Op-Ed From CEO, Jennifer O'Flannery Anderson, Ph.D. - Education is an Economic Driver

Dr. Jennifer O'Flannery Anderson, Ph.D.
April 4, 2011

Families across the state are making decisions every day about where to save and where to invest. Some decisions are tougher than others. Food on the table isn't an option. Neither is a roof over their heads. United Way of Broward County is committed to helping families. Whether ensuring they have basics like food and housing or creating opportunities to improve their lives, our work is driven by their needs. Receiving a quality education is also non-negotiable. The economic success and well being of our families and community depends on having a highly skilled workforce. Therefore, education becomes the driver of our economic future.

Our education system must be visionary and meet the needs of our evolving and highly competitive global economy. Students at all levels should be challenged in learning environments that inspire, motivate, and teach the skills and knowledge required for success today’s knowledge-based economy.

So how do we best shift our educational infrastructure to accommodate what our children will need to survive, thrive and contribute to our world? It's a question we have been working to answer for awhile.

Research has shown the single most significant influence on student achievement that schools can control is an effective teacher. Through funding from United Way Worldwide and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, United Way of Broward County began an initiative to support and empower effective teachers. The focus of the initiative is to engage the public to promote policies and reforms ensuring effective teachers are in every classroom in our community. We convened a broad coalition of educators, community leaders, business leaders and government officials to develop policy recommendations that support teachers in three areas: preparing effective teachers, measuring teacher effectiveness, and retaining effective teachers.

A good teacher can move a student up at least four percentiles within one year. With academic gains like this, it's no wonder our community is engaged in identifying what's needed to ensure every student has effective teachers. Since teachers are on the front lines of building the intellectual foundation for students, United Way is asking, "Do teachers have what they need to do this hard work? If so, how can society support them? If not, how can we make it so? Who should be involved? What needs to be done? How do we confirm what's working? We cannot demand of educators alone what is the responsibility of an entire community.

Answering these questions and enabling efficient targeting of scarce resources is critical. Knowing what's working, what's not, and why will help guide investment decisions. Prioritizing where we spend valuable -- but limited -- educational dollars is going to be critical if we are going to move our children’s education system to a the level it needs to be in order to compete in a global economy.

Education is a critical driver for our economic success. Simply stated, great teachers are the driving force of a strong economy by providing a highly skilled workforce. Educators must provide and students must acquire the intellectual foundation and critical thinking skills to innovate otherwise there will be no foundation for continued economic growth. Broward County needs to identify those tools that make a good classroom great, and make delivering those resources a priority.

We ask that all parents, teachers, community and business leaders and all concerned citizens of Broward County to support policies and reforms that empower and support effective teachers. State and local leaders can insure the sustainability of reform efforts by adequately funding public education. Consistent and increased funding for public education is not simply a budgetary expense, it is an essential investment in the economic success and well being of our state.

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