The View from Washington State: Creating an Education System for the 21st Century

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a monthly series from Microsoft called “The View from Washington State”. The View from Washington State will provide insight and commentary on topics and trends of importance to technology, education, corporate citizenship and public policy in Washington State.

Last month, Microsoft unveiled a strategy for closing the growing gap between the skills of the US workforce and those required by employers in an information-driven economy.

That gap exists here in Washington.  Our state ranks in the top five in the New Economy Index, placing us firmly at the forefront of the nation’s movement toward a global, innovation-based new economy.  However, Washington currently ranks 38th in the nation in bachelor’s degrees awarded per capita. 

Like elsewhere around the country, too many of our young people don’t recognize the career opportunities available in high-demand fields like health care and the STEM disciplines, and aren’t getting the education they need to compete for available job opportunities in these areas.

Experts estimate that by 2020, 70 percent of jobs in Washington will require a career certificate or college degree, but only 39 percent of Washington adults currently have an Associate degree or higher. Washington’s “Skilled and Educated Workforce 2011” report estimates that state employers will need another 10,000 bachelor’s level degrees and 9,000 more graduate degrees annually by 2019. High demand fields are identified as “computer science, engineering, health professions, life sciences and agriculture and physical science.”

We’re falling far short of meeting those needs. According to the state’s Higher Educating Coordinating Board, now known as the Student Achievement Council, Computer Science accounted for only 2 percent; Engineering and Related Technologies represented 5 percent; and sciences were only 10 percent of all bachelor’s degrees conferred in our state.
 
This problem can also be seen at the high school level. Only 283 AP Computer Science exams were taken by members of Washington’s class of 2011, roughly one-half of one percent of all AP tests taken by that class.

We cite those statistics to illustrate that Washington faces a huge challenge in preparing its young people for their futures. Doing so will require a cradle-to-career educational focus beginning with high quality early learning opportunities, continuing with an outcomes-based K-12 system, and then providing ample access to high quality higher education programs.

Creating a K-12 system for the 21st Century will require the state to:

  • Adopt next-generation science standards and implement the already adopted Common Core State Standards and their companion assessments
  • Implement College and Career Ready Graduation Standards, as proposed by the State Board of Education.
  • Fully implement a state accountability system that outlines procedures for intervening in the state’s most persistently low-performing local schools.
  • Adopt more options to spur innovation in our public schools.
  • Fund and support thoughtful implementation of the Teachers and Principal Evaluation Program (TPEP).
  • Develop and implement a comprehensive plan to increase graduation rates.
  • Commit to making computer science classes available to all high school students.

It will also require maintaining and expanding state support for higher education, as well as making higher education more effective in meeting the needs of local employers, including:

  • Prioritize available resources to increase slots available in degree and certification programs that prepare students for careers in high-demand fields.
  • Provide incentives to institutions and students to encourage degree completion, especially in these high-demand fields.
  • Develop programs to encourage degree completion by developing more options for working and part-time students.
  • Ensure continuing access to higher education for students from low- and middle-income families by maintaining or accelerating the state’s funding commitment to the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship.

Microsoft urges Washington’s educational and elected leaders to commit themselves to creating an educational system for the 21st Century. In doing so, Washington can serve as a model for the rest of the nation.

About the Author

Director of Community Affairs, Microsoft