The State of Alabama has an ambitious plan to improve its public schools. Its success is important to every Alabamian because the economic future of our state hangs in the balance. Alabama will not prosper in the future unless we are able to produce more high school graduates who are college and career ready. We simply won’t have a workforce with the skills that will be demanded tomorrow.
This was brought home recently when the head of one of our highly successful auto manufacturers questioned the state’s ability to provide the workforce that would be needed to expand in Alabama. The obvious lesson: the jobs won’t come unless we have the workforce to fill them.
Recently an official workforce analysis predicted a shortfall of almost 200,000 workers for positions available in Alabama by 2020.
It’s not just more high school graduates that are needed, but more qualified high school graduates. About 65 percent of the jobs available in 2020 are expected to require some kind of postsecondary credential, while only 55 percent of today’s workforce meets this requirement.
Alabama now has honest tests that tell us where the shortcomings in our public schools are. Grades 3–8 began in 2014 to take “Aspire” tests in reading and math.
There was good news and bad news in the results for the state’s 136 school systems. In the top 10, the success rate was high — more than 60 percent on average. But in the bottom 20 systems, the success rate fell to less than 20 percent on average.
The low-scoring school systems tend to have a lot of inexperienced teachers and trouble filling vacancies, particularly in such important fields as math and science. About 8 percent of teacher vacancies in the state are filled by people who lack not only experience but also the credentials that ordinarily would be required. Yet research shows that no school-related factor is more important to improving student performance than teacher quality.
If we expect to achieve the goals of our education plan, we must make meaningful changes. There is much we can do, with modest investments, to raise professional standards, create incentives to draw more of the best and brightest into education, enrich their teaching careers and reward faculty in successful schools.
Our economic future depends on wise investments in education. And more than anything else, teacher quality matters.
(To see PARCA’s new report on teacher quality, go to www.parcalabama.org.)