Unemployment trends are reversing and, thankfully, more of our state’s employers are opening their doors to new employees. However, in order to restore jobs lost during the recession and to prepare for those ready to enter the job market, Texas must create more than two million jobs in the next decade, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That won't be easy, but the good news is that we are starting to make progress. A key factor in Texas achieving this job growth target is having educated employees available to fill positions as they become available.
A recent article in The Economist noted that while Texas enjoys the best business climate in America, future problems related to education could erode that status dramatically. The Texas Association of Business believes Texas must establish a long-term goal of raising the education attainment of its workforce to a globally competitive level of 55 percent of the working age population (age 25-64) holding an associate degree or above by the year 2030. The business community pays for two-thirds of the cost of educating our children and will be the ultimate consumers of their knowledge when companies seek to fill jobs. As such, the Texas business community must step up to the plate as a critical friend of education by demanding first-class education and first-class results. Beyond the obvious economic imperative, a moral imperative exists that challenges the Texas education system to produce stronger results.
In order to meet the target of restoring and creating more good-paying jobs, the business community must engage at both the state and local level. To that end, we should all support three changes to our education system.
Implement an honest accountability system. The current academic accountability system is reminiscent of Enron in many ways. For example, the system rewards schools for the academic performance that they expect to happen but that has not yet actually occurred. This backwards process has caused a false-positive spike in the number of schools rated “Exemplary” or “Recognized,” now at 61%. This same system also gives schools ratings such as “Academically Acceptable” where 49% of the students can fail sections of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. As if those statistics are not outrageous enough, the Texas Education Agency, which implements the education standards set by the Legislature, has the audacity to claim that the Texas dropout rate is only 12%. Everybody knows the number to be much greater. The current education system will not allow Texas to remain globally competitive. If Texans were unflinchingly honest about how our students are truly performing, we would be able to fully address the scope of the issue. The ball is in the court of the Texas Education Agency to account for the real numbers.
Foster a college-going culture. Our students must be engrained with the expectation that they will attain post-secondary education while at the same time providing them with the information and tools necessary to do so. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is already taking important steps in educating Texans about the financial options available for students and their families who worry about how they will pay for academic options.
Create a results-based higher education finance system. Texas must alter the funding formulas it uses for higher education and base them on the successful completion of courses, not simply classroom attendance. Adult basic education and remedial education must be funded along similar lines in order to ensure that the money is being used in the production of results, not just to support education bureaucracy.
The biggest threat to our business climate is a future workforce that is ill-prepared to meet the demands of an increasingly sophisticated job market. If our students fall short of employer expectations, industries will simply leave Texas and go to a state that has a steady supply of educated young adults prepared to fill their expectations. Stakeholders must fight to heighten our education standards, otherwise Texas, and its students, will be left behind. Addressing our education system must be priority number one in 2010.
Bill Hammond is President and CEO of the Texas Association of Business, a broad-based, bipartisan organization representing more than 3,000 small and large businesses and 200 local chambers of commerce.
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