One of the key recommendations contained in AIM’s new Blueprint for the Next Century economic plan is for government and business to develop the best system in the world for educating and training workers with the skills needed to allow Massachusetts companies to succeed in a rapidly changing global economy.
But that goal remains at risk because our education system is not keeping pace with the demands of our economy. Experts estimate that almost three quarters of all jobs in Massachusetts will require postsecondary training by the year 2020 - sobering news as we confront a shortfall of 55,000-65,000 graduates from the public higher education system over the next decade.
A shrinking college-age population and growing proportions of low-income and minority people mean that the need for educated workers can be met only by raising college completion rates, closing achievement gaps, and attracting students from underserved populations. Funding is of course an issue: Massachusetts’ per-student appropriations for higher education are 40 percent of those of the top 10 states, and the commonwealth ranks forty-sixth in need-based state financial aid.
Employers struggling to find qualified workers understand that outcomes in higher education depend upon the effectiveness of early education and primary and secondary schools. The most important immediate step to strength K-12 education in Massachusetts is completion of the transition to the Common Core curriculum and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) assessment program, to which Massachusetts committed itself as long ago as 2010.
These initiatives are cooperative undertakings by participating states, with Massachusetts in a leading role. Far from backing off the MCAS program implemented by Massachusetts in the 1990’s, they include comparable or superior standards in a much more useful form. Whereas MCAS culminates in what is basically and eighth-grade-level test (though administered in the tenth grade), the new system will have much more bearing on student preparation for college and the workplace. And economies of scale in the multi-state approach will permit a more student-centered assessment process that supports targeted assistance rather than placing hurdles in the way.
We support the efforts of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, which commissioned a team of international experts to conduct a review of education in Massachusetts using the world’s best systems as the benchmark, and to outline steps to keep our system globally competitive. Education is not business, we know, but in education as in business, “the best” is not something you are, but something you do. To be and stay the best we must measure ourselves against the best, and foster a culture of continuous improvement and innovation.