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Tough Choices or Tough Times: The Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce Paperback – March 28, 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; Revised and Expanded Edition edition (March 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470267569
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470267561
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,483,125 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"The book is a must read for anyone involved in the educational process in the United States." (NACADA, Nov 20, 2007)


"Anyone who hopes to hold a job in the next several decades should read—if not memorize—this extraordinary report."
—Norman R. Augustine, Retired Chairman and CEO, Lockheed Martin Corporation, and Chairman, The National Academies Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century

"This penetrating, scary analysis and astute, far-reaching recommendations amount to A Nation at Risk for the next generation, a brave, clear call for top-to-bottom reforms in U.S. education . . . . Tough Choices sketches a bold and efficient new vehicle for equipping 21st century Americans with the skills and knowledge they will need—and that the nation needs."
—Chester E. Finn Jr., Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and President, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation

"Bold, inventive, analytic, and piercing, the report's recommendations stand to make a huge difference in how America thinks about and enacts its educational enterprise for all—including its youngest—students."
—Sharon Lynn Kagan, Virginia & Leonard Marx Professor of Early Childhood and Family Policy,Teachers College, Columbia University, and Codirector, The National Center for Children and Families

"Tough Choices or Tough Times is must reading . . . . The Commission advances thought-provoking recommendations that should stimulate debate and then galvanize every sector of society . . . to muster the will and the wherewithal to ensure that America's workforce is the best educated and prepared in the world."
—Hugh Price, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution, and Former President, National Urban League

"[O]ur students are falling further behind and the people of this nation do not seem to be alarmed. This report lays out the kind of drastic change to the system that is crucial if we are to remain a viable economic and political leader in the world."
—David P. Driscoll, Commissioner of Education, Massachusetts --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Paul C. Haughey on February 3, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book by the Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce is well written in clear terms with summaries and simple graphics. It is a must read for anyone interested in the future of the US economy. The Commission points out the risks of our poor pre-university education to the US economy. India and China are now competing with the US in the high skilled labor market (not just low skilled) and at lower wages. With the Internet, many jobs can be done anywhere, and companies will hire the best at the lowest cost (Indian engineers make $7500 annually with the same qualifications as US engineers who make $45,000).

The Commission describes how US universities continue to be the best in the world, but grade schools and high schools have fallen behind. In the 20th century the US pioneered universal education, and received an influx of talent, from scientists fleeing Germany before World War II to a more recent influx of Asian students, who stayed and worked here. But now, other countries have passed us in pre-university education and many foreign students are going back to their own countries after graduating.

"A Nation at Risk" came out in 1983, saying "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre education performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war." The Tough Choices Commission points out that since then we've had a more than doubling of spending on education (inflation adjusted) with only modest improvement. The Commission concludes that the main improvement, standards testing, turns out to be misguided because it is multiple choice, not essay, and thus doesn't teach the creative, out of the box thinking needed for the US to maintain its lead.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By James J. OKeeffe on January 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
While there are some debatable aspects of the TOUGH CHOICES OR TOUGH TIMES report, the call to elevate teaching to the professional level it deserves is certainly long overdue. One problem the report doesn't explicitly mention is that our education system right now is a two-tiered heirarchy in which educrats--the professional ruling class of policymakers, administrators, and midlevel bureaucrats who don't actually teach--wield far too much power and often earn staggering salaries, while teachers are treated like common day-laborers, underpaid and (often) undermined by the flaky, self-serving policies that educrats impose on them.

The report recommends raising teacher salaries to attract the best and brightest, i.e. those who would otherwise be doctors, lawyers, and other ambitious career professionals, by doing away with current teacher-retirement systems in favor of higher up-front cash rewards and 401(k) packages. Astonishingly, the NEA and other powerful teacher unions are opposed to this. But the fact is our schools are failing us, in part, because teachers are not treated like professionals. Yes, there are plenty of attractive benefits to teaching already, like summers off and seniority-based salary schedules. But the trade-off is that many teachers are willing to give up intellectual authority over their profession and allow themselves to be infantilized by condescending educrats. This is a Faustian bargain, and it's time to break it.

If the commission's compensation plan were implemented, more young and bright professionals would be drawn to the classroom, and they'd (hopefully) stay there rather than hopscotching up to an administrative desk job as soon as they could.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bob Zaslavsky on January 18, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The catastrophic decline in the quality of American public education has been diagnosed repeatedly since the 1950s in works such as James B. Conant's The American High School Today [The Conant Report] (1959), The Shopping Mall High School (1985), or E. D. Hirsch's Cultural Literacy (1987). Now, a new report in this tradition offers up perhaps the most scathing indictment of our system yet. The report, issued on December 14, 2006, by the National Center on Education and the Economy's New Commission of the Skills of the American Workforce, is titled Tough Choices or Tough Times. The title suggests that if we do not make the difficult decisions that are required to resuscitate our schools, our future health as a nation is bleak.
The report is a thorough, strong, and incisive analysis of the extent to which American dominance in education worldwide has eroded along with our dominance in economics and market competitiveness. Moreover, despite some minor weaknesses in the report caused by its attempt to predict the global future and its occasional political caution, it should launch a national dialogue on our public education system.
[from my column in "The Sunday Paper" (Atlanta, GA)]
--Dr. Robert Zaslavsky, author of the recently published "The First Latin Course"
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Robert McAvoy on February 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
Citing Winston Churchill, who said America always did the right thing after it had exhausted all the alternatives, the New Commission on Skills of the American Workforce calls for a complete overhaul of American education.

Unlike the Commission Report in 1990, which recommended that we improve our high technology skills and accept as inevitable the movement of low-skill jobs to global competitors, the current Commission draws our attention to the fact that we are losing high-skill jobs to global competitors as well. Such losses are projected to grow geometrically if we fail to act with an integrated whole system response.

The Commission recommends a major overhaul of American education to include how we define needs, develop curriculum, attract and retain world class teachers, focus scarce resources, assess stakeholders, and finance public education. All familiar words, I know, but the devil or angel, if you will, is in the details. Let's look at some of the most important.

Noting the poor scores made by U.S. students on international tests and the prospect that we will lose our leadership position in fields that require exemplary abilities in mathematical reasoning; scientific concepts; writing; creativity and innovation; self-discipline and organization; and teamwork, the Commission calls for regional economic development authorities. These authorities would be responsible for coordinating with existing institutions to develop goals and strategies that would serve as guides for local decisions and channel resources where initiatives contributed to the achievement of such goals and strategies.

The Commission calls for significant changes in school governance.
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