In a marked shift from the previous administration, President Obama is championing the new “Race to the Top” education initiative aimed at improving the educational quality and performance of America’s schools. The program will offer states $4.3 billion in education funding, however the grants will be contingent on states meeting certain conditions.

According to a recent report titled “No Handouts, States Compete for Education Aid” on NPR’s All Things Considered,

[States] must shut down failing schools and allow more privately run charter schools to open. They must develop tougher tests tied to higher academic standards. They have to collect better data to track student progress and make teacher training more rigorous. And finally, they must allow teachers to be evaluated based on their students’ performance and test scores.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is strongly committed to the educational reforms in the “Race to the Top” program as well, and thinks that even though some of the reforms are controversial, states will apply for funding, given the amount available for grants. So far, about 40 states are planning to apply.

What is noteworthy is that the new program will link teacher and principal evaluations to students’ academic performance.  This is something that teachers’ unions have opposed in the past , however the American Federation of Teachers says it now supports the change.

Pursuing educational reforms to strengthen academic standards and student preparedness for the workforce and life is a critical concern today. Studies have shown that new entrants into the workforce are ill-prepared in applying their knowledge and skills in the workplace.

Corporate Voices for Working Families is addressing this problem through its workforce readiness initiative. Although improving teacher performance is important, Corporate Voices treats workforce readiness as encompassing early childhood education, after school programming, older youth, alternative pathways for youth, and training and development for the workplace.

Corporate Voices is also addressing a key side of the equation: engaging not only teachers, but the business community in training and preparing young people for the workforce. As the future of America’s economic competitiveness will depend on workers well equipped to perform in a knowledge-based economy, businesses have a vested interest in helping our youth continue the American traditions of innovation and productivity.

–Yvonne Siu