Written on: November 12th, 2015 in Education
Throughout history, there have been many unlikely pairs in politics. President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill had a meeting of the minds on tax reform; Sens. George McGovern and Bob Dole worked together on food stamps; and Sens. Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy drafted the original proposal for a Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.
While today’s political discourse often seems hopelessly steeped in gridlock, sometimes an idea comes along that’s so obvious, so important and so worthwhile that it transcends political divides and brings elected leaders together.
As governors — one Republican, one Democrat — there are some issues we don’t see eye to eye on. But one thing we can wholeheartedly agree on is that when it comes to our students’ education, great teachers matter.
Research shows that teacher quality is the most important in-school factor affecting a student’s academic achievement, and students who are struggling academically or who come from low-income backgrounds benefit the most from excellent teaching.
Having access to high-quality teaching has significant economic benefits for students. Just moving from a classroom with a low-performing teacher to one whose performance is average for the academic year can mean an additional $50,000 in lifetime earnings per student, or $1.4 million per classroom.
Learning from other nations
Clearly, giving more students the opportunity to learn from excellent teachers should be a top priority for policymakers, as it has the potential to spur dramatic improvements in student outcomes. We know that this is true because other nations that perform highly on international assessments — like Finland, Korea, and Japan — and those that have seen dramatic improvements — like Canada and Poland — have made improving the systems that educate, train and develop teachers a high priority.
As governors, we’ve taken different approaches to improve the teacher pipeline in our states, reflecting our unique state circumstances.
Iowa is establishing the most extensive teacher leadership system in the nation, with two main goals: The first is better utilizing the expertise of many of our top teachers to improve instruction and raise student achievement. The second is attracting and retaining more outstanding teachers with new career pathways. That includes rewarding top teachers with higher pay for taking on leadership roles, such as instructional coaches who help analyze data, fine-tune instructional strategies and co-teach.
Working in greater collaboration with colleagues, teacher leaders provide embedded professional development in the classroom directly related to what students are learning. When Iowa’s new Teacher Leadership and Compensation System is fully phased in next school year, it will cost $150 million annually, with about 25% of Iowa teachers in leadership roles statewide. This investment is important because giving students a globally competitive education today requires making the most of principal and teacher leadership.
Meanwhile, Delaware has raised expectations for our college and university teacher preparation programs. That included higher criteria for student admissions, higher-quality student teaching experiences, a requirement that graduates pass a performance assessment, in addition to the traditional written exam, and a process to hold the state and individual programs accountable by tracking graduates.
Delaware has also upgraded in-school supports, including with professional learning communities that provide teachers up to 90 minutes a week to spend with a small group of peers dissecting data on which lessons and teaching techniques are having the greatest impact. And the state is working to transform Delaware’s educator compensation system to raise starting salaries, as well as to pay teachers more for taking on more responsibilities and working in high-need schools. The traditional system of paying only for years of experience and college degrees does not fully respect our teachers’ work.
Because we know how important this work is, we were thrilled to speak Tuesday at the launch of the Teach Strong campaign, a diverse group of 40 coalition partners working together to change the national education policy conversation and make modernizing and elevating the teaching profession the most pressing and significant education policy priority for our nation.
By putting forth a shared vision for improving our public schools, the campaign is working to depolarize the education policy landscape and lay the groundwork for the fundamental changes that are needed to dramatically improve student achievement.
Modernizing and elevating the teaching profession is the right thing to do for students and for teachers. As governors, we are working hard to achieve these goals, but more must be done. Improving the teacher pipeline needs to be a national imperative, starting today.
Written on: October 27th, 2015 in Job Creation
Let’s celebrate the immeasurable contributions of people with disabilities to our workforce.
October is the nation’s 70th National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a time for us to celebrate the immeasurable contributions of people with disabilities to our workforce – in technology firms, classrooms, restaurants and all kinds of workplaces. NDEAM was first launched in in the immediate aftermath of World War II (then it was called “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week”) as part of an effort to integrate returning soldiers into the economy. As a poster from the era put it, “America needs ALL of us.”
