As technology and innovation continue to move our economy into the future, businesses of all sizes and sectors face a growing shortage of skilled workers to fill open positions. This challenge is felt more acutely than ever today, with unemployment low and the labor market increasingly tight. While much of the conversation about solving this challenge centers, rightfully, on workforce training and higher education, new data remind us that a long-term solution also requires a renewed focus on reading and math skills throughout the education pipeline.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education released the results of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as our National Report Card. The test, which measures reading and math skills, has been administered to 4th and 8th graders once every two years for the past 50 years. The latest results, unfortunately, show a decline in performance since the previous NAEP assessment, with over half of 4th graders scoring below grade level in both reading and math.
Equally disheartening, results reveal a widening of the achievement gap between traditionally high-performing and at-risk students. The most disadvantaged children experienced a sizeable decline in their 4th grade reading scores, with the poorest states and districts performing the worst. Further, only 13% of black students and 20% of Hispanic students are able to do math at grade level in 8th grade.
To provide pathways to opportunity for all Americans, businesses—along with government, nonprofit organizations, and other stakeholders—must join in the quest for a solution. To transform our education pipeline, we must invest in students earlier in their lives. Studies show that the foundation for skill development is laid in the first five years of a child’s life. Participation in high-quality early education can help ensure that all students start kindergarten ready to learn and thrive.
The U.S. Chamber Foundation is helping lead the business community’s efforts to invest in high-quality education for children from birth through graduation and solve workforce and talent development challenges around the country.
Supporting all children throughout the pipeline is critical to reversing the trends revealed in the latest NAEP results. This is critical not just to our economy but to the strength of American society more broadly. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber Foundation will continue exploring policies and initiatives that encourage businesses to support working families, bolster our future workforce, and invest in the American Dream.