But those days appear to be over.
The marketplace of the 21st century is global, competitive and increasingly high-tech. This environment has spurred what Gov. Fallin calls the “New Minimum,” a recognition that economic success means a person first needs either a two-year or four-year college degree or some type of industry certification. Some postsecondary education will be required for nearly 80 percent of the jobs that will be created between now and 2020.
Gov. Fallin, as chair of the National Governors Association, is a staunch advocate of a forward-thinking NGA program called “America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow’s Jobs.” The initiative held a summit last month in Oklahoma City, and I was privileged to have been a part of it.
Education is central to “America Works,” which encourages collaborative partnerships between K-12 education, higher education, CareerTech and industry. Too often there is a gap between the skills of potential workers and those needed by the business community. For the sake of our youngest generations, that gap must be bridged.
Our state is in the midst of a remarkable renaissance. You can see it in the revitalization of our cities and rural areas, in the Oklahoma City Thunder, in a thriving energy industry and economic diversification — the list goes on. But Oklahoma’s rise will be incomplete without first-rate schools.
Despite the heroic work of our teachers — and it is heroic — our state has languished in low expectations. For too long, Oklahoma students have tested below their peers in the nation, the product of a creaky status quo that has fallen short. In the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, only a quarter of our eighth-grade students were at or above proficient in math. Less than 30 percent of eighth graders were at or above proficient in reading.
“America Works” is another reminder that we must do better.
But building a high-quality, well-rounded education needs an equally well-rounded strategy. Oklahoma is making tremendous strides forward. The Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) program helps make sure that high school graduates are college and career-ready. The A-F School Report Card offers easy-to-understand information to communities about how their local schools are doing. The Teacher Leader Effectiveness (TLE) evaluation, scheduled for full implementation in the 2015-16 school year, will help teachers hone their skills and continue professional development.
Meanwhile, this year marks the first full year of implementation for the third-grade reading law, designed to ensure our children can read at grade level by the time they enter fourth grade. It is a pivotal time to do so. As a tried-and-true adage in education notes, fourth grade is when kids stop learning to read and start reading to learn.
We have incredible teachers, talented students and crucial education reforms in various stages of implementation. There is nothing to hold us back.