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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Schools' progress may rest in local control

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To see the executive summary of the report, go to: www.skillscommission.org/executive.htm.

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A national bipartisan panel on building a thriving workforce through education came up with a fairly startling assessment in a recent report.

The summary statement: America's school system simply won't cut it anymore in the global marketplace.

It's incredible. Americans? Unable to produce the best and brightest as well as some developing nations do?

The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce has released a report titled "Tough Choices or Tough Times" that lays out some indisputable facts about the global economy, alongside some disturbing educational trends. The bottom line is that our students can't compete when a better-educated, lower-paid workforce exists elsewhere.

American students' performance levels have stalled and the wide achievement gap between the white and minority students remains, something that the federal No Child Left Behind Act was intended to close. But what this panel concluded is that only a complete restructuring of the educational system held out any hope of producing improvement, rather than increased funding, decreased classroom sizes or any of the other, more incremental reforms that have been tried.

What's clear is the need for change and for creating an environment where students — and student achievement— are at the center of any reform in the system.

Among its proposals is one that Hawai'i could easily endorse. These experts believe schools that are state-funded but locally controlled stand a better chance of bridging the gap between rich and poor students — as long as the schools have more autonomy in the actual delivery of education.

This seems to underscore the argument so many raise here: Funding equity is essential, but the focus of education should rest at the school level, not in a bureaucracy.

"This is a world in which a very high level of preparation in reading, writing, speaking, mathematics, science, literature, history and the arts will be an indispensable foundation for everything that comes after for most members of the workforce," say the writers of the report.

These are words that everyone concerned with education should take to heart.