Condi Urges Education Reform. Could It Really Create Jobs?

BlogHer Original Post

Last night, in a powerful speech to the Republican National Convention floor, Condoleezza Rice said some thought-provoking things about education reform:

And your greatest ally in controlling your response to your circumstances has been a quality education. But today, today, when I can look at your zip code and I can tell whether you're going to get a good education, can I honestly say it does not matter where you came from, it matters where you are going? The crisis in K-12 education is a threat to the very fabric of who we are.

My mom was a teacher. I respect the profession. We need great teachers, not poor ones and not mediocre ones. We have to have high standards for our kids, because self-esteem comes from achievement, not from lax standards and false praise.

And we need to give parents greater choice, particularly, particularly poor parents whose kids, very often minorities, are trapped in failing neighborhood schools. This is the civil rights issue of our day.

If we do anything less, we can damage generations to joblessness and hopelessness and life on the government dole. If we do anything less, we will endanger our global imperatives for competitiveness. And if we do anything less, we will tear apart the fabric of who we are and cement the turn toward entitlement and grievance.

Condoleezza Rice
Image: © Daniel Wallace/Tampa Bay Times/ZUMAPRESS.com

Job creation and entrepreneurship is the overarching theme of the Republican National Convention so far this week -- and but for Rice's comments, education's been a much weaker one. Yesterday, Huffington Post Editor in Chief Arianna Huffington hosted two offsite panels attempting to build a bridge between what right now seem to be two very different planks of the GOP platform.

Tom Brokaw moderated the conversation, called "What Is Working," with a bipartisan group of panelists: LinkedIn Co-Founder Allen Blue; Startup America CEO Scott Case; Civic Ventures CEO Marc Freedman; Purpose CEO Jeremy Heimans; radio host and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham; Aspen Institute CEO Walter Isaacson; Ohio Governor John Kasich; Rockefeller Foundation CEO Judith Rodin; Valencia College President Sanford Shugart; Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith; and Huffington herself.

The ideas that bubbled up struck me as simple, achievable, and affordable:

Education reform at all levels

The panelists talked at length about interlacing business and career development with education, involving companies from early education through college, and reforming four-year institutions to be more relevant, targeted, and affordable. Culturing and encouraging students to understand career development throughout their lives -- including recareering training later in life.

Gov. Kasich said his greatest challenge is that companies aren't willing to share their forecasting so that schools can evolve academic programs to match; even in with an 8.3 percent unemployment rate, 3.8 percent of U.S. jobs can't be filled because nobody has the skills. Shugart talked of refocusing community colleges to mesh more closely with companies and industries, citing nursing programs as a successful example. It could bump the completion rate for two-year colleges, currently at a dismal 25 percent, he said.

National service: Education as participation

What if, after high school or college, young job seekers were expected to serve their country and get job training at the same time? Without suggesting re-instituting the draft itself, several panelists pointed out how armed service helps young people learn teamwork and gain useful job skills -- and could also be a path to recareering. Goldman Sachs now offers a Teach for America internship -- its program description says, "Goldman Sachs recognizes the excellence of successful Teach For America applicants and values the experience and skills that are built through the corps experience." Why not a nonmilitary Law Corps, a Medical Corps?

An extra benefit of national service -- military or otherwise -- is to teach the lasting values of working for something higher than your own goals: "The best advice I'd give [to a young person seeking a job]: Decide what your values are and find jobs that reflect those values," said Heimans.

Integration of entrepreneurship into the culture: What to teach our children

"Having a job is not just about economic security -- it's also emotional and cultural security for this country," Brokaw said. Panelists agreed that teaching children to take risks, to cope with failure, and to be innovative and willing to learn throughout your life is vital. And these lessons need to be taught everywhere. Kasich noted that "the inner city" is a huge and overlooked area for business growth, citing Jay-Z as an entrepreneurial inspiration.

Just as important is changing the conversation and culture to celebrate successes. “If you look at the last 30 years, all the net were created by companies that were less than five years old," said Case. "We should be celebrating those successes everywhere, not just in Silicon Valley and New York."

How do you connect education with job creation?

The panel's answer was in concrete acts that encourage new ways to create jobs and support job seekers. Among them: The Rockefeller Foundation will give $1,000,000 to the organization with the most innovative solution to create jobs for "disconnected young people." The Huffington Post launched an Opportunities: What Is Working channel, while the Ford Foundation is putting $150 million on closing the skills gap. (You can see all the commitments here).

What should the government's role be?

Yesterday's panel focused mostly on ideas, rather than specific policy -- stressing the need for public-private partnerships. Some panelists, of course, favored more government investment than others. But again, of course, education reform of any sort will require the government's involvement.

Gov. Kasich spoke of what he's done in Ohio, including reforming education policy with a bill that included a reading guarantee for third-graders who haven't yet acquired reading skills -- the same bill introduced "blended learning," a way to bring online teaching to elementary schools, and centralized the administration of workforce programs (it also include some more core Republican measures like teacher performance and school report cards, but Kasich didn't speak to those yesterday.)

When he spoke Tuesday night, Gov. Kasich spoke with pride of steering Ohio from 48th in job creation to fourth and creating 122,000 jobs by setting priorities. I wish he had mentioned education as one of them, because he definitely believes in it.

The single time I heard education mentioned on Tuesday -- the day celebrating entrepreneurship -- was by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Here's what he said.

We believe that the majority of teachers in America know our system must be reformed to put students first so that America can compete. Teachers don't teach to become rich or famous. They teach because they love children. We believe that we should honor and reward the good ones while doing what's best for our nation's future -- demanding accountability, higher standards, and the best teacher in every classroom. They believe the educational establishment will always put themselves ahead of children. That self-interest trumps common sense. They believe in pitting unions against teachers, educators against parents, and lobbyists against children. They believe in teachers' unions. We believe in teachers.

So -- why isn't education central to the economy talk on the convention floor? I don't expect much policy talk amid the woo-woo of a nominating convention. But I do hope to hear about these ideas, at least at the level of ideas. We need to make education a priority, and it seems to me that creating jobs is one idea that crosses the aisle with ease.

The education plank of the party platform looks more like Christie's plan -- job training is addressed; read the platform here.

The Huffington Post's convening another panel at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte next week, and BlogHer will report on that, too.

What do you think? Is education reform a clear path to job creation to you? How would you do it? What are your primary concerns about education this election?

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