Tim Burg, Assistant Director of the Ponca City Development Authority recently put together a white paper on workforce development. The paper addresses public education in a way I haven’t previously heard. Ed Morrison, who was at the Ponca City Economic Development Conference giving a talk, contributed the following analogy to the paper.
“You are the Mayor of a major metropolitan city and I am your Public works director. In a meeting, this morning I have pulled you aside and told you that we have had a problem with our water distribution system and it looks like one third of our population will be permanently disabled.”
“Yes, I said one third of our population would be permanently disabled. Would you be concerned? If you were a citizen in that community, would you be concerned? I’m sure the answer for both is YES!!!”
“What I have just described is the K-12 system in America. Each year over one third of our population is sent to economic poverty, which effectively permanently disables them for their entire lives. Yet we do little about it. We simply shrug our shoulders and say we ought to fix the system. That begs the question of, “Who makes up the WE in our society and why aren’t we freaking out over it?”
Morrison raised some interesting and alarming facts in his talk at the conference, “Dropping out of high school is a $300,000 loss in lifetime earnings and high school is no longer a ticket to a middle class lifestyle. Kids who can’t read by the third grade will probably drop out of school by the 12th. The high school graduation rate is the most important statistic for local economic development and rural areas are figuring this out much quicker than our cities.”
Burg raises an important issue that is going to be of increasing concern in most communities. While I don’t agree that public education is a life sentence to degradation and poverty, I do believe that lack of education can put us as a nation at a disadvantage. Without education we are disabled, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. What are you doing in your community to ensure that education is being provided in its greatest capacity? Reform doesn’t happen from the top down, it starts at the individual.