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September 20, 2014

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SUN EDITORIAL:

Education and economics

Obama’s pitch to governors is correct: U.S. needs to improve its schools

In a meeting Monday with governors, President Barack Obama called for strengthening the nation’s school system. He outlined several sound ideas to improve education, including raising standards and better supporting teachers. America, he said, had to do better to compete in the world.

Obama said that during a visit to South Korea last year, he was told it was that country’s intent to educate its children to do better than American children.

“That’s what we’re up against,” Obama said. “That’s what’s at stake, nothing less than our primacy in the world. As I said at the State of the Union address, I do not accept a United States of America that’s second place.”

Unfortunately, students in the United States would do well to come in second against students in much of the industrialized world. Other countries have higher academic standards and for years American students have fallen behind in test scores. Obama noted that American eighth-graders rank ninth in the world in math and 11th in science.

The Bush administration’s hallmark education policy, the No Child Left Behind Act, called for improvement but it hasn’t lived up to its billing. The law provides sanctions for schools that fail to achieve, but it allows states to set achievement standards. That has resulted in some states manipulating standards to avoid sanctions instead of pushing improvement. From 2005 to 2007, 11 states lowered their standards for student achievement in math.

Obama has proposed a policy that would require states to certify that their public schools have standards in reading and math that would make students “college- and career-ready.” He also praised a move by 48 states, including Nevada, to create uniform standards to ensure that all American children are well educated.

The president also wants to improve teacher preparation and professional development, as well as expanding the Race to the Top program, which rewards states and school districts that have innovative education programs.

These are good ideas and should be pursued. Improving education must be among the nation’s top priorities. Some might say that instead, focus should be on the matter at hand — improving the economy. However, the country should be able to do both at the same time, and forsaking education would be a vital mistake because education and the economy are linked.

Low standards and low achievement will make it difficult for the United States to compete in the information-driven global marketplace.

“America’s prosperity has always rested on how well we educate our children, but never more so than today,” he said, adding that one poll showed that 6 out of 10 American employers couldn’t find qualified workers for open positions.

Education — from kindergarten through graduate school — plays a crucial role in our country’s future. If the United States does not raise standards and improve the education system, America will find itself further behind the industrialized world — not just in test scores, but economically as well.

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