8 Years From Today: When the Uneducated Become the Unemployed

by: Dr. Kerri Briggs, Director Education Reform for the George W. Bush Institute

Right now, a student is quietly sitting in the back of his classroom struggling to read. He is not a disruption, but his ability to think critically, complete simple math equations and formulate sentences are well-below grade level. He is part of the 35 percent of students who, according to a recent National Assessment of Education Progress, are not proficient in science. He attends school in one of the 94 percent of all U.S. school districts that have average math achievement below the 67th percentile relative to their international competitors and even if he were to transfer to one of the country’s 50 wealthiest school districts, it would ranked behind nearly half of its international competitors (Global Report Card).

By time the he reaches 9th grade, he will have a little over a coin-flip’s chance of graduating within four years (57.6 percent of Hispanic students and 57 percent of black students graduate on time). If he is lucky enough to reach the 12th grade before becoming one of the 29.7 percent of minority students who drop-out of high school and join the over one million high school age students who are currently not enrolled in school, his chances of receiving a diploma are currently 68 percent (NCES, 2011).

If this child were to beat the odds and overcome the destiny of demographics that so often plagues public education, and attend college, his uphill battle would continue. For example, only 50.9 percent of Pell Grant recipients graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree in 6 years and only 50 percent of Hispanic and 39 percent of African-American students graduate college within six years (NCES, 2012).

This child who innocently sits in his chair struggling to read may not understand the ramifications of an unjust education, but six years from now his life prospects will be significantly lower than that of his more educated peers. What’s more is that this child represents millions of students who receive a poor quality education who will drop- out or graduate unprepared for an increasingly difficult economy. Six years from now, these children will not be labeled the jobless; they will be called the skill-less.

In an increasingly global economy that is moving heavily toward employing those with intellectual skill sets, such dismal facts could be devastating if they are not significantly improved upon in the coming years. In fact, the economic disadvantages for those who do not receive college degrees are already prevalent.

According to the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, levels of education are a major factor in employment. In 2011, unemployment was 3.8 percent higher for those with just a high school diploma compared to those with at least a bachelor’s degree — only 5.3 percent of whom were unemployed. And for those who do not graduate high school the jobless rate was an astounding 19 percent.

Last year 43 percent of available jobs required at least a bachelor’s degree. Only 24 percent were open to those without some post-secondary education. Not to mention those with a college degree on average make $1.1 million more than those who only graduate from high school (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010).

And this trend will continue in the coming years. Georgetown’s Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018, concludes that “occupations with lower postsecondary concentration are declining as a share of total employment.” By 2018 the two biggest economic sectors, Sales and Office Support and Blue Collar Jobs, will decline by 0.5 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively. Moreover, these economic sectors are currently two of the highest employers of those without a college degree. And even these shrinking sectors will require higher portions of employees who earn college degrees in the coming years. On the contrary, those sectors with the highest growth — Health care and Education — will continue to demand higher levels of education.

The jobs crisis is an education crisis and if not dealt with will create dire circumstances for America. With fewer people employed, the government will be put in a position to provide more social services with a dwindling revenue base to collect from.

Perhaps more alarming is that the achievement gap existent throughout education will evolve into a gap of income among citizens. An expanding skills gap will create a society divided between the education and uneducated, the skilled and unskilled, the wealthy and the poor. Such extreme divisions have never played out well in history (see French Revolution).

But this thickening crisis can be averted and it starts with accountability. We must hold our schools, educators and leaders responsible for student achievement. Accountability works. Within four years of its being implemented into public education through passage of the highly bipartisan NCLB Act, reading and math scores for African-American and Hispanic nine-year-olds reached an all-time high (Department of Education, 2006) and the achievement gap began to narrow. This trend can and should continue.

Additionally, we need to place great principals at the helm of every school — leaders with the training and support necessary to positively impact student achievement. This involves changing principal preparation programs to meet the needs of today’s schools and then providing school leaders with the autonomy and decision-making authority necessary to be successful.

Finally, we can recruit teachers who will look past common excuses and do whatever it takes to have their students succeed. These teachers must be supported by highly capable principals, who can create the cultures of achievement needed in every American school.

To solve the education crisis, all must be brought to the effort. Whether you live in an affluent community or reside in a district with low-performing schools, we all must look at every American school and community like it is our own. The stakes are too high to continue not paying attention. The damage will soon be irreversible if we do not act. And the boy who sits in his chair will not be given the chances he deserves if we turn a blind eye to his silent struggle.

Dr. Kerri Briggs is the Director of Education Reform at the George W. Bush Institute. Follow the Bush Center on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheBushCenter

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