The Challenge of Improving Educational Performance and Maintaining Global Competitiveness in the U.S.

My grandson Aidan, who is starting the first grade this month, is an astute commentator on our education system. I recently asked him what he wanted to learn this year. After some reflection, Aidan told me it didn’t matter what he wanted to learn because “my teachers decide what they want me to know and they tell that to me!”

Even though turning over the curriculum to our kids is not the answer, the issue of improving students’ educational performance is one of our country’s more vexing challenges. Although the debate includes significant political vitriol, actual progress is less significant. Part of that is a result of financial constraints and basic philosophical and management challenges. With that said, there are encouraging developments nationally that deserve recognition, including the current Race to the Top program.

Deloitte has a strong commitment to improving performance in education as part of our corporate social responsibility program. Through that initiative I have been involved in several of the more creative and innovative educational performance initiatives nationally.

  • College Summit, which received a portion of President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize, was formed by a couple of entrepreneurs and focuses on encouraging and preparing inner-city youth to have an interest in college, get into college and perform at a high level in college. Our CEO, Barry Salzberg, is the Chairman of the Board. I recently had the opportunity to participate in an event in Washington, D.C. where the College Summit’s policy paper, The Promise of Proficiency, was rolled out in conjunction with the Center for American Progress. I encourage you to take a look at it.
  • City Year is the largest AmeriCorps program in the country. Under their tutelage, a large number of bright and accomplished college graduates and recent high school grads spend a year mentoring students at inner-city schools. A number of our partners are on local City Year Boards.
  • Teach for America. I had the good fortune of hosting a breakfast for community leaders in Manhattan along with the founder of the Brooklyn Lab School, Mark Sternberg, and the Superintendent of the New York City Schools, Joel Klein. They are extraordinarily impressive individuals. Mark, who at the time was coming off of a two-year White House Fellowship, told the story of the Lab School which he helped found shortly after joining Teach for America. Over the last two years, it has graduated a high percentage of its 400 high school seniors. Of those graduates, more than 90 percent have been accepted to college with an average of four different offers of acceptance per graduating student, and over $4 million combined in scholarships received. Mark’s success demonstrates the benefit of attracting the best and brightest young people to teaching and providing them the necessary resources to get the job done.

In addition to lacking adequate resources, the cost of administering education is certainly one of the daunting challenges we face. My colleague, Bill Eggers, of Deloitte Research has conducted leading-edge analysis around emerging shared services models across the country. Though today most school districts think that they require their own of everything, it is possible to consolidate school districts’ and schools financial systems, human resources system, purchasing system, administrative staff, etc. to lessen the cost burden on the counties. Eggers’ work on “Driving More Money into the Classroom” through shared services is a must read.

Last year, I had the opportunity to visit China with former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. We were both impressed with the level of television and print media attention given to the annual national college admissions throughout Beijing. I was quite surprised when one of our young guides openly shared with us his pride over recently completing all of the requirements for University graduation, including a level of competency in written and spoken English! That reinforced my resolve to continue addressing the significant and ongoing challenges we face in our effort to improve educational achievement in the U.S.—not only for Aidan and his peers, but for our future ability to stay economically competitive at a global level.

Mr. Robert N. Campbell III is Vice Chairman, Principal, Deloitte LLP and is the U.S. State Government Leader, based in Austin.

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