News Column

Second Opinion: The Economics of Education

September 2004, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine
Susan Castillo
Susan Castillo

September is a month of anticipation for students everywhere, a month in which anxiety mixes with hope for a successful school year. Yet for those who face language barriers and economic instability, September can be a month full of uncertainties, challenges, and struggles. Many children are at risk in our nation because they lack adequate support to achieve success.

You and I both know the importance of education; if we had not believed that continuing our education were important, we would not have made it to the positions we hold today. Our education has given us the confidence and peace of mind to know that, with dedication and passion, our dreams are reachable.

As I was growing up, I observed my mother struggling with limited options for job opportunities because she had only an eighth-grade education. I can only imagine how many more successes she would have had if her school had been better equipped to meet her needs. From her experience, I came to understand the very real connection between education and economic opportunity.
Now I feel we must begin a dialogue that emphasizes this important link between education and economic well-being.

According to the Census Bureau, Hispanics are the largest minority group in the nation and increasing at an unprecedented rate.

With such growth, and the needs of students changing, it is crucial for educators and business people to redouble efforts to create opportunities for Hispanic students – the country's economic well-being depends on it.
At an individual level, education is an investment for the future because it increases social opportunities and possibilities for higher wages, but why is investing in education important at the societal level? In his comprehensive research review "Public Schools and Economic Development," Jonathan D. Weiss says:

"Education can make the U.S. more economically competitive by helping close the gap between socio-economic classes. Carnevale and Richard Fry argue in 'Crossing the Great Divide' for the Educational Testing Service (2000) that 'if Hispanics and African Americans had the same education and commensurate earnings as whites, the national wealth of African Americans and Hispanics could increase annually by $113 billion and $118 billion [respectively].' They suggest that higher educational attainment would allow these individuals to fill high-paying jobs that are currently going to foreign workers, and help close the gap between socio-economic classes."

Weiss notes that investing in education not only increases national productivity, but creates state and local economic growth when flourishing public schools attract new businesses and communities to the surrounding areas.

"We must begin a dialogue that emphasizes this important link between education and economic well-being," says Susan Castillo, superintendent of public instruction for the state of Oregon.

Today, with our country facing significant demographic changes, we need to establish a culture in which every child's future is viewed as a valuable asset and in which investments in education are embraced as investments in our nation's future.

In Oregon we are working to include cultural competency in our standards for teacher and school-administrator certification. This will ensure that our teachers have the skills to work in a multicultural classroom and meet the needs of every student.

Our schools also are working to become better equipped to help non-English-speaking students learn English while also continuing their studies in Spanish or other native languages. Oregon is one of only a handful of states that has developed math and reading assessments in Spanish so we can more accurately measure a student's proficiency in those areas while they work to attain proficiency in English.

If we do not meet the needs of students, we will not prepare this generation to succeed in a competitive global economy, nor will we develop the kinds of leaders we need for the future success of our nation.

We need to connect the dots between success for all students and a strong economy. We must strive to create a system in which the business community engages in helping schools prepare students for their next steps in school and then in the workforce. Internship and scholarship opportunities allow students to gain more from their education.

Businesses and governments must work together to bring rigor and relevance to learning for all students.

In the end, we all want the same thing – students who have the skills to complete high school prepared for their next steps in life, students who are prepared for the workforce or college, students who are successful, contributing citizens to the economy and society.


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