That’s as true in 2015 as in 1945, and this year we need a renewed sense of urgency on this issue. Though America badly needs them in the workforce and the economic mainstream, there are nearly 600,000 working age individuals with disabilities actively searching for jobs. Seventy years after that initial appeal by President Truman and Congress, it is unacceptable both morally and pragmatically that so many people with disabilities who have something to offer are relegated to the economic margins, eager and able to work but unable to find work.
Fortunately, experience tells us that change is possible. States and businesses are proving that employing people with disabilities is not an act of charity or sympathy; it’s enlightened self-interest at its very best. It enriches and diversifies our workforce. It’s good for business and good for taxpayers.
For instance, IT firms like SAP and Delaware-based CAI have committed to hiring people with autism — some of whom have a great attention to detail and ability to recognize patterns, making them a great fit in fields like software testing. Microsoft has launched a similar pilot on its Redwood, Washington, campus.
Meanwhile, the majority of state governments are embracing a national movement called “Employment First” through which they are realigning public investments to make competitive, integrated employment the first choice for people with disabilities. For example, South Dakota is making its Department of Human Services a single point of contact to educate employers, provide technical assistance, and connect employers with qualified individuals. The Department has also reviewed the accessibility of its programs and services and is striving to make the state a model employer of people with disabilities.
We need more states to get on board – to support businesses in their efforts to employ people with disabilities; to become model employers themselves by increasing the number of state employees with disabilities; to prepare youth for an expectation of a lifetime of work rather than public support; and to maximize limited resources to advance employment opportunities.
The U.S. Department of Labor, through its Disability Employment Initiative and Employment First State Leadership Mentoring Program, is committed to helping states move the needle further. And the newly implemented Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act provides even greater opportunity for state governments to bust silos in a way that harmonizes workforce investment, vocational rehabilitation and other systems to support Employment First.
When people with disabilities get those jobs, the results speak for themselves.
Governor Markell met a young man with Down syndrome at a Delaware bank, where he had a new job making promotional t-shirts. He told the Governor how grateful he was for the opportunity to earn a paycheck and be a part of the team – and how much better it was than sitting at home watching TV.
Brett Reilly is taking on various IT projects as a recent hire at Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services. Brett’s mother talks about the happiness that having a job has brought to her son, a whiz at math and science, who just “needed something to boost his confidence.”
Kendra Gottsleben worked on South Dakota’s recent “Ability for Hire” campaign along with Governor Daugaard. She refuses to be defined by mucopolysaccharidoses type VI or slowed down by a wheelchair, choosing instead to be known as an author, advocate, model and social media coordinator for the University of South Dakota Center for Disabilities. While she cannot change her condition, Kendra said she can change how she lives with it and is grateful for the chance to go to work and attend meetings “like everyone else,” even if she has to “work a little harder to get there.”
This year’s NDEAM theme is: “Disability Is One Part of Who I Am.” The reality is that your disability is not the extent of your identity. People with disabilities have many interests and skills; they are an untapped source of ingenuity and productivity. As long as we’re leaving so many people with disabilities on the sidelines, we are not only denying them opportunity; we are undermining the competitiveness of our businesses and stifling economic growth. Working together, we can successfully take up this unfinished business, ensuring that America captures the talents of all our people.
Jack Markell is the Governor of Delaware, Dennis Daugaard is the Governor of South Dakota and Tom Perez is the U.S. Secretary of Labor.
Written on: October 5th, 2015 in Job Creation
Manufacturing has long been a source of quality jobs for many of our citizens, and of quality products to export the Delaware brand throughout the country and around the world. Manufacturing Week provides an opportunity to both celebrate these contributions, while committing to working as a state to support the changing industry – recognizing that a strong manufacturing sector today looks different than in decades past.
The industry took a hit, like many others, in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. Delawareans experienced this dramatically, with the closing of the GM and Chrysler plants. Faced with that challenge, our state needed to figure out how to rebound and grow in an era when companies have more choices than ever about where to locate and are moving towards greater levels of automation in their production. This presents challenges, but it also presents a significant opportunity if we can seize on this new direction. With automation comes the need for more workers with an enhanced skill set – one that can handle tasks of quality control and operations management, and possesses the greater knowledge of science and math that new technology requires. Fortunately, in Delaware, we have had a workforce with the abilities to develop these skills, as long as the training opportunities are made available to them.
