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Massachusetts Leaders Take on Education Reform with Input from New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce (2/28/07)

Institute for Community Inclusion and College of Management Announce Workforce Training Initiative

Originally published: 2/2007

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(Boston) - Feb. 28, 2007. Concerned that the United States will continue to lose the education race to other nations in today's global economy if education performance remains the same, state and national leaders came together for an in-depth discussion today on the future of the Massachusetts workforce.

The conference, convened by the University of Massachusetts Boston and the Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy, is the launch of the Massachusetts conversation of "Tough Choices or Tough Times," a report by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, which calls for the most dramatic reforms of the U.S. education system in a century. The report was released nationwide in December to widespread interest and praise.

Three prominent state leaders - David Driscoll, Massachusetts Commissioner of Education, Thomas Payzant, Former Superintendent of Boston Public Schools, and Harry Spence, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Social Services - are members of the Commission and joined Marc Tucker, Co-Chair of the Commission and President of the National Center on Education and the Economy, and Bill Brock, former Labor Secretary and member of Congress, in leading today's discussions.

"It is time for America to step up the level of education so it's equal to the best in the world," said Tucker. "These conversations mark the beginning of the second phase of our initiative as we work with state officials to incorporate the report's ideas in ways that make sense for their school systems and local and state governments."

The conference also marked the announcement of a new initiative from the UMass Boston Institute for Community Inclusion and College of Management. The report spurs workforce development professionals to improve their skills in determining regional business needs and helping American workers access appropriate training. In response to this challenge, the new Workforce Development Excellence Initiative addresses the core concerns of the progressive workforce system. Information on upcoming activities is at www.communityinclusion.org/workforce.

The conference gathered education, workforce, economic development and political leaders from across the state. As a lead organizer of the event, University of Massachusetts Boston Chancellor Michael F. Collins, MD, welcomed attendees to the day's events, which included a breakfast policy discussion followed by a series of presentations and panel sessions discussing the report.

"UMass Boston's teaching, research, and public service play critical roles in meeting the needs of the Boston workforce," Collins said. "Eighty percent of UMass Boston alumni stay in Massachusetts after they graduate, so examining the skills and knowledge demanded of our society's future workforce is an important discussion for this campus and the Commonwealth."

Massachusetts is one of the first states to show interest in using the report as a framework for reform. The Commissioners are also meeting with Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray and key legislators after the conference to discuss these issues. Last month, Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff kicked off a series of meetings to begin developing a Colorado version of the proposals.

"The report was intended to provoke a series of conversations that would lead to education reform individualized by states," said Driscoll. "As Colorado moves ahead with its initiatives, we are excited to begin a similar dialogue here in Massachusetts."

Reviews of the report in Massachusetts have been encouraging. In an editorial following the launch of the report, The Boston Globe stated that Massachusetts "is well positioned to build a 21st century education system," and called the report "a real head start" that can be used as "a spark for public debate that leads states to devise their own comparable visions." The Christian Science Monitor also weighed in, stating, "Such ideas aren't for the faint of heart... But together, they point a way out of America's educational decline."

The bi-partisan New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce is comprised of former Cabinet secretaries, governors, college presidents and business, civic and labor leaders. The Commission calls for a total shakeup in how America educates its people with an innovative system that boosts students to unprecedented levels of learning throughout their lives while creating a structure that gives them the best teachers and schools the country can offer.

The Commission was organized by the National Center on Education and the Economy, a not-for-profit organization created to develop proposals for building the world class education and training system that the United States must have if it is to continue to be a world class economy.

The Commission's work was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Lumina Foundation for Education.

The Commission's full report is available from Jossey Bass Publishers, in bookstores and Amazon.com. Further information is available at www.skillscommission.org.