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Reader response: Systems need to change

Rebuild better

Respondents agreed with many of the options we provided for systems that need addressing, but in general were skeptical about this country’s ability to change.

Rebuild better

During the past few weeks, we’ve been asking for opinions of our readers about systemic change. We had more than 300 people take the survey, and provide thoughtful responses.

Some context, so you know who participated:

We sourced responses through our email newsletter and social media channels. Of the 250-plus people who provided their demographic information:

  • 33% are between 25-44 years of age, and 67% are 45 years or older.
  • 71% White, 14% Black, 7% Latino or Hispanic, 3% Asian, with 4% specifying two or more.
  • 55% Female, 45% Male (0% did not otherwise identify).
  • Reported highest level of education was <1% Some High School, 3% High School, 3% Associate’s Degree, 31% Bachelor’s Degree, 46% Master’s Degree, 15% Ph.D. or higher, 1% Trade School.

On to the responses…

57% of people “completely agreed” with the premise that systems in the U.S. were shaped to favor some people over others, with 87% of people leaning toward agreement on the response scale.

Despite that, and even with the national dialogue about systems change, respondents were skeptical it will actually take place. Only 5% of respondents were completely confident that we will be able to meaningfully change our systems, with the average being only a hair over the neutral midpoint.

The promise of a quality education

We gave a wide set of choices as to what changes might make the most impact to make sure all children receive a quality education. The possible answers picked the most by readers were:

  • Access to quality pre-K.
  • Schools preparing students for the workforce.
  • Equitable access to great schools in every place / geography. 

Reader David Ivey added to the list. “We need to focus on building confidence and creativity in our young people. Memorizing facts that can be looked up on the internet within seconds is complete waste of time and resources. Our school systems seem to be stuck in the stone-age.”

Our school systems seem to be stuck in the stone-age.

— David Ivey

Dr. Michael Palmer added: “At the highest and most abstract level, the purpose of school is to assist people in becoming happy, self-fulfilled human beings capable of contributing to their communities. There are many subordinate objectives, including teaching people how to learn, how to think, how to make good decisions, how to discern and discuss values and value choices, and, yes, skills necessary for employment. Incorporating an apprenticeship/theoretical training system into our K-12 education system similar to what the Germans have been using for decades would be a good addition. But jettisoning liberal arts in favor of a system that focuses primarily on training people for particular jobs is a particularly bad idea in an era when we don’t know which jobs will be displaced by artificial intelligence.”

Great schools require great teachers, but readers don’t feel educators receive adequate salary and benefits to make education a more attractive profession. More than 70% of responses agreed that educators should be better compensated. The second most popular choice: 45% agreed that we need to work toward having more educators of color to reflect the student population.

  • 70% agreed that educators should be better compensated.
  • 45% agreed that we need to have more educators of color to reflect the student population.

Given the current challenges of education during a pandemic, and what we’re learning from it, reader Dana Rozier feels that a different kind of teacher preparation might be inevitable going forward: “With the advent of so much excellent online curriculum, maybe it’s time to rethink how we even train teachers. Teachers might become ‘guides on the side’ and not ‘sage on the stage.'”

Re-examining the college degree

Given the educational attainment of our readers – the greatest proportion of whom have a master’s degree – it might seem counterintuitive that 89% of respondents agreed that we should re-examine the assumption that a college degree is needed to launch a career. What’s going on here? This question prompted a robust set of comments:

As grateful as I am to have a degree, this credential has become a hiring crutch instead of stepping stone.

— Dodie Jacobi

“Many times, experience more than compensates for formal education, and even those with formal professional degrees in law, accounting, etc., still need experience and skill development after education. And grateful as I am to have a degree, this credential has become a hiring crutch instead of stepping stone,” says Dodie Jacobi.

“I got my master’s in teaching since it was required in my state. Did that make me a better teacher? No. Classroom experience combined with professional development and a mentor helped the most,” says Dana Rozier.

“Even if someone chooses a trade, they will be a better performer, critical thinker, and citizen if they have, at minimum, a four-year liberal arts education,” says Patricia MacDonald.

Should we re-examine the credentials necessary to launch a career?

“Well-formed critical minds are absolutely crucial to the well-functioning democracy and a workplace. To that extent, access to education is paramount, and a college degree allows for the polishing of the mind at a time where the mind most needs it. On the other hand, scholarly work is not for everyone and many great minds are not linked to the possession of a degree…” says Magali Eaton.