Its why, after the loss of thousands of jobs in the recession, we began to invest in workforce training at record levels. Since 2009, thousands of Delawareans have taken advantage of retraining programs for current workers, many of which are specifically directed to train people in the sort of advanced manufacturing techniques needed to take advantage of the new direction the field is moving. Participants have set themselves up to obtain better paying jobs –in the manufacturing sector and in other key fields. That effort is in addition to increased career training opportunities in our schools for the next generation of workers.
Manufacturing employers now cite workforce talent as the number one factor in their site selection process and Delaware has been able to attract advanced manufacturing businesses in recent years. They are companies like Uzin Utz, which is developing new types of industrial grade flooring and has picked Dover to establish new operations, and AB Packaging, whose CEO said his management team “was completely bowled over by the ‘can do’ attitude, fantastic training centers and support structure” in the state.
We continue to work our way back from significant losses in the manufacturing sector, but, in part due to these efforts, Delaware’s job growth since the depths of the recession outpaces the country’s and all of our neighboring states.
The manufacturing industry, and the hardworking men and women who work in it, have always proven resilient. Their history is one of always adapting to change, and of emerging stronger than before. As manufacturing enters a new phase, it’s clear Delawareans are up to the challenge of building an industry that gives our citizens good job opportunities for years to come.
Written on: July 13th, 2015 in Education
In 2001, in a burst of bipartisanship driven by Sen. Ted Kennedy, Rep. John Boehner and President George W. Bush, Congress passed the most aggressive education reform effort in modern history. Known as No Child Left Behind, it encouraged and rewarded states for raising standards and achieving results for students.
Like most major laws, it wasn’t perfect. Along the way it engendered controversy, and it got caught in the typical crossfire of partisan political debate. But the law put the focus where it was needed—on accountability for all students and supporting low-performing schools.
This week, the Senate will take up a new bipartisan bill to modernize the law to reflect what we’ve learned about the needs of today’s schools, and it will be the closest Congress has gotten to passing an upgrade in more than a decade. As a governor and as a parent, I believe that Washington must seize this opportunity, resolve the few remaining issues and get it done.
NCLB’s focus on ensuring every student is counted was a game-changer. Before the law, too many students could slip through the cracks. NCLB changed that – if a school was struggling, officials needed to step in to improve it. And this change led to gains in achievement across the board – especially for students who had too often been overlooked.
In the three decades pre-NCLB, reading test scores for 9-year-olds inched up by hair’s width – averaging one-tenth of a point per year. Math scores were better but still improved at a barely perceptible two-tenths of a point per year. Since NCLB, reading and math score gains have increased by more than five-fold over the previous era. Nine-year-olds are adding nearly a point a year in reading and math scores, putting them on a trajectory to succeed.
African-American 9-year-olds gained nearly 2 points a year in reading in a post-NCLB world, decreasing the stubborn and persistent gap between those students and their white peers. In my state of Delaware, we’ve gone from less than one-third of 4th graders being proficient or advanced in math to 42%, and we made progress closing our 8th grade reading achievement gap, reducing the difference between average white and black students from 28 points to 21 points. Between 2000 and 2013, our graduation rate improved by 5 points.
We should celebrate this progress, but we should not be satisfied. NCLB had many limitations, including calling for an unrealistic 100% in student proficiency and leaving states with little room to tailor investments and interventions to improve low-performing schools. The Obama administration’s waivers provided some flexibility, but their short timelines give states little ability to plan ahead or set out longer-term, more ambitious goals. If left unchanged, NCLB would label at least half of our 100,000 schools as failing and force states to pursue waivers perpetually into the future, with no guidance about what requirements future administrations might impose. It is very difficult to improve schools when operating on such shifting ground.
The bipartisan Senate bill addresses many of the major problems with NCLB and provides states with both consistent federal guardrails and the flexibility to implement them. It allows states to design accountability systems based on their own circumstances and ensures that academic factors like test scores and graduation rates will still be given substantial weight, while also allowing states to move away from test-only measures to include more holistic determinations of college and career readiness.
But it needs amending on the Senate floor to retain the provisions of NCLB that worked to improve student success: it must do more to require states to identify those schools that are struggling and act meaningfully if their schools aren’t meeting the goals they have set. The answer need not be a federally-mandated menu of specific interventions, but if schools are falling short, states should be held accountable for remedying those problems.
