U.S. K-12 Schools Fail to Prepare Students: Report

Published May 1, 2007

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Enterprise Institute, and Center for American Progress jointly released a report at the end of February showing the poor state of public education nationwide.

“We are hopeful that the report will serve as a wakeup call” about the state of the education system, said Karen Elzey, senior director at the Institute for a Competitive Workforce. The institute is an arm of the Washington, DC-based U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which works to ensure businesses have access to an educated, skilled workforce. “Hopefully it will lead to increased student achievement and more young people will be better prepared for both postsecondary school and the workforce.”

The report, “Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on Educational Effectiveness,” concludes the nation’s schools aren’t preparing children well for today’s economic and social challenges or the rigorous demands of the modern, Internet-connected workplace.

Performance Data Lacking

Student achievement is low, even as education spending increases, the report says.

The study found America’s school systems could benefit greatly by partnering with the business community to focus on business concepts such as accountability, efficiency, flexibility, innovation, and a focus on achievement.

According to the report, “the lack of reliable and available data on state performance is alarming and created serious challenges in evaluating results on a state-by-state basis. … The data must be compiled and monitored if we are to succeed in improving student performance nationwide. No responsible publicly or privately held firm could operate successfully with such a lack of data.”

Excuses Refuted

Other major findings include:

  • Return on investment varies greatly state by state. Utah and North Carolina seem to spend their education dollars more wisely than other states.
  • Some states with a high percentage of low-income and minority students score much better on achievement tests than other states with similar demographics. High-achieving states with large percentages of normally low-scoring groups include Florida, Kansas, Texas, and Virginia.
  • Forward-looking states, such as Arizona and Colorado, are nurturing innovation by encouraging charter school legislation and online schooling.

Positive Feedback

The report’s authors write, “the goal must be that each and every student completes high school equipped for college or for a skilled, rewarding position in the workforce.”

The groups involved with creating the report have received “very positive feedback” from people in government, Elzey said, adding that the business community particularly wants to help implement improvements in education for kindergarten through 12th grade.

Determining Effectiveness

Don Soifer, executive vice president of the Lexington Institute, a free-market think tank in Arlington, Virginia, called “Leaders and Laggards” “an important snapshot” of the country’s education system and “a good, thoughtful report.”

“Return on investment is a healthy way to start the conversation” of evaluating school systems, Soifer said.

Soifer said it is important to track progress state by state. Although the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is looking at federal policy findings, Soifer said more scrutiny of state education policies helps determine whether or not they are misguided; policymakers need to look at whether their student achievement standards are too high or too low.

“This report is an important tool to help facilitate that,” Soifer said.

Following Up

The report concludes that restructuring American education will require “raising standards for all students and changing how teachers are hired and compensated,” as well as rewarding principals who manage schools effectively.

Soifer said states should try to attract the best possible teachers and consider including mid-level professionals as possible high school teachers if they have real-world subject matter expertise, even if they lack teaching certificates.

Follow-up report cards will be released every two or three years, Elzey said, with supplemental reports in certain categories in the interim.

Mary Susan Littlepage ([email protected]) writes from Chicago.

For more information …

“Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on Educational Effectiveness,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce, http://www.uschamber.com/icw/reportcard/default