Leaders and Laggards
A State-by-State Report Card on Educational Improvement

Two years ago, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Center for American Progress, and Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute came together to grade the states on school performance. In that first Leaders and Laggards report, we found much to applaud but even more that requires urgent improvement. In this follow-up report, we turn our attention to the future, looking not at how states are performing today, but at what they are doing to prepare themselves for the challenges that lie ahead. Thus, some states with positive academic results receive poor grades on our measures of innovation, while others with lackluster scholarly achievement nevertheless earn high marks for policies that are creating an entrepreneurial culture in their schools. We chose this focus because, regardless of current academic accomplishment in each state, we believe innovative educational practices are vital to laying the groundwork for continuous and transformational change.

And change is essential. Put bluntly, we believe our education system needs to be reinvented. After decades of political inaction and ineffective reforms, our schools consistently produce students unready for the rigors of the modern workplace. The lack of preparedness is staggering. Roughly one in three eighth graders is proficient in reading. Most high schools graduate little more than two-thirds of their students on time. And even the students who do receive a high school diploma lack adequate skills: More than 33% of first-year college students require remediation in either math or English.

But we also believe that reinvention will never be accomplished with silver bullets. Our school system needs far-reaching innovation. It is archaic and broken, a relic of a time when high school graduates could expect to live prosperous lives, when steel and auto factories formed the backbone of the American economy, and when laptop computers and the Internet were the preserve of science fiction writers. And while the challenges are many--inflexible regulations, excessive bureaucracy, a dearth of fresh thinking--the bottom line is that most education institutions simply lack the tools, incentives, and opportunities to reinvent themselves in profoundly more effective ways.

Click here to view the full paper as an Adobe Acrobat PDF.

Frederick M. Hess is a resident scholar and the director of education policy studies at AEI.

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