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  • Chamber Of Commerce Grades States On Education

    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has released its Leaders and Laggards report on education, turning a business-centered eye to the successes and failures of modern education.

    Its message is clear: U.S. schools are improving quickly, but have a long way to go before competing effectively with global peers.

    Although primarily focused on economic, regulatory, and business issues, in recent years the Chamber of Commerce has increasingly waded into education, arguing that businesses have a crucial interest in making sure schoolchildren are prepared to compete in the modern global economy.

    In an event on Thursday afternoon accompanying the release of the report, John McKernan, a former governor of Maine and the Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s president, said that business was among the best-qualified groups to assess America’s schools.

    “Business has a huge stake in education…businesses are the largest single consumer of our school systems,” said McKernan. He also said that the Chamber was reacting to a failure of schools to improve themselves. “The private sector continues to pioneer new innovations…[but] our education system [isn’t] keeping pace.”

    The report grades states on their performance in 11 different areas of educational excellence and reform. No overall grade is given to states, though it is possible to determine the best ones by tallying up their grades in individual areas.

    Massachusetts comes out the strongest, earning an A in six different categories. Minnesota is second with five A’s, while Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont all have four. The worst state by a solid margin is Alabama, which tallied an F in nine areas, followed by Mississippi, which failed in six. Louisiana and the District of Columbia failed in four.

    While many states graded poorly, the report is quite optimistic, finding that relative to 2005 every single state has improved in its approach to education, though some states are improving more rapidly than others. Rapidly gaining states include Tennessee, Indiana, and Hawaii, while laggards include South Dakota, Michigan, and New York. Despite improvement, however, the Chamber argues that America is still well behind its international peers.

    The report grades states on 11 different metrics, from how well states prepare students for the workforce to how much school choice is available to parents. A particular source of emphasis is on STEM education for high-school students. Even in the top-performing state, Massachusetts, only one in six high schoolers graduate having passed an Advanced Placement exam in a STEM subject such as calculus. In the lowest-performing state, Mississippi, barely one percent do so. That puts Americans at a major competitive disadvantage against other developed economies, the group said.

    McKernan said that the Chamber’s involvement in education has helped to transform education. State leaders who may have been unaffected by other evaluations were very distressed when they performed poorly on the Chamber’s evaluations, and many acted immediately to improve. McKernan pointed towards former Tennessee Gov. Phil Breseden as a leading example. Breseden himself appeared in a video during the Chamber’s event in which he described the Chamber’s Leaders and Laggards report as the “key” impetus for Tennessee acting to improve its schools.

    Whether the Chamber of Commerce’s rankings will continue to be as influential remains to be seen, however. The Chamber is a major conservative supporter of the Common Core, which is suffering from a growing backlash. Many conservatives see the standards as a federal takeover of schools, while on the left teachers groups are lambasting what they describe as excessive corporate involvement in the educational realm.

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