It’s Time for Washington to Commit to a 21st Century Education System for the 21st Century Economy


Xconomy Seattle — 

Every second year, the Technology Alliance gathers policymakers and leaders from the innovation community at a retreat designed to explore issues affecting Washington’s technology sector and to map out strategies to increase our state’s long-term competitiveness. We organize the retreat around what we call the “three drivers” of a vibrant innovation economy: excellent K-12 and higher education systems; strong research capacity at our public and private research institutions and companies; and a robust entrepreneurial climate that nurtures the growth of young startups generating new technologies, services and jobs in our state.

This year’s conversation was all about talent.

Much has been made by our organization and others about the need to increase our students’ college and work readiness; to improve science and math teaching and learning in our schools; and to invest in high-impact, high-demand programs at our public universities. These have been priorities of our organization and our partners in the innovation community for a long time. Now, it’s time to get serious. Washington is at a crossroads. We have the framework to enact meaningful education reform with the enactment of Senate Bill 2261, and the design of an important new tool to track student progress and teacher effectiveness through a longitudinal data system.

The latter is particularly important when one considers the data we heard at the retreat, and a lack of awareness on the part of many in our state who could help drive change. Here are just a few key points we heard during our retreat that everyone in this state should know:

• According to Postsecondary Opportunity, our education pipeline isn’t so much leaking as it is hemorrhaging: for every 100 students who start 9th grade, only 69 graduate from high school four years later; only 33 of those enter college the following fall; only 24 return sophomore year; and only 17 earn a four-year degree within 6 years of enrollment. We start with 100 high school freshmen, and we get 17 college graduates. Seventeen.

• Meanwhile, we were told that 80-90 percent of parents surveyed expect that their kids will get a bachelor’s degree. That is particularly sad when you remember that our high school graduation requirements do not, at present, align with the minimum requirements to enter our public baccalaureate institutions.

Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, shared sobering data on our performance internationally. We in the tech community know we are competing not just with other states but with the rest of the world. We don’t do well: in the 2006 PISA test given to 15-year-old students in 26 OECD countries, the United States ranked 22nd in mathematics and 19th in science.

• In higher education attainment, the U.S. is one of only two OECD nations (out of 30) in which today’s young people are less educated than their parents.

• Teacher quality matters more than anything else. Studies … Next Page »

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Susannah Malarkey is the Executive Director of the Technology Alliance, a statewide organization of leaders from technology businesses and research institutions dedicated to Washington's long-term economic success Follow @

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