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Debt, Failure to Educate Are Biggest Threats to U.S. World Power

Mike Klein

Georgia Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers predicted the economic future of the United States will be decided by how the country educates children when he addressed a Georgia Public Policy Foundation audience.  “We cannot continue to nibble around the edges when you consider the problems we are facing,” Rogers told Foundation guests last week at the Georgian Club.

Rogers’ presentation can be viewed on the Policy Foundation’s YouTube channel: http://tinyurl.com/286fk8x.

“I can say unequivocally the United States is the greatest nation on earth today and the greatest nation God ever created,” Rogers said.  “American exceptionalism is a reality.  I really believe we were divinely inspired as a nation and put here to do many good things which we’ve done.

“Do we get it right every time?  Absolutely not, but when you consider that we live in a nation that has given more treasure and more human lives to the purpose of freeing other people around the globe, there is no shame to that.  That is what American exceptionalism is all about.”

As state Senate Majority Leader, Rogers already had a platform from which to influence how Georgia spends education dollars. Then this year Rogers was selected to join the national Digital Learning Council established by former governors Jeb Bush of Florida and Bob Wise of West Virginia.  The DLC goal is to advance digital learning as an important national initiative.

“We have the opportunity to continue to be the greatest power that the earth has ever known and a cause for what is good and right.  We have been given, as individual Americans, one simple requirement… That is, to take this incredible treasure we have been given known as the United States of America and leave it better off than we found it.”

Rogers said two factors threaten U.S. superpower dominance:  Public debt, now $13.8 trillion at the federal government level, and failure to educate children.  Last year the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said American students’ rank 27th worldwide in math, 22nd in science and dead last in reading among the 32 most developed nations.

Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers

“I’m not exactly sure how we remain the nation the rest of the world wants to immigrate to because of freedom when we will become simply economic slaves to our debt holders,” Rogers said. “Thirteen point eight trillion dollars of debt is not going to be erased when we are near the bottom of the world in those things that prepare our child for a global economy.”

Rogers told 75 Public Policy Foundation guests the United States “will crumble under debt that is going to be accumulated because we simply cannot compete on the worldwide marketplace in the next generation if we don’t prepare our children to do so.  These numbers are inexcusable and frankly, they are an embarrassment.

“For us to simply stand here and pat ourselves on the back and point to a single educational facility that may be doing a halfway decent job, or at least in our mind we think they are, and say ‘We’re doing okay,’ we’re not doing okay,” Rogers said.

National Assessment of Educational Progress tests show one-third of American 4th graders and one-fourth of 8th graders are functionally illiterate.  “We’re not even close to doing okay.  If this country’s future matters to you, if you believe as I do that we have one single responsibility to leave this (country) for our children better than we found it, then you have to admit we’re failing.”

Rogers grew up during the 1960s in what was then rural Cobb County.  Education was available in two styles: one private school and Cobb County schools. It was brick-and-mortar or brick-and-mortar.  You just had to choose between the public version and the private version.

Education today comes in evolutionary styles: traditional brick-and-mortar schools, virtual schools, hybrid public schools that blend traditional and online learning, home schools, private schools and home school hybrids that mix home instruction with brick-and-mortar school classes. “Wouldn’t it be nice if every parent had a choice from among all of them?” Rogers said.

“We’ve got to provide educators – whether they are public, private or parents – with the tools they need through digital learning and then we have to give parents the opportunity to choose that setting that is best for their individual child.   No longer can we ignore students’ abilities (and) their interests, by simply giving them one option and that is a brick-and-mortar setting based on (their address). That is foolish, has been for some time and it has got to stop.

“I don’t know how else to say this but literally our future depends on this,” Rogers said.  “Again, (the United States is) 27th in math, 22nd in science, 32nd in reading among industrialized nations, $13.8 trillion in debt, mainly to foreign nations who now don’t even want to use our currency.  We are in a whole world of trouble and the only way we get out is to produce the next set of children who will compete in the global marketplace and maintain American superiority.”

Rogers noted that long-ago American President John Adams asked, “Why do we spend money on education?”  Adams answered his own question:  “It’s because an educated society is a lot cheaper than an uneducated society.”

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

December 13, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Education Choice: Innovate with Technology or Become Irrelevant

Imagine that two little boys were playing ball in the field when the one with freckles said, “When I grow up I’m going to be just like my Dad!   He works in the factory putting zippers into blue jeans.”   The other little boy without any freckles smiled as only little boys can smile and said, “When I grow up I’m going to be just like my Dad!  I don’t know what he does but he wears a suit.  I’m going to wear a suit, too!”

