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“By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”

—President Barack Obama, Address to Congress, February 24, 2009

Education is the key to America’s economic growth and prosperity and to our ability to compete in the global economy. It is the path to good jobs and higher earning power for Americans. It is necessary for our democracy to work.

With this in mind, America needs a public education system that provides all students with engaging and empowering learning experiences to help them set goals, stay in school despite obstacles, earn a high school diploma, and obtain the further education and training needed for success in their personal lives, the workplace, and their communities.

We want to develop inquisitive, creative, resourceful thinkers; informed citizens; effective problem-solvers; groundbreaking pioneers; and visionary leaders. We want to foster the excellence that flows from the ability to use today’s information, tools, and technologies effectively and a commitment to life-long learning. All these are necessary for Americans to be active, creative, knowledgeable, and ethical participants in our globally networked society.

To accomplish this, schools must be more than information factories; they must be incubators of exploration and invention. Educators must be more than information experts; they must be collaborators in learning, seeking new knowledge and constantly acquiring new skills alongside their students. Students must be fully engaged in school – intellectually, socially, and emotionally.

This level of engagement requires the chance to work on interesting and relevant projects, the use of technology environments and resources, and access to an extended social network of adults and peers who are supportive and safe.

Education reform has been on the national agenda for decades. Still, we no longer have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world and we have a system that too often fails our students. According to current data,

  • Twenty-four percent of young people in the United States drop out of high school (OECD, 2007). That number jumps to almost 50% of Latino and African American students (Orfield, Losen, Wald, & Swanson, 2004).
  • Some 5,000 schools persistently fail year after year, and about 2,000 high schools produce about half the nation’s dropouts and three-quarters of minority dropouts (Balfanz & Letgers, 2004; Tucci, 2009).
  • Of students who do graduate from high school, one third are unprepared for postsecondary education, forcing community colleges and four-year colleges and universities to devote precious time and resources to remedial work for incoming students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003).
  • By 2016 – just six years from now – 4 out of every 10 new jobs will require some advanced education or training (Dohm & Shnipe, 2007). Fifteen of the thirty fastest growing fields will require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008).
  • Today, just 39% of young people earn a two-year or four-year college degree (National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, 2008). Enrollment rates are unequal: 69% of qualified White high school graduates enter four-year colleges compared with just 58% of comparable Latino graduates and 56% of African American graduates (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007).

As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said, the current state of our education system is “economically unsustainable and morally unacceptable.”

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