Radical Education Reform in Response to Globalization

We don’t cover broad education issues on this blog, but we do cover aspects of globalization — particularly after ACM’s report on the globalization and offshoring in the software industry. It is hard to separate the two issues. Education is clearly connected to workforce issues, which are, in turn, connected to globalization. Realizing these deep connections, today a high-profile commission, with possibly the clunkiest name ever — The New Commission on the Skills of the The American Workforce — released a report calling for a radical overhaul of America’s education system. The goal is no less than installing an entirely new system to create a globally competitive workforce:

“The core problem is that our education and training system were built for another era, an era in which most workers needed only a rudimentary education. It is not possible to get where we have to go by patching that system. There is not enough money available at any level of our intergovernmental system to fix this problem by spending more on the system we have. We can get where we must go only by changing the system itself.”

The recommendations – or more accurately, the interconnected steps recommended to overhaul the system – are an odd mix of conservative market-based strategies and liberal centrally-planned government solutions. (I’m summarizing the report’s 10-step, 20-page executive summary, but it is a bit confused in parts so you may want to read the recommendations in detail):

Step 1 key components:

  • Create a State Board Qualifying Examination that will be taken after the 10th Grade
  • Based on the test results, students enter an “upper secondary education program;” a vocational, community or technical college; or have “optional additional academics”
  • After two years of study students would take another state board test, or international baccalaureate/advanced placement exams, upon passage they would guaranteed entrance into college.

Step 2 key components:

  • The savings from yielded from the first step will be put into (each of these is flushed out in more detail below):
    • Recruiting, training and deploying teachers from the top third of the high school students going into college.
    • Building a high-quality, full-service early childhood education system for every 3- and 4-year-old student.
    • Giving the nation’s disadvantaged students the resources they need to succeed against internationally benchmarked education.

Step 3 key components:

  • Reform the current pay/benefit system for teachers by making it front-loaded. Teacher salaries would climb, on average, from $45,000 to $95,000, but their retirement benefits would be reduced.
  • Teachers would be employees of the state not school districts.
  • Create new state Teacher Development Agencies charged with recruiting, training, and certifying teachers.
  • Require teachers to have a bachelor’s degree in the subject they will teach and pass rigorous teaching performance assessments.

Step 4 key components:

  • Exams and assessments would be reformed to capture “creativity and innovation, facility with the use of ideas and abstractions, the self-discipline and organization needed to manage one’s work and drive it through to a successful conclusion, the ability to function well as a member of a team.”
  • Curriculum would be connected to these assessments

Step 5 key components:

  • Reform how school systems are governed, financed, organized and managed
  • Schools would be operated by independent contractors, such as limited-liability corporations owned and run by teachers, instead of being owned by local school districts
  • Parent and students could choose among all the available contract schools

Step 6 key components:

  • Provide high-quality, universal early childhood education

Step 7 key components:

  • Funding would be distributed by a pupil-weighting formula
  • Funding for districts wouldn’t go down, but would be made more equitable through the infusion of new funds
  • Schools with high concentrations of disadvantaged students would receive more funding to offer a broader range of services.

Step 8 key components:

  • Pass federal legislation entitling every adult to free education to meet the standards set by the new Board Exam standards.

Step 9 key components:

  • Pass federal legislation to create personal competitiveness accounts to fund education and training throughout a worker’s life.
  • The government would contribute $500 and continue to contribute at a lower level until the worker turns 16 and would accumulate tax free.

Step 10 key components:

  • Pass federal legislation to encourage states to create regional economic development authorities

The report is a bit too gloom and doom for my tastes, implying threats from the rest of the world getting smarter. But it generated a cover story in Time Magazine and a Wall Street Journal op-ed (sub. required) by New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, so it is clearly something worth a look. Given the philosophical mix of the recommendations and that they are so radical, I’m not quite sure what to make of them. Everyone seems to have something to hate. The report’s recommendations are deeply interconnected, and it is clear the commission does not see this as an a-la-carte menu. However, the report seems to either not care or not realize the political and organizational obstacles many or all the reforms would face at all levels of government. Regardless, the goal of injecting innovation and creativity into the education process to create a more competitive workforce is worthwhile. Whether or not the report’s recommendations would achieve this goal is something for educational experts to debate.

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