Statement of Michael B. Enzi
Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
The Importance of World-Class K-12 Education for Our Economic Success
March 9, 2010
Chairman Harkin, I want to thank you for starting this series of hearings on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Beginning with a hearing on the Importance of World-Class K-12 Education for Our Economic Success is an appropriate way to initiate our review of the issues surrounding reauthorization. It sets the stage as we move forward to develop legislation that builds upon what we have learned from No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and improves upon what isn’t working.
I know that there are those who complain about NCLB because it seems to focus on failure rather than success. I also know that there are those who applaud it for the positive changes it has created in our K-12 education system. At a minimum it has managed to change the way we look at the achievement of our students, emphasized teacher quality and parental involvement, and required accountability for results.
One thing I know everyone agrees with, however, is that our children deserve to receive the best education our country can provide for them. Yet too many of our students continue to be ill-served by the schools they attend, and either fall behind, or drop out of school. This is not good for their future, nor is it good for our country’s future.
Our economy depends on an educated and skilled workforce to be successful in the global market. In the United States we face two major challenges for students entering the workforce. First, a growing number of jobs require more than a high school education. Second, over the past 30 years, one country after another has surpassed us in the proportion of their entering workforce that has at least a high school diploma.
Every day in our country about 7,000 students drop out of high school. Even for those students who do stay in school and earn a high school diploma there is no guarantee that they have learned the basics needed to succeed in postsecondary education and the workforce. In fact, nearly half of all college students must take remedial courses after graduating from high school before they can take college level coursework. This lack of preparation means that our college students spend more time and money in tuition just to catch up. It’s hard for them and it’s hard for our country to get ahead if we’re playing catch up.
Each year more than one million students enter college for the first time with the hope and expectation of earning a bachelor’s degree. Of those, fewer than 40 percent will actually meet that goal within four years; barely 60 percent will achieve it in six years. Among minority students remedial course participation rates are even higher and completion rates are even lower.
There is no question that some education and training beyond high school is a prerequisite for employment in jobs and careers that support a middle-class way of life. Lifetime earning for individuals with a bachelor’s degree are, on average, almost twice as much as high school graduates.
Once first in the world, America now ranks 10th in the proportion of young people with a college degree. Less than 40 percent of Americans hold an associate or bachelor's degree, and substantial racial and income gaps persist. The projections are that within a decade 6 out of 10 Americans must have a degree or recognized credential to succeed in the workforce. This being the case, we are facing a major deficit of skilled workers, which in turn threatens our ability to grow economically. We used to have the best-educated workforce in the world, but that is no longer true.
That is why I am excited that we are beginning our work on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Funds provided through the Act assist schools in meeting the needs of our most disadvantaged students and providing them with a quality education. The skills students learn in the earliest grades are the building blocks to their success in high school, college and the workforce. Our country cannot continue to be competitive in the global economy if we do not have an educated workforce.
I want to welcome and thank all of the witnesses who are here today -- I look forward to hearing from you.