Condi Urges Education Reform. Could It Really Create Jobs?

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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."

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