Preventing the Snowball Effect

There is no shortage of challenges in education – funding, facilities, tuition, costs, societal and economic conditions, student safety, mental health issues, dropout rates, student success – and the list goes on and on. However, the biggest challenges we face are: acknowledging we are not serving a large number of our students; overcoming our resistance to systemic change; and admitting that if we do nothing we are likely to see a spiral of decline.

Serving Our Students?
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2015 Nation's Report Card shows a decline in math and reading proficiency.  Only 33% of 8th grade students perform at or above "Proficient" and only 8% reach the "Advanced" level in math.  Reading scores are no better with 34% of 8th grade students performing at or above "Proficient" and only 4% reaching the "Advanced" level in reading. 

The problem doesn't go away with high school graduation.  According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), when considering all first-time undergraduates, stud­ies have found anywhere from 28 percent to 40 percent of students enroll in at least one re­medial course. When looking at only community college students, several studies have found remediation rates surpassing 50 percent.

In National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Condition of Education report (updated in May 2016), only about 60 percent of students who began seeking a bachelor's degree at a 4-year institution in fall 2008 completed that degree within 6 years.  At 2-year degree-granting institutions, 28 percent of first-time, full-time undergraduate students who began their pursuit of a certificate or associate's degree in fall 2011 attained it within 150 percent of the normal time required to do so (3 years to complete a 2-year degree). This graduation rate was 20 percent at public 2-year institutions, 51 percent at private nonprofit 2-year institutions, and 58 percent at private for-profit 2-year institutions.

Building a Workforce?
Without a solid education, we are producing students that are unprepared to enter the workforce.  A Business Roundtable survey reports that the U.S. skills gap is real and growing.  98 percent of CEOs report that finding candidates with the competencies and training to fill open positions is a problem, affecting all skill levels needed – from entry level to the highly technical.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is calling for an end to the campaign rhetoric and looking for policy development that will close the skills gap and improve our economy.  They feel employers need to be prepared and take advantage of opportunities to work with education systems to establish "employer-driven" programs; that more public-private partnerships need to be developed to establish learning opportunities in STEM education;  that students must be technology literate; and programs should be put in place to facilitate upgrading the skills of their current workers.

The Best in the World?
When it comes to education, the U.S. is not a superpower.  We are average at best when it comes to Science and Math.  We have one of the biggest gaps between high- and low-performing students in an industrialized nation. In a Pew Research Center report, only 29% of Americans rated their country's K-12 education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (known as STEM) as above average or the best in the world. Scientists were even more critical: A companion survey of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science found that just 16% called U.S. K-12 STEM education the best or above average; 46%, in contrast, said K-12 STEM in the U.S. was below average.

No… we don't have a magic pill or a quick fix.  What we do have is global competitiveness, great potential and the ability to effect positive change.  The time is now.