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Chamber of Commerce Says Ed Reform is Needed to Secure U.S. Future

July 01, 2011 posted by Margaret Spellings

Margaret Spellings is the President of the U.S. Forum for Policy Innovation at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She also is president and CEO of Margaret Spellings and Company and a leading national expert on public policy. Spellings served as U.S. Secretary of Education from 2005 to 2009.

In the past few years, we have seen unprecedented leadership and funds dedicated to innovation and reform in education. This national dialogue and ambition for change is greatly needed and can certainly be considered movement in a positive direction, but systemic advancements have remained elusive. Why is that? The reasons are numerous and the points of view endless, but there is a case to be made for the American business community taking bold and fiercely committed action to challenge the education system's status quo.

A particularly jarring visual representation of the dismal state of education nationwide and an example of why action is needed now can be found in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. This interactive map created by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW) compares the state of education across all 50 states and the District of Columbia in nine categories, including student achievement, graduation rates, and achievement gaps. The map provides a quick view of how each state adds up in comparison to others. One look at the map makes it apparent that partners from all sectors need to collaborate to bring about transformative reform. To jumpstart this change, ICW is calling upon the business community to take a proactive and invested interest in education.

Why business leaders? At the Chamber, we have consistently heard from our members that there is a shortage of workers entering the workforce with the skills necessary to compete in a global economy, particularly when it comes to careers in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field. Business leaders are uniquely able to articulate the skills necessary to succeed and support our educational system in delivering the education required to meet those needs. Business is the one of the only major stakeholders that has the freedom to approach educational challenges in new ways given their fresh perspective and political leverage.

Partnerships, however, need to be more robust than simply donating money and sponsoring scholarships. As ICW has showcased in its recent report, Partnership is a Two-Way Street: What It Takes for Business to Help Drive School Reform, businesses can leverage their expertise, political heft, and leadership to push for a more systemic change in our nation's school system. Businesses can also be bolder when it comes to advocating for improved STEM education. This is not an easy task, but no major shakeup ever is. However, it is clear that unless our school systems do a better job of teaching our children, our national competitive edge will be jeopardized and our children will continue to graduate lacking the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.

That is why the U.S. Chamber has come out fighting when it comes to education reform and has proposed a way forward for the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). We recognize changes to the law are in order, but we can't lose the fundamental focus on raising student achievement and closing the achievement gap. We've made a lot of progress under NCLB, but clearly still have a long way to go. We've seen increases in student achievement in our elementary grades, especially for disadvantaged students. In 2008, African-American and Hispanic nine-year-olds made double-digit gains in both reading and math compared to 1999. This focus on subgroups of students has resulted in significant gains on the Nation's Report Card. And as the United States becomes even more diverse, we all have an interest in ensuring that our students are graduating from high school prepared to enter college or the workforce.

As reauthorization is being debated, some have proposed limiting accountability to just a handful of schools. We cannot substitute transparency for accountability or focus just on our worst performing schools, as it would halt progress for millions of students across the country who attend schools that aren't the worst of the worst but still have significant numbers of students not yet on grade level. While the lowest-performing schools are in desperate need of action, ignoring the vast majority means ignoring black, Hispanic, low-income, and limited English proficient students, and students with disabilities all across the country who aren't even close to getting the education they deserve.

The Chamber is unapologetic in its support for continued transparency and disaggregation of data, annual testing, and a strong accountability system that supports all students and all schools. It is in the details of the accountability system, however, that the Chamber proposes significant changes to current law that would essentially move from the federal pass/fail system set out in current law and instead allow states to define with their own accountability systems as long as they meet several key criteria to ensure that all schools are held accountable for all students.

While the Chamber will not retreat from a focus on the success of every child;not just those in the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools—we believe we have struck the right balance between accountability and flexibility such that we are not going back to a time when billions of taxpayer dollars were spent without any expectation for student results.

The business community stands ready to work on behalf of our nation's children. While we clearly have a vested interest in ensuring a quality workforce with the necessary skills to succeed, we're also parents and grandparents as well as community leaders who want to see our children succeed and our nation prosper. For all those willing to work toward additional and accelerated reform, you have a partner in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The views presented on our guest blogs are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of StudentsFirst. We thank all of our guest bloggers for their thoughtful perspectives.

Topics: Achievement Gap