The American dream has turned into a mirage for many Americans, according to a summit of experts and local leaders convened Monday at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
The speakers were part of ElevatEd: Education & the Economy, a conference organized by The Holdsworth Center, an educational leadership institute based in Austin, Texas. The center was founded by H-E-B CEO and Chairman Charles Butt, who has been an outspoken advocate for public education in Texas.
According to Kate Rogers, president of The Holdsworth Center, expanding educational opportunity for all students isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s critical to the nation’s economic health.
“Today’s youth have only a 50 percent chance of becoming more financially successful than their parents,” said Rogers. “Statistics like this indicate the American dream may not be possible for future generations of Texans. We know that education for all is the single biggest driver of economic development. Our goal is to drive change by inspiring Texas leaders to think differently about the challenges facing our public schools, because we know it will directly impact both our future workforce and our nationwide success.”
Dynamic speakers and panelists at the inaugural, daylong conference addressed critical issues and answered questions from an audience of over 700 business, non-profit and education leaders. These experts engaged in discussions around income inequality, the impact on economic development and how high-quality education for all students contributes to a strong economy.
“If public education is not a public good, I don’t know what a public good is,” said Dr. Ruth Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University and former president of Brown University. “Public education lights a fire and allows a child to overcome even the worst of circumstances and succeed.”
“We should care as much about everyone else’s kids getting an excellent education as we do about our own,” said Dr. Robert Putnam, author and Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University. “If our neighbors’ children are able to receive a better education, we will all be better off. Public education benefits future job opportunities for everyone in our communities, including ourselves.”
“When it comes to the growing opportunity gap, we do not need to point fingers or cast blame,” said Dr. Richard Reeves, author and Senior Fellow in Economic Studies & Co-Director of the Center on Children and Families at Brookings Institution. “Increasing income inequality is nobody’s fault, but it is everyone’s responsibility to improve education. Public education is definitely a public good, but not supporting it publicly — morally, financially or politically — is a travesty.”
“The population of Texas will exceed 40 million in the next 20 years, said Robert Kaplan, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “The state will have plenty of wealth and income generation, but leadership has to step up, take ownership and ensure we have money needed to continually support education and workforce development.”
Andreas Schleicher, education director at the OECD and creator of the PISA exam, shared his outlook on the impact of education on the future economy.
“Our schools today are our economies tomorrow,” said Schleicher. “Over the past few decades, the U.S. has lost ground in education as other countries have moved faster in raising both quality and equity in education. But the U.S. has all the assets to build world-class schools. The key to this are leaders who create a shared understanding and collective ownership for change, with accountability measures designed to encourage innovation rather than compliance.”
Several Dallas-Fort Worth area schools and non-profits also shared best practices for closing the opportunity gap with promising programs such as Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE), an initiative that has shown success in turning around struggling area schools by incentivizing the most effective teachers and principals to work at the highest-need schools.
Other speakers and moderators at the conference included Tom Luce, chairman of Texas 2036; Dr. Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College; Dr. John Gasko, Dean and Professor at the School of Education at the University of North Texas at Dallas and more.
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