Typically, parents of school-age children think their local school is “pretty good” but feel K-12 nationwide needs to be fixed.  The delusion is amusing but half right.  Since those parents entered kindergarten, global commerce has reached into our communities and taken many low skill jobs offshore, and it’s tugging on our higher skill jobs.  We face offshore competition from these nations because they attract capital, they have improved vastly their educational attainment, and they work at wage rates well below US levels.  And it goes deeper – the US once had a virtual stranglehold on innovation, but Asian counties are now mounting credible challenges to that grip.

We cannot compete through low skill jobs – international wage rates for low-skill jobs will beat us.  Instead, we need to lead and compete in high demand skills.  To deliver on that, our educational policy and practice needs some thoughtful, focused change.

Parental involvement as tutor is essential and it’s even more important to a child’s success than socioeconomic status.  Parental alliance with the classroom teacher can also reduce some of the disruptive behavior in classrooms that steals learning opportunities from the other students.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are the basis for high demand skills more often than are business and social sciences.  We must urge US students to choose disciplines associated with high demand skills since the choice of studies will impact their family’s quality of life and ability to repay student loans.

It is self-defeating for the US to educate foreign students at doctorate levels in high demand skills then force them back to their country of origin.   It’s in our interest to offer them a robust green card and path to citizenship.  By 2020 if the economy has recovered, the US will have a deficit of 1.5 million college graduates.  In contrast, 6 million of the workforce lacking high school graduation will be unemployed.

Those already in the workforce need to continually sharpen their skills.  Adult learning is available at local colleges and online, and when accredited (e.g. at Phoenix.edu), online may offer the most value and flexibility.  Those with self-discipline can use MIT’s impressive, free online courses.  Those needing help with pre-college mathematics and physics can use The Kahn Academy’s outstanding free courses.  And TED.com offers lectures on cutting edge topics in economics, science and technology.

Our students need a solid preparation for their role in US society and as competent competitors in the international marketplace.  Students need to get more out of the K-12 years and understand the advantage of opting for STEM courses.  They cannot afford to spend 12 years clueless of the right choices for supporting themselves over a 50-year career.