Remarks on Education Report Roll Out

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Thank you, Tom and Arthur. I’ve been pleased to work with you both, along with Rick Hess of AEI, on the report card and the joint platform. And let me also thank Cindy Brown and Elena Rocha from CAP for all of their great work on this project. Cindy and Elena put in countless hours on our end to ensure the quality of the data analysis, writing, and layout of the report card and joint platform, and we all appreciate their efforts.

Tom Donohue and I don’t usually agree on much but we have more in common than many of you might think. We are ethnic, ornery and worried about the future of our country when we think about the many children who are not getting the kind of public education they need to succeed in the modern world.

It is unconscionable to me that there is not a single state in the country where a majority of 4th or 8th graders are proficient in math and reading.

As Tom said, the statistics don’t lie.

Nationwide, only about one-third of 4th and 8th graders—and well less than 20% of low-income and minority children—are proficient in reading and math.

A nation that purports to value human dignity, freedom and advancement for all can not tolerate a status quo that leaves our children dramatically undereducated and unprepared for an increasingly competitive and volatile global economy.

The condition of the public education system for a vast majority of our students is intolerable, and I believe we have an obligation to our children and to our nation to offer new solutions.

As the report and the joint platform make clear, our collective inability or unwillingness to change our education system has dire consequences for the nation’s economy.

Numerous comparative studies have concluded that the United States is falling well behind other nations in its ability to properly prepare our students for the future.

A 2003 UNICEF report ranked the U.S. 18th out of 24 nations in terms of the overall effectiveness of national education systems.

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, also from 2003, showed a steady decline in the performance of American students in relation to students in other countries.

A 2005 report by the Organization for Cooperation and Development ranked the U.S. 9th among industrialized nations in the share of its population with a high school degree, and 7th in terms of those with a college degree. Twenty years ago, the U.S. ranked first on both indicators.

And just last week, the Department of Education released two separate reports showing further declines in reading and math scores since 1992.

How did we get to this position?

To start, we need to be honest with ourselves. Years of well-intentioned—but ultimately insufficient—reforms have been unable to improve overall academic performance in our nation’s public schools.

Despite steps to increase per pupil spending, decrease student-teacher ratios, strengthen standards and recruit a better-prepared teaching force, student test scores have remained stubbornly flat over the past 35 years. By international standards, the U.S. spends far more than other nations on education—and has smaller class sizes—yet receives far less value in terms of educational outcomes.

Too many of our schools are turning out kids who lack the basic skills and knowledge to enter college or compete economically.

It’s clear that we need fundamental, structural reform if we are to change this pattern.

Tom has already discussed some of our ideas on applying business practices to education, so let me talk briefly about teaching and innovation.

First, we know that teacher quality has the biggest impact on student achievement. Studies consistently show that effective teachers do the most to help students learn, while the negative impact of inexperienced and out-of-subject teachers on student performance is also well documented.

Dramatic increases in student learning will, therefore, require better teacher preparation programs, well-designed professional development opportunities, good working conditions, and the creation of nontraditional teaching paths.

In order to attract the best talent to teaching, we also need to improve starting pay for teachers. Similarly, career advancement opportunities and financial rewards are proven methods of motivating employees in every profession, and we should do more of this for the teaching profession.

As we increase salaries for starting teachers, and other career opportunities, we also have a duty to find more effective ways to remove teachers who are not serving our kids well.

Steps to encourage innovation and experimentation in our school systems will also be critical to breaking the status quo and finding new ways to tackle seemingly intractable problems

We have put forth ideas such as small learning communities, early enrollment in college-level courses for credit, youth apprenticeships, charter schools, and online learning.

It is our belief that as long as new institutions and programs are held accountable for academic results, they should have maximum flexibility to try new ideas. If successful, these ideas should be replicated elsewhere.

I want to highlight one reform that sometimes gets overlooked—expanded learning time. In 2004, the Center for American Progress and the Institute for America’s Future convened an education task force—led by Governor Janet Napolitano, Phil Murphy from Goldman Sachs, and Roger Wilkins of George Mason University—which focused on the improvements which come from giving children expanded learning time.

Our school year is organized for the late 19th century economy not the 21st. Summer learning loss is a well documented occurrence for American students, and is particularly harmful for low-income and minority students who often lack the enriching out-of-school experiences that their wealthier peers enjoy.

Our task force recommended a reorganized school calendar, more time on task as well as including enhanced tutoring, after-school programs, and experiential learning—all opportunities that can be especially important for disadvantaged students.

Overall, both CAP and the Chamber recognize that our ideas are not the only ones out there. We purposefully did not include other worthy proposals such as calls for greater access to preschool and for greater equity in how education funds are allocated and spent. These ideas warrant serious discussion and others have been doing good work on these fronts.

Our goal with these reports was to focus our efforts on four core goals—better teaching, more innovation, better data, and better management—that are often overlooked or not discussed.

We do have evidence, however, that educational outcomes can improve significantly if states begin to adopt some of these ideas, as states like Virginia and Massachusetts have already done. Look across the river to Fairfax County to see what a phenomenal school system—built on many of these premises—can do to increase business development and job growth.

This will obviously require some risk taking. But the alternative of deteriorating schools, undereducated children, and declining economic fortune for this country cannot stand.

Our organizations will continue to work with state and federal policy makers to try to bring these goals into reality and we would appreciate any thoughts or ideas you might have on these efforts.

Thank you.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


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