Obama and education

I’m convinced that improving education is the key to our strengthening our economy. And keeping America competitive in what really is a global economy these days. Yeah, reforming K-12 education, and making higher education more accessible and affordable, won’t come easily or quickly. We’ve been a nation at risk now for 25 years or more. Still, why isn’t education — and helping our young people succeed in school and on the job — more of a concern during this presidential campaign?

OK. We’re in a recession; I guess even W. has to agree with that at this point. Companies are aggressively cutting jobs. Our savings — for retirement, college expenses, houses, etc. — are evaporating. The free-market Republican capitalists have now nationalized the banking industry — with the auto industry in the queue. And we’re debating about socialism — and redistribution of wealth? OMG.

Let’s talk about education. Here’s from a speech I helped write for Donna Klein in Vancouver, Washington, at a conference of School’s Out Washington. If you are interested, the entire speech is available on the Corporate Voices for Working Families website.

Here’s an overview of the problem facing our young people, our businesses and our nation.

•    First, jobs are changing. The United States is continuing the transition from an industrial- to a knowledge-based economy.

•    Second, our demographics as a nation are changing. Baby boomers are beginning to retire and exit the workplace – taking with them years of experience and expertise. And most estimates indicate that there will be far fewer young people entering the workforce to replace retirees.  The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that between 2010 and 2025 up to 95 million baby boomers will leave the U.S. workforce – but only 40 million members of Generations X and Y will be available to replace them. Simply stated, we’re facing a shortage of workers in the not too distant future.

•    Third, as a nation, we experience unacceptably high dropout rates. Almost one-third of ninth graders do not complete high school in four years – and in many urban areas the number increases to one-half.  That’s more than 1.2 million students a year – and according to the National Commission on Adult Literacy, the United States is the only nation among 30 free-market democracies where a lower percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds have received high school diplomas than 45- to 54-year-olds. And high school dropout rates are particularly alarming for African American, Hispanic and Native American young people – with only 50 percent of 9th graders graduating on time.

•    Fourth, new entrants to the workplace are not prepared. Corporate Voices and three partner organizations in 2006 surveyed more than 400 employers on a broad range of workforce readiness issues involving young people. And we issued a report, “Are The Really Ready To Work?” The answer, quite simply, is no. Employers tell us that 42 percent of high school graduates lack the skills they need to make a successful transition to the workplace of the 21st century. And even among recent college graduates, employers said only 24 percent had an excellent grasp of basic knowledge and applied skills. And while a college degree is not a requirement for successful entry into the workforce, employers do project that they will hire more new employees with a college degree and fewer with only a high school diploma.

Folks, we are going to have to do better. Otherwise, we put at risk the ability of young people to improve their standard of living over the course of a working lifetime — and we put at risk the competitiveness of American businesses and the very future of our democracy.

So what are the candidates — Obama and McCain — saying about education? Well, not much — at least publicly. So I went to their campaign websites.

Here’s the link to the Obama site.

Here’s the link to the McCain site. Oops, that’s mccain.com — apparently a Canadian company that manufactures frozen food products. (No wonder John McCain is behind in the polls.)

Here’s the link to the John McCain for president website.

Full disclosure: I’ve already voted for Barack Obama. But this is the first time I have gone to either his website or John McCain’s.

I’m convinced Obama has a more specific and better plan to strengthen our country by strengthening education.

Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you why.

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