The Need for Fundamental Change

America faces great challenges as we approach the year 2026 – the 250th anniversary of the nation’s founding. We believe the greatest of these challenges—in educational attainment, job creation, and health status—are most effectively confronted at the community level. Federal and state policy and support are important, but we advance the common good most effectively and durably when we work together in a local community to identify, implement, and sustain improvements that work for that community.

Of utmost urgency is that our education system is faltering. American students chronically lag those in other industrialized countries in reading, math, and science, and only a quarter of public high school graduates are prepared to succeed in college—an important gateway to prosperity in the United States. And there’s a growing gap between the skills American students learn and those needed in the 21st century workforce.

We are failing not only to educate the right workers but also to create the right jobs. Restructuring of businesses and other enterprises in response to changed economic conditions, combined with a sharp decline in new start-ups, mean that many American employers expect to create more jobs outside the United States than here at home during the coming years.

One tragic result: The United States ranks at or near the bottom of high-income countries in common measures of public health; Americans live shorter lives and in poorer health despite spending far more per capita on health care than any other nation.

Individuals, organizations, communities, and governments are confronting these challenges today. Many have worked hard with great energy and commitment. Some communities have made progress in one sector or another or on one project or another, but no matter how hard we have worked, we continue to fall short of attaining and sustaining the outcomes we want and need.

The challenges communities face today and in the future require a higher level of performance—a commitment to community performance excellence that grows out of the recognition that the social determinants of educational achievement, economic vitality and health status are inextricably interwoven.