Preparing All Our Children for the New Global Economy

October 24, 2012

Remarks for Greater Cincinnati Foundation Award

In thinking about comments I might make as Francie and I accept this award, Kathy Merchant suggested I go back to a talk which I gave 22 years ago.  The talk was titled:  “The New Global Economy:  Is the U.S. Ready?”   Why go back 22 years?  Because the focus of that talk -- the “education of our youth” and my assessment of our readiness to compete on the global stage are as centrally relevant today as they were 22 years ago and remain core to the work of GCF.

I’ll start with the bad news.  The response I offered 22 years ago is the same as it is today:  “No, the US is not ready to compete in the new global economy. “

Why?  Because we are not acting on the truth that the future of our country is almost entirely dependent on our youth:  how they develop and how they grow.

The plain fact is that today we are failing to give -- not 10%, not 20% -- but 30-40% of our youth the preparation they need to succeed.    Far too many of our youth are growing up with huge educational deficits compared to other nations.

We talk of many deficits in this country.  Trade deficits, budget deficits, job deficits.  But – make no mistake – the deficit in the education of our youth is the key to fixing all the rest.

We all know it:  The future belongs to the educated.  When I was a kid, parents might tell their children, “If you don’t seize the opportunity for a good education, it is going to be your tough luck.”  And it was their tough luck.  But today, it is everyone’s tough luck.  It will be far more so in the future.

It’s a future other nations see the same way.  Young men and women from all parts of the globe are moving ahead.  We are not.

Historically, our nation was an economic leader importantly because our young people were better prepared.  The United States was the first nation to educate all its citizens.  In 1955, the United States was enrolling 80% of its 15-19 year olds in school full-time compared to only 10-20% in Europe.  Sadly, alarmingly, that position of superiority is gone. 

In 1990, our high school dropout rate was 25%.  Tragically, the number is no different today.  Test after test shows that our students’ academic proficiency is way below the proficiency of many other countries.  We are in the middle of the pack.

The education gap which exists in our country is crippling.  Just last week, Brad Smith, Executive Vice-President of Microsoft, wrote that Microsoft has more than 6,000 open jobs in the United States, 15% more than a year ago.  More than half are positions for engineers, software developers and researchers.  The situation at Microsoft mirrors our entire country.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a continuing annual need for 120,000 graduates with skills in the disciplines I just mentioned.  Yet, there are only 40,000 students graduating from college each year to fill these positions.  Graphic proof that we do not have the number of young Americans with the talent and skills to fill these high quality jobs – jobs which if not filled here are going to migrate overseas. 

We could see some of the global changes coming 22 years ago:  the emergence of China and India, the opening up of Eastern and Central Europe.  Few, however, could have envisaged how far globalization would advance and, with it, the competition for jobs. Think of it.  As the world has come together, hundreds of millions of young people are competing for jobs today that 20 years ago were reserved for U.S. workers in a closed economic system.

Even less, 20 years ago, could one have envisaged the huge investments countries like China are making in the education of their young.

Listen to these statistical comparisons of China and the United States as recently reported by Charles Blow in The New York Times:

n  Half of U.S. children get no early childhood education and we have no national strategy to increase enrollment.  In contrast, by 2020, China has committed to provide 70% of children with not one, not two, but three years of pre-school.  Guess who has a better chance of succeeding in the long run, us or China? 
n  And consider this – more than half of U.S. post-secondary students drop out of college.  By 2020, China is committing to more than doubling enrollment in higher education and ensuring that no child drops out of school for financial reasons.  By 2030, it is estimated that China will have 200 million college graduates, more than the entire U.S. workforce.

Back in 1990, I emphasized the strengths we have as a nation -- our innovative capacity and individual initiative.  Our access to capital, rule of law and free competition.  Our diversity, leading I have found to a superior ability to adapt to other cultures.  These strengths have been evident as firms like Procter & Gamble, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Apple and Google, have led competition in developing businesses around the world.

And yet, as I said then, can we really expect to remain the leading nation economically and socially, a nation of opportunity for all, if 30-40% of our young men and women are less prepared than their counterparts from other nations.  Of course not.  This is our Achilles heel.  While our accumulated technology and values will attenuate decline, I am convinced that decline will occur slowly, but inevitably, unless we dramatically strengthen the education of our youth, starting in their earliest years. 

All right, some of you might be thinking by now, I get it.  We are in trouble.  You have hit us with enough statistics.  Remember, we came here for a celebratory lunch.  Do you have anything positive to say?

Yes I do.

And it is this.  We have proven programs in our community to help families and their children develop like we have never had before!  And like very few communities in this nation have. 

If we rally behind these initiatives persistently, with our volunteer time and more funding, we can and we will make breakthrough progress.

Allow me to briefly describe four of these programs.  I’m pleased to say that GCF has provided funding and leadership support to all four.

The first is Every Child Succeeds.  Partnering with Children’s Hospital and now in its 13th year, ECS serves 3,000 first-time at-risk moms and their families annually, through professional home visitors and community agency support.  These families live below the poverty line.  This program has dramatically increased average birth weight, cut infant mortality in half and put 90% of these babies on a normal development path.  Maternal depression has been cut in half and the percentage of young moms getting GEDs and securing employment has soared.

Yet, only about 25% of mothers needing this support receive it today because of the shortage of funds.  In fact, home coverage has declined over the past two years by about 10% due to cutbacks in government support which have not been fully offset even as the United Way has increased its support.

Do you know what it costs to support one family for a year?  $2,800.  Do you think it is worth $2,800 to change a parent’s and their child’s life forever?  I’m sure you do.  And so did a woman at Procter & Gamble where I spoke recently about this program at a United Way presentation.  She came up to me and said that she was going to increase her gift to the United Way this year by $2,800 to fund another family.

The second program is Success by Six.  Now in its 10th year, led by Stephanie Byrd and propelled by its long-term chair Jim Zimmerman, Success by Six focuses on delivering quality child care for pre-K children with a particular focus on having all children ready for Kindergarten. I’d note that GCF was part of the initial funding that got this program off the ground, and continues its support today.

Imagine entering Kindergarten already behind other children and unable to understand what the teacher is saying.  Talk about an invitation to opt out. 

With Success by Six, students achieving target Kindergarten readiness in CPS have increased by thirteen percentage points, from 44% to 57% in just five years.  Impressive, but still way short of the community’s bold goal of 85% by 2020.  To get there, we need to both improve the quality of existing pre-K education, and we need more funding to provide programs in more neighborhoods.

Helping do this will be a new campaign, “Read On.”  Its goal is simple:  to ensure that every child is reading at grade level by the end of the third grade.  Why is this important?   If a child is not reading at grade level by the end of the third grade, he or she is four times more likely to drop out than a child who is.  Add poverty and living in a depressed neighborhood as variables and a child is 17 times more likely to drop out.  We don’t have to live that way.  As Greg Landsman has said:  “We can begin to break the cycle of poverty by getting a child prepared for Kindergarten.  We all but break it if that child is reading successfully by the end of 3rd grade.  The statistics are that compelling.”

Teachers cannot achieve this goal on their own.  Volunteer tutors are crucial.  The Strive Partnership, Cincinnati Public Schools and the United Way have teamed up to recruit 1,000 new tutors as part of a campaign called Be The Change.  In just a couple of months, over 500 new tutors have signed up against a goal of 1,000.  Over 26 CEOs in our community are launching workplace campaigns to recruit more tutors.  Trust me:  tutoring is not hard to do; it is incredibly rewarding.  Training is simple and relatively short.  There is flexibility on location and time.  You will find information on how you can participate in this critical initiative in your folders.

The fourth program I will say a word about is the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative and Jobs for Cincinnati Graduates, which have recently merged.  Their mentoring, tutoring, college access and job placement programs are reaching over 3,000 students each year with a 95% graduation rate.  Individual lives are being changed forever. 

Still, we need more volunteers and, yes, more funding. 

Mary Ronan tells me that there are another 500 students at CPS who would benefit enormously from being part of Jobs for Cincinnati Graduates.  What will it take to make that happen?  About $1,000 per student -- $1,000 to change a student’s life forever.  How could you help make that happen?  By making an extra gift to United Way or directing a grant to the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative through your GCF donor advised fund.

The hour is getting late, but there is one more initiative I need to talk about.  The Strive Partnership.  It is the most promising organization catalyst to transform the development of our youth that I have ever seen.  Led by Greg Landsman and chaired by Kathy Merchant – it brings together people and support from pre-natal through post-graduate education – cradle to career --   to invest their collective time, talent and funding in what works – to the end of creating the most robust talent pipeline in the country.

The Strive Partnership focuses on the most important outcomes such as kindergarten readiness, student proficiency, training principals and teachers and locating community support resources in our schools. 

It unites early intervention programs like Every Child Succeeds and Success by Six with K-12 curriculum. 

These and other programs are working.  But we need to scale them.  We need to support them with more volunteers and more funding to close the enormous gaps in coverage that exist today.


Ladies and gentlemen, here is the bottom line.  Providing the support for all of our children to grow up to be successful is the social justice and moral issue of our time.  It is also the economic issue of our time.   We can see political ads and hear campaign slogans until we’re blue in the face:  “Jobs, jobs, jobs.”  But it all comes back to education. 

The late David Kearns of Xerox once said:  “We cannot have a world class economy without a world class work force.  And we cannot have a world class work force without having world class preparation for all our youth.”  He was right.

The world is on the move.  We must act.  The shocking shame and cost of the poor preparation of so many of our youth is clear in our inability to fill open jobs and in wasted lives.

The only way our nation will maintain its leadership is by dramatically improving the preparation of all our youth.

I will conclude my remarks as I did 22 years ago by asking you this:  Do we in our community have the wisdom and the will and the stamina to act on what we know to be true?  Will we change our expectations and fuel the effort so that we don’t have just 70% of our youth growing up to be fully productive men and women?  But virtually 100%?

That is our task.  That is our opportunity.

Ladies and gentlemen, we can do this.  We must do this.  We have better programs and we are integrating them through Strive.  We have seen again and again that children have the God-given potential to succeed.  We have the opportunity and, yes, the responsibility to help them achieve that potential.
We owe that to them and to ourselves.  We owe it to our children and to our grandchildren.  Failure is not an option.  We must succeed.  Our economy and our very way of life as a nation depend on it. 

Please take up the cause.  Do not let go.  Do what you can that, 22 years from now, someone will stand here, addressing an audience like this, able to say that we made good on the social, moral and economic issue of our time. 

Thank you very much.

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