Why This Issue?

While American higher education has been acclaimed as the envy of the world, our K–12 system presents a much more sobering picture.

For example:

  • In the United States, more than 1.2 million high-school students drop out every year.
  • Sixty-eight percent of all U.S. eighth-graders are unable to read at their grade level.
  • The top U.S. math students rank 25th out of 30 countries.
  • The achievement gap in U.S. K–12 schools accounts for a permanent three to four percent negative impact on the Gross Domestic Product. That’s the equivalent of a permanent national recession.

At the same time, the last decade has seen exciting and transformative educational innovations. At-risk students at Catholic schools are 40 percent more likely to graduate high school and college. Failing schools have demonstrated significant increases in their graduation rates.

What spells the difference between failure and success for a K–12 school? What’s working? What’s not?

“Reimagining School” challenges us to reflect on ways to bring positive change to the nation’s youth through the betterment of the U.S. school system.

Why Notre Dame?

“Notre Dame is a distinctively Catholic university that strives to be among the pre-eminent universities in the world … [and] a moral voice for the country and the world,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C, in his inaugural address to the University. “We have not just an opportunity, but a duty to think and speak and act in ways that will guide, inspire, and heal – not just for the followers of the Catholic faith, but for all our neighbors in the nation and the world.”

Notre Dame is uniquely positioned to make a signature contribution to the national debate about education. Indeed, the University’s Catholic character and interdisciplinary structure inform this discussion of pressing national concern and allow the Notre Dame community to advance the University’s mission to serve the common good.

Why now?

In the nearly 30 years the National Commission on Excellence in Education published its report “A Nation at Risk,” the under-performance of K–12 education in the United States has ranked high on the list of national priorities.

President Barack Obama has focused considerable attention on improving American education, pledging his administration will focus on achieving reform, promoting responsibility, and delivering results. On May 25, 2011, he announced a $500 million grant competition, the “Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge,” to increase access to quality learning programs for vulnerable children.

With clear indications that educating the nation’s youth is one of the most pressing issues facing our nation today, Father Jenkins noted that the topic “is both absolutely critical to the future of American civil society and directly implicated by our mission here at Notre Dame.”