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Call to Action Reforming American Education

College and career readiness is something that NMSI takes very seriously. We believe all students should receive the same rigorous and enriching education – especially in the STEM subjects – because our nation’s future hinges on their success in the classroom.
With this in mind, we have taken great strides to ensure that our schools are adequately preparing their students for the future; however, a new report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that we have only scratched the surface of what needs to change with how our nation handles STEM education.
Titled A Skills beyond School Review of the United States, the OECD report examines both the strengths and weaknesses of America’s approach to postsecondary “career and technical education” (CTE), while also offering recommendations for how to improve the system.
Regarding our strengths, the report commends the comprehensive nature of high schools and the open access to community colleges, as well as the many “diverse and flexible forms of provision meeting the needs of many groups of learners.”
Concerning our weaknesses, though, the report states that there are three potential barriers to postsecondary attainment.
1.US students are lagging behind their global peers. According to the report, “the basic skills of US teenagers and high school graduates are relatively weak compared with many other OECD countries.” This is an issue NMSI has long been aware of, and it is definitely something we are trying to improve.
2.Decentralized education may lead to confusion. Despite opening the door to many different opportunities, the uncertainty factor for students has become very high, making it difficult for many individuals to choose a specific career or occupation.
3.The high financial risks of investing in postsecondary education. Even though public financial aid exists and has helped many students afford college programs, the fact remains that there is a high risk that students may not be able to overcome the debt of their student loans “because costs and returns are highly variable” once a student graduates.

The combined force of these three factors has led to the belief that investing in postsecondary education in the US is “often more confusing and risky than in many other OECD countries.” To combat such fears, however, the OECD report proposes a few measures of reform that will help assure students that CTE programs are worthwhile pursuits.
1.We must establish a quality standard for certifications. This would be nothing as drastic as a nationally mandated system of standards, but rather a program that would encourage postsecondary CTE programs of the same area to “align themselves” with the same certifications, thus providing graduates with a sense of clarity when deciding their career paths.
2.We must build better transitions from the classroom to the workforce. To do this, we need to “enhance CTE and workplace learning at high school” and make sure that our high school students have access to relevant CTE programs. Hands-on training and experience prior to leaving the classroom is vital to future workforce success.
3.We must strengthen workplace training and career guidance. Students don’t always know what they want to do or where they can go post-graduation. By mandating workplace training as a “standard element in postsecondary CTE programs,” we can reduce the risk and uncertainty factors for students entering the workforce.
The proposed actions of reform will not be easy, and the report asserts that the federal government will need to play a “major role” in their implementation. However, states will be key players in ensuring its success, along with “other organizations and stakeholder groups.” Collaboration at all levels is essential if we are to see a real change in the American education system. We still have a long way to go, but NMSI is committed to seeing (and helping) this change happen.