Education Commission: Without Change, Decline

By December 15, 2006General

The New Commission on Skills of the American Workforce — on which NAM President John Engler serves — has released its much-anticipated report on the state of education, skills training and American competitiveness. The report is but full of keen diagnoses of the systemic ills afflicting U.S. education. It also provides many proposed cures to restore American education to health, ensuring its ability to compete in a global marketplace that rewards high-quality training. (You can access the report’s executive summary in pdf. format here [2 MB]) And, without a doubt, addressing this country’s educational shortcomings will require tough choices.

Of the news accounts we’ve read, had the sharpest summary of the most notable recommendation:

Some students would go to community college after 10th grade, local schools would be run by private contractors, and teachers’ salaries would shoot up as high as $110,000 but their pensions would be slashed under a new set of recommendations likely to shake up the U.S. education system.

A report released Thursday (Dec. 14) by the bipartisan Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce calls for a dramatic overhaul of the K-12 education system in the face of fierce global competition, and the most radical of the proposals are sure to draw fire.
“It’s controversial,” said commission member and former Michigan Gov. John Engler at a news conference. “Some of the recommendations are going to get a pushback.”

The 26-member commission, which includes two former U.S. education secretaries, two former governors, chancellors of major school systems, and experts from the nonprofit and business worlds, was set up last year by the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), a nonprofit group that pushes for higher education standards to improve the economy.

We were especially intrigued by the suggestion that high school students be allowed to graduate after 10th grade if they were pursuing a technical course of training and employment. NAM’s Engler often observes that community colleges tend to reach forward institutionally, trying to become more like four-year universities. He contends they should look toward the high schools, where a vast number of students could benefit from opportunities other than the traditional academic, university path.

We’ll revisit some of the report’s conclusions over the next few weeks. For now, here are links to the generally excellent coverage of the commission’s work. The media seem to understand the high stakes, not just for the U.S. economy, but also for its citizenry.

Chicago Tribune

Washington Post

New York Times

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • gr says:

    Forgive me for bring something tangental and possibly trivial into the discussion, but wouldn’t this put an end, effectively, to high school sports? Or would the post-10th grade community college student still be eligible to compete? Because, if it alters scholastic sports, chances are, it will impact collegiate sports as well. That would be kind of a big deal in America.

  • david foster says:

    “To function well as a programmer/operator requires the academics offered through the 12th grade”…Richard…wasn’t this also true at the higher levels of the trade (tool-and-die makers, for instance) in the pre-CNC era?

  • Deb says:

    We have been discussing 10th grade graduation at length in our household. Daughter attended high school for 1 class per day during 11th and 12th grade; she attended the community college for college level classes the rest of the day through a program with the school system. She handled it well and graduated high school with nearly enough credits for an associate degree.

  • William says:

    Interesting post. Public opinion about the education system doesn’t necessary correlate with the report’s recommendations. Believe it or not, most parents think their child will have the skills to succeed — even if many business leaders believe they’re wrong. When it comes to math and science, American parents are actually less concerned than they were a decade ago. And when it comes to teachers, while the report recommends raising wages, our research shows that they are dissatisfied other issues. Feel free to go to for more.

  • Richard Becker says:

    No, some students should not go to community colleges at the 10th grade. That is a repeat of the German system of slectively shuttling students into vocational careers at a young age.

    When the CNC era replaced manually operated machine tools around 1977, the Germans found that skilled craftsmen lacked the academic base of a full high school graduate to transfer their skills and knowledge to the CNC era.

    To function well as a programmer/operator requires the academics offered through the 12th grade. RHB