor Haley of South Carolina, Governor LePage of Maine, Governor Jindal of Louisiana, and leaders from several private-sector companies who care deeply about preparing our future workforce to assume positions of global leadership, the single greatest factor in developing a nation with the skills for tomorrow was clear: educate them in their K-12 years.
We know that a complete overhaul of the American educational system is easier said than done, but a formula for success does exist. It is a formula that doesn’t rely on technology as the silver bullet of transformational change, but recognizes that technology must be implemented by inspirational professional educators who are skilled at engaging students with inspirational content. It is a formula that has driven Santa Rosa, Florida to be ranked #2 out of 67 districts in Florida in performance on statewide assessment tests in spite of the fact that their funding level is #66 out of 67 schools. It is a formula that has transformed teaching and learning in Mooresville, North Carolina and made their district a model of achievement. It is a formula that has yielded significant achievement gains in Miami-Dade, Florida. It is a formula that increased Science achievement in Charlotte Mecklenburg by 26 points over a short two years.
The only way that our nation can address science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)-related deficiencies in our classrooms is by empowering teachers with the support that they need to excite, engage, and instruct students in ways that help STEM education to come alive. Digital content and digital technology are critical tools to put into the hands of the teachers, but unless they know how to incorporate these tools into enhanced instruction, learning will remain static, uninspired and, ultimately, unlearned.
All of these facts in aggregate mean that ultimately, education is not the only national institution dependent upon teachers. The security, stability, and growth of our nation also rest upon our willingness to invest in educators and the support that they need to be successful. When viewed through this lens, it makes the path forward so much more clear.
For more information about Discovery Education, please visit www.discoveryeducation.com.