No Time to Lose: How to Build a World-Class Education System State by State

"We cannot ignore the reality that most state education systems are falling dangerously behind the world, leaving the United States overwhelmingly underprepared to succeed in the 21st century economy."

A bipartisan group of 28 veteran legislators and legislative staff representing 26 states, along with several partners from the private sector, began an 18-month study in 2014. They focused on the highest performing countries on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey to discover commonalities across their policies and practices. At the NCSL 2016 Legislative Summit, the NCSL released the report "No Time to Lose: How to Build a World-Class Education System State by State."

Key Points

  • The U.S. workforce, widely acknowledged to be the best educated in the world half a century ago, is now among the least well-educated in the world, according to recent studies. At this pace, we will struggle to compete economically against even developing nations, and our children will struggle to find jobs in the global economy.
  • Recent reforms have underperformed because of "silver bullet strategies" and piecemeal approaches. Pockets of improvement in a few districts or states are not enough to retain our country's global competitiveness.
  • High-performing countries implement policies and practices and build comprehensive systems that look drastically different from ours, leading them to the success that has eluded states. Common elements are present in nearly every world-class education system, including a strong early education system, a reimagined and professionalized teacher workforce, robust career and technical education programs, and a comprehensive, aligned system of education.
  • Education is first and foremost a state responsibility. Challenges must be faced directly and we must begin immediately to reimagine and re-engineer our own education system.  This includes building an inclusive team, setting priorities, creating a shared vision, benchmarking policies, working through the messiness and investing the time.
  • In high-performing countries, students who struggle receive extra help and more teachers are typically allocated to such schools, with the best teachers serving in the most challenged ones. The standards for teachers are high. Once teachers exit a preparation program in top-performing countries, they are expected to be the best in the world and experts in their craft. They are also re compensated more generously than American teachers, typically earning pay similar to that of senior civil servants and professionals such as engineers and accountants.  Also, a highly effective, intellectually rigorous system of career and technical education is available to those preferring an applied education. Career and technical education (CTE) is not perceived as a route for students lacking strong academic skills, but as another approach to education, skills development and good jobs. CTE is well-funded, academically challenging and aligned with real workforce needs.
  • Success is not achieved by adopting only one or two "silver bullet" policies. What is needed is a comprehensive, aligned system of education.
A copy of this complete report is available on the NCSL website at