Thursday, August 5, 2010

Tennessee Falls Behind

Posted By on Thu, Aug 5, 2010 at 10:41 AM

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A new report from the Southern Regional Education Board (warning: PDF) shows that Tennessee is failing in efforts to educate adults. The Southern Regional Education Board is a non-profit that works with Southern states to improve education.

It's not working with us. I mean, obviously, the SREB is working with us. Their efforts are not.

We talked a little bit about this earlier in the week — about whether we're preparing to meet the challenges of a new economy. But here's another measure by which we can get a sense of the scope of the problem: The Southern Regional Education Board says that more than 10 million people in the states under their purview don't have high school diplomas. A third of those people — 3.3 million — didn't even finish ninth grade.

The goal is and has been to bring these folks up to speed as adults, but Tennessee is seeing fewer and fewer people enrolling in GED courses or college courses or English as a Second Language courses.

It used to be that each generation strove to make a better life for their children. The SREB reports that the United States is the only Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development-monitored country "in which adults ages 25 to 34 will be less educated than adults ages 45 to 54 unless major changes in the education system occur."

Dave Spence, the President of SREB sums it up thusly:

Five years ago, an SREB report called for major improvements to adult learning programs across the region. The report, Investing Wisely in Adult Learning is Key to State Prosperity, pointed to a regional employment crisis in which many of the least-educated adults in SREB states were caught in dead-end jobs or not employed at all.

A few states took action based on the report’s recommendations — but far too little progress was made. Now, the current economic recession has made matters worse.

Helping a state’s poorest and least-employable residents find good jobs depends on strengthening adult learning efforts.

Why should adult learning be a priority when so many issues in education demand our attention?

Quite simply, the economic well-being of our region is at stake if we allow the growing group of less-educated, working-age adults in SREB states to expand further. Their low levels of education contribute to higher health-care costs and unemployment rates, diminish tax revenues and hinder economic development. Where better-trained workers live, good jobs will follow.

Yet SREB states had fewer young adults enrolled in adult learning programs in 2008 than in 2005. Four SREB states [Tennessee among them] actually saw enrollment declines in all three main types of adult education programs — which is alarming, considering the large number of high school dropouts in every state.

I know that's a long quote, but I think every part of it is important. I'm glad to hear gubernatorial candidates talking about jobs. But it's going to take more than tax breaks and incentives to get employers here.

We need an educated workforce.

And we are losing ground.

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