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Paul Marquart guest column: Putting our kids on the path to the world's best workforce

Paul Marquart


Guest columnist

Minnesota's future economic competitiveness will hinge on the success of Minnesota's kids who are sitting in classrooms today (and even our kids who are just learning to walk).

No issue is more important than educating our kids and putting them on a path to the world's best workforce.

Just look at our past. We decided as a state that education was a priority in the 1970s and that investment paid great dividends. Our students' success became our state's success. Minnesota became a brain-power leader and businesses flocked as a result. Our nation-leading workforce has given us the second most Fortune 500 companies per capita.

Minnesotans still have a great education system. Our schools still lead the nation in ACT scores and we're outperforming most of the world in math. Our workforce continues to attract new businesses to Minnesota. Yet there are signs the path to success has become much harder to navigate for our students.

• Our achievement gap between white students and students of color is among the worst in the nation and our fastest growing populations are the least prepared for college.

• Our four-year graduation rates have slipped to 29th in the nation and our graduation rates for students of color are last.

• Minnesota used to be in the top 10 in school funding. We've slipped to 22nd.

• Minnesota is now 47th in the country in terms of class sizes, making it next to impossible for students to receive the individualized attention they need to succeed.

We can't keep falling behind because the challenges are only mounting. We're not training our young people for the jobs and the economy of the future. By 2018, 70 percent of jobs will require post-secondary education. Retiring baby-boomers and the growing workforce will leave 620,000 job vacancies and if our current trends continue, we will be short 150,000 qualified workers.

We need a new vision. We need better results.

The question before us is how do we build the world's best workforce? That's what we asked at a legislative hearing where we asked experts to share their ideas about the path forward. We heard many great ideas including:

• Start early. Getting children prepared to succeed by kindergarten is perhaps the best predictor for future success. Our achievement gap starts to show at 18 months so it is vital we do better in early education.

• Get all students reading at grade level by third grade because if students have fallen behind by this point it gets increasingly harder for them to catch up.

• Put greater emphasis on identifying off-track students and help them correct course.

• Encourage schools to take innovative approaches to preparing an innovative spectrum of students.

• Track student progress so we can do a better job identifying what works and what doesn't in the classroom.

• Get middle school students thinking about career options and continue through high school. Nurture those ideas by providing more opportunities for them to pursue postsecondary credits while in high school.

• Do a better job of aligning our high schools with our higher education institutions and stop skyrocketing tuition that prices our students out of an education.

We also want feedback from Minnesotans about our kids and the economic future of our state. I'm hopeful that many of these ideas will become the basis for the best education plan the state legislature will have passed in more than a decade. It's time for us to think big once again and build the world's best workforce for a 21st century economy.

(State Representative Paul Marquart (DFL - Dilworth) is the chair of the House Education Finance Committee.)