When NCLB was first passed in 2001, it was after three decades of stagnant school performance. Since then, we have broken free and made gains. Having watched this at the state level, it’s clear what is needed to build on this progress. With a few alterations, this bipartisan bill could propel student achievement even further.
Written on: May 22nd, 2015 in Effective & Efficient Government
Jack Markell, a Democrat, is governor of Delaware. Jonathan Cowan is president of the think tank Third Way.
Looking for an agenda that captures the imagination of our beleaguered middle class? Then solve this puzzle: From 2001 to 2014, the U.S. economy grew at an average annual rate of 1.9 percent — half the rate of the post-World War II boom period — and median household incomes flat-lined. Given that record, how can we double our growth rate and usher in a new era of middle-class prosperity?
Last week, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) sought to answer that question, unveiling what he termed a “progressive contract with America.” As progressives ourselves, we can support many of the things on de Blasio’s list. We should raise the minimum wage, increase access to pre-K programs and find ways to make college more affordable. But the mayor’s proposal doesn’t come remotely close to solving the United States’ growth-and-wage riddle because it ignores the causes of the middle class’s decline.
The principal obstacle to restoring middle-class prosperity isn’t so much that our economic system is fundamentally unfair but that it has fundamentally changed. Let’s remember the past. After two world wars, the United States had so many advantages over the rest of the world that attaining robust, wage-increasing growth was as easy as falling out of a boat. Half of the world operated under a communist economic system that could not compete with us on any meaningful economic scale. Global and economic forces all worked in favor of our middle class. The country grew, and the middle class grew with it.
Not anymore. The United States is still first, but it’s a “look over your shoulder to see who’s gaining on us” type of first. We are part of a global economy where each year it gets easier for employers to locate and hire anywhere in the world. That means we are in competition for jobs with everyone, everywhere. Immense technological innovations have become so commonplace that revolutionary technologies from only a few years ago — such as the BlackBerry and Flip video camera — seem like relics today. These innovations bring enormous opportunities, but they have also transformed many middle-class jobs into digital computations done by computers. That has meant unemployment lines or wage cuts for many middle- and lower-skilled workers, and it has radically raised the stakes on the skills needed to compete for middle-class jobs.
The twin forces of globalization and technological innovations are not about to change, no matter how much progressive leaders yearn for a return to the economy of generations past. Looking ahead 15 years, the world economy is projected to add $61 trillion in new wealth, but only about 13 percent of that is likely to come from the United States. Looking back 15 years, these trends, combined with our slow-growth economy, have reduced typical family incomes from $57,800 in 2000 to $53,900 in 2014 in constant dollars. Our projected economic growth over the next 10 years is predicted to average a lackluster 2.3 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office — a level that will not be good for wages.
Items such as a minimum-wage increase, pay equity for women and shaving a few basis points off of student loans are worthy and important policies, but they won’t materially solve the wage and growth riddle. Policies that help prepare the United States and Americans to compete in the new economy will.
We can make a huge difference in people’s earning power if we increase four-year and two-year college completion rates by raising standards in our public schools to better prepare students and increasing accountability in higher education. Dramatically modernizing worker training programs can prepare adults for the good jobs of today and tomorrow. Reducing waste in health care and shifting those savings into public investments in infrastructure and innovation will create jobs and opportunities to lift U.S. growth rates. Knocking down barriers to U.S. exports to put “Made in the USA” products on shelves around the globe will boost wages and job opportunities. Reforming our antiquated tax code will entice businesses to locate, hire and expand here rather than abroad. And revamping our retirement system so that every working person has private savings in addition to Social Security will mean a comfortable retirement for everyone.
Nine years ago, Borders Books had more than 1,000 stores and more than 35,000 employees. Four years ago, it liquidated. Those stores didn’t close and those employees didn’t lose their jobs because the economic system was rigged against ordinary Americans. They closed because technology brought us Amazon and the Kindle. Preparing Americans to compete and succeed in this constantly evolving economy is what a contract for the middle class should seek to accomplish. Fairness is certainly important; being ready for the new economy is essential.