This interview with Dr. Charles Knapp, former President of the University of Georgia, may scare you, but that may be what it takes. Over the last 2 years I have interviewed a lot of educators and politicians trying to find out what is going on with our school systems. Dr. Knapp knows because he was chairman of a blue-ribbon committee that may have actually done its job, The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce.
There was a previous report in 1990 by the first commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. That report, America’s Choice: high skills or low wages, focused on the ability of the American worker to compete with cheap, unskilled labor in other countries. The world has changed dramatically in 15 years. Now the world is flat. The problem in 2007 is competing with skilled workers in other countries like China and India.
Dr. Knapp told me some of those facts that make you think:
1. There are more honor graduates in China than there are students in America.
2. The real average weekly wages in America has been declining for the last 30 years.
3. The per capita costs of a K-12 education in America has increased 2.5 times in the last 30 years, but test scores have not improved.
4. The low income 3 year old has less than half the vocabulary of a 3 year old from a professional family.
5. We are the only industrialized country in the world where older workers are better educated than the younger workers.
Dr. Knapp was frank enough to say that we are not headed toward a train wreck, we are in the middle of it and unless we are willing to revamp the system to meet the needs of the 21st century, we are truly in dire straits.
The study was comprehensive and seems to have endeavored to speak the truth about education in America, like it or not. This may be a little strong, but basically, the Commission determined that our educational system simply fails to meet the needs of an industrialized country and recommends changes that are nothing less than revolutionary.
The problem: Our current system is not high performance, but rather one of low expectations, exactly the opposite of our competitors.
There are 3 primary reforms that need to be instituted sooner, rather than later. However, since nothing changes overnight, the proposals contemplate bringing the educational system to where it needs to be over the next 15 years.
1. Eliminate the last 2 years of high school and prepare kids to graduate at age 16. Even kids know the last year of high school is a waste and the study proved this to be the truth, unfortunately. This would save $50 billion annually nationwide. The kids take a test at age 16 and the test determines whether you get to go to college or to a technical school. No more wasting time and money for kids to go to college to play and find themselves.
2. The savings would be funneled into: 1/3 into pay raises for teachers, 1/3 to pre-K, early childhood learning programs, and 1/3 on the hard to educate kids.
3. Teachers would be paid on performance only. Colleges would not have a monopoly on training teachers.
Last but not least, Dr. Knapp says these recommendations are for the states to implement, not the federal government. The recent Georgia legislation establishing Career Academies and Charter Schools are a step in revamping the educational system in Georgia. We just need to go faster. He also gives high marks to Governor Perdue, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and School Superintendent Kathy Cox for their efforts in this new direction.
The Committee’s work is published in book format under the title “Tough Choices or Tough Times.” The Committee’s website has an executive summary that you can read online. You can also review a short powerpoint presentation.
And what is the price we will pay as a nation if we don’t get real with education? Simple: a lower standard of living than we have ever had, one we don’t want!