Election Day 2008 is approaching fast. We are writing today to call attention to a crisis that affects Arizona and the entire nation. The great challenge of our times is to get serious about building strong American schools and raising the education level of all citizens, especially the younger population.
This issue needs to be at the top of the agenda this fall.
A crisis in education is looming in America. The educational performance of our children simply does not measure up to countries around the world, and we are not producing enough educated, highly skilled workers to effectively compete in today’s global, knowledge-based economy. The U.S. is 21st in high school completion and 15th in college completion. A full 70 percent of American eighth graders are not proficient in reading — and most will never catch up. Every year, more than 1.2 million students drop out of high school. Many of those who do graduate are not ready for college, for the workplace or for life.
Arizona students trail the nation in educational performance. The state ranks 43rd in the nation in the percentage of high school graduates who go to college and 39th in younger population with a college degree. Less than half of Arizona high school graduates qualify academically to enroll in our public universities.
We represent two different but overlapping non-partisan efforts. The Arizona-based Solutions Through Higher Education is an education campaign to promote awareness of the critical role that higher education plays in ensuring economic prosperity for our country and our citizens. Strong American Schools is a national group focused on elevating the education reform discussion among America’s leaders.
Our organizations share a mission of promoting awareness about the crisis we face in education. Only when citizens are engaged in issues can real reform take place. There is no better time than an election season for Arizonans and Americans to unite and demand that our leaders make education a priority.
Sometimes it takes an external threat in order for action to occur. In the 1950s, the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, Sputnik, into orbit. Fear of being overtaken by the Soviets pushed the U.S. to increase investments in science, math and research. Whole new industries were created as a result of this — one being the modern telecommunications industry. Today the threat comes from global competitors who are beginning to outperform us.
On Thursday evening, the public is invited to Arizona State University to hear a presentation from us about the state of U.S. education and how every citizen can participate in the discussion to create change. And we will show a compelling film called “Two Million Minutes.” The film does a great job of illustrating the alarming situation we are in. The film follows six college-bound students — two each from the United States, China and India — and how they spend 2 million minutes, which is the amount of time a student is in high school. The filmmaker compares how the students, their families and their national cultures approach education. Students from Arizona are not just competing with Californians or other Americans; in today’s economy our youth are competing against students from Beijing, Berlin, Bangalore and everywhere in between.
Over the course of history, Americans have risen to great challenges. If we are going to compete in the global economy, we must raise the educational level of Arizonans and Americans.
Now is the time to take action. However you vote this fall, make your voice heard on this issue and demand that our leaders make education a priority. This is the defining issue of our time.
Former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer is chairman of Strong American Schools. Arizona Regent Fred DuVal is writing on behalf of Solutions Through Higher Education. Visit www.edin08.com and www.highereducationsolution.com.