Diehl asks: Are our children ready for the global economy?

Mehlville school-board president invites residents to attend Monday session


For years, manufacturing jobs have been transferred overseas to take advantage of cheap labor.

The most recent news on service-sector jobs has not been good, either. A major electronics retailer announced that it plans to lay off higher-paid workers and replace them with less-experienced people at lower wages. A locally based, major financial institution plans to lay off more than 12,000 workers nationwide to increase its bottom line.

Fifty-nine percent of Americans believe it is harder to earn a decent salary than 20 or 30 years ago, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center. The opportunity for our children to live a better life than their parents can no longer be an automatic assumption. Today’s youth will face a world of global competition and economic challenges that most of us can hardly imagine.

So what does this have to do with public education? Everything.

Recently, the Foundation for 21st Century Skills asked CEOs and other business professionals to evaluate the readiness of America’s high school and community college graduates. The findings are not encouraging.

“Our education statistics are as disappointing as our trade statistics. Our children rank at the bottom on most international tests — behind children in Europe and East Asia,” the report states.

A survey of employers found that more than 80 percent expressed concerns about skills shortages. The report goes on to state, “The educational performance of those students who become front-line workers in this country is well below the average performance of their counterparts in some newly industrializing low-wage countries. Our front-line workers will not be able to compete in the economic arena because they are increasingly unable to compete in the educational arena.”

As a society, we can and we must do better. Across the country, there are examples of excellence in education that we could mirror.

Organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Knowledgeworks Foundation and the New Technology Foundation have made educational excellence a centerpiece of their philanthropic efforts.

Ideas such as early college high schools, alternative schools and internship/mentoring programs have shown great results in other parts of the country.

Locally, Terry Noble, our incoming superintendent, has said it is imperative that we set high expectations and have a curriculum that is both rigorous and relevant. The Missouri standards for education are the bare minimums that must be met, not guidelines for excellence. We must provide an education that truly prepares our students for a lifetime of learning.

The Mehlville Board of Education authorized a citizens’ committee to begin a community-engagement process to evaluate our school district. We are seeking input and advice on what changes our district needs to make to better serve you, our constituents.

What skills do our local businessmen and women seek from potential employees? How do we prepare our children and grandchildren so that they are ready for college, work and citizenship so they can be winners in a global economy? The challenges they will ace are great. We must critically examine our education system and, if necessary, re-invent our schools so that our kids are not playing follow the leader.

Our next session Monday, May 14, will examine academic achievement in the Mehlville School District. The discussion begins at 7 p.m. at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road. Whether you have children in our schools or not, all residents of the Mehlville School District are invited and encouraged to come and help us shape the future of public education in south county.

Tom Diehl is president of the Mehlville Board of Education.