The Governor Is Right

The Wall Street Journal recently interviewed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at the CEO Council. The Journal noted that education is consistently a top concern of executives at the paper.  Preparing youth for the jobs of today, as well as the evolving workplace of tomorrow is a challenge that many business leaders think we are not meeting.

The secretary spoke about how American education can better rise to the challenge and the role of the Federal government in making it happen. Mr. Matt Murray asked, “We’ve heard a lot during this conference about artificial intelligence, the digitization of the workplace and changes already taking place. After a year on the job what is your opinion of U.S. workers today for this world and the world that’s coming?”Secretary DeVos said we have a lot of room for improvement.  There are those who leave high school and college well prepared, but much of the system we have relied on in education for decades tend to be backward looking versus forward looking.

It is the secretary’s goal to empowering parents and students to find the education environment that is right for them, that is going to stoke the curiosity that is innate in every child and not kill it by the time they’re in third or fourth grade. The secretary was concerned with the myth that all 12th graders must go on to college.  For several decades, we have given the message that the only successful path to adult life is through a four-year college or university and that has been at the expense of lots of great opportunities.

The Journal asked, how prepared are our children?  Answer – children starting kindergarten this year face a prospect of having 65 percent of all the jobs they will ultimately fill not yet having been created. What employers will want to see are skills in four areas: critical thinking skills; the ability to collaborate and work well with others, as we do in all of the rest of life, but not so much in school; the ability to communicate well both orally and in written communication; and then creativity.  Most observers feel these needs are not being met.

SecretaryDeVos thinks the states can do more and thinks the new plans being implemented under the ‘Every Student Succeeds Act’ is a great first step.

But what should be the minimal acceptable education attainment?  Her answer is most if not all of us in this room have had the ability to choose our children’s educational settings.  The reality is many parents must have more say in their children’s education and have more opportunity through school choice and vouchers.

For those not going on to college, we must have excellent vocational schools and other options.  Mrs. DeVos says, “Today we know that only about 30 percent of students will ultimately ever graduate from a four-year college.  There are 6.1 million jobs that require some level of education beyond high school that are unfilled.

Students need to be exposed to these opportunities and a good example are businesses that work closely with their local community colleges where students can earn a two-year degree or certificate.

Last week, Governor Mary Fallin took a huge step in preparing Oklahoma youth for future jobs.  The governor issued an executive order that instructed the Oklahoma State Board of Education to compile a list of school districts that spend less than 60 percent of their budgets on instructional expenditures and then make recommendations for administrative consolidation or annexation.

As Oklahomans know, we pay for way more administration than is necessary.  At one time, each county had a school superintendent along with school districts supers. Oklahoma has 515 school districts many of which only have a few hundred students.  These districts can’t afford AP class, labs, etc.  They are not preparing students for the future and should be consolidated.

State superintendents should not be confused, baffled or angry.  This is a long overdue process and the State Board of Education should totally support it.