Achievement gap cripples opportunities for minorities in nation’s increasingly diverse workforce

by Grace

The stark differences that show blacks and Hispanics trailing in academic achievement indicate a growing problem for our country’s future economic health.

Primary working-age population in the United States will experience a net loss of 15 million whites between 2010 and 2030.

Who has the skills to prosper, or even survive, in our knowledge economy?

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By 2044, people of color will account for a majority of the U.S. population. In the newest Brookings Essay, Jennifer Bradley examines efforts in U.S. metropolitan areas to prepare a more diverse workforce, with a particular focus on Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Minnesota reflects the achievement gap common throughout the United States.

With most of the future growth in the labor force coming from people of color, it’s alarming to have to acknowledge how profoundly the existing education and training systems have failed them. Statewide, 85 percent of whites graduated from high school on time in 2013, compared to 58 percent of Hispanics, 57 percent of blacks (including both U.S.-born African-Americans and African immigrants), and fewer than half (49 percent) of American Indians. The gaps are slightly larger at the metropolitan level, and wrenching for the largest city, Minneapolis, where just 51 percent of Africans, 41 percent of Hispanics, 40 percent of African-Americans, and 34 percent of American Indians graduate from public schools on time.

Business leaders have become heavily involved in trying to find solutions.

It’s a matter of pure business necessity. “This is not just about charity or being nice to people of color.”

Some employers have initiated training programs geared toward helping low-skills workers develop into self-sustaining employees.  But that doesn’t blunt the recognition that K-12 education is at the core of any solution.

Still, Rybak understands that it all comes back to education. To take on leadership positions and help companies compete globally and engage with many different cultures, children first need to succeed in primary and secondary school, which is why, after his last term as mayor, Rybak signed on as executive director of Generation Next. This is a coalition of leaders from universities, city and county governments, city school systems, major companies, local philanthropies, and non-profit organizations who came together in 2012 to try to eradicate the achievement gap among students in Minneapolis and St. Paul. He sees the education gap as the hardest thing to overcome in the region, and also the most important. Fortunately, the interest in doing something about it crosses party lines. Republicans who control the state House of Representatives have called for education reform to help deal with the gap, and the head of the state Republican Party calls it “arguably the defining issue of our time in Minnesota.”

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Jennifer Bradley, “The Changing Face of the Heartland: Preparing America’s Diverse Workforce for Tomorrow”, Brookings Institution, March 17, 2015.

 

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