The use of the phrase “global marketplace” has become so commonplace it is almost trite.
It has developed into one of those catch phrases that fill the hours of talking heads and appear in virtually every paper issued on the American economy.
Americans like to think of our country as an undefeated champion, capable of conquering every challenge. Yet, we find ourselves in an increasingly competitive universe of economies, all seeking to become economic giants; all working hard to become leaders across the spectrum of competitive fields.
In “Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World Class Education,” published by the National Governors Association (NGA), the plea was made clear: “what matters is how a state’s students compare to those in countries around the globe. America must seize this moment to ensure that we have workers whose knowledge, skills and talents are competitive with the rest of the world.”
We must continue to push for reform in our educational systems, which are properly controlled at the state level and historically driven by state community standards. But, those standards are not enough. Florida does not compete only with Georgia or South Carolina. We must be able to compete with the Republic of China and Singapore.
From day one, our students should be expected to learn at rigorous levels. Otherwise, we fail to compete with the talent developed in other countries – countries that are now outperforming us. Although they are poor in natural resources, there are countries where school performance is ranked higher than the U.S. -- Taiwan, Finland, Korea, Japan -- so they focus upon their most abundant resource, their human resources.
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) -- an international effort which examines 15-year-olds’ abilities in math, science and reading literacy -- produced frightening results. In reading, the U.S. scored above average, yet was outperformed by 14 countries. In math, we were outscored by 30 countries and actually scored below the international average.
Clearly, the moment the NGA had envisioned has passed us by, but there is a renewed effort adopted by 46 states through this NGA initiative, and worked on by a nonpartisan group, the Common Core State Standards, that sets benchmarks for educational learning in English, language arts, and math for grades K-12.
The educational effort in America should focus on both retention and quality completion. It should be benchmarked against international standards if we want to compete with the rest of the world’s economies.
We can no longer afford the luxury of having about one-third of our students graduating from high school prepared for college work, one-third requiring remediation in order to participate in post-secondary education and one-third either barely receiving a diploma or not receiving one at all. This level of performance places us all at risk. There should be no acceptable age at which one can drop out of high school. Drop outs cost us all.
Students who enter college unprepared for college level work are the most at risk for noncompletion. They are most at risk for incurring high levels of debt, leaving with no diploma, but with loans to pay and incomplete dreams.
I recently heard former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speak on this problem. He spoke to the economic shackles our nonperformance places on students entering the work force, stating “Today we are trapping people in the bottom quartile because we are not equipping them for success; we must give people the capacity to be successful.”
Yes, it may be trite to state that we live in a global economy, but it is true. We are no longer the only nation with vast resources coupled with human capital, seeking to be the world leader in innovation and creativity.
The world is filled with challengers. We must take action to regain the leadership position we once had. The proposed Common Core State Standards are a beginning of a transformational change in building capacity for what we expect students to learn. If successful, we will forever alter how and what our children learn. In doing so, we will better prepare them for both their futures and ours.
Dr. Ed H. Moore is president and CEO, Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida.