States Opinion

Governors Missing the Link Between Global Competitiveness and Global Competence

By Heather Singmaster — February 26, 2015 3 min read
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Most United States governors have completed their annual State of the State and inauguration speeches, which included the outlines of their education priorities. They covered many trending topics such as the Common Core, early childhood education, and Career Technical Education (CTE), the latter of which was cited in 40% of the January speeches alone. As in years past, however, the topic of global education remained relatively unaddressed.

Job creation and meeting the skills gap were outlined as priorities in many speeches. “Skilled job openings are abundantly available and going unfilled,” said Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R). Many governors’ speeches also referenced state competitiveness in the global economy and attracting global commerce. “This very annual address was rescheduled this year because next month I’ve been invited to Europe to speak at an international gathering of auto manufacturers. Why? Because in advanced manufacturing, Kentucky is a global player, once again,” said Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (D).

How can states create more jobs and be globally competitive? According to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (D) “Education is the best economic development tool we have.”

So if global competitiveness is a priority—and education is the key—shouldn’t governors want to promote a global education?

Only two governors made the direct connection between the economy and global education in their speeches. Delaware Governor Jack Markell, (D) a long-time supporter of world language education, spoke about its importance. “We have also invested in language immersion programs because our children will have greater opportunities in the global economy when they can speak more than one language,” said Markell. “After only two and a half years, we have 1,400 students spending half of their school day learning in Chinese or Spanish. And we’ll keep expanding next year.”

Meanwhile, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (R) held up a world history teacher as an example. “A key part of any jobs plan is a quality education so students can be competitive in a global economy. Connecting his students to the greater world is the mission of Garinger High School history teacher James Ford.” Garinger High School, just outside of Charlotte, is a globally focused school and alumni member of Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network.

These states are leading the way, but those that are not should question why they aren’t doing more. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin (D) worries about the trade offs they are making to maintain small class sizes. “We buy those very small classes at the expense of foreign language, tech classes, the arts, sports, and other critical offerings,” said Shumlin. “Our kids suffer as quality declines, and it is their future that takes the hit.”

Six other governors made references to having “world-class” schools or education, but their definitions didn’t include study of world languages or global issues, which are crucial for building a globally competent workforce for the international companies we are luring here. Many did include the importance of STEM and the skills provided by CTE programs—these too are necessary ingredients for closing the skills gap and therefore of world-class schools.

So in order to address global education and their priorities for the year, governors should start by looking to CTE. Just read this month’s featured posts for successful examples of integrating global into CTE, like the afterschool and summer programs in upstate NY that are teaching 21st century skills to fill the skills gap. Or read about the STEM students at Bergen Academy in New Jersey who are working on projects with peers in Japan or the Ohio students who are working with international Fortune 500 companies.

These programs demonstrate local efforts to provide a globally competent workforce that can meet the demands of the 21st century economy. Missouri Governor Nixon is right, “Educating a competitive workforce is something we all can get behind.”

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