Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once observed that education “teach(es) one to think intensively and to think critically.” We know this intuitively. A quality education system and informed citizenry are foundational to the health of our republic.

To achieve this, we must work together to expand educational opportunities for the next generation of Nebraskans. Recent test scores show that there is work to do. Globally, the United States finds itself in the middle of the pack on test scores. In Nebraska, new ACT scores released in December revealed that only half of Nebraska’s high school juniors tested as college ready in key academic subjects.

Many folks are stepping up at the state and national level to identify new solutions to help our state’s youngest citizens get a quality education, improve outcomes and achieve their dreams. This week, I will be signing a proclamation declaring “School Choice Week” in Nebraska as well as attending events highlighting the need for expanding school choice and educational opportunities.

As governor, I have identified accountability and transparency as a key to improving outcomes in our schools. That is why I have been a supporter of efforts to grade Nebraska’s schools on an A through F scale. Grading schools creates greater transparency for both school quality and academic performance as parents make decisions about the educational needs of their child.

Improving reading skills will also be key to improving student achievement in our state. Last year, I supported efforts by the Legislature to improve third-grade reading proficiency. From kindergarten to third grade, most students are learning to read. After third grade, students should be reading to learn. Third grade is an important milestone in learning to read. If children cannot read proficiently at the end of third grade, it is a daunting road block to future educational and professional success. Nebraska is in a minority of states with no policy on K-3 reading, while over 30 states have some kind of policy requiring intervention or assessment.

Involved and dedicated parents and teachers make a big difference in how well students do. Studies show that students with involved parents, no matter their income or background, achieve higher test scores, pass classes and live better lives. These improved outcomes benefit our children and our state for a lifetime. No matter what educational setting your child is in, my wife Susanne and I encourage Nebraska parents to get involved in their child’s education. Parents should consider volunteering at their school, attending parent-teacher conferences and participating in school activities.

Quality teachers are also a pillar of a successful education system. Lt. Gov. Mike Foley and I have teamed up with different organizations to recognize Nebraska’s innovative teachers. Recently, the lieutenant governor visited South Sioux City to honor Jon Pickinpaugh with the Milken Educator Award. The Milken Educator Award is a prestigious, national award recognizing quality in teaching. Late last year, I traveled to Nebraska’s four Blue Ribbon schools in Omaha, Pender and Auburn to thank teachers and educators for their achievement. The U.S. Department of Education’s highly selective Blue Ribbon award goes to schools that have shown big improvements in student achievement or for their overall academic success.

If we are going to move the dial on test scores and improve student outcomes, it is going to take innovative thinking from parents, lawmakers, educators and many others. A strong education system offers dynamic solutions for our children. Working together, we can give each Nebraska student access to an education that helps him or her achieve great things.

Gov. Pete Ricketts can be contacted at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or 402-471-2244.

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