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PERSPECTIVE: Breaking the monopoly of mediocrity

PERSPECTIVE: Breaking the monopoly of mediocrity

February 7th, 2013 by By Margaret Spellings and Daniel Mehan in News

Missouri has set an ambitious education goal - to be one of the top 10 states in the nation by 2020 on key indicators of educational achievement such as high school graduation rates and student performance on national tests.

Like many states, Missouri aims to ensure that its graduating high school students are college and career ready so that they have the skills and knowledge they need to prosper and be successful in life. Like any admirable goal, this will take action and hard work.

College and career readiness for all students is a laudable goal. But many challenges exist. As the economy rebuilds slowly, about 200,000 Missourians are still looking for jobs. Complete College America (www. pdf) reports that by the end of the decade, 60 percent of jobs in the state will require a career certificate or degree, but only 37 percent of adults in the state currently have these qualifications.

Of the students who enroll in either a two-year or four-year public college after high school across the state, only 19 percent graduate on time. More than half the students attending two-year colleges in Missouri need remediation - the annual cost of which exceeds $35 million for Missouri's community colleges - not to mention the lost time for students.

According to the Nation's Report Card, the majority of Missouri's fourth- and eighth-grade students are not proficient in reading or math. And the achievement gap is large. In fourth grade 39 percent of white students are proficient in reading, compared to just 14 percent of African American students and 23 percent of Hispanic students.

If Missouri is serious about meeting its goals of school readiness for its youngest citizens, college and career readiness for its graduates, and an effective teacher workforce by 2020, the status quo won't do.

Missouri must embrace high expectations, accountability, transparency, and performance. Education systems must organize their work around business, students, and communities, not solely on the interests of the local education systems themselves. This will mean tough policy choices.

Last year, legislation to authorize the expansion of charter schools beyond Kansas City and St. Louis was a solid step toward providing options for every child in Missouri to have the opportunity for a great education. But it is not enough.

This session, lawmakers are moving forward on a school accreditation bill, SB 7 introduced by Sen. Pearce, which empowers the State Board of Education to take swifter action with providing assistance and leadership to failed districts. Both will benefit Missouri's students and help communities improve their situations. But it is not enough.

Missouri must be more transparent about student performance and progress, and make that information readily available to parents and the public.

And if the state is serious about having a highly effective teacher workforce by decade's end, education systems must identify their best teachers, based on how well they help students learn, pay them for their hard work and success in the classroom, and be willing to dismiss teachers who aren't advancing the state's "top 10 by 2020" goal.

All of this isn't just the responsibility of Missouri policymakers and educators alone. The fate of our nation and the quality of our schools are inextricably linked. We must get involved and stay involved, together adopting an unwavering insistence on effective teachers, raising the bar for student learning success and closing achievement gaps.

If we are going to break the monopoly of mediocrity in American education we must recommit ourselves to the American dream - that with a good education, every child, everywhere, can realize success.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and Daniel P. Mehan is the president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Today, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Institute for a Competitive Workforce brings its Breaking the Monopoly of Mediocrity ( tour to Jefferson City.