“We are in a historic moment for education reform,” Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, told more than 100 of the state’s top education leaders and policymakers at the second annual Education in Georgia: A State of the State Report on Oct. 1.
The state’s educators should take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the current economic crisis-specifically, the federally recognized link between education and economic recovery-to join other states in calling for national standards in mathematics and reading, he said.
A key shortcoming of the No Child Left Behind Act was permitting each state to set its own measure of proficiency, said the former West Virginia governor and congressman. He likened it to allowing him to set his own height and speed for the high hurdle.
Wise said that while Georgia has its own education issues-namely high school and college graduation rates that hover below the national average-education provides a national challenge, not just a challenge to Georgia.
“Today, three out every 10 students do not graduate from high school,” he said. “About a third who do graduate are not college- and work-ready. As a result, the U.S.
has dropped from second in the number of college graduates among developed countries in 1995 to 15th today. This has a tremendous unemployment and economic impact on Georgia and the nation.”
Unlike past recessions, the current economic crunch is not an equal-opportunity victimizer in terms of job losses, according to Wise. The unemployment rate is much higher in jobs requiring a lower skills set and education. While higher skilled jobs are expected to reappear during the economic recovery, the lower skilled jobs, once cut, are unlikely to return.
Another economic impact of education is lost future wages, according to Wise. For example, as a result of those who did not graduate high school in 2009, there was a $15.5 billion loss in wages. However, if the dropout rate was cut by 50 percent, wages would increase $145 million.
Wise said educational leaders across the country realize there is a window of opportunity in this unprecedented economic crisis with weak fiscal conditions expected to continue possibly into 2011 and 2012, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.
“There is an extricable link between education and the economy,” said Wise. “Higher unemployment rates across the country directly correlate to the level of educational attainment.”
Policymakers at the federal, state and local level are recognizing this link and focusing on this as tremendous challenge and opportunity. Stakeholders must continue to work around a common agenda for ensuring college- and work-readiness for all students, he said.
The second keynote speaker, Jeffrey Humphreys, director of the Selig Center for Economic Growth in UGA’s Terry College of Business, warned that the nation’s economic recovery will be slow and bumpy, as the consumer sector will struggle to regain its footing.
Although Georgia was hit especially hard by the recession, its recovery will likely match that of the nation, predicts Humphreys, who described the two economies as “joined at the hip in synchronized recovery.” He attributed the recession’s significant local impact to Georgia’s vast economic activity in the housing industry, from home building to remodeling.
Humphreys predicted a full recovery of the Gross Domestic Product by 2011. However, while the period of heavy job losses appears to be over, he does not think that jobs will be fully recovered until 2013. He noted that in the last decade, Georgia has experienced no net job growth. He also said K-12 education would not likely recover in terms of funding until 2012, due to its budgetary dependence on state and local government.