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Commentary: Better Jobs Through Education Reform In D.C.

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The education reform documentary "Waiting for Superman" has prompted commentator Neal Johnson, an independent education policy and management analyst--and longtime D.C. resident--to weigh in:

The bright lights of Hollywood have put a spotlight on one important piece of the K-12 reform puzzle: public charter schools and the competition that can drive higher performance in regular public schools.

With its release so close to our recent mayoral primary--in which education reform and the city's marquee Schools Chancellor, Michele Rhee, played a leading role--there's been a real opportunity to assess how far we've come, and how far we still have to go.

But the bottom line is that we can't stop at elementary and secondary education--either in D.C. or in the other cities profiled. In today's fast-paced global economy, Superman must go to college as well.

Put simply, today's jobs--and those of tomorrow--require more than a high school degree. A college degree secures higher earnings and greater job security as well: Adult workers with just a high school diploma are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than those with a college degree.

And we know that most American jobs will require some post-secondary education, according to Georgetown University labor economist Anthony Carnevale.

Although for years the District's dysfunctional, patched-together public higher education institution ill-served the community, the good news here is that our next mayor will have a real opportunity to spur a great leap forward at the University of the District of Columbia.

In two short years an experienced, energetic new president, Allen Sessoms has led the charge to forge a new open-access community college, while raising standards and expectations for a four-year university degree.

This educational turnaround specialist has pulled this off in spite of a political food fight between the mayor and the city council over board appointments and other resource issues.

The next mayor has a short window of opportunity to assess and map out the course corrections needed over the next four years, with an eye on the bottom line as revenues continue to flatten.

·Take what's best from the K-12 reforms and move forward. ·Set strong standards, teach to and measure student performance against them, and hold teachers accountable for boosting student learning. ·The teachers who deliver are heroes, and we must reward them for helping their students beat the odds.

But again, we can't stop there. We also must do everything we can to accelerate public university and community college transformation, continuing to build a culture of learners and cutting bureaucratic red tape to get there.

As in other communities taking this journey, sustaining and strengthening the still-fragile momentum in all of D.C.'s educational sectors will require that political egos be checked at the door, and the courage to challenge business-as-usual and do what's right for our entire community.

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