• by Albert Cortez, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • October 2010 • 

Over the last few decades, the United States has slipped from having the most educated population in the world to 12th among industrialized nations in the levels of education achieved by its citizens, a statistic recently cited by the President as being unacceptable (2010). It is no accident that as the country’s educational levels have slipped, so too has our competitive standing – losing more and more jobs to other countries all over the world.

When this nation first emerged, its agrarian economy had limited needs for an educated populace – with higher learning limited to a few political and economic elite. In today’s globally competitive economy, future work opportunities will be grounded in our ability to prepare college graduates.

Over the last four decades, Texas has been a focal point for several education reform efforts that have ranged from ensuring funding equity for all students to advocating that all children – be they low-income, English language learners, or children of undocumented workers – have access to quality educational programs. In the early struggles, the ideal was fueled by a desire for simple justice and fairness for our most vulnerable citizens.

But a rapidly changing global context has created a new sense of urgency for our state to “up the ante.” We now must move from a modest goal of reducing dropout rates and dramatically shift our focus to ensuring that all students graduate from high school and that they do so prepared for college or high skill careers.

The Lumina Foundation for Education (2010) and others have noted that most jobs of the future that will be taken on by today’s school children will require some level of college, and in many instances will require a college degree. College will be new minimum. Past strategies that targeted incremental reduction in dropout rates are outdated and inadequate.

A new report produced by the Education Center on Education and the Workforce that examines job projections and education requirements through 2018 (Carnevale, Smith & Strohl, 2010) states that there is a growing mismatch between the jobs that will be created in the next decade and the education and training being provided to our future adult workers. The researchers also estimate that, based on current projections, the post-secondary education and training systems will fall short by 3 million or more post-secondary degrees needed to support access to the middle class.

According to Center on Education and the Workforce projections, by 2018, 60 percent of new or replacement jobs created in the United States will require at least some college education (Lumina Foundation for Education, 2010).

Unfortunately, some states that have struggled with meeting the improvement targets outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act have spent more time manipulating data in order to look like they were making progress toward meeting higher standards and little time implementing the education reforms needed to actually improve local school academic performance.

Texas is the poster child for such feats of mis-direction. The state recently abandoned a 10-year effort requiring all high school students to take a college prep core curriculum of four years each of language arts, math, science and social studies. Instead, the state has created ways to more easily track students out of college bound programs and into either a minimum graduation plan that involves fewer high school credits or a second class career-technology graduation plan that gives no assurance students will be prepared for college (Cortez, 2010).

Such diversions will not enable this nation to reach its ambitious educational leadership goal. What is needed is the expectation that all students, in all schools and in all states will graduate and be prepared to enroll in and to succeed in college.

The reality of a growing, diverse student population means that schools will need to do better than they have in the past. The sub-standard success levels that have characterized schools with high minority and low-income populations, including unacceptable rates of high school graduates, will not work if future workforce preparation needs are to be met.

What Needs to be Done – Starting Now

Rather than graduation for some, we must strive to achieve graduation for all. Achieving this major improvement in student outcomes will require sizable shifts in a number of key areas, including changing expectations so that every student in every community will be expected to graduate from high school and be prepared for college – with no exceptions.

The graduation-for-all goals also will require major re-tooling of an education system that was designed to produce just enough graduates to get by. These systemic changes will have to include refining state education funding schemes that are currently designed to provide minimal funding for most and funding advantages for a few. These must be replaced with equitable funding systems designed to level the playing field so that all students have an even chance to succeed (Cortez, 2009).

Systemic changes also must include fashioning teacher preparation and teacher support programs to better prepare and support teachers who are serving an increasingly diverse student population. Instructional materials and curricula will need to be updated and must include creative new uses of technology that can expand access to continuously updated content.

New policies will be needed to bring parent engagement into the 21st Century. Schools and communities are critical to creating new alternatives for coordinating school and family efforts to help students throughout all levels of the education system. IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework outlines areas that will require additional focus and reform. Courage to Connect – A Quality Schools Action Framework provides an in-depth look at how schools, parents and communities can take on the types of changes that are needed (Robledo Montecel & Goodman, 2010).

Over a decade ago, then state demographer Steve Murdoch warned Texans that the state would on average be less educated and have lower levels of family income if we did not address projected levels of under-education found among our emerging populations. Ten years ago, the window to initiate preventive actions was closing. Today, it is more than half-shut, with the present leadership reflecting an amazing ability to disregard or often downplay the existing crisis. Allowing this trend to continue will cost us and future generations dearly.


Carnevale, A.P., & N. Smith, J. Strohl. Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018 (Washington, D.C. Georgetown University, June 2010).

Cortez, A. The Status of School Finance Equity in Texas – A 2009 Update (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2009).

Cortez, J.D. “Texas Accountability – A Fast Track for Some; A Dead End for Others,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2010).

Lumina Foundation for Education. A Stronger Nation through Higher Education (Indianapolis, Ind.: Lumina Foundation for Education, September 2010).

Obama, B. Prepared text of speech at University of Texas at Austin, posted by American-Statesman (August 9, 2010). Video

Robledo Montecel, M., & Goodman, C.L. (eds). Courage to Connect – A Quality Schools Action Framework (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).

U.S. Census Bureau. Education and Income, studies by the U.S. Census Bureau, web site

Albert Cortez, Ph.D., is director of policy at IDRA. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2010, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 2010 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]