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Statement of Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) at the HELP Committee Hearing “The Importance of a World-Class K-12 Education”

As Prepared for Delivery

“I’d like to thank all of you for being here today for the first in a series of hearings focusing on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  Testimony from educators and experts, this morning and in subsequent hearings, will guide us as we undertake a bipartisan process to reshape this bill.  We have learned a lot since No Child Left Behind was passed nine years ago, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to protect the goals of that bill while fixing the things that are not working. 

“I appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with our Ranking Member, Senator Enzi, on this issue.  His knowledge and commitment on education issues, and his ability to bring both sides of aisle together to help students across the country, make him a very valuable partner in this endeavor.

“Today’s hearing on the economic importance of having a world-class K-12 education system should remind us of the critical importance of this reauthorization.  In the coming weeks, we will hold additional hearings to explore specific topics related to ESEA.  But, today, I think it is important for all of us to remember what is really at stake as we kick off this process:  The competitiveness of our children and grandchildren in the global marketplace, and the future well-being of our country.

“Well-educated Americans are the single most important factor in maintaining our productivity and global leadership, and in preparing our children to contribute to their communities and our nation at their full potential.  It is projected that, by 2014, 75 percent of new jobs will require some postsecondary education.  The world in which someone could drop out of high school and still get a family-sustaining job at a factory is practically gone. 

“Many are questioning whether the U.S. is falling behind, relative to the progress of other countries.  U.S. college completion rates are flat. Twenty years ago, the United States was first in the world in postsecondary attainment; our nation now has fallen to 12th. 

“In recognition of this, President Obama has set an ambitious goal – for Americans to reclaim the world’s highest rate of college attainment by 2020.   The only way we can meet the President’s lofty goal is to ensure that our children are leaving high school with the tools they need to be successful in college and beyond. 

“The changing global economy in the information age is putting new demands on the workforce.  Businesses are putting a premium on workers who can think critically and problem solve; skills that are developed and honed during a student’s formative years.  Moreover, new technology makes the physical location of workers less important, meaning American workers are being forced to compete for jobs with workers in other countries more than ever before. 

“Despite this challenge, American students are falling behind their international counterparts.  Recent studies rank American 15-year-olds 24th in the world in terms of math achievement.  As a consequence, since 1975, we’ve fallen from 3rd to 15th place in the world in turning out scientists and engineers, careers that are ever more important in today’s economy. 

“However, our challenges extend beyond the critical fields of math and science.  Forty years ago, the United States had one of the best levels of high school attainment.  Today, we rank 19th in the world in graduation rate, just ahead of Mexico.

“Until recently, the education of all students was seen more as a civil rights or moral imperative than as an economic issue.  However recent studies show that the main reason we’re falling behind other countries is because of the ‘achievement gap’ – or the difference in academic achievement between minority and disadvantaged students and their white or affluent counterparts.  Today, the average black or Latino student is roughly 2-3 years of learning behind the average white student.  Averaging math and reading scores across fourth and eighth grade, 48 percent of blacks and 43 percent of Latino students are "below basic," while only 17 percent of whites are.  This gap exists in every state. 

“At the same time, U.S. demographics are shifting.  The Census Bureau says that, by mid century, over 60 percent of school children will be minorities.  A study by the Alliance for Excellent Education found that if the nation’s high schools and colleges were to raise the graduation rates of Hispanic, African-American, and Native-American students to the levels of white students by 2020, the increase in personal income across the nation would add more than $310 billion to the U.S. economy.

“I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about these and other issues.  As we move forward with the ESEA reauthorization process and as we immerse ourselves in the details of this complex bill, I think it is wise for us to always keep in mind the big picture.  What is really at stake, here, is the future success competitiveness, and adaptability not only of our students, but also of our country as a whole.

“With that, I will turn it over to Senator Enzi for his opening statement and the introduction of our witnesses.”