By the AJC Editorial Board
Among the soundest economic investments Georgia can make is to refine how children and even adults are schooled for the ever-changing world of work. (Hint: Think outside the college box.)
When it comes to better preparing Georgia’s workers and students for the jobs of today and tomorrow, we’ve put a number of capable oars into the water in recent years.
To achieve sustainable, noticeable results though, we need to keep rowing — hard — and in the same direction.
The case has never been stronger for the benefits to be gained by refining how we school youngsters and even adults for the ever-changing world of work. That entails everything from stressing competency in applied math to honing the “soft” skill of working well as part of a team. Doing this is really a matter of dollars and cents to households, this region, state and nation.
At a forum last month on “preparing students for tomorrow’s workforce,” Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education President Stephen D. Dolinger told attendees that, “We know that good education is good economic development.”
Sound research bears out this thesis. A new study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce documents substantially greater earnings for the average person who completes some form of job-related training after high school. That’s not to devalue the long-lauded pursuit of a four-year, or even two-year, college degree. It’s simply about providing more choices and options — recognizing, for example, that some engineers drive spreadsheets and others drive trains. Both are pretty well-paid, especially when compared with those who lack marketable skills.
Georgia seems to be focusing on tactics to school a better workforce. Gov. Nathan Deal’s Georgia Competitiveness Initiative’s final report rightly concludes that, “A supportive business climate, sound economic development strategy, and world-class infrastructure are of little value to business without a dependable pipeline of qualified workers.”
Other relatively new efforts, such as Go Build Georgia and Complete College Georgia, also seem focused on laudable ends. The state Department of Education is crafting curricula that will better groom students for the breadth of careers available to those completing some form of training or certification. The Georgia Department of Labor’s workforce training programs have won national acclaim.
Together, these efforts and others can form a powerful strategy for building our state’s economy and helping lower a still-high unemployment rate.
Doing so will require a commitment to stay the course. There should be no other option, really, and voters should demand as much.
It will do little good, for example, to launch promising initiatives and subsequently starve them through chronic underfunding.
Alan Essig, executive director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, noted in introducing the GBPI’s recent analysis of state education spending that “persistent cuts to public education undermine efforts undertaken by the state to build a more educated and skilled workforce that attract good-paying jobs to the state.” He’s right.
Demanding accountability from dollars expended by government is a good thing. Yet, making politically motivated cuts or other damaging changes to our public education system will produce a bang for the buck, too — a negative one that hinders our ability to attract good jobs.
Helping our workers and future workers do the best job possible of preparing for productive employment will prove a sound economic investment. We can’t stop rowing toward that destination.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board
Our shortcomings cast long shadow
By Ed Rust Jr.
Warnings have been in place for decades. Now the realities are all too visible.
In a U.S. economy where many people can’t find work, millions of jobs are unfilled because applicants lack necessary skills and knowledge.
Our workers used to be the best-prepared in the world. That’s no longer true. A growing number of countries have overtaken us in terms of the percentage of young people entering the workforce with what they need to be productive and competitive in a global economy that’s in transition.
On average, young Americans entering the workforce are not as well educated as older Americans leaving it. Many other countries’ students know and can do more when they emerge from high school or its equivalent. Meanwhile our fastest-growing demographic groups have some of the worst dropout rates. The future for the million American kids who dropped out of high school this past year is not good.
To those who just graduated from high school, congratulations. But it’s only the first step. You’re smart if you’re planning to acquire the technical skills and knowledge, the ability to engage in critical thinking and analytical reasoning that so many of today’s good jobs demand.
We need you in America’s workforce. Some of our aging baby boomers may be delaying their retirement because of current economic conditions, but eventually they’ll step away. In fact, we expect 40 percent of the U.S. workforce to retire over the next five years.
What kind of workers will replace them? Where will the U.S. stand in the global economy if we don’t have skilled and knowledgeable people to take their place?
Last month I had the opportunity to participate in a meeting of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, a group determined to improve achievement of all this state’s students as an investment in its future.
When the U.S. Education Department gave the state a waiver from some of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law, it presented Georgia with an opportunity. But with opportunity comes responsibility.
The waiver means Georgia school officials have flexibility in how they foster and measure student growth and achievement. They can demonstrate how they can improve on what the federal reforms did to put some focus on accountability and teacher preparation. They should not see the waiver as an opportunity to relax (loosen) the definition of what constitutes academic success or reduce the urgency that’s clearly required.
Up until very recently, every generation of Americans has enjoyed a better quality of life than preceding generations. That record is at risk and, subsequently, so is our country’s long-term economic and social well-being.
A quality education for every young person is good for them and critical to our nation’s future.
Rust is chairman and CEO of State Farm and chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Reforming our k-12 system is key
By George P. Shultz and Eric A. Hanushek
In addressing our current fiscal and economic woes, too often we neglect a key ingredient of our nation’s economic future — the human capital produced by our k-12 school system. An improved education system would lead to a dramatically different future for the United States, because educational outcomes strongly affect economic growth and the distribution of income.
Over the past half-century, countries with higher math and science skills have grown faster than those with lower-skilled populations.
In comparing gross domestic product per-capita growth rates between 1960 and 2000 with results of international math assessment tests, what stands out is that countries follow a nearly straight line that slopes upward — as scores rise, so does economic growth. Peru, South Africa and the Philippines are at the bottom; Singapore and Taiwan, the top.
The U.S. growth rate lies above the line because — despite the more recent shortcomings of our schools — we’ve long benefited from our commitment to the free movement of labor and capital, strong property rights, a limited degree of government intrusion in the economy, and strong colleges and universities. But each of these advantages has eroded considerably and should not be counted on to keep us above the line in the future.
Current U.S. students — the future labor force — are no longer competitive with students across the developed world. In “advanced” performance on math, 16 countries produced twice as many high achievers per capita than the U.S. did.
If we accept this level of performance, we will surely find ourselves on a low-growth path.
The drag on growth is by no means the only problem produced by our lagging education system. Greater educational disparity leads to greater income-distribution disparity. If we fail to reform our k-12 education system, we’ll be locking in inequality problems that will plague us for decades if not generations to come.
Take our own state of California. Once a leader in education, it is now ranked behind 40 other U.S. states in math achievement, placing it at the level of Greece and foreshadowing a bleak future of ballooning debt and growing income disparity.
Anyone worried about income disparity in America should be deeply disturbed. The failure of the k-12 education system for so many students means that issues associated with income distribution — including higher taxes and less freedom in labor and capital markets — will be an ever-present and distressing aspect of our future.
Examples abound of the ability to make sharp improvements in our k-12 system. By not insisting on immediate and widespread reform we are forgoing substantial growth in our standard of living. The problem is obvious. The stakes are enormous. The solutions are within our reach.
George Shultz, former U.S. Secretary of State, is a distinguished senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Eric A. Hanushek is a senior fellow at Hoover. This column is a condensed version of one that originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal.