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Jon Schnur reflects on U.S. education: What is working, What is needed.


America Achieves helps communities and states leverage policy, practice, and leadership to build high-quality educational systems and prepare each young person for success in careers, college, and citizenship.

Educators and communities have demonstrated that all young people are capable of achieving at much higher levels -- but these pockets of excellence are not enough. That is why America Achieves supports leaders and communities who have real potential to catalyze large-scale success. This support includes:

  • Offering fellowships and networks that tap and build on the creativity and expertise of some of America's most successful and promising educators
  • Disseminating tools that communicate and generate support for the high expectations all students deserve as well as the support they need to get and stay on track for success
  • Developing recommendations and bipartisan support for investing public funds in evidence-based solutions that can be taken to large scale

Throughout our work, we uncover, examine, and promote approaches and practices that can drive success across entire educational systems, communities, and states. We aim to address unmet needs, avoid duplication of efforts, and, wherever possible, work with partners in order to fully leverage scarce resources for maximum impact for children and young people.

Raising the Bar — Making Faster Progress

The world has changed. An economy driven by technology and globalization requires our young people to have a higher level of education than ever before. Just a few decades ago, a high school diploma was the ticket to the middle class and only one in four U.S. jobs required a post-secondary education. Today, nearly two in three jobs require a post-secondary education.

While we have made some educational progress, we have not kept pace with these seismic shifts. We once led the world in high school graduates and the percentage of 25-34 year olds with a post-secondary degree. Now we have slipped to 22nd and 14th on those measures. While our absolute performance has not declined, we have stagnated or made modest improvements as other countries race ahead to help their students clear the higher bar needed for family-wage careers.

Meanwhile, the economic crisis of the past few years has widened the gap between the education haves and have-nots. Jobs are coming back now only at large scale for those with a strong education. The earnings gap between those with post-secondary degrees and those with high school diplomas has increased by 50 percent.

We need faster progress for young people of all backgrounds and at every level of achievement. Only one in ten low-income kindergarteners eventually graduates from college. Black and Hispanic students trail their white peers by a difference of about two grade levels in reading and math. And only one in 16 U.S. students achieves at advanced levels in math — a lower proportion than in 30 other countries.

Clearing the Bar — Success is Possible

There are examples of outstanding successes in education and with young people across the nation. Individual schools and networks of schools are proving what many once doubted: that children and young people from every background can achieve at high levels when we adults provide the right expectations, relationships, and support. Some U.S. cities and states have also made real improvements — and high-performing educational systems outside the U.S. have made even more dramatic progress.