09/09/2011 02:53 pm ET Updated Nov 09, 2011

The Hidden Jobs Crisis: Strengthening Tomorrow's Workforce Today

We just heard President Obama lay out a sweeping jobs package that he believes will revive a sputtering economic recovery. There is absolutely no doubt that we must focus on putting millions of unemployed Americans back to work. But as the president was quick to point out, no jobs package -- no matter the size or the immediate impact -- is complete without the public education reforms that are essential to ensuring that our students graduate ready to enter the 21st century workforce.

We can no longer afford to think of our employment crisis as something that is limited to the number of jobs that are available today. We now face a hidden jobs crisis that could shackle our economy for decades. According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, business leaders suggest that by 2018 about 3 million new jobs will be available in the U.S., but we will not produce enough college educated workers to fill them.

When you consider that approximately 1.3 million students drop out of high school each year, Georgetown's findings come as no surprise. If we are to have any hope of creating the kind of workforce that entices employers to hire American workers, we must create policies to reduce the nation's high school drop-out numbers and close persistent academic achievement gaps.

After numerous delays, Congress has yet to make any real progress toward the long-awaited re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Instead congressional leaders seem satisfied with a piecemeal approach, offering only small tweaks instead of a comprehensive review of the law. The Obama administration is moving forward with a plan that would allow states to waive some key ESEA provisions designed to hold schools accountable for student success if they demonstrate that they have their own process for improving education. Large-scale waivers of important ESEA provisions could result in each state creating its own rules for accountability and vastly different definitions of student success. Sweeping problems under the rug won't solve the employment crisis we face today.

Instead of creating ways for school districts to mask their shortcomings, we must put our children first by demanding better results for them in every community, particularly low-income children and students of color. These children make up the fastest growing student population in our public schools and, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics, will make up more than 50 percent of the adult workforce by the year 2050.

We must show companies that we're committed to giving them a skilled workforce. We can do this by supporting robust state efforts to turn around low-performing schools by aggressively promoting high quality, academic standards, effective teaching, parental engagement, and strong accountability. We can redesign American high schools by developing effective interventions such as literacy programs, personal graduation plans, and learning opportunities that extend beyond the traditional school day.

Our ability to convince businesses to start here, stay here and hire here is honed first and foremost in our classrooms. In order to secure a future of stable, well-paying American jobs tomorrow, we must stand up for every child in every community today.