I learned a bit of news that raised my spirits this week: This country's inability to educate its children is not a recent phenomenon. Apparently, the U.S. has been screwing up for years.
That sounds awful, I know. However, when you constantly hear about the failure of the U.S. educational system, you begin to think it might have something to do with your generation. Edward E. Gordon, an expert on workforce development, challenged that notion in an address to the Rockford, Ill.-area Workforce Investment Board at the group's annual meeting on Sept. 22.
According to Gordon, 66 percent of U.S. students read below grade level, and it's been that way for several decades. The biggest change in society, however, has been the evaporation of manufacturing jobs that often absorbed those undereducated students and provided them with the means to earn a living. Those days are gone.
"We can't do this anymore," he said.
Statistics prove his point. If you look into the U.S. unemployment rate for August, you find that the unemployment rate for those with some sort of post-high-school degree is 6.65 percent, which is much better than 12.15 percent unemployment rate for high school graduates and dropouts. Looking to the future, Gordon said he believed that 74 percent of jobs will require advanced skill sets, not generally provided with a simple high school liberal arts education. That's scary, considering so many job openings today in manufacturing can't be filled because job applicants don't have the correct skills.
Gordon said the education-to-employment model that worked so well for the U.S. most of this century doesn't work for the "Cyber-Mental Age." Instead of the typical liberal arts education, students also need more tutoring and aptitude testing and exposure to potential career experiences and different teaching methods. They also need some sort of advanced learning, whether college, an apprenticeship, or a certificate program.
This change in education delivery can occur only with cooperation between parents, business officials, community leaders, and educators. As Gordon said, "Everyone has to burn their enemies list."
We're all in this together. If you want to play the blame game, you aren't invited to this transformational effort. It's time for action to improve the situation.
Gordon told the gathering that the U.S. can make the changes necessary to prepare students for next-generation jobs. This country has proven to be a trendsetter in the past—educating women, requiring children to attend school instead of tending to the fields, and welcoming immigrants into schools—and can be once again.
Gordon has written about certain communities—such as Santa Ana, Calif.; Fargo, N.D.; and Mansfield, Ohio—which have successfully transformed their schools. I've read about other communities that are investing in new vocational training programs and buildings to meet the needs of local business. Will this be duplicated all over the nation? I think so. If these communities want to have good jobs for future generations, they can't afford not to change.