Thirty years ago, when I graduated from high school, the United States led the world in high school graduation rates. Today, we’ve slipped to 11th among our global competitors.
Thirty years ago, we ranked #1 in college completion. Today we’ve slipped to #12.
A decade ago, American students ranked 15th among OECD countries in math and 12th in science. Today our students rank 24th in math and 16th in science.
There is an old adage about a boxer whose trainer tells him after a particular beating in the ring, “It’s not what the other guy is doing to you, it’s what you’re not doing for yourself.” The same can be said of our country. We all know these trends are reversible, the question is what are we going to do to reverse them?
To create jobs, a modern economy requires modern investments. That’s not a Democratic or Republican idea, it’s an economic truth.
We cannot create jobs simply by cutting, especially not while our global competitors are investing more in the skills and the education of their workforce. Not while our competitors invest more in their own infrastructure, and in taking larger shares of global markets from companies here in Maryland and throughout the United States.
In this rapidly changing, increasingly knowledge-based global economy, the most important modern investments we make are investment in the talents, skills, education, creativity and ingenuity of our people – our greatest asset.
That’s why in Maryland, even as we’ve cut $6.8 billion in state spending – the most ever in our state’s history – we’ve made the largest investments our state has ever made in K-12 public education.
It’s why even as we’ve shrunk the size of our state government, we’ve invested a record amount in rebuilding our schools – replacing temporary learning shacks with the sort of modern classrooms that give our kids the tools to reach their fullest potential.
What have these investments allowed us to do?
For three years in a row, Education Week magazine has said that Maryland has built America’s best public schools.
And last year, the Obama administration chose Maryland as one of only 12 states to win the competitive Race to the Top grant. We were one of only three states to win on our first try.
On statewide testing, Maryland elementary students and middle school students are setting records. Last year, our elementary students received their highest ever scores in both reading and math. Our middle school students earned their highest scores ever in math.
To give you an example of the sort of progress our students are making, in 2003 only 58 percent of Maryland’s third graders scored proficient in reading, and only 65 percent scored proficient in math. Today, we’re at 85 percent proficiency in reading and 86 percent proficiency in math.
At the high school level, Maryland – for the third year in a row – ranks first in the U.S. in success on Advanced Placement (AP) coursework and exams. We are first in AP pass rate, and we’re in the top two in terms of the percentage of students taking these exams.
What’s more, a higher percentage of graduating seniors from Maryland took AP math and science exams last year than in any other state. And we have increased the number of AP exams taken by our students in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math by 23 percent.
It’s no coincidence that Maryland ranks first in the Milken Institute’s index of investments states are making in their own “human capital” – the talents and skills of our workforce – while also ranking in Milken’s top two for science and technology, and Kauffman Index’s top three best positioned states to compete and win in the new economy. Or that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranks Maryland in the top five for growth potential.
In Maryland, we choose to invest in public education, because to move forward in this changing new economy, we must create jobs and expand opportunity – and education is the best tool we have.
To build a stronger, more prosperous America, we need to stop cutting America. We need to stop cutting our children’s future. We need to start rebuilding America, and we need to return to the urgent work of building up our children’s future.
Martin O'Malley is the governor of Maryland.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.