One month has passed since 2,000 people Occupied Wall Street against corporate power and greed. As the spirit of OWS spreads to other cities, education reform should become a top priority for the movement.
Jennifer Saunders, creator of Teachers 4 Justice Now, is set to speak on education reform at the OWS base in Zuccotti Park this evening. Saunders’ group focuses on stronger democratic and First Amendment rights for students and teachers at public schools. OWS should use the Saunders rally as an opportunity to present a plan to fix American education by advocating for more quality education opportunities. Ensuring that students receive a world class education would give young people the competitive skills needed to succeed in an increasingly globalized economy.
A study by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that American employers were unhappy with higher education. Some 87% of employers believe that colleges need to raise student achievement if the U.S. is to be competitive globally. Sixty-three percent say that recent college graduates do not have the skills to succeed. This is a demythification of the notion that more people going to college means more jobs in America. Anne Neal, American Council of Trustees and Alumni president, says that thinking critically requires a foundation of skills and knowledge. “It’s like suggesting that our future leaders only need to go to Wikipedia to determine the direction of our country,” notes Neal.
A fundamental principle of any society is that economic success begins in the classroom. Currently, compared with students in 30 industrialized countries, Americans rank 21st in science and 25th in math. Former CEO of IBM, Louis Gerstner, says that America is not making progress for four reasons: Our public university system does not have high academic standards, there are no means of measuring those standards, schools lack good teachers, and school days need to be longer.
Developing countries like China are putting an immense focus on core skills like math, and America needs to do the same to keep up in a more globalized world.
Founder of American Lawyer magazine, Steven Brills, highlights this discrepancy and notes that “you have 3.2 million teachers in this country — it’s the largest occupation in the U.S. other than retail sales clerks — and yet it is the only occupation in the U.S. where performance basically doesn’t count. What counts is how long you’ve been breathing.”
The catalysts for education reform must be teachers, who are willing to lead the change. Education reform must focus on setting high standards and measuring teacher performance to ensure that America’s education system generates more ambitious and competitive individuals. As OWS picks up steam, it needs to put forth pragmatic ideas that can fix the American education system.
Photo Credit: Editor B