The administration and other reformers also are pushing for longer school days and years as well as greater use of new technology, to move U.S. education out of the 19th century and into the 21st.
Under pressure, the unions have begun paying lip service to reform, have signed on to some “Race to the Top” state-level reforms and have even negotiated a few local contracts allowing for teachers to be rewarded — even fired — based on student achievement.
A year ago, Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Powell and his wife, Alma, now chairwoman of America’s Promise, launched a “Grad Nation” campaign aimed at raising the U.S. graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020.
This week in Washington, more than 1,000 local and state leaders and representatives of nonprofits, corporations and foundations gathered to review Grad Nation’s progress on the dropout issue and launch a “civic Marshall Plan” designed to help students at the nation’s lowest-performing schools.
(Disclosure: My wife is president and CEO of America’s Promise.)
The Marshall Plan calls for local communities to mobilize around reforming more than 1,746 “dropout factory” high schools — those graduating fewer than 60 percent of their students — and providing their students with tutoring, after-school activities, and help with health and family problems.
At the conference, a co-sponsor, the Alliance for Excellent Education, unveiled a study showing that if the dropout rate for the 2010 graduating class were half of what it is now, 650,000 high school graduates would collectively earn $7.6 billion a year more than they do as dropouts, stimulate $9.6 billion in economic activity, increase state tax revenues by $713 million and generate 54,000 jobs.
It’s a powerful argument for investment in education and reform, yet House Republicans are bent on cutting school improvement grants from $546 million to $200 million.
They’d also eliminate federal literacy programs and cut Pell Grants for college students by 24 percent — at a time when half of new jobs require post-secondary training and the U.S. has fallen from first to ninth in the world in college completion.
Republicans are inclined to support — as they should — resurrection of the Opportunity Scholarship Program for the District of Columbia, canceled by Democrats because it included vouchers for poor children to attend private schools as well as aid to charters and the D.C. public schools.
But the GOP ought not to be cutting any aid that will upgrade American education.
There’s no question that the government is deep in debt, but part of the way to get out — as Obama rightly says — is to “out-educate” the rest of the world, as America once did.
A popular movement is under way to do so again. Congress would not be doing the country a service by stifling it.