What Is the Value of an Education?
What is the value of an education? Why should kids not only attend school but be successful in school? Well, I am an educator and therefore believe that education is the key for a fulfilling life and getting ahead. This belief though was ingrained in me from a very early age by my family. You see, my grandfather dropped out of school at the end of 7th grade (around 1910). His life experience taught him the value of an education. In fact, after about 8 years of bouncing around the country doing odd-jobs that included dynamiting in the Everglades and running moonshine during prohibition in Pennsylvania, he found himself in his hometown in upstate New York. On a hot summer day, he was on his hands and knees smoothing out concrete when the familiar sight of patent leather boots walked up behind him. He stared up the crisply-seemed pant legs to see his father in full uniform (his father was the fire chief in this community) staring back at him. His father left him with a comment that forged its way into our family culture for the next few generations. He said, “With an education you can do that (manual labor). Without an education you have to do that.” My grandfather, realizing his chance at a quality education was behind him, made sure my father would finish high school (the standard of that generation). My father would eventually obtain his bachelor’s degree after ten years of night school on the GI Bill. He was the first individual on either side of the family to do so and he set a new standard for his children; all would finish college.
I share this story not only because it is part of my heritage but because I am so convinced that today, more than ever, the quality of an education makes a huge difference in a person’s quality of life. A foundation of a strong PreK-12 education gives an individual choices in careers. If you are not convinced of this, please consider the recent information depicted in the chart below, from the Department of Labor
As this chart indicates, not only does a person’s level of education directly relate to their level of income, it also has a significant impact on employment. You might notice that those who have either obtained either a high school diploma or who have dropped out experience a much higher unemployment rate than those with postsecondary
Degrees. In fact individuals with “less than a high school diploma” are unemployed at a rate twice than those with an Associates Degree.
Schools in our country must change to meet the new reality. What is this reality? Simply, the majority of yesterday’s jobs did not require high levels of education. The jobs of today and tomorrow do. In fact, experts tell us that the students of today will change their careers four times by the time they are 40 years old. This means that allstudents must develop the knowledge and skills to be successful in post-secondary education.
When I grew up, there were plenty of low-skilled/high wage jobs in the country. The automobile and wood product industries are examples of places where individuals could find these types of jobs. People could either drop out of school or just finish high school and find employment in these and other similar industries. The education system of yesterday was designed not for the success of all but to sort all into the infamous bell
curve. It was designed to create “academic” winners and losers, if you will. Those who were not successful in the schools of yesterday could find employment with reasonable wages in the above mentioned and similar industries.
These low skilled/high wage jobs no longer exist in our economy. Therefore, it is no longer reasonable for some students to be successful while we allow others to be “left behind”. Once could argue if this was ever “reasonable”. There is actually plenty of evidence that schools are doing a better job than ever before (graduation rates are climbing, average ACT and SAT scores have improved, etc.). The problem is that the schools are not able to produce well-prepared workers faster than the economy loses low-skilled jobs. The moral imperative for schools today and into the future is to provide every learner the knowledge and skills to have options for and be successful in post-secondary learning. We must equip learners to have the ability to continue to learn the rest of their lives; to be life-long learners.
I am not saying that all students need to go onto a 4 year college but I am saying the opportunities that exist in today’s and tomorrow’s economy will require some post-secondary training. This knowledge and these skills will allow individuals access to meaningful, well-paying jobs. Isn’t this one of the primary purposes of education; to equip the citizens for economic success? It is certainly not the only purpose but clearly one of the essential purposes of our PreK-12 education system.