The skills of amrican workforce

Three Key States Commit to Dramatic Makeover of Education from Pre-K to Higher Education

October 30th, 2008

Announcement Follows on Highly Acclaimed ‘Tough Choices or Tough Times’ Report

Washington, D.C.—Three governors today announced their commitment to the most dramatic overhaul of education in at least 100 years by supporting state implementation of the “Tough Choices or Tough Times” reform framework. The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, declared its support for state affiliates’ involvement in these efforts.

The decision, by the leaders of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Utah, follows two years of discussions centered on the recommendations of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce (

“Over the past 18 months, our Commission team has held serious talks with more than a dozen states from all points and corners of America. We expect to add other states in the coming months. This initial tier of states comprise a fast growth Western state and two Northeastern states with an urban-suburban-rural mix. These states know that the only way to make significant improvements in student performance is to reshape the system of education itself— something that hasn’t been done in this country for over 100 years,” says Marc Tucker, Co-Chair of Implementation, New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. “These states could not be more different in their politics, demographics and general outlook. Yet all are committed to development of a very different kind of education system, one that has the potential to make each of them competitive with the countries that have consistently outperformed all the others year after year.”

“Tough Choices or Tough Times,” which was the focus of a late 2006 TIME magazine cover story, incorporates many features of the world’s most successful education systems. Each state is zeroing in on the part of the agenda that best fits its needs right now.

“We are excited to become part of the ‘Tough Choices or Tough Times’ consortium which will enable us to engage in a national conversation with other state leaders who are committed to transforming public education to meet the 21st century needs of our students. We are particularly eager to identify policies, practices and resources that will assist us in implementing our ‘Readiness’ agenda and thereby transform our education system to make it truly competitive with the best education systems in the world,” says Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville.

Massachusetts has already begun work on improving the quality of teaching and learning in schools, designing a better system to recruit, train and retain educators, providing universal pre-kindergarten for all students (focusing first on high-needs children), creating a network of new high-autonomy, in-district school models to facilitate teacher ownership, and initiated the critical conversations about teacher pay and benefit packages.

Utah is dedicated to using the “Tough Choices or Tough Times” vision to develop high performance schools and districts that will prepare students for the changing global landscape.

“We’ve looked at the education and economic statistics in our state and ‘Tough Choices’ accurately lays out the scope and depth of the challenges we face. The report is exactly right that tinkering around the edges will only result in small, minor changes. Utah is committed to finding a systems’ solution using ‘Tough Choices’ as a starting point,” says Utah Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. (R).

New Hampshire will begin the work by focusing on changing the way that students progress through the educational system and by implementing a State Board Examination System that will allow adequately prepared 10th graders to enter college as 16-year-olds.

“Many students are ready for the challenge of college-level work before they graduate high school—in other countries they are already allowing this kind of advanced study. New Hampshire is ready to give them the opportunity. Governor John Lynch and the State Board of Education believe that now is the time to further our work to personalize education in partnership with ‘Tough Choices or Tough Times,’” says New Hampshire Commissioner of Education Lyonel B. Tracy.

In addition to the states, the National Center on Education and the Economy, the sponsor of the New Commission, has had discussions with many groups that will play key roles in implementing the ideas in “Tough Choices or Tough Times.” During a press conference at the National Press Club announcing the state consortium, John Wilson, Executive Director of the National Education Association, encouraged his state affiliates to explore the opportunities that exist for improving teaching and learning laid out in “Tough Choices or Tough Times.”

The Commission stresses that discussions with other states are well underway and that further announcements with public leaders will be forthcoming. It also will continue to assist Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Utah as they implement the “Tough Choices” design.

“The nation is running out of time. Forty years ago, the United States had the best educated workforce in the world. Now we are number ten and falling. We are all in the debt of these three states, whose leaders have committed themselves to a very ambitious and absolutely necessary agenda that can lead this country back to the top of the international education rankings,” says Former U.S. Labor Secretary and Senator William Brock, Co-chair of Implementation, New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. “Leadership requires tough choices and, as we have seen today, these leaders are prepared to make them.”

New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman wrote the following when the “Tough Choices” report was released: “The ones who flourish the most will be those who develop the best broad-based education system, who have the most people doing and designing the most things we can’t even imagine today. ‘Tough Choices’ proposes a radical overhaul of the U.S. education system.”

Former U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley, a member of the Commission, said, “The question this report raises is whether our country has the kind of education system that is needed to maintain America’s standard of living for our children, our grandchildren, and future generations. I very much hope that it will spark the kind of tough, honest debate on that topic that it so richly deserves.”

“While ‘Tough Choices or Tough Times’ does a tremendous job in identifying and articulating the challenges we face, what truly sets it apart is the specific and highly innovative policy prescriptions it advocates to reverse the ‘education deficit.’ I encourage every policymaker, at every level, to read this compelling and comprehensive report,” said William Kirwan, Chancellor, University System of Maryland.


CONTACT: Nicolle Grayson