Ask any Massachusetts employer about the challenges facing his or her business and you are bound to hear some variation of: “I can’t find people with the skills and education needed to work in my company.”
The gap between the knowledge required by globally competitive Bay State employers and the knowledge offered by job seekers remains a major impediment to economic growth across Massachusetts. It is a gap that has persisted throughout the Great Recession, ranging from software companies that could hire dozens of programmers tomorrow but cannot find them, to precision manufacturers starved for young workers with the mathematical and mechanical skills to do high-tolerance machining.
The need to match educational achievement to a voraciously competitive global knowledge economy was the primary reason that Associated Industries of Massachusetts and other business groups supported the landmark 1993 Massachusetts Educational Reform Act.
The overhaul raised the overall performance of Massachusetts public schools with a unique combination of measurable student testing, transparency, results-based management, and increased funding. Massachusetts students score the highest in the nation on both the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) tests.
But our state's first-in-the-nation status for student achievement hides some troubling truths about the condition of public education in the commonwealth, a recent publication by our education partner the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) points out.
- Despite the overall gains in student achievement in K-12 public education since passage of the 1993 reform, we have not closed achievement gaps affecting minority and low-income students.
- We have reached a point of slower improvement, especially in our Gateway Cities – while other states and nations continue to move forward.
- While Massachusetts eighth graders scored highest in the U.S. on an international test in math and science, only 19 percent did well enough to be considered advanced in math, compared to nearly 50 percent of eighth-graders in Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore.
- Just 14 percent of students in Massachusetts took the Advanced Placement (AP) exam in Math, and only 9 percent scored high enough to earn college credit; the same percentage of students took an AP exam in a science, and 8 percent scored a three or above.
- Sixty-five percent of students who enter our community colleges require at least one remedial course – a burden of some $57 million a year in instructional costs and lost earnings that could be saved if all students graduated from high school ready for college.
These troubling issues and the accelerating educational demands of employers are again prompting AIM, Massachusetts lawmakers and the business community to take a look at the commonwealth’s public education system. Two decades after the Education Reform 1.0, we are seeking employer perspectives on how well the schools are preparing the work force of tomorrow.
- What has education reform has meant for the employer community?
- Have gains in student achievement produced better, prepared, more productive employees?
- Is our state’s workforce still a major competitive advantage?
- Do continuing “achievement gaps” cast a shadow on our economic future?
- What should be included on an education reform agenda for the next generation?
AIM is working with MBAE and other groups to collect employer opinions on education issues. The survey results will be used to develop a set of education priorities for the business community to focus on in the months ahead. Please click the link below and share your views with us today.