Student academic performance and readiness to enter our workforce has been declining for many years. Despite historic increases in education funding, the numbers continue to fall, and more and more employers look to the Commonwealth to do something to better prepare kids to become productive members of society.
The truth is the problem is far bigger and more complex than money alone can fix. Pennsylvania’s school system is no longer preparing students for the jobs of today, much less the jobs of tomorrow. Our students have been failed not by teachers, but by an antiquated system built over a century ago with goals that are no longer relevant in today’s globally competitive, knowledge-based job market, which we know is prone to rapid change and disruption.
In the recent Commonwealth Court ruling on Pennsylvania’s school funding system, the Court acknowledged something we have known for some time – that funding is not the sole answer to improving student outcomes. The Court not only points to whether or not schools receive sufficient funding, but whether students are receiving meaningful opportunity to succeed academically, socially, and civically. In order to be successful in those areas, students must have a school system designed to prepare them for the jobs in the Commonwealth’s economy.
I recently participated in an international education study that looked at the highest performing education systems in the world. These systems all have key aspects that Pennsylvania must replicate if we truly want to be able to compete in a global economy. We need effective teachers and principals, a rigorous and adaptive learning system, and an evenhanded foundation of support all held to the highest standard of excellence and efficiency.
In studying these countries, a common theme emerged pointing to their success: a shared vision and expectation of what an education system needs to look like in order to serve the students, the economy, and the community.
To replicate this, I introduced a bill to establish the Commission on Education and Economic Competitiveness, a bipartisan and bicameral group that will study the challenges within the current system, learn from approaches to systemic redesign all over the world, and come up with innovative policy solutions that will enable educators and students to meet the future head on.
The Commission will consist of representatives from key Pennsylvania stakeholder organizations representing diverse views who will conduct statewide hearings, in-depth research, and policy analysis, as well as seek public comment. All of this will inform the Commission’s final report containing a long-term vision for Pennsylvania’s education system and legislative recommendations for how to get there.
The Commission’s work is designed to look at the exact areas highlighted by the Commonwealth Court decision. While we must review our structure for funding education, we shouldn’t throw more and more money at a failing system that we know is not meeting the needs of our students or the workforces. Doing so would be a disservice to both students and taxpayers.
Every child should have the opportunity to achieve at high levels. I look forward to working with the Commission on Education and Economic Competitiveness to design a world-class education system in Pennsylvania that does just that.
Our children deserve our very best effort and there is no time to waste.
Sen. Ryan Aument is the majority whip of the Pennsylvania Senate and represents the 36th senatorial district in Lancaster County