“We have too many people going to college because it is the socially expected thing to do – not because they know what they want to study. It is a drain on the fiscal resources of our families and our overall tax base without adequate return on the investment,” says Christine Beech.

Well-formed critical minds are absolutely crucial to the well-functioning democracy and a workplace.

— Magali Eaton

“The trades and technology certifications can be much shorter than traditional college – way, way less expensive – and if a student still wants/can attend major college, then OK. But when life gets in the way, at least they can have a trade/skill capable of providing a decent living. I raised five sons by having taken high school auto mechanics, but kept getting short technology classes and increasing my skills…” says Terry “the Warrior” Reece.


of respondents agreed that higher education costs too much.

When given choices about the value proposition offered by college, respondents picked, “The issue is really that higher education costs too much,” 77% of the time.

Economic development for all

Switching to the economy, more than 50% of the time readers picked both “supporting entrepreneurs,” and “making the opportunity to start/grow a business available to more people” as the most important local economic development activities. Readers didn’t fall for the traditional economic development choices of “marketing and promoting cities and states,” and “recruiting large companies to move,” which Kauffman feels are less beneficial than encouraging new businesses to grow.

Grace Rodriguez feels it’s not enough to have independent entrepreneurial support organizations in a community. We also need to “better coordinate support services for aspiring and new entrepreneurs, and for growing and scaling companies so there’s less duplication and seamless scaffolding for business growth.”

We asked readers about what would be needed to encourage more Black entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses. Why did we choose to focus a question specifically on Black entrepreneurs? It’s because while all entrepreneurs face challenges and barriers, Black-owned businesses start with a third of the capital of White-owned businesses and Black entrepreneurs are three-times less likely to be approved for bank loans than white entrepreneurs, according to our recent report on access to capital.

Allowing Black entrepreneurs to start with the same financial resources as others, to me, is the biggest thing that could be done [to level the playing field].

— Chris Jackson

Of the four options, readers agreed that Black entrepreneurs need an increased ability to get loans and other forms of financing, but also need an increased ability to be included in networks that provide access to mentors and investors. Both options received 60% of picks.

“Bluntly, give them money. Black entrepreneurs start at such a worse-off position in many aspects compared to white and other non-white entrepreneurs. Allowing them to start with the same financial resources as others, to me, is the biggest thing that could be done,” says Chris Jackson.

When it comes to rural entrepreneurs, there’s pretty universal acknowledgment that broadband internet is critical to growth in the number of businesses in rural areas. 64% of responses were for broadband, although support organization and specialized funding options also each received more than 40% of responses.

“I think three things here: internet, healthcare, and specialized funding. In today’s world, it’s impossible to work without internet access, and why would you take your business to an area where you know you can’t provide healthcare to your employees? States are killing themselves off with narrow-minded and short-sighted policies. Once you tackle these issues, then you are going to have to incentivize businesses to trust that you will support them if they take that risk,” says Mishelle Denton.

We, the economy


of responses note concerns about the decline of the middle class and the increasing gap in pay between average workers and CEOs.

Finally, we asked what gave readers the greatest concern about the American economy. It turns out, there are concerns across the board, but the decline of the middle class and the increasing gap between average worker and CEO pay were picked the most, both getting more than 40% of responses.
Comments about other economic concerns were as varied as our readers.

Clinton E. Day sees a “‘Perfect storm’ of the COVID-19 pandemic eliminating jobs permanently, growing application of A.I. (artificial intelligence) into white as well as blue collar jobs, and companies embracing gig workers.”

David Ivey has concerns about “The rise of interest in socialism. In the long run, these programs are going to destroy incentives to start businesses.”

“Equally, if not more concerning, is the reduction in immigration to America. We must start accepting higher levels of immigration to reach our potential and live up to our promise as a country,” says Chris Jackson.

“We need nontraditional ways of looking at ‘success’ and economic outcomes. If the bottom line is always the dollar, the rich will get richer. But if we have something like a universal minimum income, we can see pockets of creativity and value emerge that don’t necessarily have dollars attached to their efforts but support the quality of life for all of us,” says Jayne Fleener.

Alexander Dale has two additional concerns: “The need for rapid, large-scale transformation to address climate change, and the lack of comprehensive thinking (at local, regional, or higher level) on what a sustainable economic base looks like.”

Thanks to everyone who participated. Upcoming, we’ll publish a separate page with responses to the prompt, “If you were able to make one change in our economic or education systems that would have the greatest impact, what would it be?”

Rebuild better: Success that ensures the opportunity of prosperity for all can’t be achieved within broken systems; true success will only come from systems we rebuild better.