There is Hope in Education Reform

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By Linda Galliher

The Bay Area Council Education Committee recently met at the Commonwealth Club to discuss priorities in education reform – a major challenge for both California and the country as a whole, and a challenge the Bay Area Council has stepped up to lead on behalf of the business community. Attendees were eager to engage with Matt Miller of McKinsey & Co and education guru Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond.

Both speakers emphasized the striking achievement gaps that exist between high and low income students, white and minority students, between California and other states, and between the United States and other developed countries. In the U.S., a child’s low socioeconomic status has become a predictor of poor academic achievement. Internationally the achievement gap between students from high and low income brackets is much less than in the U.S., indicating that family income need not be destiny.

There is hope, Linda Darling-Hammond assured one hundred Bay Area Council members, educators and thought leaders, that there are education reforms that can turn around the downward slide of California public education, now 49th in the nation. She pointed to a wealth of federal stimulus dollars that can help economically strapped California make significant progress toward supporting effective teachers in every classroom. Many of the most lucrative funding opportunities come from grants in U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s, well publicized $5 billion Race to the Top Fund, which will be allocated on a competitive basis. In addition to Race to the Top funds there is a list of alternative funding opportunities, as well as notes from Linda Darling-Hammond’s presentation: Moving California’s Schools from Worst to First: What will it really take to Leave No Child Behind?

Matt Miller from McKinsey & Company presented their report, The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap, which makes a convincing case that we all have a stake in fixing education. The national economy is already showing signs of the negative impacts of a failing education system. By failing to provide the best education for all of our youth, we short change immense human potential. We diminish productivity and lifelong earnings with the cumulative effect imposing the economic equivalent of a national recession that is substantially deeper than the one we are currently experiencing.

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