Odds are very long that neither little boy would grow up to be just like Dad.   Zipper jobs at the blue jeans factory left the country, and whatever job the other little boy’s Dad had was probably reinvented and might also be extinct.  The message here is both little boys must be educated for a work world that will continue to evolve, not the one that allowed their Dads to earn steady incomes.

There is widespread recognition this will require new approaches.  Learning without borders is the idea public education must embrace technology and new ways to make material available to students.   That is the message former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise brought to this past weekend’s conference hosted in Atlanta by the Public Policy Foundation and the Conservative Policy Leadership Institute.

“Be innovative or be irrelevant,” Wise told about 250 state legislators and free market policy advocates.  “If you say, I’m going to hunker down, I’m not going to embrace the latest technology, you’ll get through the next couple years but in three to five years you will be badly outdated.”

Wise cited a 2003 Department of Commerce study that analyzed how industries use technology. U.S. education ranked 55th and LAST for technology effectiveness. By comparison, Wise said technology accounted for two-thirds of all productivity growth in the U.S. economy between the years 1995 and 2002.

Wise and Jeb Bush launched the Digital Learning Council this year to focus on new strategies for digital change in education.  Wise is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education which he joined in 2005 after a single term as West Virginia governor.  Bush is the former two-term Florida governor.

The Digital Learning Council’s goal is integrate online and virtual schools, blended learning, personalized learning, social networking and other new technologies into traditional public education as resources to expand current curriculum.   Georgia has 452 high schools but, Wise said, the state has just 88 certified physics teachers.  “It’s the same in West Virginia,” he said.  “It’s the same everywhere.  You’re not going to get a qualified physics teacher in (most) classrooms.”

Wise punctuated his education keynote with dramatic data to explain three crises in public education:  declining state revenues, mounting teacher shortages and increased global demand for skilled workers.

The fiscal crisis is pretty ugly.  Total state budgets supported with federal stimulus funds declined more than 2 percent in Fiscal 2009 and almost 4 percent in Fiscal 2010. State budgets without stimulus dollars will decline about 5 percent this fiscal year, 6 percent next fiscal year and 7 percent in Fiscal 2013.

The impact on dollars available to education is clear.  “We can’t keep doing the same thing if all we do is the same thing with less dollars,” Wise said.  “All we’re going to do is get even less of a result.”

The second crisis is teachers leaving the classroom.  Wise said 20 years ago the typical teacher had 15 years experience.  Today the typical teacher has two years or less experience.   More than one-third of teachers nationwide will be eligible to retire within five-to-seven years.   “In the state of Georgia, 43 percent of your teachers are 50 years old or older which means they can exit fairly soon,” Wise said.

Young people who enter teaching are becoming disenchanted fast and leaving sooner than ever before.  “We will lose almost half the teachers who enter the classroom this year,” Wise said.  “They won’t be there within five years.  Those content qualified teachers won’t be moving forward.”

The third crisis is how to create balance between education for jobs that require manual labor – remember our Dad who installed zippers – to education for jobs that require the ability to study information, reach conclusions, work as teams and interact in settings that include global interaction connected by technology.  Even factory assembly line jobs now increasingly require technology skills to supervise the robot, not be the robot.

A Georgetown University Center on Education study released last December compared jobs performed in 1973 against skills that will be required in 2018 – a 45-year window.   It said 32 percent of 1973 jobs were performed by high school dropouts and 72 percent by dropouts or high school graduates.   The study predicted 62 percent of all jobs will require at least some college education within eight years.

But even as most jobs will require more education, the United States college graduation rate is slipping compared to other nations, from second in the world in 1995 to 15th in 2005, Wise said.  “It’s not that we’re educating worse.  A lot of those who we are competing with are educating better,” Wise said.  “They are going harder and stronger.  We need to get the college graduation rate up.”

Bush and Wise set a Digital Learning Council goal to prepare 50 million students to become college and career ready.  To do that they must overcome current results:  30 percent of high school freshmen drop out and half who graduate are not college or work ready.   “Six out of ten finish their high school years without the skills they need to function in a modern society,” Wise said.

Learning without borders – online, personal, blended and social networking instruction models – as part of the comprehensive plan should use education dollars to accomplish at least two goals:  benefit students and energize quality teachers to remain in the classroom.  The learning community cannot continue to lose its best young teachers within five years and at the same time predict good results for students.

How to integrate learning without borders into traditional settings that might resist new ideas is the challenge being addressed by the Digital Learning Council and like-minded organizations.   “You don’t want to set up an online system that mirrors your brick and mortar system,” Wise warned. “All you’ve done is mirror what you are trying to improve.”

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

November 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment