Education and business leaders urged an overhaul of the U.S. school system, including ending high school at the 10th grade for many students. Current teaching is failing to prepare young Americans for the global economy, members of a bipartisan panel said Thursday.
Beginning teachers should earn more, according to the group, and money for this idea could come from the scrapping of conventional teacher pension plans in favor of other benefits such as 401(k)s.
"People have got to understand what we've got is not working. It's not working for kids, but it's not working for teachers either," said William Brock, a former congressman who was labor secretary and trade representative in the Reagan administration.
The Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce was organized by people who launched a group by the same name about 16 years ago. That commission made a series of recommendations, several of which were enacted.
Under the new group's proposal, students would finish 10th grade and then take exams. Depending on how well the students perform, they could go on to community college or stay in school and study for more advanced tests that could earn them a place at a four-year college. Somewhat similar systems are in place in other countries.
The report says that by not spending today's resources on 11th- and 12th-graders and through other changes, the government could eventually save an estimated $60 billion.
The money could pay, for example, for new pre-kindergarten programs and higher teacher salaries, which the report said would help recruit top graduates into the profession.
The commission recommends paying beginning teachers about $45,000 per year, currently the median amount paid to teachers - meaning half earn more than that and half earn less.
To help cover the cost, the commission recommends moving away from traditional, defined benefit pensions to less generous retirement plans commonly found in the private sector.
Antonia Cortese, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, said teachers should not have to lose benefits to make more.
One other major shift would put independent contractors in charge of operating schools, though the schools would remain public. States would oversee the funding.
Cortese also was critical of that idea. "Blowing up the governance system is very drastic, and we don't know what will happen in its place," she said.
Chuck Saylors, a school board member and parent in Taylors, S.C., said shifting control to the states from the local districts would be controversial. "Mainly because we have done it the same way for so long," Saylors said.
The report notes the U.S. had 30 percent of the world's population of college students three decades ago, but that has fallen to 14 percent. The commission also cites poor performance by U.S. students in exams when compared with students in other advanced industrial nations.
"We may want to wait to think about these changes, but quite simply the world will not wait for us to catch up," said Thomas Payzant, a commission member who recently stepped down as Boston's school superintendent.