To Fix U.S. Economy, We Must First Fix The Way We Educate America’s Workers

Tom Nugent

Ever found yourself wondering why the U.S. economy continues to stagnate . . . more than five years after the “Great Recession” of 2008?

As an investigative reporter and a teacher who’s spent more than 20 years helping both high school and college students learn how to write, I’ve often been puzzled by the ongoing economic morass of recent years.

Fact: America used to be a world-class center of economic innovation — a “can-do” Land of Opportunity where workers and managers traditionally put their heads together in order to come up with enterprising solutions that made life better for everyone.

So what went wrong? How did the supremely competent society that rebuilt Europe after World War Two and then put the first human on the moon end up fumbling its way through an economic debacle that shows few signs of ending in 2014?

For me, the answer to that scary question arrived during a shocking afternoon a few years ago, as I volunteer-taught a 12th-grade class in journalism at the local public high school where my two daughters were students.

On that deeply disturbing afternoon, I witnessed a scenario that spoke volumes about the decline in our economy and the paralysis that seems to have overtaken our workforce.

It happened when the director of the school’s new “Writing Lab” dropped by our Journalism 101 classroom to introduce the kids to a brand-new computer system. The high-tech machines were supposed to be the Next Big Thing in education . . . and we were assured that with the push of only a few buttons, the students would be able to write their stories electronically and then quickly publish them online.

But that didn’t happen.

Instead, the beleaguered IT manager spent the entire 50-minute writing period in a hapless quest to make the computers work. After countless failed attempts (“Okay, now try typing a question mark at the end of the link and then hit ENTER twice!”), the bell mercifully rang and the kids headed off to their next class — without having written a single word.

Changing the Way Schools Prepare Students for the Workforce

I thought of that moment a few weeks ago, when I heard about a recently launched, not-for-profit organization — the Digital Learning Alliance (DLA) — that about a year ago kicked off a nationwide campaign to help fix our economic (and unemployment) woes.

The DLA solution: tap into the managerial savvy and the engineering know-how to be found at some of America’s most successful, blue-chip digital technology and education companies (IBM, McGraw-Hill Education and Follett Corporation, among several others) in order to help all of America’s schools (kindergarten through college) build the kind of truly effective, state-of-the-art education technology programs that can best help students succeed. These programs, when effectively implemented, will help lessen the workload of teachers and make them more effective at educating students with 24×7 metrics, intervention, and instructional support.

At the DLA, operated by retired leaders in education and technology, the energizing motto is crystal-clear: “Education IS Economics!”

Says DLA co-founder and president Dane Goodfellow, a former longtime executive at IBM and a nationally recognized expert in digital learning, “There’s no doubt that America’s current inability to drive consistent economic growth hinges primarily on our inability to train skilled high-tech workers who can compete in the global economy.

“To solve that problem, we have to completely transform the way in which schools use state-of-the-art technology tools to educate the workers of tomorrow.”

While pointing to a recent Harvard University study showing that American public school students currently trail 31 countries in math proficiency and 16 in reading proficiency, Goodfellow cites a study which warns that by 2020, more than 80 million workers will be unqualified for the high skill jobs of the 21st century and could go unfilled in the U.S. — simply because American workers don’t have the high-tech skills required for them.

To change that frightening equation, the IBM digital guru and his technology-savvy colleagues at the DLA have put together a comprehensive “road map” that is currently helping federal educators in Washington — along with influential legislators in 44 states — to radically re-design and rebuild their digital-technology systems from top to bottom.

Says the upbeat and fiercely determined Goodfellow, who has pledged his expertise indefinitely and vows to lead the DLA campaign “for as long as it takes” to bring about the necessary change:

“Solving America’s economic problems by changing the way our schools prepare students for the workforce is critically important right now. We simply cannot afford to allow the decline in education to continue.

“The future of our kids and our grandkids depends on getting this right!”

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To help encourage your state legislator to interact with Digital Learning Alliance, or to bring digital learning solutions demonstrating positive outcomes to the attention of DLA, contact

http://digitallearningalliance.org/.

Investigative journalist Tom Nugent has reported for the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and many other publications.