It seems that every September, as the schools prepare to open, new reports about the state of America’s education are released and each seems more depressing than the next. Foundations, think tanks, politicians and professional organizations publish their papers and reports in which they basically tell us what we already know.

The numbers of American students who are equipped to compete with their peers from other areas of the world in many disciplines, including in technology, math and science, drops every year. Fewer students read and of those that do read, most are not familiar with the great classics and other high quality works of literature. Fewer students have the life skills that they will need to enter the work force after high school and a large percentage of high school students are lacking in basic general knowledge. The drop-out rate is high and fewer students are going on to college.

Figuring out the reasons for the decline in America’s educational system is the first challenge. Depending on whom you speak with you may hear that the education system is in trouble because there’s too much emphasis on testing or there’s too little emphasis on testing, because the teachers are incompetent or because the system won’t allow talented teachers to flourish, because the multi-cultural nature of the society prevents the system from functioning properly or because the system doesn’t properly harness the diversity of students, languages, cultures and ethnicities.

It’s easy to get caught up in the blame game but finding workable solutions is complex. New technologies and methodologies are being put to use in school districts throughout the country, oftentimes with good results. Teacher-training programs are relying on teacher-mentors to give teachers-in-training and new teachers the benefit of veteran teachers’ experience and knowledge.

One worrying statistic, however, comes from a recent study that was put out by the Rand Corporation, an education think tank. The study examines the outlook for American education in the 21st century and gives voice to the concern that the most talented and effective teachers — those with a high measured teaching ability — are more likely to leave their teaching positions for better-paying, less-stressful and more prestigious jobs. The study summarizes the situation, noting that while school districts differ in the extent in which their high-performing teachers are leaving the profession, all school districts are struggling with this problem. When less-experienced teachers remain in the classroom, it’s clear that the students’ don’t have the opportunity to advance at an optimal pace.

Figuring out how to encourage veteran, effective teachers to remain in the classroom is getting harder and harder. Class sizes are at an all-time high and teacher responsibilities are increasing at the same time that their salaries and benefits are decreasing. Some teacher-educators are involved in creating better teacher-training programs while other civic and governmental groups are working to raise teachers’ pay, bring community members into the schools as volunteers, improve teacher-administrator relations and provide more advancement opportunities for classroom teachers.

Public institutions are turning to private initiatives to help find a solution to this problem. One such initiative involves formally recognizing highly-effective teachers as a way to motivate these teachers as well as their colleagues to remain in the teaching profession. The Milken Family Foundation (MFF) has created a special award to address the issue of how the nation’s educational leadership can keep America’s best teachers in the classroom.

The Milken Educators Award is based on the idea that an effective teacher plays the most important role in a child’s education. Lowell Milken who created the Award, theorizes that when an exceptional teacher is recognized for his or her achievements, s/he is more likely to remain in the classroom.

MFF presents the Milken Educator Award annually to deserving teachers — our nation’s “unsung heroes” — who harness their vision and creativity to help shape their students’ successful integration into their post-school lives. Receipt of the Milken Educator Award has proven to encourage these outstanding teachers while generating enthusiasm among other educators as well.

The annual Milken Educator Awards honors highly effective K-12 teachers who teach in the public school system. Award recipients receive $25,000 that they can use for whatever they wish.

As of 2013 the Milken Family Foundation has invested over 135 million dollars in the Milken Education Award project.

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